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Acuna vs. Padilla - Part I (Part II)
By Ewan Whyte
Published on June 13, 2004

WIBA World Super Bantamweight Title
Scheduled for 10 rounds
Place Luna Park, Buenos Aires (Argentina)
Date 26th May, 2004
Referee Raúl Ilvento (Argentina)
Judges Omar Fernández (Argentina)
Fernando Cardelino (Uruguay)
Francisco Hernández (Colombia)

Name (Status)

Marcela Eliana Acuña

Daysi Padilla
(Challenger ranked #3)

Sobriquet ‘la Tigresa’ ‘the Demolition Expert’
Date of birth 16 Oct 1976 22 Mar 1979
Place of birth Formosa San Basilio de Palenque
Nationality Argentinean Colombian
Weight 54.850 kg (121 lbs) 53.850 kg (119 lbs)
Height 163 cm (5’4”) 175 cm (5’9”)
13-4-0 (7 KOs)
 Unverified - variations
14-1 (13 KOs)
Ramón Chaparro
Ricardo Cardona
(ex WBA world champion)

She came from a small town in northern Colombia that had already produced three world champions, and she wanted to be the fourth.

"Boxing’s in my blood,” she told El Universal. “In our town, it’s hereditary. I’m a Padilla. Don’t forget that the world champions ‘Kid Pambelé’, Ricardo Cardona and Prudencio Cardona were born in Palenque along with a number of other boxers who weren’t quite as successful.” She took up the sport a few years ago, convinced that she would one day take the title and become the first woman from Palenque to bring home a world championship belt. Her idols were Pambelé y Rodrigo Valdez. She believed that she, like they, had ‘innate gifts’.

One of the boxers that hadn’t been quite as successful was her brother, Pedro ‘El Demoledor’ Padilla, who had been denied ‘the luck all champions need’. When Daysi began boxing, she assumed both the mantle and the moniker of her brother, becoming ‘La Demoledora’ (‘The Demolition Expert’).

It was an apt description. “The Pelenquans are a strong race, powerful — not like the boxers from the city,” wrote Liney Escorcia of La Libertad de Barranquilla. They are the descendants of the Maroons, runaway African slaves who fought for more than a century against the slave owners of Cartagena de Indias, at that time the main port of entry for the slave trade in South America. Padilla’s town, San Basilio de Palenque, which is near the Caribbean port of Cartagena in northern Colombia, traces its origins to the second half of the seventeenth century, when the authorities caved in and allowed the Maroons to settle on circumscribed territory and build a unique world, parallel to that of the Spaniards — the first village of freed slaves in the New World. They have their own language (Palenquero), music, culture and traditions, and think of themselves as a race apart.

Sure enough, the city girls were no match for her. “Up there in the ring,” says Padilla, “I fight like a cat” [EU]. And the city girls fought like pigeons. She KOd or TKOd thirteen of them (fourteen by some accounts) in as many fights to rise to the position of number one contender for the WIBF world super bantamweight title, which is how she came to be the challenger designated for first mandatory title defence by the new champion, Marcela Acuña of Argentina.

Down in Argentina, this was all (indeed rather more than) they knew about the challenger. There were no tapes to study. Acuña’s people made a few phone calls and were able to illicit only that she was tall, right-handed and a heavy puncher. (Well, yes, they’d rather gathered that…). They set to work at once on Acuña’s defence, which she admits is her weakest point, teaching her to hold her left glove higher to cover against the right counter, to move anticlockwise in the ring to make it harder for Padilla to throw her right hand, and to stand with her right leg further back so as to present a narrower target. In interviews, Acuña managed to put a positive spin on each of the known facts about her opponent. She’d never been taken past the fifth? Then her stamina was unproven. She was a heavy puncher? We’ve been working hard on our defence. She was tall and fast? They’d said that about Pinock Ortega, and look what happened to her.

