Moving up the ranks


By Derrick C. Parker - For The Daily Times



Hailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class.

Hailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class.


Bo Mayo (Owner of Hard Knocks Training Center) poses with Hailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class. Pennington will be in action this Saturday at the Elks City Club.


PORTSMOUTH – It’s a bit after 5 p.m. Hailey Pennington, a nationally ranked women’s boxer from Huntington, West Virginia, strolls into the doorway of the Hard Knocks Training Center in Portsmouth.

The scene is out of a film. The gym, located at 1003 Clay Street, is not located in what most would call a ‘nice’ part of town. It’s housed in an old bar, formerly called Blondie’s, with a panoramic view of the old Mitchellace factory in the East End neighborhood.

Pennington is groggy. She’s already trained once that day. But she is about to do so again – after all – she has a fight coming up Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022.

“Growing up, my uncles and dad boxed. I hated it,” Pennington said followed by a laugh. “I didn’t want anything to do with boxing. But here I am.”

During her senior year of high school, Pennington was in a devastating house fire. It was after that she realized she needed to find a purpose in her life.

“I really thought I was going to die. When I was in the hospital, I realized if I would have died, no one would have remembered me. I needed a purpose.”

So, Pennington turned to boxing. And eventually, she was found by Hard Knocks Training Center owner Bo Mayo.

“I saw her fight at a tough man contest,” explained Mayo. “She had a swagger about her. She had a different approach. I could tell by watching her hands and feet she had a lot of potential. The opportunities in this area are few and far in between. I knew a bit about Hailey. I did some research on her. And if anyone deserved an opportunity – it was her.”

Pennington has trained at Hard Knocks Training Center, a nonprofit gym that also provides classes for children, around three years ago – after the suicide of her former trainer.

“It was tragic,” she said. “But, we all have tragic stories. I still struggle with it and the house fire. I think I may have some PTSD because of it. But, I’m healing. Slowly.”

The young boxer didn’t want a trainer after the tragic loss. She didn’t want to find a new gym. But Mayo managed to convince her to let down her guard a bit.

“She was very standoffish,” he explained. “She had drive. But in terms of getting close – in terms of trusting someone again – that took time…But a boxing gym is a family, if not a dysfunctional one.”

Pennington laughed. She pointed out she was the only woman at the gym, and because of that, she feels that the men can be a bit jealous of her success.

“I’m the only girl here. And it is hard. Once you pass everyone, you become the biggest enemy. And I think, in general, it is harder for girls in the boxing world. Men certainly don’t go easy on me when we spar…Boxing is hard in general. But it’s even harder when you are female.”

Pennington (22) is currently the third ranked woman in the nation for Team USA boxing in her weight class. Coached by Antionne ‘Oozah’ Davis, Pennington has been training recently for an Olympic qualifying match set for April 23 in Cleveland.

But, before that show, Hard Knocks Training Center is set to host the Hard Knocks Challenge, a boxing event held in Portsmouth at the Elk’s City Club Saturday, Feb. 19. The show starts at 5 p.m. and tickets are just $15.

“The show Saturday is all about experience,” said Pennington, who is facing off in a rematch against a boxer from Pittsburgh. “It will help me get ready for the qualifier. I really don’t get nervous for fights anymore. I don’t even get excited – until I win.”

According to Mayo, Pennington is a cerebral fighter who stays cool and calm in the ring.

“I think that’s an attribute that she’s picked up due to some of the trials in her life,” he explained. “If the house isn’t burning down around her – what’s the point in feeling panicked?”

“I’m very calm,” Pennington echoed. “That’s why I get the best of people in the ring. In boxing, you have to be in control. If I’ve made someone get emotional or angry – then I get to exploit it.”

Other fighters will be coming into Portsmouth from Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and even New York City.

“There will be all ages of fighters there, from eight to 30,” said Mayo. “It’s going to be a good time. If you are a fan of boxing – this is a can’t miss event.”

Mayo also hopes others in the community come into the gym and check it out.

“This is a great nonprofit gym. We offer free classes to kids, training and more. And I don’t think people in this area realize how good Hailey is…We need their support. This is a great thing in Portsmouth to have a nationally ranked women’s boxer.”

Finally, Pennington left readers with some words of confidence.

“Boxing is so much more than getting punched in the face. It’s so much more than a fistfight. You have to be smart. Boxing may be a poor man’s sport – but it’s certainly not a dumb man’s sport…I know I can beat those girls in April. At the end of the day, it comes down to the mental aspect of the sport.”

Catch Pennington in action this Saturday at the Elks City Club.

Hailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/02/web1_Screenshot-2022-02-17-at-14-15-13-Hailey-Pennington-haileyypennington-posted-on-Instagram-Super-excited-about-my-new-ge-…-.jpgHailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class.

Bo Mayo (Owner of Hard Knocks Training Center) poses with Hailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class. Pennington will be in action this Saturday at the Elks City Club.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/02/web1_FGLgh0yXwAg8w4r.jpgBo Mayo (Owner of Hard Knocks Training Center) poses with Hailey Pennington, the 3rd Ranked Women’s Boxer for USA Boxing in her weight class. Pennington will be in action this Saturday at the Elks City Club.

By Derrick C. Parker

For The Daily Times

Reach the Portsmouth Daily Times at (740) 353-3101 or by email at [email protected]

© 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach the Portsmouth Daily Times at (740) 353-3101 or by email at [email protected]

© 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved