ST. MARYS – Fifteen-year-old Nathaniel Lee Stephens, of Anna, won’t be going in alone when competing in his first boxing match on Dec. 11. When he steps into the ring at the Venue 18 Entertainment Complex in Fostoria, he will be in the company of his coach, Young Guardians MMA (mixed martial arts) gym owner Diamond Long.
Long said she felt Stephens was ready for this first USA Boxing bout, meeting all the benchmarks of training to be a good fighter at her St. Marys gym, located at 1238 Indiana Ave.
Soft-spoken Stephens said he is ready to compete because Long’s training in the sport helps him to have a healthier, safer and more disciplined approach to working out his his emotions.
Though Stephens said his biggest goal for this match is to be the competitor whose “hand is raised,” Long said Stephens will be proving he has acquired skills needed in the ring.
Long said he has the right qualities.
“He can keep pushing, even when tired, doesn’t fight emotionally, and when hit, stays level-headed and determined.”
Stephens added his other strengths are that he is light on his feet and can move freely in the ropes.
The coach said Stephens has come to this point quickly.
“He started training with us about a month ago after 6 to 7 months of training at The Hive MMA in Sidney,” said Long.
Stephens said he came to the Young Guardian gym to focus on boxing techniques rather than MMA. He said Long has taught him not only to keep his hands up, but that “you can’t cheat boxing because, before, I would take a little break but she pushes me every single minute because once the bell rings, the only way you’re taking a break is if you get knocked out.”
Stephens said his family has shown great support. His parents, Jeremy and Jamie Stephens, along with his sister Gabrielle, take turns driving him to the gym three to four times per week for the 3-hour sessions.
Long, a professional fighter, comes to the area with credentials in boxing, kick-boxing, cage fighting, MMA, judo, and jiu jitsu. A Findlay native, she honed her skills at the Putnam County Boxing Club, being the first female athlete there. She said she finds a new mindset in boxing and other martial arts, and the activities relieve stress.
She said she named her St. Marys gym Young Guardians because she wanted to teach young people how to deal with their anger the way she did as a youth. She also has classes for adults.
“Kids will test their boundaries, but they need to know the limits and learn respect,” she said, “Otherwise they think everything is a big joke.”
She emphasized that the bullying is becoming too common and she believes kids need guidance on how to channel their frustrations.
Long said they are always looking for teens to participate and have classes for kids 5 years and up. The Young Guardians can be found on Facebook.
Sponsors for the event include Sketchers Ink of St. Marys, Metal Finishers and Firehouse Sub of Sidney, and Stephens Power Wash of Anna.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.