July 14, 2005

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BALLET?:

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. (Kurt Streeter, July 14, 2005, LA Times)

There was nothing for this pain.

Although she had lost, her father bought her a tall trophy with a fighter on top, inscribed "Seniesa Estrada, Regional Junior Champion." He surprised her with it. She took it to her bedroom and placed it near her pillow. It didn't help.

Sucking a lollipop, she watched a videotape of her fight. "Maybe I did win," she said. "I didn't do as badly as I thought." It didn't help.

She stayed away from the gym. When she finally went back to training, she was stale. She talked about other sports and practiced with a basketball team, against her father's wishes. It didn't help. Even her teachers noticed that something was amiss. Seniesa goofed off, and her grades fell. She interrupted class with chatter and gossip.

She was nearly 12 now, and losing her first big match had taught her something. It showed her, said Lupe Arellano, one of her teachers, that she was not invincible, and it forced her to realize that there was more to life than boxing. "She is testing out what it is to be an ordinary girl," Arellano said. "Maybe it's good for her. She's just a kid. Now is the time to test and figure out where she belongs."


-THE GIRL | CHAPTER FOUR OF FIVE: 'I'm Gonna Win. But You Never Know.': Seniesa learns the devastating 'Duran' and trains to face a tough foe. Problems mount outside the ring too. Growing up isn't easy. (Kurt Streeter, July 13, 2005, LA Times)
"Down, then up, baby," her father said as he stood behind the ropes and watched. "Rapido, rapido. Set him up, set him up. Then come with the Duran."

Seniesa bounced on her toes, holding her gloves in front of her face and weaving toward the other boxer, a boy one year older and 10 pounds heavier. He retreated against the ropes. She jabbed. She hooked. She backed off.

His body melted deeper into the ropes. He threw a few meager punches, then drew away.

"Duran," her father said.

She evaded a blow by bending slightly to her right. In perfect position, she coiled tightly, right arm bent, right fist suddenly down, near her waist. When she released, her fist took off, making a small U, curving at first, and then straightening into the air before landing — WHAP — in the kid's gut.

Seniesa Estrada, 11, had changed gyms, to Solid Rock Boxing, an old storefront with a single ring, where a onetime street hustler named Gil Valdez was helping Joe Estrada, 44, her father, train her. She had learned an array of punches. One she called "the Duran," a powerful roundhouse like the one perfected by the legendary champion Roberto Duran.

But it would take the Duran and more to make Seniesa a champion. Outside the ring, the world had a way of ambushing her. If it wasn't her mother, who smothered her with worry that she could be hurt, then it was her brothers, who hung out on the streets where they could be killed, or her father, an ex-addict who exploded with such anger that it could get him back into trouble with the police. Seniesa herself was conflicted. Part of her wanted to be the warrior of her dreams, but another part wanted to stay a little girl. Before long, she would face her toughest opponent, a girl just like her in so many ways. And the girl was tough.

Tougher than this kid in the ring, whose name was Richard. He trudged to his corner. Blood formed around a nostril. His trainer lit into him. "Come on, you've got to hit her first, or you're gonna get hurt out there. Stop fighting like you are scared of her. What's wrong with you?"

Richard spit out his mouthpiece. "She's so quick," he gasped. "So quick."


-THE GIRL | CHAPTER THREE OF FIVE: Life Throws Some Hooks: Seniesa tries to refocus, but loses her father's attention. After a brawl, Joe realizes he's still on the brink of prison. (Kurt Streeter, July 12, 2005, LA Times)
Her words hung in the air. 'I should quit.' She looked away from her father.

He was stunned. He didn't know what to say, but he knew he had to say something — and fast. To him, "quit" was a four-letter word. So long as she was his daughter, Seniesa Carmen Estrada was not going to quit. She had put too much into boxing.

They both had. Boxing was as important to Joe Estrada, 44, as it was to Seniesa, who was 10. Her dream was his dream: that one day she would win a world championship. Besides, coaching her was helping him stay away from his gang, free of drugs and out of prison.

In his van, musty with sweaty shirts, worn-out gloves and moldy hand wraps, they rode through East L.A., past Lincoln Park, one of his hangouts during his gang days. He reminded her of that. Then past Central Juvenile Hall, where he had spent so many weeks he couldn't count them. He reminded her of that too.

'Dad,' she said, 'it's too hard.'

