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The Fight of Her Life

Quotations are designated in two ways: Those heard by the writer are enclosed in quotation marks. Those recalled by others in interviews are in italics.
NOTES ON CHAPTER FIVE

Times Staff Writer

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.”

It was a time, also, to test herself against family obstacles. Her father, Joe Estrada, 45, who shared the dream of her becoming an Olympic champion and then a world champion, was in a tailspin of his own. His brother, Seniesa’s Uncle Rick, was facing trial for attempted murder and could get 25 years to life. Joe feared that Rick would kill himself, maybe provoke someone in prison to kill him.

Joe hardly slept. He spent long days running the family sign-making business without his brother’s help. It distracted him from training his daughter as a boxer. In his shop one day, as he arranged metal and vinyl letters, his scarred and battered hands faltered, then stopped. He looked up. A few years earlier, he said, he would have cracked under this pressure. He would have been going out again, maybe drugging, maybe heading straight for the gutter, maybe heading back to prison — or a coffin.

Luckily, he had his little girl now and the dream they shared. Seniesa’s boxing had long meant his own redemption. It was keeping him straight. “I gotta be there for her,” he said. “I don’t want this affecting her, because she hurts when I hurt. We’re tied together. She’s my glue, holding me together.”

Still, Uncle Rick was a problem he had to talk about. She was just a little girl, but she understood her father best. At lunch one day, eating hamburgers and drinking Cokes, he would recall, he told her how tired he was, how worried and distracted and stressed.

What do you think, mija? he asked. What could he do for his brother? What should he do about the business? Should he close the sign shop?

What should I do?

I know it’s hard,

she said, stepping up to the challenge. She would never forget looking at him, tears in her eyes. Dad, you can do it, she said.

You’ve been through so much. This is nothing compared to what you’ve been through.

She didn’t need to say more. Her presence, her concern and her boxing were enough. If only she didn’t let her loss in the ring, so unexpected, so painful, cause her to quit.

A New View of Boys

It might help if she beat some boys.

The thought came naturally. It had helped before. But now it was cloaked in complexity. Although she needed to beat them in the ring, she was discovering that boys could be attractive.

She was the leader of a tightknit group of sixth-grade girls, giggly, rambunctious, brimming with nonstop talk about shopping, food and music. But boys?

Truth was, her teacher told me, she had spotted Seniesa holding hands with a boy.

I asked Seniesa about it. She stared at me as if I were a ghost. Then she smiled and blushed. “Miss Arellano,” she said, “should mind her own business.”

Her friends squirmed. One asked: Was it true that she actually got into a boxing ring and fought boys? If that was true, she must be pretty good.

“What do you mean, pretty good?” Seniesa said. Her voice grew sharp and stern. “You know I fight boys. And sometimes, I hit them so hard they get all bloodied up. What do you mean, pretty good? I’m more than pretty good. I make boys bleed.”

Her father encouraged the idea. Maybe it would get her confidence back.

An opportunity came one day when Seniesa was sick with a cold. It was Feb. 23, 2004. She sat alone in her gym in East L.A., watching boy boxers work out. A team from Hawaiian Gardens was on its way over to spar. Only bragging rights were at stake, but at least it was something.

When the team arrived, Seniesa was playing paper-rock-scissors with a neighborhood girl, looking sad, cast-off.

An 11-year-old boy from Hawaiian Gardens, named Ulises, climbed into the ring against one of the boys from East L.A. Ulises fought with strength and skill, and he pummeled the kid from Seniesa’s gym. Ulises’ coaches claimed he was new to boxing.

Joe suspected that wasn’t true. Could Ulises fight a girl?

“Sure,” his trainer said.

“Tell your kid not to hold back,” Joe replied. He turned to Seniesa. “You don’t feel too sick, right?”

Her eyes grew. She nodded: Right.

“Get ready,” her father said. “You’re gonna fight.”

She sprang to her feet and stretched her arms toward him. He slipped her boxing gloves onto her fists. “He has a big right,” her father said. “Just slip the right. Don’t stay back. Don’t draw away. Slip it and hit him in the jaw with your overhand left. They are getting cocky, mama. We don’t like that. Let’s take this guy.”

At the bell, Seniesa smacked Ulises with a series of hooks, jabs and uppercuts. She forced him to the ropes, punching fast, down to the body, up to the head. The gym filled with her crackle-and-pop.

