‘I’m Gonna Win. But You Never Know.’

Times Staff Writer

“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.”

His trainer sent him out for another beating. For a minute, he and Seniesa traded a series of close blows, until she backed him against the ropes again.

“Duran.” Whap. “Duran.” Whap. “Duran.”

Richard covered himself with his arms and gloves. He wanted it to end. Finally, the last bell sounded. In his corner, he held himself against the ring, resting his forehead on the top rope. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he rubbed his side, where so many of her punches had landed. “It hurts,” he muttered, touching his stomach. “It … hurts.”

Seniesa sat down next to him at a large table ringside. She jammed her gloves into her black bag. She avoided my questions, as if it would ruin her magic to acknowledge that she could now hold her own against almost any boy her size in East L.A. When she zipped up her bag, she walked off to her father.

Richard watched her, smiled and shook his head. “She hits too hard,” he said. He laughed at this, the fact that a girl could be so good. All he could do was laugh. “Seniesa hits too hard.”

Seniesa the warrior was as cold and hard as her punches. At night, she dreamed of fighting in a ring surrounded by cameras, flashing lights and people. She woke throwing jabs and uppercuts.

In the daytime she imagined being a famous fighter, having money, enough to buy a house. A house not in a place “all stuck up, like Beverly Hills,” she said, but not in El Sereno. A house with a pool and a slide. Her father would live with her. The future was far off, but she was working hard to make it real.

She didn’t care that, on one occasion, she had overmatched another girl by so much the referee stopped the fight in 30 seconds, to prevent a knockout. “Once you step in the ring, nobody makes you go there,” Seniesa told me, watching video of the short-lived fight. “If she wasn’t ready, it’s not my fault. If you are not up to it, too bad for you.”

Seniesa the little girl, however, could be warm and fun-loving. After tournaments away from Los Angeles, she always insisted on swimming in the hotel pool. She giggled and shrieked with delight as she jumped again and again and again into the warm water.

“This is so much fun!” she said, climbing out and looking at her father. “Dad, can we stay over, and then stay and, like, swim here all day tomorrow? Dad, someday, let’s, like, let’s get a big pool like this one. Dad, can we?

“Dad, when I am professional?”

Her dreams, ever present.

‘I See Her Changing’

She was becoming more confident, but also more wary. She was growing up.

Now, when the boy boxers teased her for being short or skinny, she barked back with a gleam in her eye. She taunted one for his paunch, another for his girlfriends, still another because he struggled with English.

Around adults, though, it was different. Once, she had bubbled with questions and quick answers. “What is your wife like?” she would ask me. “Where do you live? What is the name of your cat? Pablo? Dang, that’s no cat name. My cat is Sunny. That’s a cat name.”

Now, though, her questions stopped. She meted out her answers. She trusted less. Even with her father, the bright, shiny exuberance dimmed. “I see her changing,” he said one day. “She don’t say much. Part of it is where she is growing up, the things she sees and experiences. It can be kind of crazy around where she lives. After a while you sort of stop being a kid. You have to if you want to survive.”

On Sept. 2, 2003, Seniesa went from fifth grade, at the top of elementary school, into sixth grade, at the bottom of middle school. She stood just a shade under 5 feet tall. She was stronger and looked more like an inverted pyramid: widening shoulders tapering steadily to her skinny ankles. Her face looked different too. Narrower, the flesh around her eyes tightening, maybe from the punches. It made her cheekbones more prominent.

She tried not to attract attention. In fifth grade, she had gladly let me come to her classroom. By the sixth grade, it was embarrassing, and it took months for her to decide that I could visit. The first time I did, she played sick and stayed home.

In fifth grade, everyone knew she boxed. In sixth grade, she worried about people finding out. A kid who once looked for trouble, now she was trying to avoid it. “If people know I’m a boxer,” she explained, “they are going to be trying to talk a lot of stuff. I’m going to have to show them they can’t mess with me.”

She didn’t even tell her teachers.