Of course, what undid Pinock Ortega when the two fought in December for the vacant WIBF super bantamweight title was neither her speed (as if!) nor her height but something quite different. This from Al Borde del Ring: “As the bell sounds, Acuña comes out to do what she does best, attack. The visitor, somewhat taller and leaner, displays her skill, using lateral movement to evade the charges of the Argentinian, but there is a noticeable flaw in her technique; she holds her left hand very low, leaving an enormous window open for a right counter. We were just pointing this out in our commentary when a cross went flying in through the window leaving Ortega dazed and on the edge of the abyss.” At this point, according to world flyweight champion Omar Narváez, who was sitting ringside, Acuña made an elementary mistake. With Pinock Ortega dazed and at her mercy, she should have stepped back and taken her out with one clean shot. Instead, she stuck to the game plan she had agreed upon with her trainer, which was to crowd the taller girl to prevent her using her reach while she beat a tattoo on her midriff, and Ortega, showing tremendous guts, managed to survive the round.

It came to the same thing in the end, of course. “At the start of the second, it was clear that the visitor still hadn’t recovered and she tried to put as much distance as possible between herself and the fists of the Argentinian. Acuña found it harder to close with her than she should have, as she hasn’t yet mastered the art of cutting down her opponent’s space. Nonetheless, she was fighting intelligently, never wasting an opportunity to punish the body of the Panamanian. The following rounds followed the same pattern, with Acuña retaining the upper hand, chiefly because her blows were more penetrating. In the clinches, she kept firing off shots at the ribs and kidneys. The old formula was working, and with her breathing impaired, Ortega wasn’t able to land with any precision when she tried to counter.” [ABDR]

Again in the fourth and fifth rounds, Acuña came close to knocking Pinock Ortega out, her right being her most dangerous weapon. “Acuña’s right hand — whether thrown as a straight punch or as a cross — was turning into a nightmare for the beautiful Central American, but all these rights became repetitive and predictable. Nonetheless, they were doing damage even if they didn’t quite achieve their objective. The fourth and fifth were both two point rounds for Acuña, who was handing the young Panamanian a cruel beating.” [FAB]

In the sixth round, the inevitable. “‘The Tigress’ said ‘no mercy’ and the ‘Lady of the Ring’ said ‘no más’”.[CD] “The constant pounding she was taking from Acuña’s right hand put an end to the now feeble resistance of the Panamanian.” [ABDR] Dazed, demoralized and exhausted, Ortega seemed resigned to her fate. “When the referee stepped between them to stop the fight, the decision was greeted impassively by Ortega’s corner, whilst she herself, almost sobbing, accepted the inevitability of the decision.” [FAB] “Tamely, like a person delivered from some terrible ordeal, Ortega walked back to her corner.” [ABDR].

Analysing Acuña’s performance in that fight, the FAB President, Osvaldo Bispal, wrote: “The Tigress still doesn’t include uppercuts in her combinations, and the way she currently moves around the ring doesn’t allow her to exploit to the full her opponents’ moments of indecision. Whilst these may only be minor flaws, they make her less dangerous than she would otherwise be. She hits hard, she’s strong, and there’s certainly a ferocity about her, but she isn’t making the best use of her natural gifts. In a way, of course, this is encouraging, because it means she still has a lot of growing to do as a fighter.”

Speculating on the upcoming Padilla fight, La Mañana returned to the Ortega analogy: “According to our information, Padilla’s style is in many ways similar to that of Damaris (Pinock) Ortega, except that Padilla has more power and a tasty right hand of which ‘the Tigress’ is going to have to be very wary. We know that the Formosan (Acuña) is going to try to seize the initiative right from the opening bell, moving in tight on Padilla before opening up with her entire arsenal. Against Ortega it worked. The big question is whether she can repeat the same formula against Padilla. Or rather, whether Padilla will let her/”

On the subject of Padilla’s record, some were skeptical (“a dubious record” [Lit]; “twelve knock-outs in a row — but against whom?” [CD]) whilst others — including Acuña’s husband and trainer, strangely — appeared to take it seriously (“an inscrutable and defiant bruiser with a spine-chilling record”). Acuña was unfazed: “A record often doesn’t tell the whole story. You have to compare the opponents she’s fought with those I’ve fought. I have international experience; she’s never fought outside Colombia.” [EA] And on another occasion: “After going ten rounds with Christy Martin, I’m hardly going to be afraid of Daysi Padilla. Apparently she’s accustomed to throwing a couple of big punches and her opponents falling down. Let’s see how well she holds up when it goes into the later rounds and she takes one back. I hear she’s never really been hit. Well there’s always a first time.”