Ulises was shocked. Then he began to fight back, smacking her in the body and the face. She winced. Her head jolted, but she stayed close, steering clear of his right as she hammered him back. With each of her body blows, I could see and hear the results.

Ulises’ mouth formed an O. “Ugh,” he groaned. “Uhh. Uhh.”

“Vamos, Ulises, vamos” his coaches yelled. “A la derecha! A la derecha!” To the right. To the right.

Sweat poured. Fists rose and fell and arced through the hot, humid air. Joe and the rival trainers roared. So did onlookers from the neighborhood, who had filed into the gym.

“Duran, Seniesa, Duran!” It was the punch she had named after the champion Roberto Duran.

“Come on, Ulises, come on!”

“Show your stuff, girl, show your stuff!”

One woman yelled louder than the rest. “Vamos, mama! Vamos, mama Show ‘em you’re a true Mexican! Show ‘em you’re a girl! Show ‘em the power of a girl!”

Seniesa gained the upper hand. She circled, wheeled, ponytail flying, boxing as if she were chasing a demon.

At the end, the crowd applauded in awe. Seniesa and Ulises embraced in mid-ring.

Suddenly, she seemed calm, happy. She stood tall, something I hadn’t seen in weeks.

“She was good,” Ulises said, as he walked to the back of the gym to get a drink of water. His white shirt was soaked, his gait stiff. “She just kept coming. Coming and hitting me.”

Joe slipped an arm around his daughter, and they walked out into the darkness of early evening. Seniesa had a smile.

“Nobody can touch her,” he said, shaking his fist. “NO-BAH-DEE. My little girl is back.”

Believing Again

To regain momentum, Joe seized almost any opportunity for her to box. One was the Junior Olympics. Despite her mother’s worry that she looked too pale to be in the ring, Seniesa won by a second-round technical knockout. Twice she went to Arizona. Both times she beat a girl 10 pounds heavier.

In the last of those bouts, when it was announced that Seniesa had won, the hometown crowd booed, hissed and shook their fists. Joe tried to hurry Seniesa away, but she raised her right arm in defiance and pointed a middle finger skyward.

“Don’t do that, mama, don’t!” Joe yelled over the din.

As they drove back to their hotel, he shook his head. He couldn’t believe his daughter had flipped off the crowd.

“What?” she asked, with a sly smile. “I was just saying, ‘I’m No. 1! I’m No. 1!’ ”

Her father shook his head again, but he let it go. Inside, he felt contentment. She believed in their dream again.

Even Lupe Arellano, her teacher, could see that Seniesa was feeling better about herself. She had sharpened her focus and pulled up her grades.

In her school journal, Seniesa wrote: “I’m a Mexican. A girl who lives in El Sereno. Not a lot of money. An American citizen. I have the attitude. Proud of my achievements.”

She was the only one in her sixth-grade class who had clear-cut goals, Arellano said. “Most of the kids, they are at that stage where all that matters is immediate gratification. But for her, it is long-term dedication. She is saying, ‘I want to go to the Olympics one day. Nobody will stop me. If you don’t like it, too bad for you.’ ”

What would finally restore Seniesa’s full confidence, her father knew, would be to win a rematch with Daveena Villalva, who had defeated her at the Region VIII Silver Gloves Championships that January.

It was Seniesa’s first big defeat — and it started her slump. Now that the gloom was lifting, she wanted revenge. Daveena lived in Arizona, and Seniesa had seen her at both of her Phoenix matches. But Joe could not talk Daveena’s father into another bout.

With each refusal, Seniesa’s lust for vengeance grew. “She don’t want to fight,” Seniesa told me. “Ooh, I hate her.”

In truth, Daveena wanted very much to fight. They were a lot alike, these two girls.

At her flat, one-story prefab house in a largely poor and largely Latino neighborhood south of downtown Phoenix, where I visited one afternoon, Daveena was running laps near a boxing ring that her father, who coached her, had built on their dirt lot.

Like Joe, David Villalva had been a street tough. Now he was a welder and tree trimmer who bred pit bulls in 18 wooden kennels next to the ring to make extra money. Just as it had been with Seniesa, boxing was Daveena’s idea. David didn’t want his daughter anywhere near it. But then she sparred for the first time — like Seniesa, against a boy. And, like Seniesa, she beat him so badly that her father changed his mind.