She trained at least two hours a day, five days a week. But not many girls boxed, so it was difficult to get fights. She faced other obstacles too. Her mother, divorced from her father, didn't think much of girls boxing. Seniesa lived with her, so it was not easy. Even her father could be a problem. If he didn't control his street instincts, stay off drugs and quit brawling, the cops would take him away. She would lose him.

Boxing was for their future, as much as to redeem his past.

They drove into her neighborhood. He wrapped his hands tightly around the steering wheel. He worked to keep his cool, fearing she would tune him out if his voice rose. She slumped in the front seat, frowning. It was a long ride. Both would remember it well and the words they spoke. 'You have to keep fighting, he told her. You have to, even if I have to drag you to the gym. You are going to be special, little mama.'

They pulled up in front of her mother's apartment. She stayed in the van. He kept talking. 'Of all of us in this family, you are going to make something of yourself. And I am going to keep you around me and keep you in this and show you the way. Show you not to make the mistakes I did. And that is going to make me feel like I have done something good. I did a lot of bad in my life, but that's OK, because with you, I have helped make something good.'

He would not let her end up like her two brothers. One was a high school dropout, too familiar with the streets. Joe feared the other was not far behind. Both had been good at sports. Both had quit.

'Seniesa, you can't quit.'

He leaned over to hug her.

Already, she was feeling better. Yes, it was hard. Yes, her father was a problem, and he would become more of one in ways she couldn't imagine. But she needed him to tell her that boxing was OK, that everything would turn out fine, that girls could fight.

He kissed her forehead.

'Tell me what you want to do,' he said. 'Do we stay with boxing?'

'Yeah, Dad. Yeah. We do.'

Soon afterward, she wrote him a poem, misspelled here and there, to say thanks for being there. He tacked it to a wall in his bedroom, near his pillow. Each morning, it was one of the first things he saw.

Maybe it's the way you make me luagh

Maybe it's the way you push me in boxing when I feel like qiting

Maybe it's the way you buy me things

Maybe it's the way you hug and kiss me

Maybe it's the way you tell me right from wrong

Maybe it's the way you make me get good grades

Maybe it's the way you make me go to school

Maybe it's the way you support me

Maybe it's the way you tell me what I am doing wrong in boxing


-THE GIRL | CHAPTER TWO OF FIVE: 'Dang, She's Good. Dang, She Is Tough.': Seniesa's reputation grows, and her father has high hopes for her. But family troubles and a lack of competition jab at her morale. (Kurt Streeter, July 11, 2005, LA Times)
Being a champ. It was what she wanted. It was what Joe wanted for her. She was 4 feet 8 and just under 70 pounds when I first saw them. He was an ex-gangster, had done hard time and was not long off heroin. She had a dream: to win an Olympic gold medal, then to become a champion boxer, like her hero, Muhammad Ali. Her dream was Joe's dream.

If she made it come true, I realized, she would have to do it against long odds. The Olympics still didn't have events for female fighters. She could not get many matches; few girls wanted to box. She would have to do it despite her mother; Maryann Chavez worried about injuries and wanted her to become a cheerleader. She might even have to do it despite her father; Joe was her coach, but he was an ex-junkie with a blistering temper and a street instinct for revenge. One slip could send him back to prison.

Divorced from Maryann in 1996, Joe brawled with her boyfriend about a year and a half afterward. It was one of the upheavals in Seniesa's family that had a way of ambushing her. All it took was Seniesa's complaint that the boyfriend had twisted her arm.

Joe's anger flared. A few evenings later, he lay in wait outside Maryann's apartment. As the boyfriend left, Joe appeared.

'Don't be f------ with my kids'! he said, and he launched a fierce barrage of blows. With pride, he would recall that he had dropped the boyfriend in his tracks.

Joe stood over him. 'Seniesa, that's my baby,' he said. 'Don't you ever touch her again.'

Seniesa didn't see the fight. But she did see the boyfriend barge back into her mother's apartment, blood pouring from his face. He had a swollen eye and a fat lip. Seniesa's grandfather was there. He had known Joe for years. 'Don't go against him, she heard her grandfather say. That fool is crazy. He will kill you.'

Maryann thought Joe was jealous of her boyfriend. But to Seniesa and her father, the brawl was about defending Seniesa. She was proud, grateful even, that he would go to such lengths, but she knew what might happen if he ever killed someone. He'd already served time for robbery. This could take him away from her for life.

