Yass Valley Boxing has quickly become a place of impeccable boxing talent with students inside and outside the Valley raising the profile of not only the sport, but the Gym which started in an open space before heading indoors and becoming a success story over the past three years. 

Yass Valley Boxing Coach Coach Aaron Reid has developed considerable talent including young gun Makayla Armstrong who has gone from a competent young fighter into a fighter who is struggling.

 She is now struggling to find opponents such has been the improvement in her skill-set under Aaron. Makayla is now having to fight up in weight and age category at times and was recently selected in the Australian side and flew with them to the US where she won the prestigious Gene Lewis invitational. 

 

 

 To understand the history of the event we must delve in to who Gene Lewis the man himself came to be. Any lover of the sweet science knows how important Joe Lewis was. He was pretty important to Gene Lewis too.

Chicago, June 22, 1937, Joe Louis knocks out James J. Braddock, wins the heavyweight title of the world and changed the life of 9-year-old Gene Lewis.

Every black kid in America wanted to be “The Brown Bomber.” but Gene Lewis took it a little further than most kids – he taught himself how to box.

The first kind of any formal training Lewis received was when he was drafted into the Army in 1945 and boxed on their team. After serving two years, he returned to Mesa and turned pro in 1947, fighting at the welterweight division (147 pounds). Lewis worked odd jobs during the day, pouring cement, pumping gas and tinkering with cars. On weekends he fought at the old Madison Square Garden on Van Buren Street in Central Phoenix for $25 a bout. The bumps and the bruises took their toll after three years in the ring, and Lewis retired in 1948 with 50 professional fights under his belt, suffering only 10 defeats.

“Back when I was growing up, you had to prove yourself,” Lewis reminisces. “A guy had to fight 50 to 60 times before he got a shot at the title. Nowadays, these kids get 15 fights, and they’re ready for the world title.”

 

 

When Lewis hung up his gloves, he toiled away his time doing odd jobs. His spirits flagged.

“I remember Gene used to pump gas at the old Peterson 76 Station in Mesa,” recalls Mesa Mayor Wayne Brown. “He was always working hard at something.”

Lewis’ trainer, the late Johnny Hart, suggested to his newly retired fighter that he should give something back to the community. That was where Lewis found his true calling in life: teaching young kids the sweet science. Gene Lewis has been called “coach” ever since.

Makayla has just arrived home after being crowned the Gene Lewis Champion in the 55kg weight category representing Australia. This is a lifetime achievement for any boxer, let alone a 15-year-old. It is an event which has been held for 48 years.

 

 

 Coach Aaron is proud of the talent at Yass Valley Boxing that has quickly swept the Aussie boxing world by storm. 

He said Makayla got picked to fight as a part of what the competition considered high performing females. 

“They don’t take every Australian champion; they pick one who can compete competitively overseas and she was picked as a high performer and she got put up against the tough Mexican side of the final of the Gene Lewis tournament and she won the belt. The Gene Lewis boxing tournament is the longest running boxing tournament in America.”

“A lot of this happened because of our sponsors who have been consistently contributing to the development of these young kids and helping with the gym and travel. We’re out in the bush and to keep up with this high performance we have to be away a lot. 

“[The sponsors will] get a plaque on their wall with Makayla on it with what we’ve achieved. I believe there’s more to come with what’s coming through with the youth.”

 

 

The Times will be covering the plaque presentations when they occur in the near future. 

Aaron said, “She fought once in the final. They couldn’t find her an opponent at the start, her reputation as a very good fighter preceded her but she had to fight. There was a 57 kg champion who I was hoping she’d actually get to fight against but somehow that didn’t happen.” 

Australia also won best team at the competition, proving to be a strong and dominant side during the entire tournament. 

“It scared a lot of people,” continued Aaron, the strength of the Aussie side. 

“We’re on the world stage now. We’ve gone international in a short space of time now. She’s going to the Olympics, that girl, I have no doubt with her trajectory. She’s fighting adults, her last fight in Australia was against an adult, the Australian silver medallist and she lost by a small amount. She fights on the 25th of November, so she’s already off the plane and I’ve got her a fight. 

“She’s fighting in Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL Club. She’s fighting an adult that’s over 6 fights, she can’t get fights with kids anymore. 

“2024 is going to be massive, we should have a consistent team of close to twenty boxers competing.” 

Earlier this year Makayla became Junior Australian Champion for her weight category, defeating her South Australian opponent at the Dom Polski Centre in Adelaide. 

 

 

She won by TKO 30 seconds into the third round, with the fight consisting of three two-minute rounds. She resides in Canberra and regularly travels out to Yass to train with Aaron and his squad.

“She’s not always out here and her dad and brother play a big part with their support doing extra work in the shed and with her cost of travel.” 

Stock Aid Training Centre and Coach Gary Hamilton gave her a space to train and improve which Coach Aaron wanted to shine a light on. 

Makayla is leading the charge with other fighters following in her foot steps and excelling in the sport. Aaron named just a few members of the team who are going well.

“We’ve had a few kids fight in Canberra on the weekend and we have had some success with young Trae Douben, he got a good win. Josh Armstrong got a second-round stoppage on his side. He injured the bloke’s nose and he couldn’t go on.

“Jessie Richards starting to break through, he has lost a couple of split decisions.

“One of our young boxers, Robbie Sanderson competed in Brazilian Ju Jitsu World Championships and got a bronze medal, number 3 in the world. His boxing debut is December 10. That’s a talent to watch, that kid. He’s moved from Bungendore over to here. 

 

 

“Max Mijok has a big improvement, he is about to get back in the ring after development. He is going to do some good things. He is a hard-working young kid.” 

Makayla’s mother Sam Lilley is impressed with the efforts of her daughter. 

“She went by herself with the Australian team. She’s been training really hard in the lead up to this fight, putting in the effort every day,” she said. 

Sam has been unwell lately and this no doubt gave Makayla the added motivation to win for her mum and do herself proud.  

Sam said, “Without Aaron she wouldn’t have gotten as far as she has. He’s a great coach and really takes care of all of his kids. 

“She’s always been a sporty kid then she watched her step dad and brother do boxing and was watching out the window. She really got interested and it was her turn and she picked it up quickly. 

“She has a couple of local fights coming up and next year and she wants to aim for some overseas trips.”

There is no doubting that Makayla and Aaron and his team are continuing to be headed for big things. Watch this space as Yass Valley Boxing reaches for the stars.