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Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Stephanie Mendoza talks with one of her coaches, Rick Montoya, during her Golden Gloves fight at Saturday's Rocky Mountain Regional Tournament at the Salt Palace.
Boxing just challenged me in a way I’ve never been challenged —Stephanie Mendoza

SALT LAKE CITY — The imprint of her headgear still visible on her sweat-drenched face, Stephanie Mendoza grinned at the realization that she was one step closer to making a dream deferred her reality.

Stephanie Mendoza’s love affair with boxing began when she was in high school.

“I started way back in high school,” the 31-year-old Salt Lake fighter said, after earning a Rocky Mountain Regional Championship with a three-round win over Montana’s Darby Hamon Saturday at the Golden Gloves Tournament at the Salt Palace. “I had a friend who did it, and it just sounded fun. So I tried it for a workout, and I just fell in love with it.”

But, after her son was born 11 years ago, Mendoza’s priorities shifted, and providing for him became her primary focus.

She graduated from the University of Utah and began working as a rehab aide, focusing her energy on her young son. But that nagging feeling that she might have accomplished something special in the boxing ring finally forced her to return to the sport in earnest three years ago.

“Boxing just challenged me in a way I’ve never been challenged,” Mendoza said. “Mentally and physically — you’re always having to change things and having to push yourself. It never stops being challenging, and that’s really exciting.”

Mendoza didn’t know Hamon, who landed a lot of jabs to Mendoza’s face. But Mendoza landed a lot more shots of all kinds, and that gave her the edge in the bout.

“I’d never fought her before, so that was kind of fun,” said Mendoza, who sustained a cut near her eye that began swelling in the minutes after her fight ended. “I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to take this as far as I could, while I could, and I’m just having fun doing it.”

She said she hopes to continue competing in national tournaments and eventually hear a spot on the U.S. national team.

“I’d like to try and get a spot in the next five years,” she said. “And then I’ll probably coach or something like that.”

The only certainty is that boxing will remain a key part of her life.

“Boxing is my family."

She is thrilled that Golden Gloves now includes women, and she said the sport is growing quickly among women.

“It’s challenging, and I feel like you go through a lot of trials together, as you’re traveling together,” she said. "We're kind of helping motivate each other, sparring with each other, and just trying to get ready.”

The Rocky Mountain Region will send female fighters in all but two divisions to the National Tournament in Nebraska next month.

In the other bouts, Kendra Reeves (Idaho) def. Destiny Small (Montana) to advance to nationals in the 152-pound division. Diego Alvarez (Ogden) def. Wrylee Padilla (Wyoming) to advance in the 132-pound division. Milo Ismael Gutierrez (Herriman) def. Salvador Perez (Idaho) in the 141-pound division. Jon Bryant (Utah) def. Masai Rasheed (Wyoming) in the 152-pound division. Billy Wagner (Montana) def. Heneli Paea (Utah) to advance in the 165-pound division. Marquise Bowman (Utah) def. Jeremy Broncho (Idaho) to advance in the 201-plus division.

A number of other Utah fighters advanced to Nationals as unopposed in at the Regional.

In show bouts, at 65 pounds, Dynal Baheno (Utah) def. Daren Cafero (Montana) and James Cox (Utah) def. Donel Velorde (Montana); at 70 pounds, Saul Gamino (Utah) def. Ozmanny Sanchez (Utah); at 95 pounds, Colin Tuilevuka (Utah) def. Elija Willet (Utah); at 125 pounds, Giovani Rodriguez (Utah) def. Robert Chairez (Utah); at 135 pounds, Kaden Campbell (Wyoming) def. Murad Salvarov (Idaho); at 135 pounds, Albert Veenstra (Idaho) def. Elbert Paule (Utah); at 160 pounds, Austyn Broncho (Idaho) def. Usuf Yusupov (Idaho).