But as the psychological warfare between the two women began to heat up and the journalists on each side began to weigh in, Liney Escorcia who writes for the Colombia paper La Libertad de Barranquilla, pointed out that Padilla had in fact been hit and she’d held up very well: “I witnessed the fight between Daysí and Indira Pérez which took place in 2000 in Barranquilla. It was hard — very hard. There were plenty of fierce exchanges before Padilla knocked her out in the fifth. Pérez had more experience and had entered the ring unbeaten in eight fights. That night, Daysi showed she was afraid of no one. She hits very hard, moves well and knows how to counterpunch. She’s dangerous.”

Along with Pérez’s unbeaten record, Padilla took the WIBA Iberian-American Bantamweight Title, but as others were quick to point out, the scalp of Indira ‘La Cobra’ Pérez was the only credible trophy in Padilla’s cabinet. Most of her wins had been against girls making their professional debuts.

Padilla was aware, of course, that Acuña had more experience than her at the highest level. Andrés Frías Utria interviewed her in training before she left for Argentina:

Q. “Have you seen the Tigress fight?”

A. “No, but they tell me she’s good and has fought with the best. Besides, she’s the world champion.”

Q. "How are you going to beat her?”

A. “I’m taller than her; I’m going to keep working the jab”

Q. “Are you optimistic about the outcome of the fight?”

A. “Always. I’m coming back with the title. Palenque needs it.”

He watched her train, throwing a right in the manner of ‘Kid’ Pambelé, then staring fixedly at the bag before firing off a succession of jabs. “You’re struck by how strong she is. Zero fat. Like an oak tree.” She was sure, she said, that her weight of punch would be too much for Acuña. Her training was directed by an ex world champion, Ricardo Cardona, who was teaching her how to throw combinations. She speaks in the soft, sing-song tones of her people. Asked if she was married, she replied that she lived in union libre with one Adonais Hernández in Palenque. This would be the first time she had left Colombia. “Perhaps,” speculated Frías Utria, “this trip to Argentina will lift her from obscurity, as sporting glory almost inevitably does for the men and women who achieve it.” She left Palenque with her representative, Ana Torres, and her trainer, Ricardo Cardona, “brimming with confidence, but aware at the same time that ‘La Tigresa’ had more experience than her and that she would have to rely upon her weight of punch if she was to bring home the diadem”. He wished her luck.

In Cartegena before flying out, she stepped up the rhetoric, telling the Colombian press she would outface Acuña in all areas of the fight and make the Tigress dance to her tune. She also promised that she would not succumb to stage fright in Luna Park (“that monster with a thousand heads, the temple of South American boxing, in which the finest boxers in the world have fought”[BB]), expressing her willingness even to die in that mythical arena. “I’m bringing back the title to Colombia. It will be the fourth world title for my beloved Palenque”.

At the first press conference on her arrival, she announced that she was going to surprise everyone in Argentina. “I’m going to take the title – and by knock-out, so no doubts remain.”
“The kid’s dreaming,” shot back Acuña. “All she’ll be taking back to her country are las ganas.”

An empty belly, then, and a broken heart.

