The final two U.S. competitors in Olympic boxing took the ring on Wednesday and it was a split decision for the pair. Flyweight Marlen Esparza (Houston, Texas) lost a 10-8 bout to reigning World Champion Cancan Ren of China while Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) won a dominant 29-15 victory over Kazakhstan's Marina Volnova. Esparza will leave London with a bronze medal but Shields will vie for gold on Thursday.
After facing a towering two-time World Champion in her Olympic opener, Shields enjoyed a much easier day in her semifinal contest with Volnova. The power-punching teenager started landing heavy shots early in the bout, and held a 7-5 lead after the round. She continued to control the action in the second, boxing well off the ropes and getting the best of the exchanges and Shields enjoyed a 12-8 advantage at the midway mark of the bout. Yet it was the third round where Shields really began to impose her will. She landed every punch in the book, giving Volnova a standing eight count en route a 20-11 lead with one round remaining. Volnova had no answer for Shields in the fourth round as the 17-year-old continued to catch her with heavy shots, giving her another standing eight count. She continued her onslaught through the sound of the final bell and went on to win a 29-15 final decision. Shields victory earns her a berth in the championship bout where she will face Russia's Nadezda Torlopova.
"She was going to try and come in and fight me, she didn't have any other option. She couldn't outbox me so she was going to come in and try to out-bang me. We already knew that and we came up with a game plan for it," Shields said. "The game plan was basically to move to the right and jab and box her but she didn't respect me when I did that so I turned it into a fun game and I started banging with her. I got the best of it, I was able to pick my shots, make her miss a lot and we were just in there fighting. It was fun though."
Should she win tomorrow's championship bout, Shields will be the first American boxer since Andre Ward to win Olympic gold and the first middleweight champion ever in women's Olympic boxing.
Esparza faced a much more tactical and slow-paced bout with her Chinese opponent and the 23-year-old veteran planned well for her inactive opponent. The first round was contested at a very slow pace with Esparza looking to make Ren come forward and the Chinese boxer was up by a 3-2 margin after one. The trend continued in the second round as Esparza stayed disciplined and looked to bait Ren, but she trailed 7-4 after two. Esparza picked up the pace in the third round, still boxing in a tactical fashion with her awkward and frustrating opponent and she was able to knock one point off Ren's advantage. She faced an 8-6 deficit as the final round began but wasn't discouraged by the score. Esparza stayed focused, and set up strong right hand shots, while Ren refused to engage over the final two minutes. However it was Ren taking the decision, winning the bout by a 10-8 margin. Although the loss eliminates Esparza from the tournament, she still claims a bronze medal in the Olympic debut of women's boxing.
"I thought I got away with it. I really thought that I landed, I guess maybe her punches are a little longer, a little easier to see. I have to watch the tape but I definitely thought that I got away with it. When I was only down by two, I thought, okay I can do that because I was starting to find my range. I should have shot off my breaks more but its hard with someone that constantly pulls back. She was frustrated, she was pissed because I wasn't coming forward so that was part of the game plan and I thought I did everything that I could do."
Shields will face Torlopova tomorrow at 5:15 p.m. London time (12:15 ET).
112 lbs: Cancan Ren, CHN, dec. Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas/USA, 10-8
165 lbs: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich./USA dec. Marina Volnova, KAZ, 29-15
Marlen Esparza Quotes
"I can't be angry about any medal at all but it wasn't my goal. I did accomplish something here, it just wasn't what I had in my head but any medal is a blessing at the Games."
"We knew she wasn't going to commit ever so the game plan was to not go forward so when I did, that's when I got in trouble. When I did leap forward, she would catch me with those hooks. So when I didn't follow the game plan was when I did get countered, but the point was to throw when she throws. In the beginning, it was just supposed to be one punch and see if she comes back with anything. I thought I got away with it so I can't really change too much."
"The third and fourth round was also the plan, I wasn't really supposed to throw in the first or second. I was supposed to only wing it in the first and second and see what she does and find my range and then got closer in the third and fourth. I thought I got away with it in the last round because I really didn't feel anything but I didn't."
"No her style is as boring to us as it is to everyone else. Everyone can't stand it but it works so you can't blame her."
"This was my hardest loss because I thought I was gonna win. Usually, 99% of the time, when you get in the ring, you know if you're gonna lose or if you're gonna win and I definitely thought I was gonna win."
