El Paso’s world champion ready to return to the ring

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Jennifer Han (right) battled Lilian Martinez (left) on Oct. 16, 2016 at the Don Haskins Center. Han will face the No.1 contender Lizbeth Crespo on Feb. 17, at the Don Haskins Center.

Daniel Mendez, Staff Reporter

International Boxing Federation’s world female featherweight titleholder Jennifer Han (16-3-1) was ready to defend her title against the mandatory challenger Lizbeth Crespo (12-3) early in December, but the fight was postponed due to an ankle sprain.

The fight was moved to Jan. 27, and was again postponed further due to an opportunity by Primetime to include the fight as the co-main event for El Paso’s first-ever prime-time boxing event on a major television network (FOX), as Devon Alexander faces Victor Ortiz at the Don Haskins Center on Feb. 17.

“The last two months of training have been interesting,” Han said. “Training was difficult after that (ankle sprain)—I couldn’t really run or spar. My coach and Roman Robles (a member of Han’s media team) had me doing alternative forms of conditioning. I was swimming, I was doing bicycle. I was doing what I could to keep my conditioning because as a fighter you have to be able to last 10 rounds.”

The fight card is scheduled to have a total of four former world champions in the ring. Former world champion and El Paso’s own Austin Trout will be on the card as well. Trout’s opponent has yet to be determined.

Han, the reigning defending champion, is the only current champion featured for this bout. The former champions Alexander and Ortiz will be the only televised battle of the night, which will be on FOX.

The Han family has a history of combat sports, as fighting runs in the family. Master Bae Han has his own martial arts studio in Northeast El Paso. Her little brother Abraham is also a professional boxer. The rest of the Han siblings—Israel and her two sisters Heather and Stephanie—help Han out when it comes to her training schedule.

“Boxing is difficult,” Han said. “My brother and I go to Las Cruces in the mornings and we drive 45 minutes to train with my coach Lou Burke and my teammates, like Austin Trout. We stay there two-three hours training. I don’t leave the gym until 12:30 at night and then my routine starts back all over again. I’m busy and it’s hard, but it’s worth it right now.”

Han has boxed since she was 16. She fought for years as an amateur in her early days, winning five national championships and representing the United States in tournaments around the world, but nothing compares to fighting in her hometown, she says.

“For me, I’ve fought all over the world. I’ve had great experiences throughout my career, but nothing beats fighting in my hometown, where I can fight in front of my family, my friends, my students, my peers,” Han said. “You know they bring so much energy and so much positive vibes to me that I perform my best in my hometown. So, I love that advantage.”

This is El Paso’s first big boxing event since former world champion Oscar De La Hoya fought in 1998.

Han feels the love from fans and that is why she is excited about the future implications of what this fight can bring to El Paso. 

“I’m so excited I get this opportunity to fight on the Ortiz-Alexzander card and that my teammate Austin Trout will be fighting. That’s a total of four world champions that are on the card,” Han said. “El Paso is a huge boxing town and we don’t get these kind of big fights that often, so to be a part of this truly historical event, I’m truly blessed and excited and were going to make bigger and better things come to El Paso because of this fight.”

Crespo is in for a battle since this is her first bout outside of Argentina, where she’s fought her entire career. The top contender was born in Bolivia, and at the age of 27 is entering the title fight on a six-fight win streak.

“Lizbeth Crespo is going to be a tough fight. She is number one rated in the world. She’s my mandatory,” Han said.  “So this fight is very important for me and she’s a strong, aggressive, young, aggressive fast fighter.

“But it’s nothing that I haven’t prepared for in the past. My team is amazing—Louie Burke, my coach, has already been implementing our game plan. I’ve already been practicing, enduring sparring and I’m excited to put on a good show for the city of El Paso.”

The reigning champ is entering the fight on a six-fight win streak of her own.

Han, 34, will be making her fourth title defense in front of a home crowd at the Haskins Center. She is a pioneer in women’s boxing already, but she is ready to break the boundaries of women’s boxing once more.

“Women’s boxing is growing,” Han said. “We have a lot of talented female champions and this fight is going to be a great opportunity for me because I’m going to get so much exposure—people are going to get to know me, Jennifer Han. Not just my fans, but the boxing community and boxing world and hopefully I can continue to be a pioneer for women’s boxing and push for championship fights to be on TV, including my own. I know women’s boxing, if they give us an opportunity, it’s going to explode.”

Han has her eyes set on her master plan. This is only the beginning for her and her hometown city.

“For me it’s a huge honor,” Han said. “I’m proud that I am able to do this accomplishment for El Paso, but it’s just the beginning. I’ve just opened the doors. There’s lot of talent here in El Paso, so I’m looking forward to seeing more world champions and I’m not done. I plan on, after successfully defending my title, I would really like the opportunity to unify the titles, clean up my division.”

Tickets range from $25 to $200 and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com.