Nine rising stars
Ever since she started fighting boys at the age of 8, Esparza (far right in the photo) has counted on her mental toughness to beat brawnier foes. It's a convincing edge: The six-time national champ, who stands 5-foot-3, hasn't lost a bout in more than four years. And now she's training for the Summer Olympics in London, the first to feature women's boxing. Esparza, a 22-year-old Mexican-American raised in Houston, deferred college to hit the ring full-time, earning a nice wage from sponsors like Nike, Coke and Cover Girl in the process. That last one is particularly relevant for a sport trying to balance violence with a more mainstream appeal. The International Amateur Boxing Association recently voted to "allow" fighters to compete in skirts, prompting loud debate. But however Esparza is decked out, she has the look of a breakout star.