USMC Lieutenant Stephanie Simon Captures Title At USA Boxing Nationals
This past weekend, the Marine Corps once again made its presence known at the national level. USA Boxing held their national championship in Shreveport, Louisiana, and First Lieutenant Stephanie Simon defeated the number one ranked amateur Arika Skoog, stopping her in the third round.
First Lieutenant Stephanie Simon is an active-duty Marine Corps Officer. She is part of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) MACE (Martial Arts Center of Excellence) Boxing Team, based out of Camp Lejeune, NC. The team is led by head coach Joe Higgins, a well-known trainer from Long Island, New York.
Fresh off of winning the National Golden Gloves, Stephanie Simon had her eyes set on the USA Boxing tournament. Knowing the significance of the event and the level of competition, Stephanie knew it would require her to step up the preparation for the task at hand. Simon connected with Chad Wigle, who works for USA Boxing, and she flew out to Colorado Springs, CO, to get ready for the tournament.
Simon told NYF, “We had Coach Chad Wigle as the assistant coach for about a year. He came from USA boxing and had built rapport with them already. When he left our team to start a position at USA Boxing, he brought up to the head coach that he knew a girl on the Marine team who is a National Golden Glove Champion that would be a great training partner for his girls.” Stephanie continued, “The Team USA girls were getting ready for Worlds which was supposed to take place in December. Worlds were moved, so they told the USA team to participate in the USA Boxing Nationals. I didn't necessarily earn my way to help train the girls as I was there based solely on the recommendation from Coach Wigle.”
Upon arriving at Colorado Springs, Stephanie spent about sixteen days there, which ended up being the best thing that could have happened. It was there that she sparred the girl that she would end up facing in the finals.
I asked Simon about being at the Olympic Training Center and working out with those athletes. Simon said, “The elevation was tough. I showed up around 158 or 160, which was a little heavier since I thought I would fight at 154. After training for a few days, I noticed my weight dropping without strict eating. I figured if I could stay disciplined, I could make 146.”
The 27 year-old Simon continued, “The day before the deadline, I decided to change my weight class from 154 to 146. I was dropping weight quickly. I started to eat healthily and smash the coaches' weight goals. After about eight days of intense training, I weighed about 148. I felt better, lighter, stronger, and it showed in my sparring. I had four sessions a day as I really wanted to win this tournament.”
After receiving that high-level training and a short trip back home, Simon packed up with the rest of the II MEF MACE team and flew out to Shreveport, LA, to compete at the national tournament.
The amateur tournaments are pretty unique in the way they are set up. Simon told NYF, “When you get there, you check into your hotel, which for us was Saturday. You get your credentials and all of the paperwork. Since the bracket for the men is bigger, they start their fights on Monday. The women's bracket is sixteen at most, so they start on Wednesday and go through Saturday. After you check-in, you play the waiting game as they start to seed people and create the bracket.”
Stephanie continued, “After being bracketed, I looked at the paper, and it said I wouldn't be fighting until Friday. So, imagine, we showed up on Saturday and thought to myself, how am I going to maintain weight all the way to Friday. Every day, I was doing two hard sweat workouts in order to keep the weight low. While doing that, I was also there to support the other Marines competing each night. Some of those nights ended as late as one in the morning.”
Although Simon had her tall task to focus on, she refused to leave her Marines behind. She supported them each night, even if it came at the cost of not resting.
Fast forward to Friday, and by then, Simon was anxious and ready to get in the ring. She weighed in and was prepared to get into the ring. During her semi-final match with #2 amateur Ariana Carrasco, Stephanie was extremely calm but also excited. “I knew I was going to break this girl down physically and mentally,” she said. “I was bouncing around, looking at her, and she didn't want to make eye contact.”
Lieutenant Simon continued, “The first round was a little shaky as I hadn't fought in four months. My coach (Joe Higgins) told me, “You have to relax, throw your jab.” I had it figured out in the second round and started to land some clean shots. She grabbed me a lot, but I didn't allow her to frustrate me. I started to dance a little, and when the third round came, I started landing hard shots and got three eight counts. The last one, I threw it with bad intentions, and when I landed, she went limp, and the referee stopped it.”
With a strong performance in the semis, Simon went into the finals and was facing a familiar fighter named Arika Skoog. A few weeks prior, Stephanie and Arika were sparring and training in Colorado, so there was some familiarity. While getting ready for the finals, Simon said, “Before the fight in my hotel, I do my usual: have total silence, meditate, pray, do a little dancing to get loose while having no one near me. I always do this to lift the weight off of my shoulders and put it in the hands of the higher power.”
Stephanie Simon walked to the ring and was ready for the moment she had been working so hard for. Right before the fight, Coach Joe Higgins told Simon, “They think you are going to come out like a bull. When you go out there, at first, make them think you are going to fight the way they think you are and then dance around a little bit.”
Once Simon heard that she said, “That's exactly what I did in the first round. The first round was kind of a blur, and I didn't think I was fighting my best. I stopped her in the third round, and afterward, things got weird because she didn't want to shake my hand.”
After winning the title, what were some things on her mind? “I was thinking about 2019 when I was in the eastern qualifiers, losing and asking myself if this was for me,” she said. “All that self-doubt comes to you, but you push through it. You have to work harder when you lose. Things come around, and you end up being the boxer and person you were meant to be. ”
To put into context the accomplishment of Simon, I reached out to Lucas Ketelle from ITR Boxing, who extensively covers amateur boxing. Lucas said, “Simon defeated the #2 seed, Ariana Carrasco of New Mexico, in the semi-finals, and Arika Skoog of MA the #1 seed stopping her in the third round. What made the finals win so impressive is Skoog had beaten up Sharahya Moreu, the boxer of the year in like 2019, in April to win the first nationals since the pandemic.”
The next morning, Simon took the early flight back to Camp Lejeune, NC, with her teammates.
When we last spoke, Stephanie mentioned joining the Reserves and moving to Miami to pursue a career in MMA. Will that still be the plan since she is now a national champion?
Stephanie said, “I'm still trying to figure it out. Now that I won, I will be able to train at the Olympic training center. I think I may qualify for the upcoming international competition in February, so I do not mind doing a little boxing and starting my amateur MMA career next year. When I get out in May, I am still moving to Miami and focusing on the next chapter of my life.”
I checked in with her coach, Joe Higgins, a mensch who has done a great job with the boxing team. Joe said, “Stephanie is on another planet! She is in a class all by herself. I've never seen a woman in two tournaments stop five of the best girls in the country. Stephanie is different, and she doesn't have to be on her “A” game to stop you. To me, that is the mark of a special athlete. I love her attitude as she never wants to let it go to the scorecards.”
My Three Cents:
Stephanie Simon is a USA Boxing National Champion and a role model to Marines worldwide. She is a competitor who works hard to achieve her life goals. This accomplishment will forever be remembered and will be an example for Marines to emulate in the future.
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