The Villalvas were a warm, close family. As Daveena jogged past the dog kennels in 108-degree heat, she saw me and trotted over. She introduced herself and extended her hand. She had soft skin, dark round eyes, round cheeks and straight black hair that fell below her shoulders.

I was struck by her poise. Like Seniesa, she was a charmer, but she was more at ease, more open. She looked steadily at me as she answered my questions.

Like Seniesa, she was angry. She hated the way Seniesa had treated her, how Seniesa refused to shake hands after Daveena won, how Seniesa stomped out of the ring, then stormed out of the locker room when Daveena walked in.

David worried about Daveena’s anger. Too much of it could drive her to be overly aggressive, he feared. That could blind her to danger. And that, in turn, could make her vulnerable. She needed to simmer down, he said, before she boxed Seniesa again.

I watched her hammer punches into a big red training bag and then spar against a boy.

Daveena was aggressive. She was powerful. She was just as aggressive and powerful as Seniesa.

Oh, there would be a rematch, Daveena assured me. “The last fight, I thought I did very good. We’ll fight. Soon, I hope.”

Spring was turning to summer when a tournament in Tucson known as the Turquoise Gloves offered an opportunity.

Joe tried again.

This time, David agreed.

Seniesa saw her father’s excitement.

And she saw his relief; his brother Rick’s trial was finally over. A jury had acquitted Seniesa’s uncle of attempted murder and convicted him instead of lesser charges: assaulting his wife with a deadly weapon, using a firearm to cause great bodily injury and inflicting great bodily injury. The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison. It was less than Joe had feared, and he thought his brother could endure it.

She saw another change too. Slowly, her father was becoming a peacemaker. In an argument pitting him, along with another coach, against a rival trainer, Joe’s anger flashed. He wanted to end it with his fists. Seniesa could see it by the veins in his neck. But her father stepped back from the fury that was part of his nature, what he called “the zone.”

Let’s cool off, he said.

Fighting ain’t worth it, fighting won’t do nothing to solve this. They think we’re cholos from the streets. We ain’t gonna give them the satisfaction.

Seniesa came to realize that her father could walk away from a fight. Maybe the dream they shared was changing him.

Even so, as the rematch against Daveena drew near, the world ambushed her again. It was after dark when she rode with her mother, Maryann, past a neighborhood liquor store called Mickey’s. They saw a crowd. Then they saw yellow tape, and then legs in black pants sticking out from under a blanket.

Was it one of Seniesa’s brothers?

Johnny?

Maybe Joey?

Maryann stopped the car, rushed toward the body and asked frantically:

Who is that, dead on the ground?

It was no one in the family. But Seniesa woke that night to crying in the living room, as her mother and Joey talked about the victim, a woman the family had known, and the apparent killer, whom they knew as well.

Seniesa told me it froze her with fear.

But she knew she should not dwell on it. Where she lived, it seemed, sometimes murder just happened. Her father said she had to be ready mentally, or she would lose to Daveena. She had to forget the killing.

You gotta let go of that, Joe would remember telling her. This is your test. It’s time to focus, time to go to Arizona and take care of business.

Dreaming of Daveena

Finally, there was only one thing on Seniesa’s mind: Daveena. At night, Seniesa dreamed about her, of battling her for three straight days, all day long, each day its own round.

In her dreams, she beat Daveena badly, every day.

“In the beginning, when they call our names, I’m gonna shake her hand fast, because I don’t even want to look at her,” she said to me, her voice cold. “I just want to beat her up, and that is it.”

I replied that Daveena was a kid much like herself, a good kid who wanted to win just as much as she did. If they lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same school, I said, I could imagine their being good friends.

“No way,” she shot back. “I don’t like her.”

Anger was powerful fuel, and I could see that some of her tough talk had become part of psyching herself up.

The fight would be on June 26, her 12th birthday. Her father promised her $400 as a birthday gift, but to get it, she had to win. His tactic surprised me. It was clear that Seniesa needed no extra motivation.

The fight had become something special to Joe, however, a kind of survival test.