Boxing was still new to Seniesa: the tournaments, held in sweaty, tinderbox gyms in the middle of tough neighborhoods; the spectators, breathing down on the ring, hoping for a knockout; the air, heavy with cigarette smoke and the smell of stale beer. Boxing was hard, ugly. But even when she lost, she loved every bit of it.

By the fall of 2002, she had started winning, and not just in sparring matches with boys like Frankie. Her reputation grew. Police Athletic League champ. Silver Gloves champ. The best little girl fighter in East Los Angeles. Sometimes it scared opponents away. They would find out they were fighting Seniesa Estrada, and they wouldn't show up.

She could always count on Joe. Always.


-THE GIRL | CHAPTER ONE OF FIVE: A Surprise in the Ring: Searching gritty gyms for the next Oscar De La Hoya, a reporter finds a 10-year-old girl, coached by her father. They hunger for a championship. Even more, they need each other. Can her fists save them both? (Kurt Streeter, July 10, 2005, LA Times)
'Do girls box?' she asked, turning to her father one evening. 'Is it OK for girls to box?'

'Well, yeah, mija, they do,' he answered. 'Sure, it's OK for girls to box.'

They were sitting on the bed in his cramped apartment, faces lit by a flickering TV, eating pizza, watching a pro boxing match. Seniesa loved to watch fights with him, loved the way boxers settled their differences, using fists to express what was inside. She was just a kid, a girl enthralled with a man's sport, but she wanted to express herself like that.

'Dad? Can I box? Can I learn how to box?'

Joe Estrada was shocked, he would remember afterward, but he didn't want to let his daughter down, not with what they had been through. 'Yeah,' he said, eyes still on the TV. 'Sure, mija, you can do that, if you really want to. I'll take you to a gym in a couple of days. I promise.'

He didn't mean it. Boxing wasn't for girls. Not for his girl, a pretty one with thin bones, a delicate nose and rosy lips. He had lived by his fists, both on the streets and in prison. All he wanted was to protect her. For weeks, he did nothing to make his promise real.

But she grew adamant. She read a book about Muhammad Ali, got a poster of him and tacked it to her wall. She admired his confidence, the way he would not back down, just like her father, she would proudly say, and the way Ali had grown up, just as she had — an outsider looking in. She wanted to become a champion boxer, bold and strong, just like Ali.

Besides, if her father trained her, he would be with her, no matter what. Both needed that, desperately. They needed it to save each other.

The more he put off boxing, the more she pressed.

Finally, guilt got him. One Monday afternoon, he drove her to a gym on a busy street in East L.A. When he parked, she sprinted from the van to the entrance. They walked inside, unsure what was next.

'Do you train kids here?' Joe asked.

The manager looked down at Seniesa, leaning against her father's side. 'How old is she?' he asked.

'Eight,' Joe said. 'Almost 9.'

'She's too small,' the manager said. 'We'll train her, when she's 13.'

She walked from the gym with her head down. Joe tried to console her, but actually he couldn't have been happier. Good, he thought, that's the end of this boxing thing. Then, inside his van, he looked at her and saw her staring out the window.

'What's wrong, mama?' he asked.

She couldn't speak. Tears filled her eyes.

It hit him then how much this meant, how badly she just wanted the chance to step inside a ring and put gloves on and let go.

A few days later, deciding to try once more, he took her to a gym near her home where a group of boy boxers trained.

One of their coaches had grown up with Joe. Two decades before, they were in the same gang. Then Joe Estrada and Paul Gonzales took different paths. Joe scuffled along the gutter. Now 42, he had climbed out, but he could easily tumble back, leave Seniesa, even go back to prison. Gonzales, for his part, had risen from the gang and the projects and become a famous boxer.

Joe and Seniesa approached him, near the ring.

'Puppet? Is that you?' Gonzales asked, calling Joe by his gang name. He had long figured Joe was in jail — or dead. When he remembered Puppet, he thought of a young man with hair below the shoulders, roving eyes and a tattoo reading "Maryann" burned into his right forearm.

Before him now stood another man: just plain Joe, hair closely cropped, eyes firm, the "Maryann" X-ed out and his gang tattoo covered by a flower, heart and cross. And then there was the surprise, peeking from behind him, a small girl with smooth, light brown skin and hopeful eyes.

'Paul, this is about my daughter,' Joe said. 'She wants to box. She practically dragged me down here.'