In an early piece of homework, she let slip that she loved fighting. Lupe Arellano, the teacher who assigned it, thought she meant causing trouble in class and fighting on the playground.

I’m not going to have any problems with you, am I? Arellano asked. Seniesa said no, but it took her weeks to open up to Arellano about boxing, her neighborhood and life at home.

“She has a lot of stuff on her plate,” her teacher told me one day, flipping through Seniesa’s homework. “From what I gather, there are things in her life that she just has to be strong and suck it up and deal with. Seniesa keeps her feelings bottled deep down.”

But the ambushes would not stop.

Early one morning, her father’s cellphone rang. Her Uncle Rick, who had taken him to church and helped him give up gangs and drugs, was in jail. Despondent over a troubled marriage, he had cornered his wife and shot her twice. She barely survived.

When Joe picked up Seniesa the next day to go to the gym, he told her about it, and tried to reassure her about himself. He said he was OK, when clearly he wasn’t.

Her body went numb. She wanted to box, but part of her wanted to take care of her father. She saw the hurt in him. There were bags under his eyes, his voice was faint, and he rubbed the back of his neck as he wondered and worried.

Had he missed the signs that something was wrong with his brother? He knew that Rick would have to pay a price, but he was not sure Rick could survive it. He feared that his brother might kill himself to avoid prison.

Then there was a more practical matter: the shop. Rick was his partner. Joe built and installed the signs. Rick paid the bills, managed the inventory and lined up new customers. Could Joe shoulder the whole burden? He didn’t know.

Seniesa’s uncle had been a rock. He always brightened when she came to the sign shop. She could close her eyes and hear him: Hey, champ, how’s it goin’, champ? What ya doin’ today, champ?

But now her uncle’s fate was weighing her father down. Joe was desperate to talk about it to the person who understood him best: Seniesa. He wanted to tell her how he felt. But was it the right thing to do? How many problems could a little girl take? He hesitated.

Of course, she knew what was eating at him. As weeks went by, she could tell by the way his shoulders slumped and how he seemed tired and testy. “There’s nothing I can do,” she told me one evening, shaking her head in disbelief and frustration, standing outside the gym, watching cars go by.

Her eyes fell. “I’m a kid.”

But there was something she could do. Instinctively, she knew it. Together, they had boxing.

A Showcase Event

Seniesa and her father stepped up training for the Region VIII Silver Gloves Championships. They had been on her mind for a year. Now it was December 2003, and the tournament was coming up in the second week of January. It was one of the biggest regional events in amateur boxing, a chance to show the world that Seniesa was the best girl fighter around.

Days before, she decided to challenge me to a boxing video game on the TV at her house. She picked Roberto Duran. For me, she chose a little-known fighter named Zab Judah. From the start, her Duran forced my helpless Judah against the ropes. “It’s gonna be just like this at the regionals. I’m gonna break out the Duran.”

“Really?” I asked, scowling, trying to get my poor fighter off the ropes, determined not to let an 11-year-old girl whip me. “Feeling pretty confident?”

She decked Judah. He lay on the canvas, knocked senseless.

“Don’t you feel pressure?” I asked. “All those people watching? The stuff with your uncle? It’s a pretty big deal for you and your dad.”

“I feel pressure,” she said. “Some people, they’ve been saying I should win in one round, because they say I am good. But what if I don’t?” She paused, looking at the floor. She fidgeted and crossed her arms.

“I think I’m going to win,” she added. “No, I know I’m going to win. But if I don’t do good, if I lose but I try hard and do what my dad says, I don’t think he will be mad. I hope he won’t be mad. I’m not gonna lose. I mean, the only way I lose is, sometimes, I just don’t throw enough punches. I hesitate to throw punches. I get sort of anxious. Not nervous. Anxious. I’m gonna win. But you never know.”

In fact, she might not even make weight.

She had started the week knowing she would have to drop 3 pounds — down to 75 — or be disqualified from her weight class. She could move up to the next weight division, but there weren’t any girls in that division for her to fight.

All week long, she starved herself. To lose weight, she drove herself ruthlessly. She ran wind sprints in an alley, dodging cars and being careful to keep her sneakers out of the mud. She put on her heavy blue sweatsuit and her boxing gloves, and she ran around the block, four, five, six times, spitting on the sidewalk to get rid of fluid. She sparred. She worked at the big red bag, her eyes intent, fierce.

Never had I seen her so determined.

“Pump that jab, sweetie. Double it up, double it up,” her father said, standing by a floor-to-ceiling mirror near the heavy bag. “Whoever you are fighting is going to be feeling your pain this weekend, mama. We’re gonna take this thing, sweetheart, I can feel it.”

With each blitz of punches, she breathed out — whoosh! whoosh! Sweat flew from her pink shirt. The sound of her fists drowned out everything else. Whap-whap-whap-whap-whap-whap. Steady, like a metronome. She stopped, hunched over, gloves on her knees, sucking air. “Need water,” she said. “Need water.”

“Baby, that was more than one punch a second,” Joe said, offering her a drink. “That’s the way.” He patted her slumped shoulders, slick with sweat.

She shadow-boxed in front of the mirror, mesmerized, lost in her reflection, in the way she bent, the way she turned and flexed her knees, how she shot her arms out like springs, how she evaded an imaginary opponent with a steady weave.

She came out of her trance, bent over again and held her stomach.

“I don’t have the idea that I could lose,” she said. But as she spoke she slumped to the carpeted floor and lay there exhausted. “I’m tired now, but I’m planning on winning.”

Making Weight

Two evenings later, Seniesa and her father drove to Norwalk to register and watch the draw naming her opponent. It was in a large conference room at a recreation center. As happened so often, she was virtually alone in a sea of men and boys. A referee told her there was just one girl in her division, and she was from Arizona.

“I bet it’s Kelly,” Seniesa said. “Kelly from Arizona.” Kelly had mysteriously disappeared from a match with Seniesa in Thermal 15 months earlier. Seniesa clenched her fists, then relaxed them, clenched, relaxed. Beating Kelly would be sweet.

In the crowd, she spotted a girl in shorts, roughly her size. She tapped her shoulder. “Are you Kelly?”

No, the girl said. She was just there to watch her brother.

Dejected, Seniesa retreated to the back of the room. Joe stood there, arms folded, leaning against a wall, alongside the boy boxers, who had fights of their own. The room filled with people, 200 at least.

Seniesa kept clenching her fists. She was still a pound or two overweight. Tomorrow she would have to step on the official scale. If she was too heavy, she couldn’t fight.

“Go, go, get moving,” said Gil, the coach from her gym. “Run until I tell you not to.”

She jogged down a dark hallway, then back. Down, then back. She looked grim, eyes cast toward the floor as she plodded. She stopped only to bend into a water fountain and spit. I’ve gotta fight, she would remember thinking. I’ve been waiting so long for this one tournament. I’ve gotta fight.

For half an hour she ran, finishing just in time to hear someone announce: “In the female junior division, 75 pounds … " She rushed to the table up front. “Seniesa Estrada, Los Angeles, against Daveena Villalva, Phoenix.”

Her opponent wasn’t Kelly after all. Who was this new girl? Who was Daveena?

A referee pointed her out. Daveena was wiry and pretty, dressed in a black warm-up suit.

From across the room, Seniesa eyed her, trying not to stare. Daveena appeared calm and casual, talking to a man, maybe her father.

Seniesa sidled next to her, shoulder to shoulder, taking advantage of the fact that Daveena did not know who she was. Seniesa pretended to look toward the officials, but her eyes kept glancing at her opponent. She seemed to be trying to imagine what Daveena would become in the ring.

She walked back to Joe, worried. “Dad, you think I might weigh too much?”

“No, mija,” he said, trying to ease her fears, even though he wasn’t really sure she would make it. “Don’t worry. You’re gonna be fine. This should be a lesson. You gotta stay away from McDonald’s.”

Weigh-in wasn’t until the next morning, but she wanted to check herself now, on the official scale. It stood in the middle of another conference room, this one at a nearby hotel. The boy boxers went with her. She demanded to weigh first. She needed to strip to her underwear, so the boys stood guard in front of the doors.

Get in there, they said. Good luck.

After two minutes, she bolted out, grinning. “I’m right at 75,” she announced. “I’ll make it. I’ll qualify. If I don’t eat nothing tonight.”

The boys extended their right fists. She tapped their knuckles with hers.

As the boys weighed themselves, Seniesa joined Laila, Gil’s girlfriend, 19 and willowy. Seniesa cast her eyes at Laila’s shiny red pumps. She asked to try them on. They were much too big. She walked unsteadily past her father and announced that when she got older she planned to wear red pumps, pretty clothes and makeup, just like Laila.

She and Laila held hands and walked through the hotel lobby, peering into a gift shop window. They spotted a beige stuffed puppy with large ears and droopy eyes, a name tag and a pink bow tied around its neck. “Oh, so cute, it’s so cute!” Seniesa said, bouncing up and down, tapping the window, pointing at Sad Sam, the stuffed beagle.

“Dad, could I get him?”

“Not now,” Joe said, his mind on boxing.

The boy boxers rolled their eyes. Rarely had they seen Seniesa like this.

Laila turned to me, chin held high. “She does girl stuff with me,” she said. “With all this boxing, it’s good for her.”

Seniesa ate nothing that night. Realizing her dreams was not easy. She slept without Sad Sam. Growing up wasn’t easy, either.

She awoke tired, out of sorts, weak. Her arms felt heavy, she would recall. Her stomach ached. Her face was ashen. She was hardly able to speak. At the weigh-in, she and the few other girls in the tournament used a small bathroom for women. She walked inside. A female referee joined her to record the proceedings. Near the toilets was the scale.

She stripped to her underwear and stepped as gingerly as she could onto the footpads of the scale. She held her breath, she told me afterward, and focused on its digital numbers. She tried to keep from trembling.

The numbers climbed: 68, 69, 74, 76, 77 …

Then settled down, to 75.

Oh, yes, she whispered.

Back out in the hallway, she saw her father, standing next to the boys.

“Make it?” Joe asked. “Well, tell us. Did you?”

She reached out to slap his palm.

He swallowed her in hugs and high-fives.

“Made it, yeah,” she said. “Made it. Made it.”

Although she had gone hungry the night before, she could barely eat. At a Jack in the Box, she nibbled on potatoes and eggs. She and the boy boxers went to the arena early. Seniesa sat on a concrete bench, next to Laila and me.

“Did you see her yesterday?” Laila asked her. “The girl you are fighting?”

“Yeah, I seen her. She was over there last night. She don’t look tough.”

“So, are you going to kick her ass or what?”

Seniesa paused. “Well, I’m not gonna let her kick my ass.” She tightened her lips and stared at the gravel. Then she gave in. She couldn’t be a warrior every minute. “Oh, remember that stuffed dog last night? Oh, I want one. I thought about it all night. I wish I could have one. I wish.”

Two Small Girls

Two hours to the opening bell.

Seniesa sat at the top of the bleachers, in baggy shorts and a droopy blue top with Solid Rock Boxing on the back in large letters. She was alone, face pale, skin clammy. She didn’t talk. She stared at the front doors of the gym.

Daveena walked in.

“Whoa,” Seniesa said, reflexively.

Parents beside her, Daveena moved toward the ring.

Seniesa stared at her like a lioness eyeing a mouse. Her gaze never left Daveena. Unaware that anyone was watching, she breathed out, then breathed in deeply, rubbing her thin legs with her hands. “There she is,” she muttered softly. “There she is.”

Seniesa’s father arrived to help wrap her fists. She tried hard, she would remember, to push a feeling from her mind: Somehow, something was not right. She felt sluggish, weak from losing those extra pounds so fast.