“God bless her and her family,” he said, speaking of Daveena. “I wish them no harm. No, nothing really personal. It is just that this is a brutal sport. A very brutal sport. And once you get in that ring, I am sorry, but my girl is going to beat your girl. My girl is going to hurt your girl. After we step out of that ring, then they can go and play dolls and whatever they want to do, talk about Barbie and Ken. But when they are in that ring, I am sorry: It is about hurting you before you hurt me. That is just the way it is.”

We left for Tucson the day before the fight, taking along a team of boy boxers from Seniesa’s gym. The next morning, no one spoke of her birthday. In her hotel room, she sat apart, fidgeting, toying with her braids, checking her bag to be certain she had all of her gear.

Every so often, she rose to work tension out of her thighs. The boys were playing a video game. She ignored them. She twisted and pulled a foot up behind her, balancing. She looked like a thin brown heron, standing on one leg.

A boxing ring squatted at the center of the El Casino Ballroom, in a Tucson barrio. Above it hung a disco ball. The hall was filled with hot, June-in-Arizona air. It smelled of dust. Bright lights blazed onto the canvas. There were enough folding chairs for at least 500 people, and the place was filling up fast.

Seniesa had no trouble making weight. When she and Daveena stepped onto the scales, they weighed the same: 77 pounds.

The two girls hardly acknowledged each other. Both tried to look unbothered, unfazed, but I saw them peek at each other when they thought no one was looking.

On their way to lunch, Seniesa and her father walked past the Villalvas. Daveena was eating Doritos. She held out the bag.

“Want some?” she asked.

Seniesa seemed shocked that Daveena had even spoken. She pulled back, ducking the Doritos like a punch. “Nah,” she replied and walked away. “I’m fine.”

After lunch, an 8-year-old boy approached. “Can’t do it,” he gasped, weeping. “Can’t.” It was his turn to fight, and Joe had helped teach him to box. Joe took a moment and massaged his tiny shoulders. “Just try it. If I see you don’t like it, I’ll stop the fight. I won’t let nothing bad happen to you.”

They watched the boy’s bout, and when he won, Seniesa hugged him and her father. Then she slung her bag over a shoulder and walked away from the ring, her lips pursed. Her own moment of reckoning was coming.

An hour from the bell, Seniesa had dressed in her shiny blue shorts, crisp blue tank top and black Adidas boxing shoes, spotless, carefully wrapped at the ankles with thin strips of white tape. Like Daveena, she stared into the middle distance. I watched them both. They rubbed their eyes. They stretched their arms.

“You ready?” I asked Seniesa.

“No, I’m not ready,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She cracked a smile. She no longer had trouble looking me straight in the eye. “Yeah, I’m ready. Of course. I was born ready.”

The Big Moment

Twenty minutes to the bell.

Over each of her taped fists, Joe slipped puffy blue boxing gloves.

“Don’t like these gloves,” Seniesa said.

Joe stopped her cold. “No, no, no. No excuses today, mama. No excuses.”

She and Daveena moved near now, just a few feet from the ring. Referees examined their headgear and their gloves. Each girl’s face was solemn, expressionless.

Daveena bounced on her toes, then stood firm and still. Her fists rested on her hips. She stared at the ring.

Seniesa tossed hooks into the air, lips tight.

David and Joe patted each other on the back. “Good luck,” each said to the other.

Seniesa and her father walked up to the ropes. Ronny Rivota, a coach for the boy boxers, followed, leaning in and reminding her of the game plan: Stand firm, counter Daveena’s forward motion with heavy artillery, with all of your power. “If she hits you,” he cautioned, “control your anger.”

She peered over his shoulders, her eyes round, large and focused.

“You ready, girlfriend?” her father asked.

“Yeah.”

“OK, right hand, left hand, right hand. Remember, she don’t throw straight punches. Come up, then over.”

Seniesa didn’t acknowledge him. She was lost in a world of her own, stretching, swaying, bouncing on her toes.

For weeks, Joe had prepared for this moment, staying up late, night after night, as he watched a tape of the first Seniesa-Daveena fight, counting blows, convincing himself that his daughter had been robbed. He told me he would know just what to say to Seniesa as she entered the ring to fight Daveena again.

Bending down, he blurted stream-of-consciousness into her ear.

