High School Sports

Lexington's Samantha Kinchen is a knockout in the ring

Henry Clay High School senior Samantha Kinchen, the national champion female boxer in the 152-pound weight class, sparred with her coach, William "Sarge" Farris, in April.
Henry Clay High School senior Samantha Kinchen, the national champion female boxer in the 152-pound weight class, sparred with her coach, William "Sarge" Farris, in April. Herald-Leader

A small, sweat-filled gymnasium on Versailles Road is by no means a glamorous home for Lexington Legends Boxing Inc.

Yet, there is a beauty among the beasts.

Samantha Kinchen, a 17-year-old Henry Clay senior.

USA Boxing's reigning champion in the 152-pound (welterweight) class, Kinchen was gussied up for prom little more than two weeks ago.

Good looks aside, her ability to box is the main attraction at Legends.

Kinchen is so talented, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro may be within reach of the 5-foot-7 right-hander.

Kinchen discovered boxing at age 10 through her younger brother Thomas, aka Rocky.

"He started wanting to box after he watched the Rocky movies. So then I just watched him for about two years," says Samantha, who is 17-2 since entering the ring at 12. "I was like 'girls don't box; that's really dumb.' But Sarge got me doing it just for conditioning for basketball and softball, because I was really into those sports. And as soon as I got into it, I loved it. Now, that's all I do."

Sarge is William "Sarge" Farris, director and coach of the Legends boxers. He also is a special education teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy and a pastor.

Kinchen's father, Alex, also is a pastor, at Lexington's non-denominational Turning Point Church.

It was at a pastors luncheon that Sarge and Alex broached the subject of boxing. Alex and wife, Gretchen, soon sent Rocky, then 6, to be Sarge's understudy.

Raised in Lexington's Charlotte Court area, Farris says he fought plenty on the streets as he was growing up.

He later moved to Louisville, where he was introduced to martial arts. He went from high school into the U.S. Army, where he took up boxing and picked up his nickname.

He says he worked with four-time inter-service national champion Kevin Bryant and Olympic gold medalist Ray Mercer. Farris' half-brother, Anthony Hembrick, made the 1988 Olympic team (but didn't get to compete because his coach misread a bus schedule).

Farris occasionally gets in the ring to spar with Samantha.

Female boxers are in such short supply that Samantha spars exclusively with guys. And, yes, they can hit her anywhere.

"In our gym, ain't no male or female," Farris says. "It's just athletes."

The discipline and commitment necessary in boxing have made his children better people, Alex says.

"No doubt. Samantha and Thomas both," Alex says. "We've been blessed with two kids that have never struggled with confidence."

Samantha is confident but not cocky; not a self-promoter, but not apprehensive, her dad adds.

Her career took off last year, when she won three titles, including the national Junior Olympics.

That convinced her to give up basketball in favor of boxing full-time.

Her USA Boxing success last month, at Spokane, Wash., lasted 101 seconds. That's all she needed to score a TKO over Taylor Carroll of Monroe, Mich.

"The game plan was just pepper her early with the right ... then try to cover up," Samantha says as she watches a replay of the bout. "Jab, ... touch the body a little bit, then go back to the head."

Three standing eight-counts brought things to an end.

Aside from family and coach, Samantha's biggest booster is former Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall.

He regularly gives updates on his radio show with Denny Crum, with Samantha and Farris as guests.

"She's a fine young lady from an outstanding family," Hall says. "She defies her upbringing by being so aggressive with her fists. It doesn't fit her personality, until you see her in the ring. And she absolutely knows what it's all about. She is always on the attack and is so effective throwing punches — and taking punches. She takes a punch.

"What an excitement for this area to have a girl that's No. 1 in the nation and just doing a great job right here under our nose, coming out of our own Legends Boxing Club. And her little brother is a mirror image of her in the ring, and Rocky's going to be good."

Hall is a boxing aficionado. He attended gold-medal bouts at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. And, basketball coach or not, he says he agrees with a recent ESPN panel of sports science and medical experts that rates boxing "as the toughest, most athletic and demanding sport in the world."

Samantha says "my game is just keep the pressure on. I'm really aggressive. Depending on who I'm fighting, we will change the game plan. But that's normally what it is — just keep going forward, and punches and punches."

Farris calls Samantha's right the KP — for knockout punch.

Samantha says she's never been hurt in a bout. So far, her toughest competition has come from sparring partners.

Yet, she needs better sparring opportunities, and more bouts. Both things take money.

With so few female boxers available, she travels out of state for many of her bouts. When boxers come to Lexington, Legends often must pay part of the tab for the visitors. Who would want to come and get knocked out for nothing?

So Farris is "calling out" boxing fans to help sponsor Samantha over the next three years.

Since winning at Spokane, Samantha has opted to attend Kentucky, which won out over Butler.

Farris had been concerned that a "Kentucky kid" might take her talent to Indiana.

"I agree with him," Hall says. "She is going to be an asset to wherever she attends college in international and national publicity. It would be wonderful if Kentucky could continue to claim her as she rises in the international and possibly Olympic sports."

Now, that's the plan.

■ Legends Boxing, located in Building A at 1195 Versailles Road, will host the Kentucky Junior Olympics on May 18. Samantha's next bout, though, is scheduled June 1 at Legends, versus Taylor Carroll in a rematch of their USA Boxing title bout.

■ Potential sponsors and fans who want to help Samantha's quest for the Olympic Games should contact Farris by email at wffarris@aol.com.

■ For video of Kinchen's national championship bout, see Youtube.com/watch?v=FX96D3-dzyc

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