Maryann arrived with her boyfriend and Seniesa’s godmother. Maryann was fidgety. She wanted Seniesa to win, but she was worried, as always. “I’m hoping that [boxing] is just a stage she is going through,” she had told me a few weeks before, at a McDonald’s near the Home Depot where she worked all day before going to Dodger Stadium at night to sell hot dogs and popcorn. “I just worry. You know, brain clots. I don’t want her getting one. What if she breaks her nose? My baby is pretty…. I still want her to be a cheerleader.”

Seniesa didn’t want to lose this fight, not in front of her mother or any of them. Then there was her father. She could tell how much this meant to him. All she had to do was watch him pace.

Fifteen minutes to the bell.

Joe rubbed Seniesa’s shoulders, sensing her nervousness. He took a small black swatch of Velcro and bundled her braided hair. Seniesa bit her lower lip. She stared at the ring. Two boys were slugging it out, and the crowd roared.

Three minutes to the bell.

Near the ring, Daveena shadow-boxed. She wore black trunks. Her face was taut and serious.

Seniesa wrapped her arms around herself. She shivered, as if she had a cold.

“What’s wrong, mija?” Joe asked. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine. I’m ready.”

She walked a few steps away, whispering: “I’m ready, I’m ready.”

One minute to the bell.

The announcer called Seniesa’s name. She put her head down and marched to the ring, followed by Joe and Gil. She climbed through the ropes. Joe stood in her corner, chomping hard on gum.

The crowd, nearly 500 people by now, hushed at the sight of two small girls. Then people began to clap and cheer.

“Come on, NeeNee!” Seniesa’s family yelled. “You can do it, NeeNee!”

“Let’s go, Chickee!” countered Daveena’s family. “You’re the one, Chickee!”

Now it was up to them.

Delivering Real Pain

The referee, a tall man wearing a crisp white uniform, brought the girls to the center of the ring for instructions, then sent them back to their corners.

Daveena bounced on her toes, ready to spring across the ring and attack.

Seniesa swiveled her hips. She looked grim. She stared at her opponent. This was her moment. She could not let herself lose.

The bell clanged. The girls moved toward each other. Daveena held her gloves high, in front of her face. Seniesa held hers just above her waist.

Daveena threw the first punch, a quick right that grazed Seniesa’s shoulder. Daveena began winding back her right hand. Seniesa saw a target and punched a left into her opponent’s stomach. Daveena wasn’t fazed. She stepped forward and threw a left that smacked against Seniesa’s head.

A pattern developed: Daveena became the aggressor, throwing more punches, but fewer hard ones; Seniesa became the counterpuncher, often on her heels, punching fewer times, but with clearer results.

An exchange near the end of the first round was typical. Seniesa bobbed and shuffled, to make herself harder to hit. Daveena hopped forward — literally hopped — and punched Seniesa in the face. Seniesa stepped back and planted a Duran in Daveena’s gut. WHAP.

Daveena kept coming. She hit Seniesa with a hard right to the left cheek. Seniesa backed off, shielding her face with her shoulder. Then she stopped, turned her hips, cocked her right arm and let loose. Her glove slammed hard into Daveena’s liver.

The ring shook. Daveena grunted.

BIG punches, I scrawled in my notebook.

At the bell, Seniesa walked back to her corner and sagged, listening to Joe’s instructions as she gulped down water. Then she rose slowly from her stool and waited. She looked drained, feet flat, shoulders slouched, limp arms dangling at her sides. It looked to me as if she didn’t want to fight.

But she had to.

The second round replayed the first. Daveena came after Seniesa with blind aggression — inefficient, but impressive to the ringside judges. She threw the first six punches. Only one hit its target, a hard left jab that landed flush against Seniesa’s nose.

Seniesa conjured up a response, summoning energy from somewhere deep and stopping Daveena’s next advance with a jab to the face. Daveena’s head jolted backward. But she charged again. Seniesa’s knuckles crashed once more into her face. Again, her head jolted back. How much more could she take?

