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Women's Boxing American Continental Championships -Day 4 | Sarah Deming

Before Check This Out every night of boxing in

the Continental Championships, a certain
rousing theme has been broadcast throughout
the NAV Center's auditorium.
"This is my new favorite song," says Zack, one
of the documentarians following Claressa

The anthem has choral singing over some kind of tribal drumming, and the first time I heard it I
thought it was horrible. Now I love it, as I have come to love everything about this week. I don't
want the tournament to end.

Zack Shazams the song and it's by Vangelis. We both hum along as Alex Love enters the ring to face
Claribel Cruz of Argentina. The other day poor Love didn't eat anything except breakfast in order to
stay 106 pounds. Her austerity pays off in moments like this because she's so much stronger than
Cruz, who is forced to hold on for dear life as Alex shows beautiful angles and skillful use of the
uppercut, the most underutilized punch in amateur boxing. It's a 25-7 victory for the little girl from
the llama farm who lives to fight. This will be the start of an incredible run for the US, who will take
the team trophy with a total of six gold medals, one silver, and two bronze. Brazil will take second,
Canada third.

The next bout is in the Olympic weight class of 112 pounds. Marlen Esparza comes in wearing her
Stars and Stripes do-rag. Her opponent Erica Matos is draped with the Brazilian flag. When I'd
wondered earlier if Esparza could handle the dancing southpaw, Christy Halbert waved off my
"Marlen is too strong for her."
Christy turns out to be right about this as she is about pretty much everything. If USA Boxing knows
what's what, they'll send Halbert to London and China with these girls. Matos and Esparza spend
time feeling each other out, but when they engage Esparza is more explosive, her punches
straighter. The U.S. team's little alpha female takes the win 16-10, and maybe Esparza will train
fighters some day. Her advice to her teammates all week has been generous and incisive.
Yanina Benavidez of Argentina faces Clelia Costa of Brazil for the bantamweight final, and Benavidez
has faster hands but Costa is the aggressor in this all-offense fight. Neither girl knows much about
head movement. Brazil takes it 33-18.
I get up to go to the bathroom and when I get back Tiara Brown is up 4-3 going into the second
against Leonela Sanchez of Argentina. The crafty Argentine is octopus-like in the clinch. Brown's
bombs are mostly smothered, but she works steadily and extends her lead by one point each round,
winning 19-15. Sanchez weeps as she leaves the ring. Later on I learn that she collapsed in the cooldown room after the fight. The doctors say she is fine, but she looks like she's in pain at the medal
ceremony. God bless Leonela Sanchez and may she from this source heal up fast.
Brazil's Adriana Araujo meets Leonela's sister Dayana in the final of the Olympic lightweight class.
Araujo's punches look much harder than her opponent's, especially the looping overhand right. I feel
warmly toward Brazil because I went for a run earlier in the day with their trainer Igor and
afterward he gave me a team tee-shirt. It is a high quality tee-shirt with a zipper and interesting
Portuguese phrases emblazoned on the breast, and it makes me reflect upon how much more fun it

is to be a sports journalist than a novelist. Nobody gives novelists free shirts. I've collected a
magnificent haul of swag this week - miniature boxing gloves, a Puerto Rico bracelet, NAV hats, a
plush boxing beaver - that I intend to distribute to the boys back at my home gym.
Araujo widens her lead through the middle rounds, her jab so hard it sounds like a hook. The final
score is 15-11 Brazil, and I have a little bit of a crush on the tattooed, beautifully androgynous
Araujo, who at 30 is one of the older boxers in the tournament and used to be a semi-pro soccer
player before she took up boxing to lose weight.
Roselaine Silva, yet another heavy-handed Brazilian, faces Mikaela Mayer in the light welterweight
final. While chowing down in the cafeteria, Mayer has expressed enthusiasm for her new, higher
weight class, and she certainly wears it well. She makes this one look easy, taking a 25-11 win with
some good old fashioned boxing behind the jab that would make trainer Al Mitchell proud.
Barbados' Kimberly Gittens got a bye to the 152-pound finals. She turns out to be a reticent
southpaw, and Canadian Myriam da Silva makes the fight. Barbados comes on in the fourth, doing
some fine headhunting with her lead left to bloody da Silva's nose, but it's not enough to take the 168 decision. I'm happy to see the first gold medal for our generous host nation.

Next up is the match we've all been waiting for, the truth test of Claressa Shields. Shields' trainer
Jason Crutchfield arrived this morning after a nine-hour drive from Flint, Michigan. He's been
prowling around all evening providing entertaining commentary.
"She ain't seen nothing like you, Ress!" he yells as his seventeen-year-old, undefeated protge climbs
through the ropes to face Canada's reigning world champion, Mary Spencer.
It's last night all over again. Spencer has no weapon in her impressive arsenal to counter Shields'
blistering speed or her slick defense. There's a touch of ugly in the air as Spencer trash talks Shields
and once hits her blatantly on the break. Shields's people don't help; I adore Crutchfield, but he's too
negative in his cheering and I can see our hosts taking umbrage. Shields is a world beater now and
she and her people will need to cultivate the demeanor of one. A spoonful of sugar makes the
medicine go down. The final is 27-14.
Canada's Maude Bergeron is deaf, and it's amazing to see the way trainer Danielle Bouchard
dispenses instructions in the corner and mimes them during the rounds.
"We just have to let the referee know," explains the magnanimous Pat Fiacco, President of Boxing
Canada. "Because she can't hear the bell and she can't hear when he says break."
Franchon Crews is the better boxer of the two and takes the bout 32-3, but there's no quit in
Bergeron. Bravo to Team Canada for giving this fighter access to the sport she loves.
Women heavyweights are always a little funny. Not too many women are in peak condition at 178+
pounds, and the US's Victoria Perez and Brazil's Erika Cabrera are no exception. Both look tired
after about 30 seconds. The mood of the crowd lightens considerably.
"Even Claudio thinks it's funny," Igor says later, referring to Brazil's head coach. "He was biting his
towel the whole fight."

Kidding aside, it takes tremendous courage to get in the ring as a heavyweight. You're taking
punches that have twice the weight behind them, but it's not like your skull is twice as thick.
I love the vibe of the Brazilian, who has blonde braids, a mischievous grin, and is as wide as she is
tall. She dances in the corner while we wait for the final score, which sees her winning 14-3. I've
heard that Cabrera came from a very abusive background and that the fight game saved her.
Teddy Atlas says boxing makes us better people. It certainly did that for me. It did that for the
identical twins from St. Lucia, too. Each lost her first bout by stoppage, and they were far more
lovable in loss than they had been before the tournament began.
"You cannot underestimate your opponent," said True.
"We were in deep water out there," said Noble. "We were at the top of the mountain, and that's
where the eagles are flying."
The Paradise twins wanted me to tell any St. Lucians out there that
they did their best, that they did not intend to shame their country, and that their hearts are pure.
"St. Lucia is such a beautiful country," True told me.
Noble said, "It's small but it's not the size of a thing that matters, it's the inner quality. I'd rather
have a small box with a diamond ring than a big one that is empty inside."