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Elk River Boxing Club member gets her kicks, wins state title

By Clint Thomas, Metro Reporter
Laura Byrnes (left) takes on opponent Kayla Varney in a kickboxing title match April 29 in Glenville. Courtesy photo
Laura Byrnes won the West Virginia Semi-Pro Women’s Welterweight title last month in Glenville. Courtesy photo
Laura Byrnes with her son, Connor. Courtesy photo

Laura Byrnes of the Elk River Boxing Club in Clendenin achieved a phenomenal feat with her feet -- and fists -- recently.

On April 29, Byrnes, who turns 29 on Saturday, defeated Wheeling’s Kayla Varney, by unanimous decision, to capture the West Virginia Semi-Pro Women’s Welterweight kickboxing title at the Waco Center in Glenville.

A Hurricane resident, Byrnes was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“My family and I traveled a lot, moving-wise for their job,” she said last week, “but we moved to West Virginia when I was 15, and I’ve been here ever since.”

It was during her time as a Winfield High School student that her interest in boxing emerged.

“I got involved in boxing when I was 16 and was on and off,” she said. “Everybody laughs when I tell the story. I started at a gym in Nitro, but it got shut down and I quit for a while. When I was 18, I found another gym in Charleston, but it shut down after a while. I started training on my own for the Toughman Contest.”

Seven years ago, she met Rob Fletcher, the owner, operator and coach of the Elk River Boxing Club, and signed up for classes and training.

“I wanted to fight in the Toughman Contest,” Byrnes explained, “so I started training with him in 2010. I’ve been with him since.”

Byrnes won her first Toughman Contest that year in Beckley. She also won a Rough ‘n’ Rowdy competition in Williamson in 2012. “I took out all three girls in the first round,” she said.

“I did a couple of USA Boxing bouts. In 2012, I fought in a three-day event in Florida, but I only fought once; there was only one other girl in my weight class.”

While she now possesses a state championship distinction in kickboxing, she also trains and competes in Mixed Martial Arts and boxing matches. “I do about everything.”

Byrnes has compiled a 13-5 ring record. “MMA is really rough, very hard core. My favorite is kickboxing. If I get offered a fight, I will think about doing it, but if it’s kickboxing, I’ll do it -- it’s more weapons for me.”

That includes what she terms her signature kickboxing move: the spinning back fist. “It’s a very mean kick,” she said, laughing.

She had to take some time off from her training and ring bouts, however, for a maternal hiatus.

“I was out for about four years, due to having a son,” Byrnes said. “He was born Aug. 7, 2014. He is 2 1/2. His name is Connor, and he actually goes to the gym with me about every day. He’ll put the headgear and the gloves on and knows a little about how to kickbox.”

She said she became active in the ring again last September and the Glenville win was her third match of 2017. Her first, in January, was against a 6-foot-tall, pro boxer -- Byrnes stands 5-5. “We did good. It was a blood war.”

She also fought in a split-decision match last month prior to the kickboxing title bout at Glenville State College. “My mind wasn’t into that fight,” she said. “I knew with this [April 29] fight, my mind was straight. This was actually my third fight against Kayla Varney. We did semi-pro, without shin gear or headgear, because I hate headgear -- I feel I can’t see as much wearing it.”

She said she doesn’t mind putting in the long, demanding woman-hours of practice before a match. She makes the 45-minute, round-trip drive to and from Hurricane and Clendenin to train every Sunday through Thursday.

“I don’t think anything is really tough about training, ‘cause I enjoy it, but the only thing [difficult] is eating the right way for cutting weight,” Byrnes said.

She also shares her fighting skills knowledge with others. She teaches classes to younger students at the Elk River Boxing Club frequently, and she and Fletcher have taught self-defense to various groups throughout the community.

Byrnes has worked for the Putnam County Animal Shelter in Red House for the past two years, and she became a Humane Officer there recently.

Even with the rigors of her employment and maternal obligations, Byrnes said she is determined to continue fighting as a semi-pro -- or, possibly, as a professional.

“I do plan to keep fighting. It’s what keeps me going, and I will fight locally, but also out of state,” Byrnes said. She said negotiations were underway last week for an MMA bout in Louisiana. With Fletcher in her corner, she has fought in New York and other parts of the country over the past few years.

“I’d love to go pro,” she said. “A lot of amateurs just throw punches and brawl. Pros are a lot smoother and use a lot more technique.”


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