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Women taking Olympic boxing dreams into ring

A handful of California fighters, including Patricia Manuel and Mikaela Mayer, continue their quest to reach the London Games with the U.S. trials this week.

February 13, 2012|By Kevin Baxter

Reporting from Spokane, Wash. — For the last two years Patricia Manuel and Mikaela Mayer have shared a dream: representing the U.S. in the debut Olympic boxing tournament for women this summer in London.

For three weeks this winter, they also shared an apartment. So Monday, when they both climb into the ring in the Olympic trials at the Northern Quest Resort outside Spokane, it should come as no surprise that they'll do so sharing the same feeling.

"I'm confident," said Manuel, a former national Golden Gloves champion. "I think this is the most confident I've been going into a tournament."

Asked if she too was confident, Mayer answered "Yeah. I'm feeling good."

Twenty-four women will compete in three weight classes — at 112, 132 and 165 pounds — in the weeklong double-elimination tournament, but only the winners from each division will advance to May's World Championships in China, where they will need to finish in the top eight to earn a trip to London.

Both Manuel, a 26-year-old from Long Beach, and Mayer, a 21-year-old who grew up in Woodland Hills, will fight at 132 pounds – and each has a challenging first-round opponent. Manuel gets second-seeded Tiara Brown, who won silver in last year's national championships, while Mayer opens with fourth-seeded Lisa Porter of Northridge, a 23-year-old who got her start in the sport through the Cal State Northridge boxing club.

"I think it's a perfect starter fight," said Mayer, a former Golden Gloves and national Police Athletic League champion. "She's a good fighter, but I've beaten her twice before."

Whoever wins that bout figures to take a huge step up in class in their second fight. That's because top-seeded Queen Underwood, a five-time national champion, is also on that side of the bracket and will get the Mayer-Porter winner should she beat Bertha Aracil of Yonkers, N.Y., in her opener

But all the competitors in Spokane present a danger, Manuel warned

"Everyone here is an excellent fighter," said Manuel, who had to overcome a series of injuries just to reach the trials. "I don't care who I fight as long as I get to fight.

"I'm excited I get to be a part of this. I came here to win. And you have to fight to win. I've put in the work in the gym. I believe in myself. I believe in what I've done. We can take this."

In the flyweight division Marlen Esparza, a 22-year-old from Houston, is a heavy favorite after winning six consecutive national championships as well as a bronze medal in the 2006 world championships. Among her toughest opponents could be second-seeded Tyrieshia Douglas of Baltimore, who along with brother Antoine, a middleweight who placed third in the 2011 men's national championships, are vying to become the first brother-sister combination to fight in the Olympics.

Middleweight favorite Franchon Crews, meanwhile, comes to Spokane partly at the urging of former "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell. A talented vocalist, Crews once auditioned for the televised talent show only to have the crusty Cowell suggest she stick to boxing. That's proven to be good advice, since the 24-year-old has won five national titles at two weights.

Also in the 165-pound division is third-seeded Tiffanie Ward, a former basketball player from Hacienda Heights who placed third in the 2011 nationals. At 28, Ward is among the oldest competitors in the tournament.

Flyweight (112 pounds)

Marlen Esparza (Houston; No. 1) vs. Cynthia Moreno (Phoenix); Taversha Norwood (Marietta, Ga.; No. 4) vs. Alex Love (Monroe, Wash.); Christina Cruz (New York; No. 3) vs. Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas); Tyrieshia Douglas (Baltimore; No. 2) vs. Latonya Wingate ((Harrison Township, Mich).

Lightweight (132 pounds)

Queen Underwood (Seattle; No. 1) vs. Bertha Aracil (Yonkers, N.Y.); Lisa Porter (Northridge; No. 4) vs. Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles); N'yteeyah Sherman (Barberton, Ohio; No. 3) vs. Asia Stevenson (Washington); Tiara Brown (Lehigh, Fla.; No. 2) vs. Patricia Manuel (Long Beach)

Middleweight (165 pounds)

Franchon Crews (Baltimore; No. 1) vs. Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.); Dara Shen (Alexandria, Va.; No. 4) vs. Andrecia Wasson (Centerline, Mich.); Tiffanie Ward (Hacienda Heights, No. 3) vs. Tiffanie Hearn (Louisville, Ky.); Tika Hemingway (Pittsburgh; No. 2) vs. Raquel Miller (San Francisco)

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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