Marlen Esparza dominated Shelly Barnett in a tune-up fight Friday night that kept Esparza in title contention.

Esparza landed an array of power shots throughout their six-round bantamweight bout and recorded a shutout on the scorecards. Houston’s Esparza won by scores of 60-53, 60-53 and 60-54 on the Claressa Shields-Marie-Eve Dicaire pay-per-view undercard at Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center in Flint, Michigan.

Esparza (9-1, 1 KO) took this fight on 10 days’ short notice, thus it was contested two weight classes above the division in which she normally competes.

Toronto’s Barnett lost her fourth fight in a row. The 37-year-old Barnett’s loss evened her record at 4-4-2 (0 KOs).

The 31-year-old Esparza won a second straight fight since suffering her lone loss to Seneisa Estrada in November 2019. The undefeated Estrada (19-0, 8 KOs) beat Esparza by technical decision to win the WBA interim flyweight title on the Canelo Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev undercard at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

By winning, Esparza remained in position to challenge Ibeth Zamora’s for the Mexican champion’s WBC flyweight title. Esparza is the number one contender for Zamora’s 112-pound championship and could fight for that WBC belt as soon as next month.

On Friday night, Esparza’s assault on a mostly defenseless Barnett continued throughout a one-sided sixth round.

An active, accurate Esparza battered Barnett with left hooks and straight rights throughout the fifth round. By then, Barnett had significant swelling on both sides of her face.

Esparza landed various left hooks and right hands in the first minute of the fourth round. She continued assaulting Barnett in the final half of the fourth round, most notably with left hooks.

Barnett was aggressive in the third round, but Esparza defended herself well. She landed two right hands toward the end of the third round as well.

Esparza’s jab was her best weapon during the second round. She also drilled Barnett with a right uppercut late in that second round.

Esparza’s overhand right landed with just under a minute to go in the opening round. Esparza was the busier, more accurate fighter throughout that first round.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.