Seniesa was too shy to look him in the eye.

Gonzales was stunned. He would never forget it. 'She wants to be a boxer?' he asked. 'She's a beautiful little girl. Why on earth would you want her to box?' In his heart, though, Gonzales knew he could not say no. Figuring he owed Joe, he swallowed his doubts.

'Sure,' he said, 'there's a place for your girl here.'

The trainers found Seniesa (pronounced Seh-NEE-sa) an old pair of gloves, showed her a few simple defensive moves and a basic punch. It was but a few days later when she stepped into the ring to box for the first time. Joe felt relief; he was certain she would be hit and then give up. After all, her opponent was a boy.

To Seniesa, it was riveting. She saw the boy, about her size, standing in the corner across from her. She saw men hanging on the ropes, watching, wondering what would happen. They made her nervous. She heard one of them yell: 'Attack him, attack him, go forward, see what it's like!'

So she hit the boy.

He smacked her back.

She backed off, uncertain, leaving an opening. He released a hook that plowed into her stomach.

Air sucked from her lungs. She couldn't breathe. She bent over.

Joe gripped hard on the ropes, struggling to keep from leaping in and calling it off, struggling to keep himself from lecturing the boy: Hey, kid, what the hell are you doing, hitting my little girl like that?

Seniesa heard one of the men shout: 'Breathe from your stomach, girl! From your stomach!' She breathed in once, she breathed in twice. She stood up straight, like a dreamer rising from a nightmare.

She zeroed in on the boy, her small fists a blur: whapwhop-whapwhop-whapwhop.

He tried to shield himself, but now Seniesa was angry, and her blows kept coming. Whapwhop-whapwhop. Her fists moved faster than his arms. Whapwhop. She saw his legs go shaky.

'Stop!' A trainer yelled, applauding with the others. Nobody wanted to see the little boy get hurt.

What Seniesa felt was more than good: It was unforgettable. She walked over to her father and hugged him.

He caught himself beaming. My little girl, he thought, she can fight.

'Mija, aren't you afraid?' he asked as he drove her home to her mother's apartment. 'You're the only girl out there. Boxing is hard, mama.'

'No, Dad,' she said. 'I'm not afraid.'

The little boy Seniesa pummeled never showed up to box again.


Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2005 12:03 AM
Comments

The more he put off boxing, the more she pressed.
Finally, guilt got him.

It hit him then how much this meant, how badly she just wanted the chance to step inside a ring and put gloves on and let go.

Because eight year old kids know well how the world works, and what's best for themseves.

Especially petite, fine-boned girls.

Female boxing certainly isn't a route out of the 'hood to riches, at least not yet.
Because there's very little interest in female boxing, females make $ 10,000 or less a fight, and fights are few and far between.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 10, 2005 4:50 PM

Michael,

Have you gone soft?

This is a miserable world we live in and, especially since whatever chivalry may have once existed is long dead, it is probably not a bad idea for a young girl to develop martial arts skills. Supposedly, they also help one develop legitimate self-esteem and the discipline that is instilled translates into academic improvement. If I had a daughter and she were interested in boxing, I would happily take her down to the nearest age-appropriate environment for training, not with the intention of being the next Lucia Rijker or Christy Martin but with the purpose of improving her mental set and physical skills while having her do something she wants to try. Moreover, I would want my daughter not to be some 'babydoll' or 'bimbette' but have her be capable of meeting tough challenges and be cognizant that she can experience real success through her own efforts. I would want her to be supremely confident of her own abilities in and out of the classroom for real reasons. Martial arts are great. There is a clear winner and a clear loser. And the habit of winning or the habit of losing is developed early and remains with one for a lifetime.

If Seniesa is 'petite and fine boned' then she should fight in the 'petite and fine boned' division. Amateur fighters wear ample headgear and female amateurs wear plenty of other protections as well.

Posted by: bart at July 10, 2005 8:42 PM

I'm with Michael. Martial arts training is fine, but competitive boxing involves taking blows to the head on a regular basis. No good learning how to defend yourself if your brains are scrambled by your 21st birthday. I don't even think men should do it, but men are violent by nature, and if it keeps some of them out of gangs then so be it.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 11, 2005 9:18 AM

Female boxing is a repulsive, and so are the men who enjoy watching it.

Posted by: carter at July 11, 2005 2:05 PM

But, but that's what won the Oscar last March, wasn't it? A female boxing story? Or did I miss something.....