In the Argentine, Acuña has the press eating out of her hand. Readers are constantly reminded how as a teenager she traveled to the States to face Christy Martin in her first professional fight (and Rijker in her second), of the poverty she and her family stubbornly endured when she was struggling to force the Argentinian Boxing Federation to accept women’s boxing, and of the exemplary way in which she combines the roles of mother and top-flight athlete. As well as beautiful and courageous, she is constantly described as ‘charismatic’. At times, it gets ludicrous. This article, published the morning of the fight, discusses the supposed paradox between her piety and her ferocity in a way that suggests the writer may have overdosed on Marvel comics: “On Sunday she went to mass, yesterday she completed the novena (a devotion consisting of special prayers on nine successive days) and some time today – she doesn’t yet know when – she will visit a church, as she always does before a fight. There, alone, on her knees and at peace, the Tigress will not be the Tigress. But tonight it will be a very different story. When she climbs into that ring, she will be transformed into a dangerous feline with gloves on — aggressive, focused and all set to defend her title for the first time. Her opponent is promising her a war, and a good one.” [Olé]

In the previews of this fight, the champion was always ‘the Pioneer of Female Boxing in our Country’, whereas the challenger was ‘La Demoledora’ (‘the Demolition Expert’) or ‘la noqueadora colombiana’ (‘the Colombian knock-out specialist’). An intimidating figure, surly, saturnine, aggressive — a sort of female Sonny Liston.

If that was the way she came over, perhaps it was just her response to the way the Argentineans were treating her – a point made somewhat indirectly in the Colombian press: “The fact that her skin is a different colour from that of virtually everyone else in Buenos Aires is doubtless one reason, and a very good one too,” wrote Liney Escorcia sarcastically in La Libertad, ”for leaving her severely alone.” But if there was some kind of racism at work and the Argentineans really had sent Padilla to Coventry, it’s unlikely that Acuña would have had much to do with it, given that her own ancestors (or some of them) were in the rain forests many thousand years before the Spanish arrived in 1515.
Still confident about the fight (“I’m in good shape, both physically and psychologically. I know what I want and it doesn’t worry me in the slightest that she’s on her home ground because in the ring it’ll be a different story.”), Padilla was beginning to miss her and friends and family back in Palenque. Above all, her children. She has two boys: one five, and the other one and a half, years old. “I’m missing them a great deal,” she confided to Escorcia. “But it’s precisely for them that I’ve come to fight.”

In training she looked impressive: “She showed that she is a fighter with a good defence and dynamite in her fists,” read the Télam report, adding however: “She hasn’t actually fought since 29th June 2002, when she knocked out her fellow countrywoman Marlene Delgado in the fourth.” (By my calculations, she must have been three months pregnant at the time??) UOL described the weigh-in: “Without allowing herself to be unnerved for so much as an instant by the stature and defiant stares of the dark-skinned Colombian, La Tigresa is exhibiting a calm and pensive demeanour as the moment of truth draws nigh. Although everything seems to point to Padilla being a dangerous opponent, Marcela Acuña maintains that it won’t be easy to take from her that which it had cost her so many tears and so much sacrifice to acquire.”

In fact, as she confessed after the fight, Padilla’s staring at the weigh-in had got to Acuña: “I remembered that at the weigh-in she had tried to intimidate me with her staring. That’s why, when the bell rang, I was careful not to look into her eyes.”

But now Padilla was retreating from her prediction that she would knock the champion out: “I’m not saying I’m going to knock her out. Just that I want to win. I respect my opponent but I am very confident. This is my big chance to become champion and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. The fact that I’ll be fighting in Luna Park, where my trainer (Cardona) once fought, is an added incentive.”

If the confidence of the challenger was waning, the rhetoric of the champion hardened in the hours leading up to the fight. Now she would fight ‘tooth and nail’ to protect that for which she had paid so dearly; headlines quoted her as saying: “I don’t think Daysi Padilla is as hard as they’re all making out” and she announced that she, too, was prepared to lay down her life in the ring for her sons, her husband and the ‘great people of Argentina’.

On the morning of the fight, she confided to a journalist: “I’m convinced that if I get right in her face and never let her get started, I can break her.”



Al Borde del Ring




Boxeo org Fightnews




Crónica Digital




Diario de Cuyo


El Diario de Paran




El Argentino


El Universal


La Gaceta




Los Andes online


El Litoral


La Nación Line




Página Argentina de Boxeo,




Radio Sudamericana


Sports Ya


Terra Deportes






La Voz del Interior


WBA online



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