MEMPHIS, TENN. (October 31, 2015) – In a scenic venue usually reserved the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, two female boxers won gold at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing on Saturday. Flyweight Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas) and middleweight Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) were adamant on closing the show on Saturday and the duo did just that with victories in their respective championship bouts at the Cannon Center in Memphis, Tenn. Lightweight Jajaira Gonzalez (Glendora, Calif.) pushed her weight class to a winner takes all bout on Sunday afternoon with a victory over winners bracket champion Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles, Calif.) in the second bout of the night.
Fuchs accomplished the goal she’s been chasing for the last four years in the flyweight bout, defeating 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza (Houston, Texas) in the championship bout. As Fuchs entered the bout as the winners bracket champion, the victory sealed the Olympic Trials for Fuchs. The match-up was the seventh meeting between the two Houston natives with Esparza winning the first five bouts and Fuchs taking both contests at the Olympic Trials. Esparza looked to set the tone in early in the bout as she fought to make her second straight Olympic Team. Fuchs worked to control her distance and prevent Esparza from getting in to her vaunted rhythm. She continued to press the action over the last round as the all-important bout went in to the final seconds. After four hard-fought rounds, Fuchs claimed the victory she’d been dreaming of, winning a 2-1 decision over Esparza.
“I feel amazing, I’ve been working for this moment since 2013 and I worked so hard for it. I know I deserve it so it feels great and I’m so excited. I was able to keep my space very well and not let her get in her rhythm,” Fuchs said. “I didn’t allow her to control the fight because she likes to control the fight and I was making sure I was in control of the whole fight and using my jab a whole lot more.”
“When I heard them announce my name, I thought ‘the moment has finally come. I’m going to Rio. I can’t believe it, I’m going to the Olympics.’ I’m going to go home and let me body rest, see what’s next and prepare for the continental qualifier.”
The lightweight bout featured the second straight contest between two boxers from the same city. Lightweight national champion Mayer entered the ring hoping to end her tournament tonight, but Gonzalez had other plans. The 2014 Youth Olympic champion stepped to Mayer from the opening bell and refused to allow her any breathing room in the hopes of pushing the weight class to a winner takes all bout on Sunday. The 18-year-old accomplished just that with a 3-0 decision over Mayer in their rematch. The two will face off again at 4 p.m. on Sunday at the South Hall of the Cook Convention Center with the winner claiming the final gold medal of the Olympic Trials.
“Starting strong from the very first round was key. In my last fight, I kind of waited a little bit because I had to kind of feel her out. This time I just went straight forward and used my aggressiveness and my punches and followed up and I think that really helped. I put it in my head that in this fight, I just have to go nonstop and not let her breathe. I think my aggression really helped today. I felt stronger,” Gonzalez said. “Tomorrow, I’m going to go harder than today so tomorrow so should be better than today. I’m going to kill it from the first round to the end, I have to.”
Shields entered her second Olympic Trials looking to make a statement in the middleweight division and the Olympic champion certainly left her mark on the event. She entered championship night off three straight unanimous decisions and was intent on continuing that streak in her final match-up with Tika Hemingway(Brackenridge, Pa.). The two faced off in the finals of the 2012 Olympic Trials as well and the result was the same in the sequel. Shields won her fourth unanimous decision of the tournament to take the Olympic Trials middleweight championship. She is the first American female boxer to win two straight Olympic Trials titles and is vying to become the first U.S. boxer male or female to win two Olympic gold medals.
“I landed the cleaner and harder shots through the whole fight so I knew it was unanimous. I knew it wasn’t split even though I spent entirely too much time on the ropes I feel. She had me on the ropes and she tried to land a few punches but they weren’t clean, solid punches. It was more of trying to throw me around. She’s definitely bigger than me.” Shields said. “Tonight, she did more boxing but I didn’t worry about it because she wasn’t landing from the outside. It was more of a show-me jab but that can also affect the judges so that’s why I started pressuring her more and trying to cut her off because even though she was jabbing from the outside and she wasn’t landing, you never know what the judges are seeing. They might think that she is landing and I’m just following her. So that’s why I switched the game plan up and tried to land more shots. I don’t think I landed any right hands in the first round but I started seeing openings and getting those combinations off.”
Shields compared her win as a seasoned veteran to the victory at only 17-years-old in 2012.
“The feeling is different (from the 2012 Olympic Trials) because it was a lot harder when I was 17. I really didn’t know how to handle her being bigger than me and stronger than me even though I did. I had to dig down deep inside me when I was 17 to finish every fight with her,” Shields said. “The fight on Tuesday with her was easy and this fight today, I had to go a little bit more. She had a different game plan, she didn’t want to get hit this time. I started pressuring her, I started landing cleaner shots. This time, I really feel numb. I can’t feel anything right now. I can’t believe I’m a two-time Olympian. It’s just crazy to think about it. I haven’t been able to say that before. It’s definitely different. I feel like this time I was a little bit scared going in to the 2012 Olympics because I’d just had my first loss. This time I haven’t lost in three years and I feel like there’s nothing can’t stop this time around.”
The three Olympic Trials champions still must qualify internationally via a continental tournament in March or the World Championships in May to earn a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games.
The Men’s Trials Qualifier concluded competition on Saturday with 10 championship bouts. All of the night’s male competitors earned spots in the Olympic Trials for Men’s Boxing with their two top finish in the final qualifying tournament.