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Seniesa Estrada: Regardless of which weight class, I want to unify

27
Jul

There are a number of boxing proverbs and adages specifically written to prevent people from taking the fight game as an actual game.

George Foreman’s “boxing is the only sport you cannot play” is only one of them. And whatever is not covered by boxing’s written lore should be covered by common sense: you just don’t take boxing as child’s play.

Someone forgot to impress this notion upon Seniesa Estrada in her pre-teen years as an aspiring fighter.

“That’s something I’ve been doing since I was a kid, since I first started boxing,” said Estrada, when asked about her unusual footwork in the ring, a set of movements that may look strategically and technically unsound to most orthodox boxing observers.

“I remember when I would switch stances and I would land a punch from a southpaw stance my dad would get mad at me and he would say ‘turn around back to right-handed, you’re not left-handed!.’

My dad started training me about a year after I started boxing, and he didn’t really know anything about coaching or boxing. I mean, he was a huge boxing fan and I would watch boxing with him growing up, but he didn’t know anything about coaching, so he always thought that everything should be about the basic fundamentals, like jab first and then the right hand, all the time. And I was so creative as a kid, when it comes to boxing, I saw so many things in my mind and my head that I can do that would work, and then I would do them… and they worked! And then I would always argue with him, like ‘why do I have to stay right-handed when I can turn left and I can confuse them and I can land this punch, if I see that there is an opening!’

“And little by little I think he started to realize that, OK, she has her own little style and her own ways of doing things, maybe I should just allow her to keep being creative and expressing her style in the ring. That’s what he did, and he just made sure he just sharpened everything up and try to perfect the style that I had.”

Estrada’s playful approach to boxing may be one of the secrets to her success, since her unpredictable behavior in the ring makes her a difficult target for her opponents. And it has worked quite well, since she now finds herself a two-division (strawweight and junior flyweight) titlist and ranked No. 1 by The Ring in both of those divisions.

But as unpredictable and wild as she appears to be in the ring, there is an element of control and focus that kicks in as soon as she rushes out of the corner for every round.

“I think that’s just part of my style. What sets me apart from other female fighters is that I am able to control the pace and control the other person’s style, and get them to do the things I want them to do,” said Estrada. “That’s something that you just don’t see in women’s boxing, you just see two girls throwing punches, and when one throws a jab the other one just reacts and throws all these punches. And you kind of get the same thing every time you watch two females fight, but with me that’s how I stand out and how I am different, because I am able to control the pace and really break down my opponent’s style. I study all my opponents and I notice their strengths and I notice their weaknesses, because going into the fight I want to control their weaknesses and be able to also do positive things with their strengths. Make their strengths their weaknesses.”

As elusive a target as she has been in the ring, she found herself the target of some tough criticism for her last few performances, but she feels that her most recent win against an experienced opponent was more than enough to earn her a clean slate to work on for the foreseeable future.

“It was like we expected. We knew that Tenkai Tsunami was very tough opponent that had never been stopped, an opponent who has fought at bantamweight,” said Estrada, 29, about her Japanese foe, against whom she picked up her second title belt. “So we knew that she would be the bigger opponent physically, so I just tried to stick to my plan as best as I could to make my fight plan as easy as possible.”

Getting that title belt, however, does not seem to imply a commitment for her to stay in her new division. Given the scarcity of quality challenges compounded by the unwillingness of some of the top fighters in either division to risk their belts, Estrada remains open to moving in any direction as long as the best fights are made.

“I think that whatever fight we can get is the weight class I will fight at. If a champion at 105 wants to fight me, then I’ll go to 105, or if someone wants to fight at 108 that’s where I’ll go. And then within the next year I want to fight world champions at 112 too, because I feel like I can also be a world champion at 112 as well.”

Her main goal, however, is the one goal that every fighter who wishes to be remembered as one of the great ones expresses in every interview ever, before and after grabbing the first belt of their career.

“Regardless of which weight class, I want to unify. Unifying both divisions is also my goal,” said Estrada, currently 21-0 with 8 KOs to her credit. “For this last fight, we wanted to unify 105, but because of different situations with the opponents that weren’t able to fight. That’s why we went to 108. I still want to fight, I don’t want to hold off and not fight because I couldn’t fight at 105. Being able to fight at those weight classes really helps me a lot, because I have more options now for different fights.”

A few aspects of Estrada’s career at this stage appear to bear a lot of similarities to the career of a fighter who also found it difficult to get champions in the ring for what would later be a long and successful career full of unification fights in multiple weights. The idea of champions either refusing to fight or pricing themselves out of title challenges is nothing new to Estrada, as it was a common occurrence in the early days of the career of a man that now guides a part of Estrada’s destiny as a fighter: Oscar de la Hoya.

Having Oscar, who like Estrada is an East Los Angeles product, at the helm as a promoter, with his unique and personal perspective into this conundrum, gives Estrada hope that she will one day be able to emulate her promoter’s success, even though she doesn’t expect it to be easy.

“It’s been really hard trying to make these fights happen with other champions, because a lot of these champions just want to hold on to their belts and they don’t want to fight who they are supposed to fight. They just want to pick their own opponents, and the organizations are allowing them to do it. The organizations are breaking their own rules. But I think that, because women’s boxing hasn’t been where it’s at right now and there’s never been someone like me in these weight divisions who are saying no. I am demanding these fights, they need to happen, we need to go by the rules, and these champions who were supposed to fight me need to fight me. So, now that I am being vocal about it and saying it, I think now we can make these fights happen. But these opponents, no matter how much money we’re offering them, they’re still saying no. So that’s another difficult thing, where some of them just bid themselves out of it, or even if we’re offering them a really good amount they’re just say no and fighter who is not even a mandatory or even ranked.”

