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A pair of gloves are placed outside the boxing ring during a training session for U.S. Marine Corps boxers on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 20.

Photo by Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres

Rolling with the punches, II MEF Marines take on the MACE Boxing Program

26 Apr 2021 | Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres II Marine Expeditionary Force

U.S. Marines are training to peak physical levels in order to be eligible to compete in matches against other athletes in the sport of boxing.

II Marine Expeditionary Force’s Martial Arts Center of Excellence boxing program was a pilot program restarted in 2020 and has since been able to showcase four of its fighters recently at the USA Boxing National Championship in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Joseph Higgins, the head coach of the II MEF MACE Boxing Program, said that over the course of the year this program has made great strides and has been able to showcase its fighter’s performance.

“We were able to recruit Marines with previous boxing experience, which has made a very cohesive competent, professional boxing team,” he said. “It’s been around seven months since the start of the program and we are at the point we’d expected to be.”

Higgins said just like all sports, especially boxing, every single competition is a critique.

“Sometimes you can win a fight and learn from mistakes in that fight,” he said. “It’s not always about winning or losing, it’s about what can we do better moving forward. We review film and see what adjustments need to be made. Amateur boxing is only three rounds so you have to get the work done pretty fast.”

"Our goal is to get on that national level and hopefully have our Marine boxers at the Olympics one day.” Joseph Higgins, II MEF MACE Boxing Program head coach

Higgins said conditioning is usually the biggest issue and once an athlete is conditioned they can work on reaction skills.

“We require a potential fighter to have a USA Boxing passbook and have come from a USA Boxing registered gym, as well as, trained by a USA Boxing registered coach, finally a little demonstration of their skills for us, which could land them a spot on our team,” he said.

With another boxing tournament this weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina, coaches hope to get their athletes more experience fighting professionally, as well as, put the program on display for all to see. The team’s coaches have emphasized that the fighters' bodies can easily get stronger, but they must also mentally prepare themselves too.

Lance Cpl. Seth McCann, an ammunition technician with 2nd Supply Battalion, was one of four Marines from the team to have competed in this year’s U.S. National Boxing Championship.

“Being able to compete on a national stage was surreal, I’ve fought in matches before, but not on that level,” he said. “Going up against the best of the best, I was grateful for that opportunity. I trusted my coaches, trusted their training and I was able to show the effort I’ve been putting in all these months.”

McCann said he was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the nationals and gain professional recognition for the team.

Trained to Fight Photo by Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres

“At nationals I had a win my first night, but I lost against a fighter who was ranked 5th in the nation,” he said. “That loss was what taught me the most and has made me even more excited for this upcoming match. With the way I’ve been sparring I hope to bring another win for our team and since the nationals, I’m going in with more confidence.”

McCann said being in the program requires a fighter to have balance in their rigorous training regimen.

“Everyone has been getting faster, stronger and inching our way to that peak level of performance,” he said. “You start to learn more about your body, nutrition and levels of athletics.”

Sgt. Jabil Noel, a Marine rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, said he had prior experience fighting in matches while in other programs and is slated to compete in his first match with the II MEF MACE Boxing Program this upcoming weekend.

“I’ve fought in a couple of matches, my last one being in 2019 and this will be my first fight with this program,” he said. “It’s a high performance program, like they told us, ‘if you weren’t already in shape when you got here then that’s a problem,’ and they meant every word of it. The workouts are strenuous, but prepare you to fight your opponent.”

Noel said the programs were closely comparable, but have differences as well.

“Compared to the last one, this program has more in-depth training and its own facility with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment,” he said. “We have three coaches, two for boxing and one for strength and conditioning as opposed to having a single coach. This training is not for the faint of heart, our coaches train you to become a high performance athlete.”

Ready to Fight Photo by Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres

Jabil said for anyone thinking about trying out make sure you are in the best shape of your life.

“Run, a lot,” he said. “We do a lot of running and come here with an open mind. I had my previous style of boxing and the coaches helped me adjust it for the better to make me a well-rounded fighter.”

With his upcoming match in the super weight class, Jabil said he was ecstatic to go up from heavy weight.

“I’m really curious to see the difference with my opponent and what he will bring, but I know for a fact I’ll be quicker than him and have more stamina,” he said. “Overall, I’m very excited for this fight.”

With high expectations, Joseph Higgins said joining this program is a lifestyle change and Marines will have to adjust their normal life style to meet the demands of the program.

“The work is hard,” he said. “This is their job, they get up early, they work out three times a day, do various runs every day, and come in the middle of the day for a boxing workout with two groups and different times. Their rest and nutrition are unbelievably important or else they wouldn’t be able to keep up this level of training.”

Higgins said he has heard only positive feedback from the team.

“From when they joined to now, they can’t believe the difference in themselves and have a better understanding of what we were talking about early on,” he said. “The fighters appreciate the patience we have and our objective is to build greatness here. Our goal is to get on that national level and hopefully have our Marine boxers at the Olympics one day.”