The bell clanged.

So far, the fight seemed too close to call. The crowd could feel it. Both corners knew that whoever won the third and final round would go home happy.

When it began, Daveena’s punches pushed Seniesa and spun her.

But then Seniesa strung together her reply, a series of hard lefts that jolted Daveena’s head to one side, then the other. “Oooh!” the crowd roared with each punch. “Oooh!”

Daveena frowned, grimaced, but hardly slowed. Her aggression seemed instinctive, as if she were fighting for her life.

The girls clutched and backed off, then launched into a violent exchange of jabs and uppercuts. I caught myself wondering about the sanity of it all. These young girls were delivering pain. Real pain. They took hard shots to the head, to the liver and kidneys. I looked at Seniesa, breathing hard, sweat flowing, face blotched with red, mustering herself for one last push. Maryann’s fears, at that moment, seemed well-placed.

Finally, the bell split the air.

Seniesa walked to her corner and put both hands on the ropes to keep herself from falling. Her head drooped. Sweaty hair clung to her neck.

Then she walked to the middle of the ring, acknowledging the crowd the way pro fighters do, with a stomp of the feet and a bow in each direction. Usually, she did this crisply. This time, she shuffled through it with little enthusiasm.

Daveena and the referee joined her. Seconds passed. Anticipation filled the gym. Finally, the announcer’s voice crackled over the loudspeakers.

“How about a nice hand for both of these young ladies. Both of them are warriors.”

Daveena closed her eyes.

“And the winner, in the girls’ 75-pound division … “

Seniesa looked up at the klieg lights.

“By decision, in the red corner … Da-vee-na Vill-al-va!”

Seniesa slammed a foot to the canvas. She turned toward her corner and tried to walk away. Only the referee’s grip on her hand kept her from bolting to her father and out of the ring in anger.

Daveena leaped into the air and thrust her arms skyward.

She turned to Seniesa. Amateur boxing is emotion-filled and gritty-tough, but after each fight, tradition calls for opponents to shake hands. Daveena wanted to.

Seniesa refused. She couldn’t even look at Daveena.

Tears welling, she went to her father. “Come here, mija,” he said. She couldn’t look at him, either. He drew her into his arms. “It’s OK. You did real good. I thought you won. That was robbery. I mean, come on, what do you have to do to win the fight?” His words, usually enough to make her feel whole, were no solace.

In the locker room, she ripped the gauze and white tape off her hands and began to change her clothes. She looked up. There stood Daveena. She wanted to change too.

Seniesa gathered her gear and walked out in a huff.

There was one ray of hope: Joe. He stood, ramrod straight, waiting by a big metal door that led out of the gym. The muscles around his eyes were tight.

Before she ran to her mother’s car, she turned to her father. This time, her eyes met his with a sad look, a look that begged forgiveness.

Notes on Chapter Four

Seniesa spars with Richard: Observed by Streeter, who stood near Richard’s corner at the Bristow Park Center in Commerce. Words spoken are as Streeter heard them.

Imagining the future, a home with a pool and a slide: From Seniesa in an interview in August 2003.

Seniesa on overmatched opponents: In a conversation with Streeter as they watched a video of her 30-second fight, analyzing it blow by blow. The fight was Seniesa’s victory at the California Police Athletic League tournament in Oxnard.

Scene at swimming pool: Witnessed by Streeter in August 2003 at the Holiday Inn Select Hotel in Oxnard, where Streeter sat next to Joe as they watched her do cannonball dives.

Seniesa growing up: From Streeter’s observations. Seniesa asked the questions about Streeter’s wife and cat during interviews in 2002. Joe gave his assessment of Seniesa’s growth during an interview in December 2003.

In sixth grade: From Seniesa and visits Streeter made from February through June of 2004 to El Sereno Middle School. Words spoken are from interviews with Seniesa and Lupe Arellano, her teacher. Arellano’s question to Seniesa about fighting is as Arellano recalls it.