There is one achievement that does not necessarily require title belts because it is an accolade in and of itself, and it is the inclusion in the mythical pound-for-pound ranking. Estrada achieved that just recently, entering The Ring’s top ten and threatening to climb steadily through the ranks in a crowded field of extraordinary fighters.

Getting in was easy, but getting to the top will be considerably more challenging. Still, Estrada is convinced that she has the recipe.

“Just continue to win, and win in a great way, and take the belts from champions,” she says, nonchalantly. “I think that there’s a lot of the girls who have world titles who have won them as vacant titles or (facing) opponents that are not ranked. I feel like the way I’ve won my titles has been very legit, and with a lot of accomplishments on the records of my opponents and the champions that I’ve taken the belts from. So hopefully, if I continue to just do that there’s no way I should not be in the Top 5 very soon.”

A few fights ago, however, it would have seemed difficult to rank Estrada among the great female fighters of her era. Fighting against a late replacement in July 2020, Estrada found herself in the spotlight after what on paper could have been one of her most memorable accomplishments as she disposed of Miranda Adkins in about seven seconds, the fastest stoppage ever in women’s boxing.

But her foe’s background made it easier for Estrada’s detractors to turn the win into a moral defeat. And rightly so, since Adkins (5-0 entering the fight, but with all of her wins coming against debutants with no experience whatsoever) did not belong in the ring with Estrada – or anyone else, for that matter.

But Estrada refuses to take the blame for the fiasco. And rightly so, as well.

“When someone doesn’t belong in the ring with you, you should be able to take them out as soon as possible,” she quips. “Knowing that she was 5-0 with 5 KOs and I didn’t have any footage of her, I would train for the fight as if I was training to fight a world champion, because of her record. And I didn’t know what to expect, so the game plan was to just go there and feint in the first round, which is what I did. I feinted before I threw any punches. I wanted to see her react.”

Rushing out of her corner as always, it didn’t take long for Estrada to realize her foe was no match for her, which is a fact that falls squarely on her promoter’s hands. (Golden Boy has already apologized repeatedly for the mismatch). And yet, Estrada doesn’t see anything on that fight video that everyone has already seen in the realm of men’s boxing – and with considerably less controversy as well.

“I see that there are a lot of knockouts like that in men’s boxing, but no one really says anything, everybody praises them, like ‘oh, that was a great knockout!’, or ‘that guy didn’t belong in the ring’ or whatever. But I think because it’s women’s boxing, no one is used to seeing that type of knockout that was so vicious. I think that is what created more of a backlash because it just looked so brutal. It was a little unfair because it was women’s boxing.”

It didn’t take long for Estrada to reverse that bad image. In her next fight, she gave one of the best performances of her career when she floored and then proceeded to outpoint long-time titlist Anabel Ortiz to lift the first legitimate title belt of her career.

But as memorable as that fight still is, it remains a close second in Estrada’s highlight reel.

In November 2019, Estrada had one of her toughest challenges when she faced Houston’s Marlen Esparza in a 10-round contests in which Esparza suffered a gory cut that just wouldn’t stop bleeding and which caused the fight to go to the scorecards in the 9th round, in an anticlimactic ending of what was shaping up as a terrific bout and is now a grudge match between them. By now, one could have hoped that a rematch would already be signed, but even though both fighters share the same promotional outfit, the bad blood that remains after that fight has made it more difficult for them to commit to a second fight.

Still, it will only be a matter of time before they do it again.

“I thought that she wanted to fight me again as soon as possible, because that’s what she was saying after the last fight, but now it seems like she’s kind of holding off on it and doesn’t want to do it yet, or at all,” said Estrada. “Whenever it does happen I will be ready for it and willing to do it, and I know it will be even bigger for the both of us when it happens again.”

A marketable matchup? Definitely. Doable? Indeed.

A grudge match, perhaps? Estrada is not so sure.

“Oh no, definitely not. I think I got under her skin more than she got under mine, and it showed,” said Estrada, laughing and responding to a recent interview conducted by The Ring in which Esparza claims that their rivalry will be a bad blood trilogy for the ages. “As far as a test, I think Tenkai Tsunami was a more difficult test than fighting Esparza. I think the second time I fight Esparza will be even easier for me. Going into that fight I knew exactly how that fight was going to go. I knew that I was going to hit her to the body and make her tired very fast, I know that she couldn’t handle the three-minute rounds, which is exactly what happened. Everything in my mind played out exactly the way I thought it was going to. So yeah, she is definitely not the biggest test, I would say. Tenkai Tsunami was more of a test for me. I had to bring out a lot of myself, a lot of that grit and that passion that showed that I really wanted to win against a bigger and heavier opponent, a champion like Tenkai Tsunami.”

Whether she is facing a Japanese tsunami or a Texan tornado, and regardless of how many seconds, rounds or pints of blood it takes for her to get the W, Estrada appears committed to becoming the next face of women’s boxing thanks to her talents but also to her level of activity and her search for greater challenges in every outing.

“I hope to get back in the ring very soon. Definitely fight another time before the year ends, so I just have to speak with Oscar and GBP about the next steps for me. But I am ready to get back in there, and hopefully, if I can unify, then I would like to fight for another world title at either weight class.”

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