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THE GIRL | Chapter Five of Five

The Fight of Her Life

Seniesa learns from a loss and lusts for revenge. For her and her father, it's not just a title at stake. It's their dream.

July 14, 2005|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

When the team arrived, Seniesa was playing paper-rock-scissors with a neighborhood girl, looking sad, cast-off.

An 11-year-old boy from Hawaiian Gardens, named Ulises, climbed into the ring against one of the boys from East L.A. Ulises fought with strength and skill, and he pummeled the kid from Seniesa's gym. Ulises' coaches claimed he was new to boxing.

Joe suspected that wasn't true. Could Ulises fight a girl?

"Sure," his trainer said.

"Tell your kid not to hold back," Joe replied. He turned to Seniesa. "You don't feel too sick, right?"

Her eyes grew. She nodded: Right.

"Get ready," her father said. "You're gonna fight."

She sprang to her feet and stretched her arms toward him. He slipped her boxing gloves onto her fists. "He has a big right," her father said. "Just slip the right. Don't stay back. Don't draw away. Slip it and hit him in the jaw with your overhand left. They are getting cocky, mama. We don't like that. Let's take this guy."

At the bell, Seniesa smacked Ulises with a series of hooks, jabs and uppercuts. She forced him to the ropes, punching fast, down to the body, up to the head. The gym filled with her crackle-and-pop.

Ulises was shocked. Then he began to fight back, smacking her in the body and the face. She winced. Her head jolted, but she stayed close, steering clear of his right as she hammered him back. With each of her body blows, I could see and hear the results.

Ulises' mouth formed an O. "Ugh," he groaned. "Uhh. Uhh."

"Vamos, Ulises, vamos" his coaches yelled. "A la derecha! A la derecha!" To the right. To the right.

Sweat poured. Fists rose and fell and arced through the hot, humid air. Joe and the rival trainers roared. So did onlookers from the neighborhood, who had filed into the gym.

"Duran, Seniesa, Duran!" It was the punch she had named after the champion Roberto Duran.

"Come on, Ulises, come on!"

"Show your stuff, girl, show your stuff!"

One woman yelled louder than the rest. "Vamos, mama! Vamos, mama' Show 'em you're a true Mexican! Show 'em you're a girl! Show 'em the power of a girl!"

Seniesa gained the upper hand. She circled, wheeled, ponytail flying, boxing as if she were chasing a demon.

At the end, the crowd applauded in awe. Seniesa and Ulises embraced in mid-ring.

Suddenly, she seemed calm, happy. She stood tall, something I hadn't seen in weeks.

"She was good," Ulises said, as he walked to the back of the gym to get a drink of water. His white shirt was soaked, his gait stiff. "She just kept coming. Coming and hitting me."

Joe slipped an arm around his daughter, and they walked out into the darkness of early evening. Seniesa had a smile.

"Nobody can touch her," he said, shaking his fist. "NO-BAH-DEE. My little girl is back."

Believing Again

To regain momentum, Joe seized almost any opportunity for her to box. One was the Junior Olympics. Despite her mother's worry that she looked too pale to be in the ring, Seniesa won by a second-round technical knockout. Twice she went to Arizona. Both times she beat a girl 10 pounds heavier.

In the last of those bouts, when it was announced that Seniesa had won, the hometown crowd booed, hissed and shook their fists. Joe tried to hurry Seniesa away, but she raised her right arm in defiance and pointed a middle finger skyward.

"Don't do that, mama, don't!" Joe yelled over the din.

As they drove back to their hotel, he shook his head. He couldn't believe his daughter had flipped off the crowd.

"What?" she asked, with a sly smile. "I was just saying, 'I'm No. 1! I'm No. 1!' "

Her father shook his head again, but he let it go. Inside, he felt contentment. She believed in their dream again.

Even Lupe Arellano, her teacher, could see that Seniesa was feeling better about herself. She had sharpened her focus and pulled up her grades.

In her school journal, Seniesa wrote: "I'm a Mexican. A girl who lives in El Sereno. Not a lot of money. An American citizen. I have the attitude. Proud of my achievements."

She was the only one in her sixth-grade class who had clear-cut goals, Arellano said. "Most of the kids, they are at that stage where all that matters is immediate gratification. But for her, it is long-term dedication. She is saying, 'I want to go to the Olympics one day. Nobody will stop me. If you don't like it, too bad for you.' "

What would finally restore Seniesa's full confidence, her father knew, would be to win a rematch with Daveena Villalva, who had defeated her at the Region VIII Silver Gloves Championships that January.

It was Seniesa's first big defeat -- and it started her slump. Now that the gloom was lifting, she wanted revenge. Daveena lived in Arizona, and Seniesa had seen her at both of her Phoenix matches. But Joe could not talk Daveena's father into another bout.

With each refusal, Seniesa's lust for vengeance grew. "She don't want to fight," Seniesa told me. "Ooh, I hate her."

In truth, Daveena wanted very much to fight. They were a lot alike, these two girls.

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