Georgia crowned three champions at this year’s USA Boxing Junior Olympics, Prep Nationals and Youth Championships tournaments held June 25 through July 1 in Charleston, W.Va.
Among the winners was Sa’Rai Brown-El, an 11-year-old female from College Park who trains out of Lugo’s Boxing and Fitness gym in Marietta.
Brown-El defeated Yvonne Flores of Lake Charles, Fla. 5-0 to claim the 80-pound, Bantam weight Junior Olympic title.
No stranger to winning championships, Brown-El, who is home-schooled, also owns two national crowns and won her Western qualifier to advance to the Junior Olympic competition. USA Boxing currently has her ranked No. 1 in the nation for her age and weight class.
“It’s always exciting to win,” Sa’Rai Brown-El said. “I was just humble the entire match. I wasn’t going to intimidate or be arrogant like I knew I was going to beat her. I always go into my matches just trying to do my best.”
Sa’Rai, who will turn 12 in September, started boxing at the Lugo gym roughly a year and a half ago. She initially wanted to train in karate, but her mother, Latyia, who has boxing relatives, liked the ability she saw in her daughter.
“My mom said my punches look great,” Sa’Rai said. “A couple months later, I went to my uncle’s gym and punched the bag and everybody said I was a natural and wanted me to box. That’s when I joined Lugo’s gym.”
Sa’Rai’ father, Sheik Brown-El wasn’t on board with the idea in the beginning.
“I just wanted my sons to box at first,” he said. “But, my wife saw some potential in Sa’Rai. They kept asking me for about four months before I said okay. Then when I saw her, she’s been on this journey ever since.”
Sa’Rai said she trains at the gym for four hours, four days a week. There’s lots of cardio work involved and shadow boxing, but when she’s in the ring, she spars with boys.
“I like boxing,” she said. “It makes me stronger.”
Michael Lugo, the owner of Lugo’s gym, knew Sa’Rai had a great chance to come away with the Junior Olympic title.
“I’m not surprised at all she won,” he said. “Sa’Rai is on the rise. I work with her every day and I know what she’s capable of. She spars with some tough boys in the ring, and she’s getting to the point where she can handle them.
“She has long arms and a great jab and great footwork. I can see her as one of the faces of boxing in the coming years. She’s been dominant in everything she’s touched.”
Although Sa’Rai has never met professional boxer Clarissa Shields, the two-time Olympic champion follows her on Instagram.
Sheik Brown-El and his wife are seeking sponsorship opportunities and donations for Sa’Rai. They created a web page, gofundme.com/roadto2024olympics, to help fund her trips.
“I think Sa’Rai has aspirations of being like Shields,” Sheik Brown-El said. “She’s had 27 fights so far, and we’re always trying to get her more. We’re making those sacrifices, hoping she’ll have a shot at making the 2024 Olympics.”
Other Team Georgia winners in Charleston were Eli Lankford of Jonesboro and Jamel Robinson of Augusta.
Lankford defeated Fernando Vazquez of Dallas, Texas 3-2 101-pound, Junior weight crown, while Robinson topped Javaughn Dula of Cincinnati, Ohio 3-2 for the 95-pound, Junior weight title.
Nathan Lugo of Marietta was the 132-pound Intermediate weight class runner-up after dropping a 5-0 decision to Kasir Goldston of Albany, N.Y.
Seventeen Georgia boxers made the trip to Charleston. Joining Nathan and Sa’Rai from Lugo’s gym were their siblings, Elijah Lugo and Micah El-Brown, who both lost in their respective weight classes.
Marietta residents Jaredd Blount II and Floyd Schofield also failed to advance through their brackets.
“Georgia suffered some tough, questionable losses, but I’m definitely proud of those who took gold, especially Sa’Rai, Eli and Jamel,” said Michael Lugo, Junior Olympics chairperson of the Georgia Amateur Boxing Association.