“Pound on her,” he told her. “The referees are stopping fights today. Let the referees stop it. Come on, baby, she don’t hit harder than Richard [one of the boy boxers]. Remember that. You’ve got to show it to ‘em now. They think they beat you, but they did not have the skills to beat you. She don’t have half the skills you have. C’mon, mama, you are 10 times, 100 times better than she is. Skill-wise and every way, baby. You can do this, mama. God is with us. It’s you and the Lord in there, mama. Ask the Lord to give you strength. I can’t go in there with you, but God is with you all the time, baby. Let’s do this. We’ve waited a long time for this, mama. I’ll tell you right now, they think they won the first fight, but I know there is doubt in their mind. Let’s do this, baby doll.”

Seniesa nodded — yes, yes, yes.

But in truth, there was little anyone, even Joe, could say to interrupt her focus and get inside her head. This was the biggest moment in the life she shared with her father, a rehearsal for the many tough fights they hoped to have in the future. She wanted to win this fight more than she had ever wanted anything. She was already in the state of trance she had inherited from her father.

She stepped through the ropes and into the ring. A few seconds passed. CLANG! The opening bell echoed through the ballroom.

Ready for More

Seniesa and Daveena rushed at each other, releasing six months of anxiety since their last duel.

Seniesa led with a left that grazed Daveena’s gloves.

It gave Daveena a moment’s hesitation. Then she charged.

Seniesa backed away. But in this fight, unlike the last one, she stopped, braced her back leg, pushed off and fired a nifty combination — jab, cross, jab, cross. The punches, more powerful than anything she had thrown before, slammed into Daveena. They stung.

But this was not a girl Seniesa could intimidate. This was Daveena, the wind-up boxer. She fixed on her target, and she kept coming, always kept coming, just as she had in their first bout. She stalked forward, throwing curved punches, refusing to let up.

Seniesa worked against the forward motion like a crafty old master. Full of energy, ready to strike, she swayed inside Daveena’s blows, slipping most of them. She threw fast, heavy replies with her right, then her left.

Daveena’s head jolted backward. Whap. Her head slapped from side to side, left to right. Whap-whop.

At the bell, Seniesa brimmed with confidence and speed.

“Relax, mama!” her father said.

He was happy, so happy that he offered no instructions. Just keep doing what you are doing, he said, because what you are doing is winning.

She nodded, ready for more.

In the second round, she opened with an uppercut, then a stiff left hook.

Men and women in the chairs, who hadn’t expected to see girls box, spat their astonishment into my ears: “Goddamn!” A Duran to the gut. Then another. “Damn!”

“Keep going!” her father yelled, so loudly that the referee stopped the fight for a moment, turned to Joe and told him to calm down. He did, but he still twitched with every punch his daughter threw and flinched with every blow she took. It was like voodoo; he felt everything.

Daveena, facing a new kind of onslaught, evaded many of the blows. She kept charging, driving toward Seniesa with her punches. Some landed solidly against Seniesa’s sides. They turned her and twisted her.

“Let’s go, Chickee! Fight, Chickee!” Daveena’s family and friends screamed, on their feet near the ring.

Then, just before the bell, Seniesa landed a hard shot that nearly forced Daveena off her feet. Several of Daveena’s fans fell into their seats with worry.

But they didn’t give up. They rose when the third and last round got underway, cheering loudly as Daveena found new strength. She whaled away with haymakers. Whap! Several found their mark, whap-whap, rocking Seniesa to her heels.

Soon, though, Daveena lost strength.

Seniesa had weathered the aggression, and now she pounced. Right hand. Duran. Right hand. Duran. Backpedal. Stop. Jab.

Just like practice, just like her father had told her, just like she had dreamed.

Then she tired too.

The girls took each other’s measure near the middle of the ring, looking for an unguarded spot, hoping for a second wind. There was no time. CLANG! The final bell. It was over. Six months of waiting and wanting, just like that.

Joe clutched Seniesa. She looked excited and nervous, spent but pleased.

David hugged Daveena, her face fixed with calm, as if she were preparing to accept gracefully whatever the judges decided.

The judges gathered their scorecards, the outcome was tabulated, and a referee in white held a warrior’s arm in each hand.

There, in the middle of the ring, they stood, for five, 10, 15 seconds. Each girl’s face was filled with hope — and dread.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer said into his microphone, his voice warbling as it ran through the speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand for our fighters.”

The crowd cheered and stomped.

