By Robert Dominguez
He may have hung up his gloves nearly a decade ago, but March 23 will be a huge fight night for Oscar De La Hoya.
The 10-time champion-turned-promoter is showing off a slew of titleholders and top contenders from his Golden Boy Promotions stable – including its first female fighter – with the debut of the Golden Boy Boxing telecasts on ESPN Thursday night.
The main event pits Glen “Jersey Boy” Tapia (23-3, 15 KOs) against undefeated middleweight contender Jason “El Animal” Quigley (12-0, 10 KOs) of Ireland in a 10-round bout for the vacant NABF middleweight title. The fight, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif., promises to live up to its billing as a slugfest.
The 27-year-old Tapia, a street-hardened puncher from Passaic N.J., whose parents are Dominican, is coming off two straight losses and is out to prove he’s still a viable contender.
“It’s been a tough couple of years for my career. People are looking at this like this a make or break fight for me,” said Tapia, who lost by TKO to Michel Soro in May 2015 and David Lemieux last year.
“I have a lot of fans that believe in me and have been waiting for my return, but I also have a lot of critics that question if I can do this, and that’s a challenge that I’m more than ready to take. My job is not to listen to the critics; my job is to handle my business in that ring and show them why I belong here.”
Quigley, meanwhile, expects to don the first of many belts to come. While this will be the first national TV exposure for the 25-year-old from County Donegal, fights fans took notice of his punching power after a December 2016 match against Jorge Melendez. Quigley earned a TKO by knocking the hard-punching Puerto Rican down three times in the first round.
Quigley is coming into the Tapia fight with an equal measure of menace and intent.
“If Tapia wants a war, I’ll give him a war,” Quigley said. “I’m prepared for anything. Winning the NABF title will be fantastic (but) I still have a long way to go and am dedicated to making my dream of being a world champion come true.”
Also on the card is a 10-rounder between Randy “El Matador” Caballero (23-0, 14 KOs), the Nicaraguan-American from Coachella, Calif., who holds the IBF bantamweight title, and Jesus “Estrella” Ruiz (34-7-5, 3 KOs), a former WBC Super Bantamweight champ from Sonora, Mexico. Up for grabs is the NABF super bantamweight title.
Among the heavy hitters, however, will be a former Olympian making her professional debut. Marlen Esparza, who won the bronze medal at the 2012 games in London, will take on Rachel Sazoff (0-2) in a four-round flyweight fight.
Esparza, 27, from Pasadena, Texas, is already a minor celebrity thanks to her Olympic fame, an endorsement deal with a cosmetics company and appearances on Spanish-language TV commercials. She promised to bring some of that glamour into the ring.
““I feel pretty confident,” Esparza said. “Come fight night, I will be wearing makeup with my hair done, because when I look good, I feel good, which makes me fight well.”
All the fights, which include several undercards, will air live on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes at 10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT.