Hensley wins 5th national championship in boxing

Submitted photo Berlin Center native Zion Hensley shows off her medal after winning her fifth national title.

The Mahoning Valley’s most decorated boxer has added another notch to her resume.

Berlin Center’s Zion Hensley, 14, became a five-time national champion this month, picking up her 20th national win defeating Jazmine Gutierrez-Garcia (Neb.) in the championship bout at the USA National Open in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Hensley took down Laila Nez (NM) and Yuman Li (Ind.) to advance to the championship fight.

A new wrinkle in preparing for this tournament was that of the altitude. Albuquerque has the highest elevation as a metro in the country, sitting 5,312 feet above sea level.

Following her first fight, Hensley struggled to breathe due to the conditions, but as the week went on and she acclimated, it became easier and easier.

“It’s so high that it actually is really hard to breathe, so I had to get used to it,” Hensley said. “But eventually, like by Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I got pretty used to it.

“Right after my first fight, because when I’m fighting, I’m not really noticing the difference, but as soon as I got out, I couldn’t breathe for like two hours after the fight. Anytime I would breathe in, I literally started coughing really bad because it was just so different. It’s something you don’t really think about here, but you go to somewhere like New Mexico, and you actually can notice it.”

Throughout the week, as things got easier, Hensley powered through to win the championship match. Sparring with a seven-time champion in Maleah Rodriguez (Wa.) during the week doesn’t hurt either.

“I’d say that was the best work that I’ve actually ever got,” Hensley said. “It was so even, so it definitely helped me for my later fights.”

Despite some stumbles along the way, Hensley has been able to recover swiftly. Even as the spotlight grows with every win and the pressure increases to match it, each loss has led to a comeback not long after the fact. It comes down to mentality. The stumbles, as few as they may be, have only provided Hensley with fuel for the next fight.

Hensley has opted for self-reflection after losses, and credits that for the quick turnarounds.

“I know that I just have to work harder next time and be more focused. I’m always focused, but if I worked my hardest this time, I need to work even harder next time. I just have to come back harder and better and get even stronger and then I know that I’ll be able to secure it.”

As torchbearer for boxing in the tradition-rich Youngstown area, the young brawler is aware of the responsibilities and tries every day to live up to the mantra upheld by USA Boxing.

“There’s a lot of responsibility (in representing the area),” Hensley said. “USA Boxing has a saying ‘Achieve excellence, in and outside the ring,’ so I always try to do that anywhere I go. I try to take responsibility for what I’m doing and focus on myself. I don’t try to get into any other things outside of my circle.”

Hensley will be fighting locally May 11 at the Holiday Inn Metroplex in Girard as a part of a charity event hosted by middleweight champion, and Hensley’s coach, Kelly Pavlik. Further details will be announced closer to the fight date.

Those interested in contributing to Hensley’s travel expenses can go to “Zion Hensley (Official)” on Facebook.

Have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger by email at byauger@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger.


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