Mexico's Hard-Punching 'Barby' Is No Doll

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Why you should care

World champion boxer Mariana Juárez has cultivated an image that’s both strong and sexy.

When Mariana Juárez was a little girl, she was the biggest scaredy-cat of all. She couldn’t stand the fights that broke out during the soccer games she played and didn’t know how to throw a punch.

Now, as the World Boxing Council bantamweight champion in one the world’s most infamously macho regions, Juárez, 38, knows a thing or two about winning a fight.

“They would tell me it’s not a women’s sport, that I should do something else, that we weren’t going to make it and that it was a difficult sport that required a lot of discipline,” she says, recalling how her early training gyms only had men’s bathrooms.

Tattooed angel wings mark her upper back, and her forearm is adorned with black roses.

The few trainers who would work with her were extra rough in an effort to discourage her, she says. But it didn’t work. Nor did the sexual harassment she had to endure on the way up — although it took its toll. “There have been times where I have had to keep my mouth shut [about harassment] because they are going to think I’m the one trying to take advantage because I was on my way up,” she says. She may have forgiven, but she hasn’t forgotten. “Those types of people have seen that I don’t need their support and I can do it on my own. They have seen my solo success, which I think they must hate.”

ESPN boxing reporter Salvador Rodriguez wrote this year that Juárez is one of two or three “pillars” of female boxing in Mexico who vaulted the sport to the profile it enjoys today. Vocal about the pay disparity between male and female boxers, Juárez has proven to a generation of young fighters that women can make it in Mexican boxing — so long as they have thick skins.

Though she’s a woman in a man’s world, Juárez embraces her femininity, nurturing an image that’s both strong and sexy. Tattooed angel wings mark her upper back, and her forearm is adorned with black roses. As an official face of Nike, Juárez appeared in a popular ad for the sports brand this year, set in Mexico City. She appears at the final moment to knock a hanging cement bag out of the path of a group of stampeding sportswomen.

Juárez frequently appears on her active Instagram feed alongside her 11-year-old daughter, Natasha, whom she says has grown up alongside her in the gym. But does she encourage her daughter to follow in her footsteps?

“My family didn’t have the means to pay for an education and it was very hard,” Juárez says. “I had to choose one thing or the other to carry on growing, and boxing was a good option for me because I had a talent and I have done well. But I would recommend all youngsters to carry on studying and do the sport at the same time.”

Read more: On the rise of the social media-fueled fistfight challenge.

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