Most eight-year-olds are told that they should dream big; they can do anything they set their minds to. But when you are an eight-year-old girl from East Los Angeles, those dreams are often met with caveats, conditions, or just an outright "no."
Yet Seniesa Estrada spoke her dream into the world. She was going to be a professional boxer, signed by Golden Boy Promotions, and win titles.
She did just that.
She was signed by Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions in 2018, stating at the time that it was the culmination of “18 years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice." She was, in her words, "ready to show the world who I am.”
Three years later and Estrada is the current WBC Silver light flyweight titleholder and has eyes on more hardware this coming weekend.
She takes on current WBA strawweight champion Anabel Ortiz in a March 20 undercard bout from Fort Worth, Texas.
“She has the experience,” Estrada said of Ortiz who, at 34 years old, has held her own respective title since 2013.
“She's comfortable fighting the same way that she's always fought. She fights at the same pace and I just have to make sure that I make her feel uncomfortable with my footwork, with my feints. I have to just be smart and be patient because she likes to make fighters fall into her trap of what she likes to do.”
Estrada is certainly adept at making boxers uncomfortable. She slips between southpaw and orthodox with ease. Her jab can come from either hand, leading to a devastating left hook that has knocked many an opponent off-kilter.
Fighters going toe-to-toe with Estrada immediately find themselves not only playing defense from an unrelenting barrage but have to also play a guessing game as to her strategy. After over 100 amateur bouts and a 19-0 professional record, Estrada is one of the most versatile fighters in the world.
The way she dances around the ring, exuding confidence and expertise, you realize quickly that she was born to box.
East L.A. Dreaming
Estrada was raised in East Los Angeles, trained at the nearby Hollenbeck Youth Center. But she really began her career with her dad watching fights on T.V.
Fate had already opened a glimmer of possibility. An eight-year-old Seniesa asked if she could box. “Sure,” her dad, Joe Estrada, said.
It was a throwaway affirmation, the kind of answer a parent gives to placate a child hoping they forget. It’s a similar situation that arose a few months earlier when the daughter asked her dad to play baseball. But, as she was told at the time, baseball was for boys.
Here was Seniesa, a future champion, filled with a gut full of courage, told that there was no room for her in the sports world.
She decided to punch that door down.
Seniesa recalled the feeling. “I was like, what am I going to do then, you know? I can’t do anything I love? And it was so frustrating.”
A concerned dad had one more ace up his sleeve. He would let his girl box, and maybe one of the more trained boys would knock her down; give her second thoughts about this sport.
Instead, she sent the first boy she fought to the mat crying. There was no turning back. Joe was just as convinced as his eager daughter.
While the first trainer they went to declined to train Seniesa because she was a girl, they found a home at Hollenbeck and a mentor with trainer Ronnie Rivota. The boxer remembers what he told her back then.
“I've never trained a girl before, but there's something about you,” she recalls Rivota saying. “I'm going to give you a chance. But I'm telling you right now, I'm going to treat you just like one of the boys.”
That’s exactly what this eight-year-old girl wanted; an opportunity to compete just like the boys. And she was put through the ringer and came back wanting more, telling her father that she loved the training. When you see her fight the term unrelenting comes to mind, but even back then she was insatiable for the sport.
One thing we so often ignore is that access is a real issue for girls, especially in the realm of boxing where there is a relative dearth of fellow females to box.
Estrada not only had to fight boys to get time in the ring, she often fought girls well above her weight class, an issue that followed her well into her amateur career.
She lost her first few fights as an amateur, but the only thing that did was cause her to work harder.
“It just made me want to get right back to the gym and start winning,” she said. “After those three fights that I lost, I went on like a sixty-five (fight) winning streak and, you know, nothing really broke me. And having to fight girls who are always older and heavier, it was just something that I just wasn't afraid of and I didn't really think about as a kid.”
While the rules are monitored far more diligently now, things were different back then. She recalls with a smile having to step on the scale with her dad’s phone in one pocket and his keys in another, downing a Gatorade and being fully clothed just to get that added weight to make sure she was able to fight.
Mastering The Sweet Science
If you’re not careful, you can be on the other end of a swift Seniesa beatdown. Last July, Miranda Adkins stepped into the ring against Estrada and was lying on her back seven seconds later. It amounted to the fastest knockout in women’s boxing history.
