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2017 North Carolina Boxing Award Winners Headlined By Fighter Of The Year Donnie Marshall

Happy New Year! 2018 is here. Out with the old and in with the new, but before we get into the new year swing, we must recognize the stellar performances in North Carolina Boxing for the year of 2017.

Thank you to all who participated in recognizing the 2017 commitment, hard work, and sacrifices made to bring North Carolina Boxing to a new level. The outlook for 2018 is incredibly high.

The people have spoken, and with over 300 votes from all over the state of North Carolina, we proudly present the WINNERS of the 2017 North Carolina Boxing awards.

Once again, thank you for your continued support of the sweet science in North Carolina. The fans’ contributions are the key ingredient to ensure and assist fighters, trainers, managers, gyms, and promoters will take North Carolina Boxing to a new level in 2018.

Thank you to all of the fighters, who risk their lives and make sacrifices, so fans can be entertained, promoters can promote, managers can manage, and trainers can teach.

Thank you to the North Carolina Boxing commission for providing an opportunity for men and women across the state to pursue their dreams, taking the safety of the participants seriously, and governing and growing the sport in the state of North Carolina.

So here is your list of winners for the 2017 North Carolina Boxing Awards:


Adam Esposito

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up playing all sports but loved baseball the most. He proudly served as a New York City Police Officer and then moved to the Carolinas and has been enjoying “southern life” with his wife and three children in the Charlotte area for the past few years.

Adam trains three fighters nominated for 2017 NC Boxing awards – Lavonte Earley, Stevie Massey, and Derek Hyatt. He also works with several other amateurs and pros in both professional boxing and MMA.

Adam has more than ten years of experience in boxing. While in New York, he was fortunate enough to have trained under the tutelage of undefeated heavyweight professional boxer Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who is top ten in the world and is making a run for a world championship.

Due to five surgeries on his right knee, Adam had to step away from his own training and gravitated to coaching. Coaching has allowed Adam to still be a part of boxing, a lifelong passion.

In the past, Adam has been the striking coach for the former amateur 145-lb champion of Warfare Fighting Championship and has coached three Golden Glove winners. Adam’s focus has been in the professional game as of late but he is looking forward to building a strong stable of amateur boxers under Espo Boxing at their new home, 4M Fitness.

Additionally, Adam has been working with some of Charlotte’s first responders. He hopes to start a boxing team for the heroes of Charlotte in the near future. All 4M Fitness members can experience Adam’s intensity and results during one of his Cardio Boxing Classes.

“It’s truly an honor to first be nominated and then win this award. 2017 has been a busy year with the opening of 4M and having these fighters give me their all in training as well as preparing them for their fights. AsI corner my fighters on fight night, I am always proud to see the product of the morals, hard work, dedication that we as a team instill in these men. To me, coaching is about being a part of my fighters’ lives inside and outside the ring. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be a part of North Carolina Boxing, and with the help of all of the coaches statewide, we will make North Carolina a fighting state. Thank you, again, to everyone, and Happy New Year.”…Adam Esposito


Gardner Payne

Some boxing managers are drawn to the glitz and glory of the sport … to the idea of standing in the ring behind a fighter who has just been crowned world champion, holding up the belt and basking in the cheers of the crowd. It was something much different that inspired Gardner Payne to throw his hat in the ring, and take on the careers of some of North Carolina’s most promising boxing prospects.

Payne manages three fighters nominated for 2017 North Carolina Boxing awards Joseph Jackson, Marko Bailey, and Kelvin King.

Payne was born in North Carolina to parents who valued family and work above all else. His mother was a teacher, and his father worked in textiles, a job that kept the family on the move during Payne’s childhood. While attending college at North Carolina State, Payne secured an internship with then-Governor of North Carolina, Jim Hunt. He’d return to Hunt’s office after graduating college, working as a speechwriter and press aid. He then turned his attention to law school, attending and graduating from Campbell University.

It was then that he met his wife of 10 years at a church retreat. He noticed her beauty across the room, and once he got to know her, Payne found her to be smart, kind and witty, and the two were soon wed.

The newly minted attorney would then put the work ethic he’d inherited from his parents to the test, entering the hectic and grueling business of lobbying. When his lobbying career died down, a business opportunity presented itself, and Payne switched his attention to Sweepstakes Internet Cafes. The business grew, and Payne provided jobs to more than 80 people in North Carolina. He would then hit a roadblock. North Carolina introduced legislation that resulted in Payne having to lay off many of his staff. It was a low point for the attorney, businessman, boss, and mentor to so many, but like all great fighters, he got off the canvas and continued to fight.

In 2017, a friend asked Payne if he’d partner on a professional boxing event in Wilson, North Carolina. Like all of Payne’s businesses, he took seriously the responsibility of putting on a quality event for his community and thus began spending time in the local gyms. It wasn’t the promise of bright lights, cheers, and piles of cash that drew Payne to boxing. He was taken in by the fighters’ hard work, commitment and the stories he heard of their overcoming adversity.

After the event in Wilson, Payne signed his first managerial contract with undefeated lightweight Marko Bailey, whose resilience in the face of adversity had caught Payne’s attention. Committed to being a “hands-on” manager, Payne set himself apart early on from the businessmen-turned-managers that enter the boxing world each year, taking to heart the responsibility of driving Marko’s career, and providing opportunities to other North Carolina boxers.

While others may pursue a career in the sweet science it for the potential of glitz and glory, Gardner Payne is a manager who leads by example, exuding a modest and humble nature that belies his experience and work ethic, and one that sets himself apart in his devotion to the fighters who trust his hand to guide their careers.

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected manager of the year. I’m very thankful to the people who voted for me. I’m also very blessed to be surrounded by great boxers, team members, and mentors. Payne boxing looks forward to helping our fighters continue to develop and grow in 2018.”…Gardner Payne


Christy Martin

Martin, a native of West Virginia, graduated from college with a degree in education. While in college, she took a dare, entered a tough man competition, and won. After her graduation, she turned to professional boxing.

Martin and her promotional company Pink Promotions put on three exciting shows in Charlotte, North Carolina. Aside from the electric atmosphere, all three events were sold out and offered extremely competitive fights. She also featured some of the best prospects in North Carolina including 2017 nominees LaVonte Earley, Stevie Massey, Derek Hyatt, and Kelvin King.

Martin was nicknamed “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and her hard-hitting, straight ahead style earned her instant credibility in the boxing world. Martin wore signature Pink outfits, and shed a little blood on her way to winning and becoming the first woman’s WBC titleholder. She compiled an impressive 49-6-3 (31 KO’s) record, and was the first female PPV boxing star.

In the 1990’s, boxing was Don King, Mike Tyson, and Christy Martin. Today, Tyson has been replaced by GGG, Martin by Claressa Shields, and King by, well…Christy Martin.

Martin respects what she has done as a fighter in the sport of boxing, but now she wants to be known for putting on great fights with Pink Promotions. “I want to be known as Christy the promoter, not Christy the fighter.”

Martin’s goal is to build Charlotte into a “Boxing City.” In order to do so, she is building her shows around her adopted “No, One Hitter Quitter” rule, winners, and young talents like Stevie Massey and LaVonte Earley.

“I am extremely pleased and so excited about 2018. We start all over on February 23. Be there!”…Christy Martin


JacQuan Townes

Townes might not only be the Newcomer of the year. He also might be the story of the year. Townes used boxing as a way to lose weight. Tired of physically feeling bad, and tired of people commenting about his weight, he used boxing to build self-confidence. Along the way, Townes and his team found out he was a really good fighter with a promising future.

In 2017, Townes burst onto the scene with three straight KO’s. Fan’s comments went from “Fatboy’ to The King can fight.” Fans, who saw Townes’ disappointing pro debut in October 2016, were amazed at the commitment he made to himself and the sport. His 2017 record of 3-0 (3 KO’s) is proof to Townes’ motto “By keeping God first all things are possible.”

“Thank you to all the fans who voted for me and appreciate my abilities. Remember to keep God first because through him all things are possible.”…JacQuan Townes


Marko Bailey vs. Stevie Massey (Round 1)

Bailey vs Massey was scheduled for six rounds, but from the pre-fight hype and the incredible build-up of animosity from Durham to Charlotte this had no choice but to be an explosive encounter. Marko “The Bull City Bully” Bailey promised to be the bully in his hometown of Durham, and he promised to make Massey pay for running his mouth and coming to his hometown. Massey said enough of the small talk and let’s settle this in the ring.

At the opening bell, Bailey came out punching and landed a big right hand on Massey, but Massey charged forward and let his fist fly. Massey’s punches were shorter, faster, and crisper. Bailey was calculated, but a click behind. They both landed, but in the end, Massey landed two devastating punches that buckled Bailey and had him out cold sliding down the ropes.

Massey mashed the Bully and everyone in Durham was stunned.

KO OF THE YEAR (Voted on By Panel)

Stevie Massey’s first-round KO of Marko Bailey

Watch video and see Round of the year above. The KO matched the Hype of this highly anticipated fight.


Joseph Jackson

Joseph Jackson is our 2017 North Carolina “Prospect” of the year for a few reasons. First, he convincingly KO’d Monreco Goldston, who at the time was well-known, undefeated 5-0-1 (3 KO’s) and slightly favored. Jackson traveled into hostile territory to face Goldston, and did not flinch. Jackson put the finishing touches on the highly anticipated fight by landing a thudding overhand right which chopped down Goldston forcing him to tumble like a large, red oak tree. Jackson proved he was ready for good competition.

Second, Jackson possesses a willingness to not only fight but fight guys who challenge his undefeated record and skills. Jackson could have taken the easy road to an undefeated record, but he demanded to face guys with experience and multiple wins. In three of his 2017 over wins Ike Ezeji, Marcos Primera, and Darryol Humphrey, Jackson defeated fighters with over ninety-eight fights and more than thirty-four wins or draws. Jackson’s willingness to compete doesn’t just stop on fight night. Jackson routinely spars against top North Carolina talent like Donnie Marshall and Jamar Freeman, and he travels to multiple cities and states to face better talent, so he can improve his game.

Finally, Joseph Jackson, a former high school star athlete has the “IT” factor. “IT” is hard to describe, but Jackson is a once in a lifetime athlete that understands, respects, and is willing to make the sacrifice for success to make his future better.

Jackson finished his 2017 campaign with a record of 4-0 (3 KO’s). He can be best described as a classic boxer with exceptional power. His defense is underrated, because he stays in the pocket to shoot short, compact power shots that break down his opponents.

These are just a few reasons, Jackson is our 2017 North Carolina “Prospect” of the year.


Marko Bailey vs. Vinnie Denierio

On April 27, 2017, undefeated Vinnie Denierio 1-0 of Elmira, NY traveled to Durham, NC to face rising Hot prospect Marko Bailey of Durham, NY. The fight was billed as classic brawler vs flashy boxer. Denierio, a southpaw, was the first unorthodox fighter Bailey had faced, and Bailey was probably the best fighter Denierio had ever faced. What followed was legendary as Bailey and Denierio fought to exhaustion over four rounds.

Bailey opened the fight working behind his jab and clipping Denierio, but Denierio kept swinging for the fences trying to catch Bailey in a firefight. Bailey was too slick early and was able to elude Denierio’s big shots. Somewhere late in the second round, Denierio’s consistent pressure forced Bailey into the corner and as the two exchanged Denierio landed a left flush on the face of Bailey. As the bell rang to end round, Bailey was visibly shaken, and the crowd was on their feet. Denierio came out in the third round blazing and with chants of “Marko” “Marko” from the hometown crowd, Bailey was able to survive the onslaught and deliver some meaningful body shots that forced Denierio to hold clinch and hold.

In the fourth and final round and with their perfect records on the line and the outcome in doubt, Bailey and Denierio put it all on the line as both physically exhausted combatants met in the center of the ring and let their hands go. Bailey landed big shots then dipped away to avoid Denierio but kept coming and landed big shots that looked like they would finish Bailey. Bailey somehow would shake it off and land more shots of his own and in the end to more chants of “Marko” “Marko” “Marko” Bailey would eat some shots but land more on Denierio in what became a battle more of wills than skills. Bailey vs. Denierio was a fan-friendly war that obviously based on the final votes was the 2017 North Carolina fight of the year.


Donnie Marshall

“Dangerous” Donnie Marshall in 2017 was 5-0 (3 KO’s) against veterans who had over 140 combined fights. Marshall didn’t just win convincingly, he won with an enamoring style which has made him a North Carolina fan favorite. When fighters say they are willing to fight anybody, Marshall means it. He loves to fight, and he will fight me and you if necessary. He understands his goal and actively works on improving to become the next Middleweight champ. His thought is it is only a matter of time before the world recognizes how good he is. If he could fight ten times per year, he would. He would also ask why couldn’t he get twelve fights. The kid loves to fight.

In 2017, Marshall skyrocketed onto the North Carolina boxing scene with back to back skull cracking KO’s within two weeks of each other in February, he followed up by knocking down and surgically dismantling a highly regarded amateur and undefeated pro in April, he headlined for the first time in July and set the place on fire with a TKO win at the Durham convention center, and he ended the year showing versatility in a win over a veteran of fifty fights in October.

At the early age of 29, he still has some time to perfect his game before being thrown onto a world stage, but the Buffalo, NY native says, “Let’s go now. I am good!”
Marshall can box, bang, jab, work inside, work outside, and he is flat out nasty. The best way to describe him…a good damn fighter and one helluva human being. He has all the tools, but unlike so many other physically gifted fighters, he is willing to learn his craft.

Well-liked, with a magnetic smile and personality, Marshall is a promoters’ dream because he understands the business as well as the entertainment portion of professional prizefighting.

The fans have spoken. Donnie Marshall is the 2017 North Carolina Fighter of the year.

“Thanks to everyone around the state of North Carolina that voted, fans, friends, and peers. I was honored when the nominations came out, and once I saw the other guys I was being mentioned with, me being a fan of the sport and a fan of all three guys, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it or not. so, I am excited, humbled, and motivated to have an even better and exciting 2018.

I wouldn’t be here without my team. So shout out to Jawbreaker and everyone else who had a hand in helping me my sponsors Salon Eden and Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar.

Thank You again to everyone!”

Congratulations to all the Nominees and Winners! Please stay tuned to for a Date, Time, and Location where we will officially Honor and Recognize our 2017 Honorees.

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The best of our coverage is yet to come, so stay tuned and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

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