The Marine Corps, with its storied past, has made its mark not only in military history but also in boxing. These “impacts” include Marine Corps veterans like Ken Norton and Leon Spinks, who held the heavyweight title. Currently, the only Marine veteran who is an active champion is WBO Super Featherweight Jamel Herring.
The Marine Corps disbanded the boxing team in 2012, and there hasn’t been another team until recently, when the Commandant of the Marine Corps approved II MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force) at Camp Lejeune, NC to have a pilot boxing program. This birthed what is now called the II MEF MACE (Martial Arts Center of Excellence) Boxing Program which is led by Coach Joseph Higgins.
Within this team, there is a 27 year old active duty First Lieutenant by the name of Stephanie Simon. She joined the team and traveled to the 2021 National Golden Gloves Tournament in Tulsa, OK this past August. It was there that Stephanie shined the brightest by winning the tournament.
She was recognized as the top female fighter by winning the “Golden Girl” award. That’s a significant achievement in what has been a life filled with twists and turns for the Marine officer.
Stephanie Simon was born in Atlanta, GA and moved to Vancouver, WA when she was seven. As a child, Simon had both of her parents, along with two brothers and a third half-brother she reconnected with later on in life.
While her mother taught English as a second language, Stephanie’s father worked in computer programming while also having served twenty-three years as a Marine Corps officer.
At a young age, Stephanie always felt she had two sides to her personality: a musical and an athletic one. To that, Stephanie said, “My mom was classically trained and used to sing opera to me and my brothers all of the time. My dad was a musical genius as well and could learn anything on the piano. He could hear anything and just start playing it. My first love was music which is why I can play five instruments and can sing.”
The athletic side started to make its presence around eight, when she took up Taekwondo and Track and Field. But her interest in music didn’t go away, she was simultaneously playing the trumpet in the school band while also taking piano lessons. One of the first highlights of her life was being part of the inaugural parade in 2008 for then President Barack Obama.
During her High School Years, Stephanie was involved with the wrestling team and as she approached her decision on which college to go to, it became a difficult choice as there wasn’t a Division I school that had a wrestling program for women during 2010-2011. Given his background, her father presented the idea of attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Stephanie decided to apply to the Naval Academy but because her G.P. A and SAT scores did not meet the requirements, she was required to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI.
Although she knew that the Naval Academy did not have a wrestling team for women either, Stephanie felt that maybe she could influence change within the school. Before attending Prep school, she was the #1 ranked wrestler in the nation for her weight class and was training to participate at the nationals and defend her All-American Status. During that time, something happened that would affect her desire to pursue wrestling at the highest levels.
“I was running outside and cutting weight for nationals when I saw a car coming from the intersection. Something told me that the guy driving doesn’t see me. I looked again and the Toyota pick-up truck was right there on the right side of my body and it hit me. I went flying 10 feet. Miraculously, there was a cop behind him who saw the accident. I didn’t break anything but had to get stiches on my hand and I was in shock. I was forced to withdraw from the nationals and the initial indoctrination to the prep school,” Stephanie told NY FIGHTS. This broke her heart, which led to some weight gain but eventually she figured out a way to make it work and recovered.
The Naval Academy
Freshman year, she was told that she had to pick a sport, boxing or wrestling, which is something that everyone has to do for a whole semester. Stephanie decided to take boxing in the summer as she could validate it and not have to take it for the rest of the year. She had no intentions on moving forward with the sport after the time was up but little did she know, destiny had other plans.
The first time she fought in front of a crowd was during what was called the “Plebe Smoker” or “Plebes.” There was a thousand plus in attendance, which was made up of the other students within her class. She fought another student who had a bad reputation, which created a certain level of anticipation for those watching. Stephanie had a little beef with her opponent prior to the clash and they settled it in the ring. After getting a sample of being in the ring, Stephanie decided that she “really liked it.”
Simon several months later participated in the Brigade Championships, a huge annual event at the Naval Academy which usually draws a crowd of four thousand students, alumni and guests. Stephanie faced fellow student Sam Glaeser, who had a brigade championship under her belt in the finals of this tournament. The fight was close and Sam ended up earning the split decision victory. That loss ignited Stephanie even more.
The following year, Stephanie and Sam met once again in the Brigade finals and Stephanie came up short again by split decision. At this point, Stephanie grew frustrated and really started getting serious with boxing. During that time, Coach Jim McNally mentioned he wanted to take the women fighters to nationals so he put her at the 156 pound division and placed Sam at 147. The end result was Stephanie becoming the first female National Collegiate Champion at the Naval Academy. Recalling that moment, Stephanie said, “That changed everything for me.”
Now the 75th Annual Brigades comes along and Stephanie is a junior, but this time, the tournament receives national attention. “60 Minutes Sports” is on hand and picked up the story of the rivalry between Stephanie and Sam.
The story was that Sam beat Stephanie twice but Simon was the only national champion between the two. They met again at the finals but this time, Stephanie had her hand raised as she earned a unanimous decision victory. After hearing her name as the winner, Stephanie said, “I cried like a baby.”
Her senior year wasn’t as eventful since no one wanted to fight her so she focused on which branch of service she was going to choose after school. She placed the Marine Corps as her top choice and they accepted her.
Marine Corps & Boxing
After attending The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, VA, Lieutenant Simon became an Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) officer. This is a job field that didn’t have any women in the past and she became the first of two female Marines who were able to complete the rigorous training.
Once she was able to get her feet wet, in 2019, Lt. Simon wanted to try out for the Marine Corps Wrestling team. Although there was a greater need for her at the unit, she didn’t allow that to change her desire to wrestle. Stephanie said, “I started to train with another Marine who was 30 pounds bigger and was already on the wrestling team for the U.S Open. I trained for about 3 months after a 7-8 year break.”
She continued: “I thought I was ready. I went to the U.S Open which I funded myself and didn’t do too well. They were monsters and didn’t have a break like I did. You can't just train for a few months and just go.”
While all of this was happening, Lt. Simon continued to train out of Elmos Boxing Gym in Jacksonville, NC and participated in a few fights. Lt. Simon trained hard and participated in the Eastern Qualifiers, which was being held in Ohio. Her coach at the time couldn’t make the trip so she found herself borrowing a coach, Marcos Suarez out of NY. It was an experience that she wasn’t mentally confident about.
After that qualifier, she received a call from her old coach, Jim McNally, who mentioned to Simon that the Marine Corps was bringing back the boxing team she could reach out to Coach Joe Higgins. She was given approval to try out and in October 2020, Lt. Simon became part of the II MEF MACE Boxing Team.
March of this year was the USA Boxing Nationals down in Shreveport, LA, a big test for Lt. Simon. She made it to the semi-finals and lost to a nine time national champion from New Mexico, who was also a 2020 Olympic alternate. Again, there was a moment when Simon thought she did enough to win and ended up losing by split decision. That result she wasn’t happy with nor was her coach at the time. Afterwards, the ratings for USA Boxing were released and Stephanie Simon ended up #4 in the country.
Last month’s Golden Gloves victory was by far the biggest accomplishment in Lt. Simon’s amateur career. She is carrying that momentum through December as she participates in the USA Boxing Nationals. A win there can place Lt. Simon into international competition next year.
Lt. Simon has been on a good run and she credits her coach and teammates for the momentum. She said, “Coach Joe Higgins is one best coaches in the country and he makes you believe in yourself. I have the best Marines ever on the team. They have all helped me grow as a person and as a fighter.”
What lies ahead of Lt. Stephanie Simon? Is it boxing or will it be mixed martial arts? Simon plans on finishing her active duty time in May and dropping down to the Marine Corps Reserves. She will do what LeBron James once said and take her talents down to Miami. Lt. Simon plans on pursuing a career in MMA and has already taken a step in that direction by signing a management deal with First Round Management who also works with the likes of Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal. Her goal is to head over to the UFC within a year, where she feels she could be “the most entertaining fighter in the UFC.”
My Three Cents
Lt. Stephanie Simon’s life has already seen considerable achievements and plenty of changes in direction. Through it all, she has persevered and has become a role model to Marines and civilians alike.
Given her track record, I believe Lt. Simon will make her dreams into reality in the near future. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her name and photo on UFC graphics within the next couple of years. She has a very fun personality which reflects on her Instagram, so follow her @stephsimon94.