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12-year-old Valley boxer stays busy in 2021

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Zion Hensley, 12, from Berlin Center, shadow boxes during a training session

Local youth boxer Zion Hensley has had a busy 2021.

The now-top ranked 90-pound bantam boxer in the United States has spent the year traveling all over the country to improve her skills and gain more experience. From North Dakota, to Kansas City, to her own backyard in Youngstown.

But, despite climbing to the top of the national rankings over the summer, boxing was one of the last things on her mind.

“I went swimming at my grandma’s, I played outside a lot, I played some video games and oh yeah, I had boxing,” she said.

Also over the summer, Hensley became the top-ranked boxer in the country and is also currently the third-ranked fighter in the 85-pound class.

She’s just excited by the growth.

“I was just very excited because every year I’ve been going up,” Hensley said. “A couple years ago, I was number three, then I went up to number two and now I’m number one and it feels really good.”

Hensley, who took up jiu jitsu earlier this year, is now starting her third combat sport, beginning wrestling with the Western Reserve middle school program starting this season.

When asked what sparked her interest, Hensley gave a simple answer.

“I just wanted to do it,” she said. “I found jiu jitsu because I was actually taking a break from boxing and then (Reserve wrestling) Coach (Sean) Garner asked me to do wrestling. I wanted to try it, so I did.”

The funniest part is that Garner had no idea who Hensley was. While she may be a top-ranked boxer in the country, at school, she just looks like any other sixth grade girl.

“It’s ironic, I actually bumped into her in the hallway and and just asked who she was because I hadn’t seen the interviews on TV or any of that,” Garner said. “We just had a short conversation and, and I said, ‘Hey, if you want to come out for wrestling, we’d love to have you on the team.’ So, she spoke with her dad and she wanted to try.”

While still part of her journey, as well as jiu jitsu and English saddle (horseback riding), the main path is still boxing.

When fighting in Youngstown last month as a part of the ‘Fight to Unite’ event, there was an added thrill. While obviously there were people in the crowd cheering for her wherever she traveled, it’s different when it’s some person you may have never met, but they live in the town over.

Over all those voices however, was the voice of her father, giving out advice that Hensley followed. Sometimes.

“There were also some people that I didn’t know, but they were cheering for me,” Hensley said. “Then I heard my dad. I always hear him screaming and then if I hear something that makes sense, then I’ll do it. And then it’ll work.

“(And if it doesn’t make sense) sometimes I might do it, then I’ll get clipped with something. Then I’ll just stop after that and listen to my coach.”

There was also another new experience for Hensley during her Youngstown fight. She was the main event on the ticket, meaning she had to wait for 20 other fights before her own.

“It gets annoying when you have to wait that long, because you’re thinking about your fight the whole time,” she said. “Like sometimes we’re for round stuff. And like usually, most of the time you’re waiting and thinking of your fight. And then all these other fighting. And then once every single fight goes by feels like it’s taking forever to get yours.”

The wait didn’t affect her however, as Hensley pulled out a unanimous decision victory.

Most recently, Hensley fought in Newton, North Dakota on the MHA Nation Reservation, taking down second-ranked Mia Garcia and won by unanimous decision.

Hensley has lofty goals for her boxing career and has already begun working toward her next goal seven years from now.

“I want to be a world champion, but that can’t happen until I go pro,” she said. “I also want to go to the Olympics in 2028.

“I just need to keep working hard and keep doing what I’m doing. Then I just need to learn more things and get more skills.”

The next step in reaching that goal for the young fighter is the US National Boxing Championships. She’ll be closing out her wild ride of a 2021 starting December 5 in Shreveport, La.

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