I know I saw the news story about the real woman whose brains got scrambled on her 4th or 5th fight. The pictures of her in the hospital certainly weren't pretty. She looked worse than Joe Frazier after any of his fights, and worse than Chuck Wepner as well. Bleeding is one thing, but a swollen head, a breathing tube, and partial loss of vision is another.

Posted by: ratbert at July 11, 2005 3:21 PM

carter,

I don't enjoy it as a sport, but that is something qualitatively different from knowing that, should the need arise, your daughter can kick butt and take names.

ratbert,

What happens in female boxing is a magnified version of what happens in men's boxing. People who have no business being in the ring together end up in the ring together because some slimeball thinks it can make him money. I'm with McCain on this, we need a Federal boxing commission. What we really need is a rating system for boxers similar to chess ratings, where boxers whose ratings are too far apart cannot be put in the same ring. In chess, if you are a 2815 like Gari Kasparov or an 1870, like yours truly, there is little doubt that Kasparov would prevail. In chess, if I lose to Kasparov, I lose, it's embarassing to a degree, but I don't suffer physical injury. If you put two boxers together whose skills were similar disparate, the loser might suffer serious, permanent injury.

Because there are so few female boxers, the differences in ability are even more dramatic, with concomitant chance of injury.

Posted by: bart at July 11, 2005 8:45 PM

www.boxrec.com has what seems to be a viable rating system for ranking pro boxers.

Posted by: Dlirag at July 12, 2005 8:12 AM

first of all, hats off to joe and seniesa. if more fathers spent time w/their children regardless if it's in a boxing gym then we wouldn't have so many "lost & confused" kids on the streets. If kids are lacking attention and love at home then they turn to the streets and gangs. Seniesa sounds like an amazing little girl who has already made a name for herself regardless if she never obtains a world championship belt. She already is a winner!!! As far as Joe, keep your chin up because this is only the beginning to a bumpier road, the streets will never change...but will joe....

Posted by: liv at July 12, 2005 1:00 PM

Have to agree with Robert -

Martial Arts training is great for all kids but it doesn't involve repeatedly taking blows to the head. There is a reason boxers sound retarded when they talk.

Posted by: Shelton at July 13, 2005 11:50 AM

why does this article keep popping up, day after day ?

Posted by: cjm at July 14, 2005 10:53 AM

CHAPTER FIVE OF FIVE

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2005 11:15 AM

Chap. Five o' Five illustrates what I thought was happening with Seniesa and her father - she was trying to win his affection by being good at something she perceived him to be good at, or at least involved with - brawling.

If she were systematically learning self-defense, it could be a good thing, and on the whole, I agree with bart. Everyone should have a basic knowledge of self-defense, or a Saturday Night Special tucked in their waistband.

However, the fact that Seniesa was very interested in training to be a boxer while she was pummelling scrawny kids senseless, but abruptly quit once she got a taste of her own medicine, tells me that: A) She doesn't have a warrier's heart (no knock on her); and B) Her father lacks the sense, (and the parenting skills), to have her get back on the horse. Instead, he tries to imbue her with empty pride by pretending that she won her first really tough bout.

So, unless she gets her mind right, she not only doesn't learn how to effectively defend herself, her strongest memory of that period of her life will be that she's a loser.

If her father kept her in training, she'd at least learn that defeat need not be permanent.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 14, 2005 12:49 PM

Chap. Five o' Five illustrates what I thought was happening with Seniesa and her father - she was trying to win his affection by being good at something she perceived him to be good at, or at least involved with - brawling.

If she were systematically learning self-defense, it could be a good thing, and on the whole, I agree with bart. Everyone should have a basic knowledge of self-defense, or a Saturday Night Special tucked in their waistband.

However, the fact that Seniesa was very interested in training to be a boxer while she was pummelling scrawny kids senseless, but abruptly quit once she got a taste of her own medicine, tells me that: A) She doesn't have a warrier's heart (no knock on her); and B) Her father lacks the sense, (and the parenting skills), to have her get back on the horse. Instead, he tries to imbue her with empty pride by pretending that she won her first really tough bout.

So, unless she gets her mind right, she not only doesn't learn how to effectively defend herself, her strongest memory of that period of her life will be that she's a loser.

If her father kept her in training, she'd at least learn that defeat need not be permanent.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 14, 2005 12:49 PM
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