SAN ANTONIO – Marlen Esparza now has a second moment in her boxing lifetime that she will never forget.

This one trumps its predecessor.

Nearly ten years after becoming the first U.S. female boxer ever to capture an Olympic medal, Houston’s Esparza has emerged as the class of the flyweight division. The latter moment after her ten-round, unanimous decision win over Japan’s legendary five-division titlist Naoko Fujioka. Esparza won the WBA flyweight title while defending her WBC strap following a hard-fought win in their all-action affair this past April 9 at Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

“To fight a legend, to fight three hours from home and to fight for the Ring magazine title, the WBC and the WBA, I would say this is definitely the highlight of my career,” Esparza told “This stamps the best moment of my career. The sacrifice in transitioning to get here was worth it.”

Esparza (12-1-1, 1KO) made her mark as a gifted amateur, enjoying a series of firsts that also carried over into the pros—first American female boxer to qualify for the Olympics (2012 London) and to win a medal when she claimed Bronze in the flyweight division.

As a pro, Esparza was the first female boxer to sign with Golden Boy Promotions and also a pioneer in demanding three-minute rounds as opposed to the standard two-minute rounds for women’s boxing. Esparza has done so three times, beginning with her second pro fight in May 2017—one week before Olympic double-Gold medalist Nicola Adams (Esparza’s fiancé at the time) became the first British female boxer to do so, also in her second pro fight.

Progress as a pro was stalled, though for a good cause as Esparza gave birth to her son Saint Diego Figueroa in January 2019—nine months after her last fight to that point, before returning to the ring that April. Her only career defeat would come later that year, dropping a technical decision to bitter rival Seniesa Estrada in their November 2019 interim WBA flyweight title fight, her third to carry three-minute rounds.

Five wins have followed, including Esparza dethroning two reigning titles over the course of her last three fights. The skilled Texan recovered from an opening round knockdown to outpoint Ibeth Zamora for the WBC flyweight title last June in El Paso, having now twice successfully defended the belt following her WBC/WBA title win over Fujioka.  

“I know I had a rough start transitioning into the pros,” noted Esparza. “This performance and now in my last three fights really solidifies who I am and I’m ready to move forward.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox