SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) | Drenched in sweat from delivering continuous blows to a punching bag, the athlete shrugs off the physical strain of a three-hour training session, feeling both exhausted and accomplished.
A Florida native, Tech. Sgt. Andre Penn, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron unaccompanied housing manager at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, has been preparing for more than a decade to achieve his dream of becoming a professional boxer.
“I started boxing when I was 16 years old,” said Penn. “I played basketball, football and track. I did it all, but I loved the individuality of boxing, because in basketball you have a teammate that can miss the ball and it’s their fault. In boxing, it’s all on you.”
Excited by the thought of controlling his own destiny, Penn carried his passion for the sport to his first amateur boxing match at the age of 17.
“My very first fight was almost 17 years ago in Alabama,” said Penn. “I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect.”
Fortunately, Penn stated, listening to his coach’s insight helped him to be successful in that match, ensuring every command was executed flawlessly.
With newly-found confidence acquired after winning his first match, Penn went on to join the Air Force.
“After a year of being out of high school, I finally joined,” said Penn. “My dad was in the Air Force and that was a big reason why I joined the military.”
Penn said the Air Force opened up a lot of opportunities for him.
In 2006, just two years after enlisting in the Air Force, he went on to join the Air Force boxing team.
“Joining the team was a goal that I had coming in to the Air Force,” said Penn. “There were a couple of guys at my gym that were on the team, so I knew about the Air Force boxing team prior to joining the military.”
Penn quickly established himself as a formidable force, becoming a three-time Air Force Boxing Team middleweight class champion from 2006 to 2008. Penn, however, had his sights even higher and decided to apply his victories to a professional boxing career.
In order to perform his job as an unaccompanied housing manager and find time to train, Penn knew he had to make sacrifices and push his body to the limit and prepare for the first fight of his professional boxing career.
“If you have a passion for something, you will find a way to make it happen,” said Penn. “Sometimes I stay up late at the gym until about 11, sometimes I get up early or, if it’s necessary, I’ll sometimes even have to train during my lunch break. The training leading up to the fight is the hardest part, the running, the sparring – it takes a toll after working eight or nine hours a day, but once it’s fight night, it’s time to show everyone what all this training was for.”
On top of all the training, Penn needed to lose more than 10 pounds in order to reach the middleweight class of 168 pounds.
Penn’s training hit a roadblock in the form of a possible vision disqualification that delayed his boxing application.
“There was a problem with my eyes that I needed to get cleared before I could finish my application to box,” said Penn. “At the end of the day I needed to get this cleared so I could finally get to the big fight.”
At first he was on edge, but then he went to an optometrist and was cleared to participate in the match.
With a clean bill of health, Penn went immediately back to it, working with multiple trainers to prepare for his first professional match on Nov. 18, 2017.
“We have worked on a lot of cardio, strength training, boxing drills and pad work,” said Jerome Robinson, Team Robinson Mixed Martial Arts owner. “He is truly dedicated to training hard and ensuring that he is in tip-top shape.”
Robinson went on to say that Penn traveled to other gyms in Columbia, South Carolina and Florence, South Carolina, to obtain an assortment of training.
As the fight approached, the feeling of accomplishment was nearly in his grasp. Penn cleared his mind before walking down the ramp.
“Be smart, trust your training and dominate your opponent every second of every round,” said Robinson to Penn days before the fight.
After a 66 fight, 17-year amateur boxing career, Penn finally heard from the loudspeaker: “Starting in the red corner, this fighter weighs in at an official 168 pounds. Tonight he wears white trunks with a black trim. He was a three time all Air Force middleweight champion as a member of the Air Force boxing team ... introducing Andre ‘The King’ Penn!”
Four rounds and many hits later, Penn began his professional boxing career with a victory and professional 1-0 record. Through excellence in his craft, Penn plans to continue to overcome and battle through any challenges that come his way in and out of the ring.