Uncle Rick: The phone call announcing trouble is from Joe in an interview in December 2003. Shooting details are taken from California vs. Henry R. Estrada. Joe’s reassurance about himself comes from Joe in interviews during December 2003 and April, May and June 2004. Seniesa’s reaction and concern about her father are from Seniesa in an interview in July 2004. Joe’s fears for his brother come from Joe in interviews in December 2003 and June 2004. Effects on the sign shop were observed by Streeter. Joe’s uncertainty about shouldering the load by himself is from Joe.

Seniesa’s estimation of Uncle Rick: From Seniesa in an interview in May 2004. His words are as she remembers them. Her observations of her father are from Seniesa in an interview in December 2003. Her words of frustration are as she spoke them to Streeter.

Video game challenge: Words of the conversation between Seniesa and Streeter as she defeats him at video boxing are as they were spoken. They played the video game in December 2003.

Training for the Silver Gloves Championships: Seniesa’s efforts to lose weight were witnessed by Streeter during the first week of January 2004. Streeter also watched her train on the punching bag and shadow-box in front of the mirror. Words spoken by Seniesa and Joe are as Streeter heard them, including her acknowledgment that she was tired but figured on winning anyway.

Scene in the conference room at the Norwalk gym: Witnessed by Streeter, who heard Seniesa’s words about “Kelly from Arizona,” watched her search for Kelly and observed her disappointment when Kelly could not be found.

Scene in the hallway where Seniesa jogs: Witnessed by Streeter. Seniesa’s thoughts are as she remembers them.

Seniesa’s discovery that she had a new opponent: Witnessed by Streeter, who watched her eye Daveena and size her up. Seniesa’s thoughts are as she recalls them. Seniesa’s words to her father about her weight and his reply are as Streeter heard them.

The pre-weigh-in: Witnessed by Streeter, who heard Seniesa’s words about her weight and saw the reaction from the boy boxers.

Scene with Laila in the hotel lobby: Observed by Streeter, who watched Seniesa walk in Laila’s shoes and witnessed Seniesa’s reaction to Sad Sam, the stuffed beagle. Streeter heard her words as she pleaded with her father to buy the toy. The words of his response are as Joe spoke them. Laila’s words are as she spoke them.

Seniesa barely makes weight: Seniesa’s out-of-sorts demeanor and ashen face were observed by Streeter, who noted Seniesa’s difficulty speaking. Her stomachache and the feeling of heaviness in her arms come from Seniesa. The scene inside the women’s bathroom where the weigh-in took place is from Seniesa. The words of relief she whispered are as she recalls them.

Elation in the hallway: Observed by Streeter, who heard the words spoken by Seniesa and Joe.

Scene at the Jack in the Box: Observed by Streeter.

At the gym before the fight: The conversation between Seniesa and Laila about Seniesa’s opponent and Sad Sam was heard by Streeter. Seniesa’s reactions to seeing Daveena were observed by Streeter, who heard Seniesa’s remarks. Wrapping of Seniesa’s fists was witnessed by Streeter, who also observed the arrival of Maryann and her boyfriend. Maryann told Streeter about her worries in an interview in October 2003 during lunch at a McDonald’s near the Home Depot in Los Angeles where Maryann worked.

Seniesa’s feelings about losing in front of her mother and father: From Seniesa.

Scenes of preparation for the fight: Witnessed by Streeter, who stood near the ring. The words spoken are as he heard them.

Crowd reaction: Observed by Streeter.

Seniesa fights Daveena: Witnessed by Streeter from ringside.

The decision: The words of the announcer are as Streeter heard them. Reactions by Seniesa and Daveena are as Streeter witnessed them.

Joe hugs his daughter and tries to comfort her: Observed by Streeter, who stood directly behind him. His words are as Streeter heard them.

Seniesa and Daveena in the locker room: Witnessed by Times photographer Anne Cusack. Also from Seniesa and Daveena.

Scene at the gym exit: Witnessed by Streeter, who stood next to Joe.