One of the stories of the year in professional boxing has been the rise of the women in the sport. Finally, after years of being ignored, underpaid, under-promoted and added to cards as little more than eye candy for the male-dominated audience, the powers-that-be in the sport have finally awakened to the fact that A) women can fight and B) there is a large potential audience for it.
It hasn't moved as fast as it should have, and it's way past time, but women are finally being promoted and recognized for their boxing abilities.
Much of this has been accomplished with one of the most talented of the women on the sidelines.
Seniesa Estrada, one of the pound-for-pound best in the world, hasn't fought since stopping Maria Micheo Santizo on Dec. 18 in San Antonio, Texas, in the fourth round of a bout for the WBA strawweight title. Estrada dropped Micheo Santizo twice in that bout, but hasn't fought since.
She got into a financial dispute with Golden Boy Promotions and, after several months, was granted her release. Top Rank immediately signed her, making her only its second female fighter under contract.
On Saturday at The Palms in Las Vegas, she'll make her Top Rank debut when she faces Jazmin Gala Villarino for the WBA strawweight title.
"It's no secret I wanted more money," Estrada told Yahoo Sports. "That was the issue. We couldn't come to terms with an agreement on what I wanted."
She'd been one of the most exciting fighters in the sport and had the attitude that so many of her peers do in that she was not only willing, but seeking to fight the best. Her best weight is still 105 pounds but she'll fight at 108, and even at 112, to make a big bout.
Perhaps the most significant win of her career came on Nov. 2, 2019, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on a card headlined by Canelo Alvarez and Sergei Kovalev. She defeated rival Marlen Estrada by technical decision after nine rounds when a large cut on Estrada's head from an accidental butt caused the bout to be stopped.
She was nowhere near flyweight but still gave as good as she got throughout the fight.
"I was eating pizza and whatever I wanted that week," Estrada recalled. "On fight night, I was 109 pounds. I'm usually nervous on fight day and I didn't eat and I was 109. Marlen was way more than that. I think she was between 122 and 125. But I didn't care about that because I believed in myself and what I could do."
When she steps into the ring, it will be 11 months or, as she's quick to point out, 328 days since she last fought. She loves to compete and hated missing out on the big fights that her peers were involved in. But she had to show her support by showing up ringside and cheering them on.
She was in London for the historic all-women's card headlined by Claressa Shields versus Savannah Marshall in the main event and Alycia Baumgardner versus Mikaela Mayer in the co-main. That fight drew 2 million viewers on Sky Sports in the U.K., an almost unimaginable number only a handful of years ago.
"I loved the attention that card and those fighters received," she said. "It was just incredible and as a female boxer myself, it made me proud. I think that was just the start and the women are getting better and better and you're going to see more huge fights and women taking center stage like that."
Estrada dreams big and she's looking to fight the most meaningful bouts Top Rank can put together. In her division, Yokasta Valle is the unified champion, holding the IBF and WBO belts. At junior flyweight, Evelyn Bermudez is unified, also holding the IBF and WBO titles. And at flyweight, there sits her old rival, Esparza, who has the WBA and WBC belts.
Big bouts are in her future and if she pulls off what she thinks she can —remember, she has a win over the unified flyweight champion, who fights two divisions above her — she may need to do a home remodel to create a larger trophy room to hold all of her belts.
It all starts on Saturday when she'll look to take care of business against Gala Villarino.
"She's a tough fighter," Estrada said. "I've seen a few of her fights and she's normally aggressive, but she boxed more in her last fight. She boxed and moved more in that fight, so I'm not sure which Yazmin will show up. But I know I have to control what I can and fight the way I need to and if I do that, things will be OK."