Reporting from Airway Heights, Wash. -- Patricia Manuel spent the night before the Olympic boxing trials playing video poker at the Northern Quest Resort’s casino outside of Spokane.
“I lost $40,” the Long Beach boxer said with a shrug.
The stakes were higher Monday when she stepped nto the resort’s boxing ring and bet she could win a spot on the first U.S. women’s team with one arm. Now it looks like she could lose that wager too after dropping an 18-13 decision to Florida’s Tiara Brown in a first-round lightweight bout.
Earlier in the evening Mikaela Mayer of Long Beach overcame a slow start to beat Lisa Porter of Northridge, 27-10, in another lightweight bout, advancing to the winners’ bracket semifinals Tuesday night against Queen Underwood, a five-time national champion from Seattle.
Yet Mayer’s challenge pales in comparison to the one facing Manuel, who has been sidelined most of the last 11 months with a compressed joint in her right shoulder, a problem she thought she was over. Three weeks ago the shooting pain came back, however, and after Monday’s loss she finds herself needing to win five fights in as many days just to make it to the championship bout in her weight group.
And then she’d have to win again to have a chance at competing in London this summer.
Or she could throw in the towel, pulling out of the tournament rather than risk further injury -- a decision her camp was leaning toward late Monday night.
“I came all this way. I don’t want to go out,” Manuel said. “If it’s up to me, I’m not going out. I’m a fighter.
“I’m in pain now. I’ve been in pain for a couple of years now. I can deal with it for another week.”
But it’s not up to her -- at least not completely. Manuel, who received treatment on her shoulder Monday night, said she’ll talk with her trainer, Robert Luna, before deciding what to do next. She is scheduled to battle Asia Stevenson of Washington in an elimination bout at 132 pounds Tuesday.
“Right now I think I can still win this. That’s my feeling,” Manuel said.
Despite the injury -- or maybe because of it -- Manuel came out aggressively, peppering Brown, the national championship runner-up last year, with a left jab while winning the first two rounds by a point. But by then Brown was aware that Manuel’s right had no sting and she quickly exploited that fact to dominate the final two rounds.
“I couldn’t fight my fight,” Manuel said. “I thought I was landing cleaner shots. But Olympic-style boxing is different from pro boxing.”
In the earlier bout, Porter attacked from the opening bell, throwing combinations at Mayer’s head and shoulders as she chased her around the ring. And though few of the punches landed solidly, the pressure kept the defensive Mayer on her heels throughout what the judges scored as an even round.
Mayer fought back at the start of the second round, landing a solid punch to the head before taking control of the bout. And although Porter, who got her start in the sport at the CSUN Boxing Club at Cal State Northridge, never lost her composure, Mayer kept piling up points en route to a decision that was far more decisive on the scorecards than it was in the ring..
“I definitely felt a little slow. I don’t know what it was,” Mayer said. "[But] I knew from the second round on I had it.”
She’ll get little time to celebrate before facing Underwood, a heavy favorite to win the lightweight division. Underwood dominated a game but outclassed Bertha Aracil of Yonkers, N.Y., 22-12, in her first fight.
“Tomorrow will be better. There’s more to come,” promised Mayer, an assessment her coach Al Mitchell seconded.
“She’s got a lot of skills. She’s got physical skills, she’s got mental skills,” Mitchell said. “She’s just got to put it together.”
Despite the fact each woman who climbed into the ring Monday was making history, the first U.S. Olympic women’s trials got off to an inauspicious start when Phoenix’s Cynthia Moreno, a former national champion, withdrew from the opening bout against Houston’s Marlen Esparza with an ankle injury.
Esparza, a six-time U.S. champion, was introduced to the small crowd, then entered the ring in her red shorts and singlet. But instead of boxing gloves she was wearing a wristwatch and, after having her hand raised in triumph, she left the arena without having broken a sweat.
Moreno withdrew from the flyweight (112 pounds) competition after saying she had injured an ankle doing roadwork, which allowed Alex Love of nearby Monroe, Wash., to score the first contested victory of the night by pounding out a 24-15 flyweight win over Taversha Norwood of Marietta, Ga.
In the other two flyweight fights, New York’s Christina Cruz piled up a big lead then held off Texan Virginia Fuchs, 15-12, and Tyrieshia Douglas of Baltimore routed Michigan’s Latonya King, 34-11.
Joining Mayer, Underwood and Brown in the winner’ bracket at 132 pounds was N’yteeyah Sherman of Ohio, who beat Stevenson, 42-17, in the most one-sided fight of the evening.
And in the middleweight division (165 pounds), Tiffanie Hearn of Louisville, Ky., edged Tiffanie Ward of Hacienda Heights, 18-17. Also winning at that weight were Michigan’s 16-year-old Claressa Shields, who scored a minor upset by beating Baltimore’s Franchon Crew, 31-19; Andrecia Wasson of Michigan, who beat Dara Shen of Alexandria, Va., 34-9; and Tika Hemingway of Pittsburgh, a 16-10 winner over Raquel Miller of San Francisco.