The goal for media members is to get their subjects to bare as much as possible, as in, unlock one’s true emotions or poignant thoughts encapsulated in the mind. Amateur boxing star Marlen Esparza was asked, instead, to discard her clothes for ESPN the Magazine’s 2013 “Body Issue,” which hits stores Friday.
“Ever since I started boxing as a kid, I would cover up in the gym to where I wouldn’t even be seen in a sports bra or shorts—even today,” Esparza told CSNBayArea.com. “But I don’t think I’m going to pose nude ever again, and the ‘Body Issue’ does a good job in the way it’s shown, so why not? It’s about the celebration of the athlete’s body.”
Esparza, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist from Houston who now trains in San Carlos, is a veteran of lengthy photo shoots having been a spokesperson for CoverGirl last summer. But in this instance, the framers’ objective for capturing a session in the buff was a bit different.
“The CoverGirl shoot was a 16-hour day, and this one was just six,” Esparza said. “They were actually similar in that both had the same elements of mixing being dainty with being fierce. It’s just that this shoot wanted me to show more of that pop—more of that strength—while CoverGirl was the other way around in that it had both things but it wanted to emphasize being feminine more.”
Donning the "emperor’s new clothes" in front of total strangers for six hours, much less six minutes, would be enough to intimidate the most unflappable of athletes, who, like entertainers, habitually perform in front of thousands live and millions at home. Esparza quickly got over her pregame jitters as she stepped into iconic Gleason’s Gym in New York City.
“At first, I was worried about disrobing, but once I saw that the crew was more worried about just getting the lighting right and the photographer getting the perfect shot, I kind of forgot what was going on,” she said. “It actually got a little tedious for everyone when I had to throw an uppercut over and over again until they got the angle they wanted.”
The 23-year-old’s newfound confidence in putting her 112-pound flyweight physique on display is the result of intensive strength and conditioning work over the past few months with her new team of Brian Schwartz, Mike Bazzel, nutritionist Victor Conte and sprint coach Remi Korchemny.
“My body, especially my back, arms, and legs, are definitely more defined now than when I was in the Olympics,” Esparza said. “My back is like a ‘V’ now. People have different opinions on what is pretty, but I really think we need to make girls feel pretty no matter what they might look like.”
Before making such a provocative decision, Esparza consulted the people closest to her. The reaction has been mixed.
“My boyfriend was fine with it at first, but it wasn’t until people started talking about it after it came out that I’m not so sure anymore,” she chuckled.
Count the fighter’s father in the supportive-but-not-so-ecstatic camp, too.
“My dad usually can’t wait to go to the store to buy a magazine when I’m in it,” Marlen said. “But for this one, when he asked me if it came out, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ he just paused and said, ‘OK.’ And that was that. This one won’t be one of his favorites. But my mom, my sister, and everyone else is super excited about it.”
Though she didn’t possess veto power on which two pictures would make the final cut, Esparza was pleased with her results. She was also pleased with those of a fellow Bay Area athlete, who made one of the eight various covers.
“The one where I’m hitting the bag is actually my favorite one, but I also liked the other one where I’m in the ring, even though it was a surprise to me that they chose it,” Esparza said. “In fact, everyone looked good, even the golfer [77-year-old Gary Player]. But I think [Colin] Kaepernick was definitely the hottest.”
Esparza isn’t the only female fighter in the spread; mixed martial artist Miesha Tate is also prominently featured in the buff. Still, the opportunities for women’s combat sport stars to break through to an American mainstream audience have been limited, and the boxer believes the experience will do more to help the cause than hurt it.
“I know a lot of people aren’t going to like what I did or disagree with the idea of it, but I think it shines a good light on the sport, because I want to show you can be feminine and strong,” Esparza said. “It’s funny. A lot of people don’t know about my bronze medal, but I bet those same people know more about the chick hitting the bag now because of the magazine.”
ESCALANTE HOLDING PUBLIC WORKOUT SATURDAY IN SAN CARLOS
Junior bantamweight prospect Bruno Escalante of San Carlos and three more local fighters will host an open public workout for media and fans of all ages this Saturday at the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos from 12:30-2 p.m.
The explosive Escalante (8-1-1, 4 KOs) will be joined by San Francisco middleweight Ricardo Pinell (4-0-1, 3 KOs), Redwood City cruiserweight Juan Hernandez (2-1, 2 KOs), and San Jose junior lightweight Andy Vences (2-0, 1 KO). The quartet will appear in separate bouts on the July 26 card at the Redwood City Fox Theatre—a venue that was sold out for boxing in both March and June.
Saturday’s event will entail Escalante sparring a few rounds and hitting the mitts, free food and beverages, and even an interactive portion where the fighters will teach fans how to jump rope and throw proper combinations.
“I love to meet the fans and give back to them for supporting me. I can’t wait to show them what we do,” said Escalante, who appeared on CSN Bay Area’s Yahoo! SportsTalk Live before his previous outing, a two-round destruction of Christian Salgado last month at Fox Theatre.