“We have a winner … “

Seniesa’s legs shook.

“And the winner, by decision, is … “

Daveena looked toward heaven, prayerfully. One second passed, then another.

“Se-nie-sa Es-tra-da!”

I should not have been shocked when all she showed was simple satisfaction: a quick jump into the air, a clenched fist raised for a moment. Anything more would have signaled doubt. Seniesa’s stance, upright but nonchalant, said enough: Do not be surprised by what I do. Seniesa Carmen Estrada can take care of herself.

She shook Daveena’s hand firmly, even helped her through the ropes and out of the ring. The officials gave Seniesa the championship belt, and she walked to her father with it slung over her shoulder. She slapped his palms.

“Is that clear enough for you?” he asked, alluding to the moments when she did have her doubts. “Is that clear enough?”

She smiled but said nothing, letting him vent to someone in the crowd — “Last time, we got robbed. We got robbed on that last one” — letting him bask in what she had created.

Soon, we stood under the sun, in the dirt parking lot. I asked Seniesa how she had felt in the ring.

Stronger than ever, she said. She knew she was hitting hard, because she could feel, against her knuckles, the softness of Daveena’s flesh. She said she was glad it was over, because now she no longer needed revenge. The grudge was gone. Then she looked down near her feet and spotted an anthill.

Joe spoke excitedly, words tumbling. “Oh, man, I am sky-high. This makes it all worth it. Everything was just like I said it would be. Her aggressiveness. I told her to step in and land combinations. I told her to hit hard and not hold anything back.”

He kissed her forehead.

She smiled, and then she bent down toward the anthill.

“You did as good as I thought you were going to do, mama,” her father said.

She dabbed her finger in the dirt, announcing that she had never seen such large black ants. Gone was the warrior who had fought so fiercely in the ballroom, making strangers holler and cry. Suddenly, Seniesa was just like any other kid.

Her father didn’t notice. “There’s something more important than that fight that my daughter learned today,” he said. “There’s no giving up or giving in. It’s like my life. You don’t give up, no matter what happens. If you lose a fight, or if something worse happens, like what happened in my life, no matter what, you keep coming back, keep coming back, keep coming back.”

He touched her neck with his fingers. He seemed to be talking to himself as much as to her, reminding himself of where he had been and how far he had come. Tijuana. Primera Flats. Prison. Addiction. Aggression. The loss of his family, the loss of his little girl. And then, the long road back.

“That’s what I have to teach. Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up.”

Now his past was far away. Seniesa’s fight helped make this clear. Still, though, she was only a little girl, 12 years old on that very day. This was too young to put her life and his life and how they fit together into complete perspective. Nor did she really need to.

She crouched down on her thin knees, hovering over the ants.

“Dad?” she asked, tugging his shirt. “Dad?” she asked again, looking up. “Can we go?”

He nodded.

She bounded off, brushing past him.

“It’s just that, I love you, mija,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “I love you too, Dad.”


Notes on Chapter Five

The trophy and the videotape: From Joe and Seniesa in interviews in January 2004. Streeter observed Seniesa watching the videotape of her fight. The words she uses in the assessment of her performance are as she spoke them.

Basketball and school: From Seniesa and Joe in interviews during January and February 2004. Her misbehavior in class is from interviews with Seniesa’s teachers. Lupe Arellano’s words are as she spoke them.

Uncle Rick’s problems: Their effects on Joe were observed by Streeter from February through June 2004. The charge against Rick and the demand by prosecutors for at least 25 years in prison are from the transcript of California vs. Henry R. Estrada, February through June 2004. Joe’s fears about his brother’s fate are from Joe.

Problems at the sign shop: Observed by Streeter, who interviewed Joe during February 2004 about what the new pressure would have done to him before he began coaching Seniesa. Joe’s words describing Seniesa as the glue holding him together are as he spoke them.

Scene over hamburgers and Cokes: From Seniesa and Joe in interviews during May and June of 2004. Their words are as both remember them.

The new complexity in beating boys: From Seniesa and Lupe Arellano, her teacher. Streeter observed Seniesa with her friends during February, April, May and June of 2004. Seniesa’s words are as she spoke them.

Scene at the gym before the bout with Ulises: Observed by Streeter at the Solid Rock Boxing gym in February 2004.

