Marlen Esparza finds herself in a familiar career role.

The only new look heading into her next fight is entering as the lineal and unified WBA/WBC flyweight champion. Houston’s Esparza will fight for the fourth straight time in her home state, the latest in a title defense versus WBA mandatory challenger Eva Guzman (19-1-1, 11KOs). The bout serves in supporting capacity to rising contender Vergil Ortiz Jr. (18-0, 18KOs), who faces England’s Michael McKinson (22-0, 2KOs). The battle of unbeaten welterweights headlines an August 6 DAZN show from Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, mere miles from Ortiz’s hometown of Grand Prairie, Texas.

Esparza (12-1, 1KO) outpointed Japan’s Naoko Fujioka in her last outing to win the WBA title and defend her WBC strap on April 9 at Alamodome in San Antonio. That show was topped by Ryan Garcia’s ring return following a 15-month hiatus as he soundly outpointed Emmanuel Tagoe.

As was the case on that night, being in the presence of a high-profile crowd favorite only provides additional incentive to step up her game.

“I love Vergil Ortiz. I think he’s an amazing fighter,” Esparza told “We’ve been friends for a very long time. I’m excited about it. He’s an entertaining fighter, I’m an entertaining fighter. It will be a great show.

“I’m ready to do my thing and try to keep up with him. He’s always bringing these great knockouts. I know I gotta hold my ground, fighting on a show like this. It motivates me.”

Esparza has emerged as the class of the flyweight division even in the aftermath of a technical decision defeat to longtime bitter rival Seniesa Estrada (22-0, 9KOs) in their November 2019 grudge match. The setback didn’t discourage her career-long goal of becoming undisputed flyweight champion, a task she assigned herself prior to her March 2017 pro debut nearly five years after her Bronze medal run in the 2012 London Olympics.

The 33-year-old Esparza is now halfway there, claiming two belts within a ten-month span as part of her current five-fight win streak. Title wins over Ibeth Zamora last June and Fujioka earlier this year took place on the undercards of shows featuring high-profile headliners. Esparza is content with that role, at least until she runs the table atop the flyweight division.  

“Being a headliner isn’t necessarily a priority for me,” admitted Esparza. “I really want all the belts first and then defend the undisputed championship in Houston.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox