WEIRTON - By the time they reach 40, most athletes involved in contact sports have started their journey down retirement road.
Steubenville resident Branden Hinkle is not one of them.
Hinkle, the assistant wrestling coach at West Liberty University, will be looking to stay unbeaten as a heavyweight fighter when Made Men Promotions holds the Independence Day Brawl Thursday inside the Serbian Cultural Center.
"My competitive fires are still burning," Hinkle, a veteran mixed martial arts competitor, said recently. "I have a great coach in Artie Thompson and my boxing skills are improving. I like staying competitive and boxing has given me something to train for. If I can stay healthy, I hope to box for a few more years."
As a boxer, Hinkle has compiled a 3-0 record, all his victories coming via the knockout. On Thursday, he will tangle with Orion Sistrunk (6-3, 270), a veteran competitor from Philadelphia. Hinkle stands 6-2 and goes 230.
Hinkle, who will turn 41 this summer, notes he is in as good of shape as he has been at any age and claims he still has "plenty left in his tank."
"I'm feeling great; the best I've felt in a long time," he pointed out. "I know I can't do it forever but I want to do it for a little longer. My body feels good."
Hinkle, a native of Ashtabula County, has compiled a successful record in just about every sport he's chose to pursue.
Consider the following:
After graduating from West Liberty, Hinkle moved to Columbus to train for the U.S. nationals in hopkes of making the U.S. Olympic wrestling team. That turned out to be the first step down the road to his mixed martial arts career.
"While we were training, Mark Coleman (his coach) got a call about an eight-man tournament in Brazil," Hinkle recalled. "He told me they'd fly us down there, take care of all our expenses and pay us $1,000 on top of it. I had just got out of college and that money sounded pretty good so I said 'sign me up.'"
Hinkle said his introduction to the ultimate fighting experience in South America was an eye-opening one, to say the least.
"The first guy I fought in Brazil was ranked No. 5 in the world," he stated. "The sport was much less structured then than it is now so our fight was one 30-minute round and head butts were legal. It was pretty much anything goes. I lost but I think I gave a pretty good account of myself. It ended up being a 22-minute war and the place was just going nuts. After that, I was hooked."
Following that fight in Brazil, Hinkle earned his nickname "Iron Lion."
"It came from my performance in that fight," he recalled. "It just stuck with me from many moons ago."
"I was fortunate to have traveled all over the world. I was able to do and see things that I otherwise would have been unable to do.'
As he prepares for his fourth trip into the squared circle, Hinkle noted he is excited about the growth of boxing in the Steubenville-Weirton area.
"I really see a resurgence of boxing in area," he stated. "People around here still enjoy it. I'm more of a MMA fighter but I grew up a boxing fan.
"This area has produced some great fighters (he singled out Bobby Joe Young and Manard Reed as two examples). Made Men Promotions puts on a great show and the venue is a beautiful place with an old-school boxing show feel. The boxing shows represent a really nice time for the fans."
Hinkle knows he will have his work cut out for him when he faces the veteran Sistrunk on Thursday.
"He's durable and tough," Hinkle said. "I'm looking to keep my streak going but I know it will be a tough fight."
As far as his boxing future goes, Hinkle is looking to "stay busy."
"I want to get a few more fights in then maybe test myself against some of the top guys around here," he stated.