Marlen Esparza Eliminated From Olympic Contention With Loss To Virginia Fuchs

Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Marlen Esparza, the 2012 bronze medalist in London, was eliminated from Olympic contention with a split-decision loss at the U.S. boxing trials on Saturday.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Experience prevailed in just one of the three bouts -- the last one -- at the U.S. Olympic boxing trials Saturday night. Veteran middleweight Claressa Shields is halfway to Rio, where the Flint, Michigan, native will attempt to become the first American boxer to win back-to-back Olympic golds.

The opening bout of the night, however, saw 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza lose for the second time this week to southpaw Virginia Fuchs, eliminating any chance for the 26-year-old flyweight world champion to compete in Rio. 

While Fuchs was in the middle of the ring celebrating her win, Esparza quietly removed the stars-and-stripes bandana she wears under her headgear in favor of a black skullcap. She paced, requested a minute to collect herself, then disappeared.

"I knew I would have to dig deep and she would have to dig deep to win this," the 27-year-old Fuchs said. "I wanted it more, obviously, because I got the win. By the third round, I was like, 'I got this. I got her out of her rhythm, and she's not going to get it back.' I just knew I had it. But she's worked so hard. I give her all the credit."

For the second time at trials, Esparza's loss was a 2-1 split decision, and now Fuchs will try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics at the Americas qualifier in March, or, if that doesn't work, at the world championships in May. Fuchs has never competed in a world championship, and has only three international bouts. 

In the lightweight division, 18-year-old youth and junior world champion Jajaira Gonzalez used her long arms to neutralize the height advantage of 2012 Olympic trials finalist Mikaela Mayer. While Gonzalez's father and brother shouted encouragement in the corner as often as she threw punches, the 2015 high school graduate took down the previously undefeated Mayer by unanimous decision to force a Sunday battle for the Olympic team nomination.

Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Claressa Shields improved to 66-1 and clinched an Olympic nomination by beating Tika Hemingway at the U.S. Olympic boxing trials Saturday.

In the final women's bout of the night, Shields faced Tika Hemingway in a rematch of the 2012 Olympic trials and a rematch of Tuesday night, when Shields sent Hemingway into repechage. This time, Shields found herself on the ropes against the Pennsylvanian, who was fighting for the sixth time in six days.

Although there were moments when Shields absorbed combinations unnecessarily, Shields' punches were cleaner and harder and the judges rewarded her with a unanimous decision.

Afterward, there were genuine hugs with her archnemesis Hemingway.

"I told her thanks for the great fight," said Shields, who is now 66-1. "I knew [my win on] Tuesday was too easy. Today I told her, 'I knew you was going to bring it today.' And like a champion, she did. I told her she fought a good fight. She got me tired this time. I knew she was going to bring it this time.

"I told her she didn't lose to a scrub and I'm going to take it all the way to 2016."

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