Local product wins boxing gold at national qualifier

Submitted photo. Zion Hensley is called the winner at the 2023 USA Boxing National Qualifier over the weekend in Detroit.

After placing second on the national stage last year, local boxer Zion Hensley returned to the top of the podium, winning the gold in the 2023 USA Boxing National Qualifier over the weekend in Detroit.

The victory makes Hensley the first-ever three-time national champion from the Mahoning Valley.

“It’s really good,” she said. “Everyone’s supporting me and I’m glad that they are supporting me, and it’s really good to be a three-time national champion.”

Losing in her final bout last year only inspired the young fighter to get back and train even harder in preparation for the national qualifiers this year. All while maintaining a normal school schedule and participating in track and field this spring through school.

“I was working really hard, four hours a day in the gym and stuff,” Hensley said. “I ‘ve done more strength and conditioning than I was. Also I’ve been doing track

“I started doing 100 pull-ups and I started doing more stuff at home and working on extra head movement and stuff to make sure that I don’t take those shots like I did last time. But now I definitely move my head way more and it’s improved.”

As a part of the Team USA program, there’s been an added training regiment to help develop the young athletes like Hensley into future Olympians. Part of that is getting them ready for international competitions in multiple ways. New techniques and bouts with international referees are just some of the ways the national program is helping.

While that’s been helping, refining her own skills has also been working wonders. Hensley trains with Alicia Defrank and Rocky Defrank at Youngstown Salem Boxing Club, as well as middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, with Mi Gym Fitness Center in Columbiana.

There’s no shortage of help for the 13-year old fighter.

“I’ve been learning a pivot hook and I’ve used it a couple of times, but (I’ve been working) more on my head movement again,” Hensley said. “I was pretty excited to use that. I’ve been doing track which has been helping with my footwork and my speed on my feet.

“They’ve also been getting international referees, so it’s more fair in the fight instead of having quick stoppages and stuff. They’ve been getting international referees, so my ref in one of my fights was from Ireland.”

Her performance garnered the attention of some big names in the boxing world. The coaches of Tyson Fury and Shakur Stevenson and the only boxer to hold all four major world belts simultaneously, Claressa Shields were at her gold medal fight, with Stevenson’s coach praising Hensley’s speed.

All of the techniques she’s picked up have only made her more formidable.

“Every time I add something else, I have more options,” Hensley said. “I don’t just do the same stuff, so it’s harder for the fighter to know what I’m going to do for the next fight. Like if I fight them again, sometimes they’ll think that I’ll be doing the same thing, but I added something different.”

Hensley will be fighting locally again on April 15 as a part of the Fight to Unite 4 event at El Jalepeno in Niles. Hensley is welcoming the top-ranked intermediate fighter (106-pound weight class) Genesis Martinez from Kansas City, MO for her bout.

“She has her fundamentals down and she hits pretty hard, so I know that I’m gonna have to move with this girl and be more aggressive,” Hensley said.

The event starts at 5 p.m. with 18 fights on the card.


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