The fight with Ulises: Witnessed by Streeter, who stood at ringside. The words spoken and the sounds uttered by Joe, Ulises, his coaches and the woman among the spectators are as Streeter heard them.

Ulises’ assessment of Seniesa’s performance: From Ulises. His words are as Streeter heard them. Streeter observed Joe’s departure with Seniesa and heard Joe’s exuberant reaction to the fight.

Seniesa gestures to the crowd: Streeter observed both fights in Arizona and witnessed Seniesa’s reaction when the crowd booed. He heard Joe’s admonition, heard Seniesa’s explanation of what she had done and observed Joe’s response.

Seniesa at school: Observed by Streeter, who interviewed Lupe Arellano, her teacher, and saw what Seniesa wrote in her journal. Arellano’s words are as she spoke them.

Joe’s realization of what it would take to restore Seniesa’s confidence: From Joe, as is his account of trying to persuade David Villalva to allow a rematch. Joe’s effort was corroborated by Villalva.

Seniesa’s reaction to the refusal: From Seniesa in an interview with Streeter in April 2004. Her words are as she spoke them.

Scenes at the Villalva home: Observed by Streeter, who spent an afternoon there in June 2004. Daveena’s early boxing history is from her and her father. Her words are from an interview with Streeter.

Concerns about anger: From David Villalva, who expressed them to Streeter.

Daveena as a boxer: From Streeter’s observation of her sparring against a boy. Daveena’s words assuring a rematch with Seniesa are from an interview with Streeter.

Joe’s success at scheduling a rematch: From Joe, corroborated by David Villalva. Seniesa’s observations of her father’s excitement about the rematch and his relief at the end of Uncle Rick’s trial are from Seniesa.

Rick’s conviction and sentencing: From the transcript of California vs. Henry R. Estrada, February through June 2004.

Joe the peacemaker: From Seniesa, Joe and Gil Valdez, a trainer at Solid Rock Boxing, during interviews in July and August of 2004. Words spoken by Joe are as he and Valdez remember them. The easing of Seniesa’s concern about her father’s anger is from Seniesa.

Street killing: From Seniesa and her mother in interviews during July 2004. Maryann’s words are as she and Seniesa recall them. Homicide confirmed by the Los Angeles Police Department and a June 22, 2004, autopsy report from the Los Angeles County coroner.

Scene at Seniesa’s house after the killing: From Seniesa, who told Streeter about her reaction in an interview in June 2004.

Seniesa’s dreams about fighting Daveena: From Seniesa. The words about how she plans to react to Daveena are as Seniesa spoke them. The words of her response to Streeter’s description of Daveena are as Seniesa spoke them.

The $400 birthday gift: From Joe and Seniesa in interviews during June and July 2004.

Joe on the brutality of boxing: From Joe in an interview with Streeter in June 2004.

Seniesa’s prefight jitters: Observed by Streeter, who accompanied her and her father to the tournament at the El Casino Ballroom in Tucson.

Doritos scene: Witnessed by Streeter, who heard the words Daveena and Seniesa spoke.

Weeping 8-year-old: Observed by Streeter, who heard the words he spoke and Joe’s reply. Streeter observed the boy’s fight and Seniesa’s reaction.

Seniesa and Daveena comparison: Observed by Streeter, who asked Seniesa if she was ready. The words of her reply are as she spoke them.

Exchange between Seniesa and her father about gloves: Witnessed by Streeter. Their words are as they spoke them, as are the good wishes expressed by Joe and David Villalva. Trainer Ronny Rivota’s reminder and admonition were heard by Streeter.

Prefight advice from Joe: Heard by Streeter. Joe’s words are as he spoke them.

The importance of the fight: From Seniesa, in interviews with Streeter during June 2004 in the days leading up to the bout.

Seniesa in a trance: Observed by Streeter.

The Seniesa-Daveena rematch and the decision: Witnessed by Streeter at ringside. Words spoken by Joe, members of the crowd and the announcer are as Streeter heard them.

Reactions by Seniesa, Daveena and Joe: Observed by Streeter. Joe’s words are as he spoke them.

Seniesa’s assessment of her performance: From an interview with Streeter.

Scene in the parking lot outside the El Casino Ballroom: Witnessed by Streeter. Words of Joe and Seniesa are as they spoke them.


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