A lot has been made about Estrada’s versatility and adaptation in the ring. Her left hook. An overhand that can come from either direction. Her feet, in constant movement and syncopating between southpaw and orthodox. She is both keeping opponents off balance but also figuring them out in real-time.
You can spend months looking at tape, but Estrada has the talent and training to make in-fight modifications. Her violent and orchestrated dance has led to six knockouts in her last seven bouts.
The one thing she asserts is her most potent weapon, however, is her mentality.
“Boxing is one hundred percent mental,” she explains. “You can be 110% physically ready, but if you're not mentally prepared and mentally strong in the ring, then that's just not a sign of greatness. No great fighters have ever been mentally weak.”
Superbad, a moniker she snagged from one of her favorite boxers, Sugar Ray Leonard, has shown her mental strength through 19 professional bouts.
She wore down the spirited Jhosep Vizcaino, putting her on the mat with a resounding left-hook body shot in July 2018.
Against Marlen Esparza, she not only met one of her greatest challenges in a fellow Golden Boy fighter who came into the ring at 7-0, but also a bout that demanded three-minute rounds for the first time in her professional career.
She took Esparza nine grueling rounds and looked to have more in the tank even after winning the fight when a gash over Esparza's forehead ended the bout.
There remains a bit of the younger Estrada in the ring, someone who throws punches with abandon, someone who can’t wait to unload all of the knowledge she’s attained and the god-given talent with which she was born.
What makes her so dangerous at this point in her career is that she has learned to maintain patience and discipline.
At 28 years of age, she is in her prime as a boxer. Estrada assumes that every single fight can go the distance. She works hard to guarantee she has the legs for the later rounds and has poured sweat into assuring she has the punches to last to the very last bell.
She knows where she comes from, and she takes that into the ring every single round.
It's About Family
Boxing saved this family. For Seniesa, she found herself in the ring. More than an outlet, it’s a platform for empowerment and an opportunity to showcase what is possible when you open the gym to anyone who has the passion to put on the gloves.
For her father, it’s meant that he got his life back. Joe Estrada is a former gang member who spent time in prison and lost days of his life to heroin addiction. But it was in discovering his daughter’s passion that he rediscovered his own zeal for life.
Joe spoke to how having Seniesa changed him in a 2018 Inside the Ropes documentary.
“When we got into boxing that was basically my life," Joe said back in 2018. "I kicked my whole social life away, you know, like put it all to the side and it was just all about my daughter 24/7. So, I thank god for my baby girl who just changed my life.”
Seniesa remembers the moment she recognized the change in her father. Back when she knocked that boy down, an eight-year-old Seniesa standing triumphant, it did more than embolden her, it saved her father.
“From that day forward, he changed his life completely and he did everything that he needed to do to make sure that he was there with me in the gym every single day to support me. He changed his life for the better so that I can follow my dreams.”
Since that day, Seniesa has worked tirelessly to make good on a promise she made to herself when she wasn’t old enough to realize how arduous the journey would be.
“It makes everything worth it,” Estrada says. The fact that she is not just a role model but an example to other young girls of what is possible.
“It makes all the struggles, everything that I went through to get to where I am today totally worth it because I didn't have that growing up. I didn't have that female role model in the sport to look up to.”
Estrada is just getting started. The dream will continue no matter what transpires on Saturday against Ortiz. For someone who had the goal at a young age, there is still so much left to be conquered. There is still so much to change.
“In the next few years, I want to have multiple world titles in different weight divisions,” Estrada said.
“That would be my goal, to accomplish what I want, and get the bouts that I want, make the money that I want. And what I mean by that is just changing the game in women's boxing as far as women's pay. And I feel like I've started to do that for myself.”
Living your dream is exhausting, especially when you are simultaneously shattering the preconceived notions of what is possible for a young girl growing up in East L.A.
But Seniesa knew it. She had it all planned out from the beginning and never doubted what she could accomplish. So when you see her step in the ring, Superbad cape draped over her shoulders, recognize that greatness starts from a young age. And it’s those very dreams that need nurturing.
“I remember being six, seven years old, watching boxing and telling myself you're going to be fighting on T.V. one day just like them,” Estrada recalls. “You're going to be a world champion and you're going to be signed with Golden Boy Promotions. And I said that before I even stepped foot into a gym, not even knowing anything about women's boxing or the state it was at. But I just knew that. I knew it. I knew it was going to happen.”