HICKORY – This weekend marks a first for three Hickory boxers out of Atlantic MMA – a mixed martial arts and boxing gym in downtown.
Boxers Aaron Smith, Marquell Jones, and Eric Serrano are travelling to Charlotte to compete in the 2017 State Golden Gloves Novice and Open Championships on Friday and Saturday.
The three amateur boxers are all making their boxing debut at the tournament.
Aaron Smith, 23, was born and raised in Lenoir; he began boxing in October of last year at Atlantic MMA, under the guidance of coach and owner of Atlantic MMA Jonathan Stamey. Smith’s cousins, Marquell Jones and coach Brice Nix introduced Smith to the sport. Smith is fighting in the 132-weight class.
“I work for the city of Lenoir and rue 21, when I am not at work I train. I love to skate board, travel and adventure. I have been boxing since October and I am pretty stoked about my fight coming up I've been working my butt to get ready for it,” Smith said.
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Smith does not know what to expect but says he is ready for a challenge.
Jones was born in Lenoir but raised in Atlanta, and is fighting in the heavyweight class. Jones works at Bernhardt and has always loved to play sports.
“I love MMA and would like to pursue a career in it; I am feeling pretty good about this tournament,” Jones said.
Serrano is a junior in high school and has been training for more than 2 years.
“He is usually very quiet, but training continues to bring him out of his shell,” coach Leslie Steiner said. “The best part of his boxing is his focus and defense. Eric will be fighting in the Middleweight (165 lbs.) weight class.”
Steiner has been boxing for almost five years, she said.
“I was a little overweight and bored with the typical gym routine of running on the treadmill or using the elliptical. I had my first private lesson with Jonathan in November 2012, and I have been hooked ever since,” Steiner said.
Stamey has owned the gym for six years and has been boxing for 12 years, he said.
“The creation of the gym itself was an initiative to train, compete and earn a living simultaneously. I ended up fighting nine times as an amateur, much like these kids are about to experience for the first time,” Stamey said.
The training and conditioning the boxers have put in will be paramount for their first fights.
“We've had the privilege of cornering many young athletes in the past six years. Over the course of the past six to 12 months, our coaches have taken these three young men through the rigors of repetitive technical practice, conditioning, and sparring to prepare them for their first experiences as amateur fighters at the NC Golden Gloves this weekend in Charlotte,” Stamey said.
“Our competitive boxers train at least four to five days per week. Their training includes extensive cardiovascular exercise, heavy bag training, mitt training, and lots of sparring. We also train situational sparring … We also encourage developing healthy eating habits and working on strength and conditioning,” Steiner said.
Coaches Steiner and Stamey also are the only USA Boxing certified coaches in Hickory, she said.
The tournament will take place Friday and Saturday with bouts beginning at 7 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sugar Creek Recreation Center in Charlotte.