"I hope that whatever I did was some type of limelight for what we can do (female boxers). I was hoping for a gold medal to have a little more concrete of a reason but I'm hoping that whatever we're doing here, not just myself, but everyone else gives us more of a force to get in as a solid start."
"I'm done, that was my last bout."
"My body's falling apart already. I'm in sports med about four hours a day."
"I think for the women in the U.S., we're very capable of competing in this sport. We're very capable of competing with other countries so I think we're doing very well for the three women that did come and hopefully it will give us a foot in the door, more than we already have."
"I thought I got away with it, I wasn't too nervous at the decision. I was gaining every round and I felt that my last round was my better round and I thought they were going to give me what I felt. I thought it was even or I was up by one and I figured if it was even, I would win on punch count. I was feeling really good about it and I could tell she was worried and her coach wasn't so happy so I felt good until I heard the score and then I knew."
"It (the Olympics) was definitely more than I expected, I played it in my mind a hundred times but it was way better than I ever thought. It was a big crowd, it was fun, it was beautiful so it definitely surpassed my expectations."
"The worst part about it is that you imagine it in your mind so many times and to watch somebody else right in front of me feel and get and have what I feel like I worked my whole life for is just horrible but its just the way it worked out for me so there's nothing I can do about it."
"I plan to be really fat later on. I'm just going to watch boxing. I'm done. Maybe coaching later. I'm just going to go school and see what life is actually besides boxing."
"It was definitely worth it. It didn't play out exactly the way I wanted but besides getting a gold medal, I wouldn't change anything."
"Olympic medalist has a nice ring to it but the podium's not going to be as fun as I thought it was going to be."
"I'm a hard critic so I really don't feel like I accomplished enough for us (female boxers). I had a lot of media so I figured if anyone was going to do it, it was going to be me."
Claressa Shields Quotes
"I do that, they actually don't like me on the ropes. I fight good off the ropes, they want me to stay in the middle of the ring but I'm good at fighting off the ropes."
"It's wonderful (knowing that I'm going to fight for the gold medal). I'm already thinking, is it really true? Am I really gonna fight for the gold tomorrow? I just think to myself, I'm not dreaming anymore, its real. I know I can beat anybody so it's right there. I just have to grab it."
"I didn't know what they were saying but I saw in the second round he was doing this (makes jab motion) so I know he was telling me to use my jab. Use it, use it. I did that and it opened me up to a lot more combinations."
"I think that's the performance I wanted everyone to see. My performance the other day was okay. I was fighting a taller girl, I threw a lot of wide shots but this one. I was able to put my combinations together, land my clean, hard shots, punch straight. I was able to do a lot of things that people don't see women doing."
"I know I was faster than her before I got in the ring."
"I'm not going to celebrate too early, people do that. They get excited that I won a bronze medal. I'm not going to do that. I have to make sure I stay focused. I think yesterday, I was with my coaches the whole day. We went out and had dinner. I ate some duck. We really just sat down and talked about all my mistakes from my first fight. He told me what he wanted me to do this fight."
"When Errol lost last light, I felt kind of heavy. I was like ugh. It might be all on me and Marlen. It might me all on me. It's all on me to get a gold medal. I can overcome all that because at the end of the day, I have to get in the ring and fight."
"I'll take on any task that has to do with women's boxing so if that's what's asked me I'll be the face of American women's boxing."
"I was a lot sharper than what I was. People were like you swing wide and fight like Rocky Balboa."
"My favorite Rocky movie is when he beat the Russian. No, when he fought Mr. T. Mr. T is crazy but I feel like this fight, I showed my Sugar Ray Robinson. I like to call myself Baby Robinson because I feel like I fight like him. I did my thing today. Out of 1 through 10, I'd give myself an eight or nine."
"Right now, I can't imagine winning a gold medal. Not right now."
"I like the way Sugar Ray Leonard fights too but Robinson is someone that I've looked up to forever. Whenever I'm stressed out or I have a bad day, I use it to calm myself down. I was watching Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta last night."
"I was geeked up, I listened to slow music to calm me down and some crunk music to geek me up. I had to have confidence going in there. Whenever someone wants to bang with you, you can either say I'm not going to bang with this person, I'm going to let them beat me up or you can fight them and I got the best of her every round so I did pretty good. The first round, I didn't like that. It was like we were trading and I'm supposed to be hitting her and she's not supposed to be hitting me."
USA Boxing, as the national governing body for Olympic-style boxing, is the United States' member organization of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) and a member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).