Fighting the good fight: How a police officer hopes to reach at-risk youth through boxing

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Two opponents square up as in-ring work begins. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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At the end of the training session, Chaz and the other boxers relaxed while chatting about different movies. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Each boxer took turns wearing the body vest and punching mittens to help each other train. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Chaz throws a right hook to the body while training. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Amateur boxer, Rondale Peterson, takes punches while wearing a body vest. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Professional boxer, Jade "Poison" Ivory, helps Chaz train with boxing sticks.PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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In 2014, Chaz Nguyen joined the YESS Boxing Club in Dumont, New Jersey. Two years later, in 2016, he won New Jersey's Gold and Diamond Glove tournaments. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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As the training session transitioned into the ring, the boxers wore protective body vests and punching mitts to simulate real fighting. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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A pair of worn-out boxing gloves hang on the wall inside the gym. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Chaz, along with two other boxers, shared the ring while shadow boxing. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Before entering the ring, Chaz practiced on several different punching bags to warm up. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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A wall decorated with boxing memorabilia dedicated to the history of the YESS Boxing Club and legends of the sport. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Before beginning bag work, Chaz wraps up his hands for protection. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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The ringside seat of Al "The Godfather" Artola at the YESS Boxing Club.PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Chaz Nguyen and YESS boxing coach, Al Artola talk before a warmup session. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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  1 / 21 
Two opponents square up as in-ring work begins. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  2 / 21 
At the end of the training session, Chaz and the other boxers relaxed while chatting about different movies. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  3 / 21 
PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  4 / 21 
PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  5 / 21 
Each boxer took turns wearing the body vest and punching mittens to help each other train. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  6 / 21 
Chaz throws a right hook to the body while training. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  7 / 21 
Amateur boxer, Rondale Peterson, takes punches while wearing a body vest. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  8 / 21 
PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  9 / 21 
Professional boxer, Jade "Poison" Ivory, helps Chaz train with boxing sticks.PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  12 / 21 
In 2014, Chaz Nguyen joined the YESS Boxing Club in Dumont, New Jersey. Two years later, in 2016, he won New Jersey's Gold and Diamond Glove tournaments. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  13 / 21 
As the training session transitioned into the ring, the boxers wore protective body vests and punching mitts to simulate real fighting. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  14 / 21 
A pair of worn-out boxing gloves hang on the wall inside the gym. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  15 / 21 
Chaz, along with two other boxers, shared the ring while shadow boxing. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  16 / 21 
Before entering the ring, Chaz practiced on several different punching bags to warm up. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  17 / 21 
A wall decorated with boxing memorabilia dedicated to the history of the YESS Boxing Club and legends of the sport. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
  19 / 21 
Before beginning bag work, Chaz wraps up his hands for protection. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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The ringside seat of Al "The Godfather" Artola at the YESS Boxing Club.PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF
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Chaz Nguyen and YESS boxing coach, Al Artola talk before a warmup session. PHOTOS BY TYLER BROWN/STAFF

EAST BRUNSWICK –

Chaz Nguyen, a police officer in East Brunswick, hopes to one day provide mentorship to at-risk youth by teaching the life lessons he’s learned through the sport of boxing.

Nguyen is no stranger to fighting. Long before he began fighting crime or entered a ring, he fought for his health. For half his life, he spent extensive amounts of time in and out of hospitals suffering from branchial cleft remnant, a rare birth defect that causes visible cysts on the neck.

“From the ages of 1-14, I had over 15 neck surgeries to deal with a rare birth defect called a branchial cleft remnant. I would have at least one surgery a year, sometimes even multiple a year, and I would be forced to miss large amounts of school and sports.

“Thankfully, at the age of 14, the doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were able to properly diagnose and fix the defect. While it was my most serious surgery and could have resulted in a variety of ways, I was able to make a full recovery and continue to live a healthy life.

“After having been continuously in the hospital throughout my childhood, I wanted to be able to prove to myself that I could do anything,” Nguyen said.

At 18, Nguyen found the perfect opportunity to prove himself in the form of mixed martial arts. This experience would eventually lead him to discover a new passion: boxing.

“I first began with mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at a local gym when I was 18 years old. I was an athlete all throughout high school and wanted to find a sport I could continue with on my own in college.

“I was able to win first place in an International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation tournament and shortly after, won an MMA (mixed martial arts) fight before unfortunately injuring my knee and placing my plans on hold.

“It was shortly after recovering that I was introduced to boxing and discovered my passion for the sport. I was inspired to box by the chance to prove myself,” Nguyen said.

In 2014, the former Old Bridge resident joined the YESS Boxing Club in Dumont. Here, he met two life-changing mentors: Joe Rossi, owner of YESS, and head boxing coach Al Artola.

A year later, he secured a victory in his first official amateur boxing match with a second round knockout. In 2016, he would win both the Golden Gloves and Diamond Gloves tournament in New Jersey.

His progression in the ring mirrored his growing desire to serve his community.

Intrigued by the judicial system, he eventually found himself at Rutgers University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. During this period, he encountered several people that inspired him to start a career in law enforcement.

Shortly after his two tournament wins, he began applying and practicing for the police academy.

In October 2018, he took an oath and was officially sworn in as a police officer in East Brunswick.

Nguyen now hopes to combine his career as an officer and his passion as a boxer to serve at-risk youth. He believes that the benefits of boxing can provide an environment of support, structure, and accountability for both young men and women.

“I would love to find a way to join my two passions together.

“Within my role as a police officer, I have learned through my department that police-community relationships are incredibly important, and I would love to someday find a way to give back to my community by mentoring young boxers,” he said.

Furthermore, Nguyen stated that intangible life skills such as confidence, patience, discipline and self-control are several byproducts of boxing.

“Boxing has taught me countless lessons throughout my life. It has taught me to be disciplined and to never give up on your goals. It teaches patience and waiting for the right opportunities. It teaches how paying attention to little things can make your life easier.

“It teaches you how to cope with stress and to make the best of any situation. It teaches you to not let your anger take control of your actions. Boxing also gives you confidence in yourself, and can show you what you’re truly capable of.

“These lessons can be applied to anything you do in life, especially in law enforcement, where you may not know what stress you may encounter during your shift,” Nguyen said.

According to Nguyen, boxing gyms have strict standards for young participants. This ensures that students are held accountable inside and outside the gym.

“I absolutely see boxing as a healthy alternative for at-risk youth. The majority of gyms that I have seen have very strict contracts that they have students sign when joining their gyms.

“These contracts have students agree to conditions such as keeping their grades up, not getting in trouble at school and not using any skills taught within the gym for negative purposes.

“Gyms not only help give structure and routine to these students’ daily lives, but also helps them to build discipline and pride within themselves. Boxing in a gym is much more than simply ‘fighting.’ The majority of your time is spent on strength building, cardio, skills building, speed building, etc.,” Nguyen said.

Therefore, unlike a street fight, respect and safety are at the forefront of each lesson. More importantly, the bonds created through training build character and create friendships.

“All of these things need to be mastered first before you are even able to enter into a ring. Because of all the prep work and training needed beforehand, there is automatically a level of respect built for both yourself and your opponent that you would not necessarily encounter in a street fight.

“In these supervised training sessions, you can create a bond with the person you are sparring with. There can be mutual respect built, and even friendships, from sparring in the ring,” Nguyen said.

In the future, Nguyen hopes to have an opportunity to provide mentorship to those who are at risk.

But in the meantime, he’s preparing to make his pro-boxing debut. Originally scheduled for Dec. 18, the fight was postponed until further notice. However, he continues to patiently train in anticipation for that unknown day.

He credits his family, particularly his wife and high school sweetheart, Kate, for supporting his dreams and subsequent journeys.

“Throughout this entire process, my family has been my No. 1 supporter, especially my wife. We have been together since sophomore year of high school and while she worries about me, she has always encouraged and helped me to pursue my dreams.

“Whether it was adding on additional degrees in college, going through the police academy as an alternate route candidate, and now entering into this professional fight, she continues to support and help me achieve my goals,” Nguyen said.

Contact Tyler Brown at tbrown@newspapermediagroup.com.