A fourth-year biology major on the pre-med track at Ohio State, Eddie Son faced perhaps the most daunting task of his collegiate tenure last week. And it had nothing to do with the classroom.
The self-proclaimed “sleeper pick” in the 185-pound national championship bracket of the National Collegiate Boxing Association, the Ohio State boxing club team member began his tournament run in Charlotte with a matchup against the favorite to win it all. Army’s Jonathan Parham entered with “upwards of 18 or 19 fights” of experience, while Son had just four amateur boxing matches on his résumé. Not to mention, Son’s previous fight in the NCBA regionals in Cincinnati just a few weeks earlier resulted in his first-ever defeat.
Upon studying Parham before the match, Son thought, “I’m kind of screwed.”
“Nobody knows about OSU boxing. Like everybody knows the academies are gonna have all the champions, they're gonna have all the fights, they're gonna have all the experience,” Son told Eleven Warriors. “They're like, 'This kid? Three and one? I'm gonna beat the crap out of him.'”
But once the horn sounded to start the quarterfinal match on April 13, it was Son doing the beating. Less than a minute into the opening round, Son hit Parham with a left hook to the head that forced a standing eight count from the official. Five seconds later, Son dropped his opponent with another left. One more vicious flurry of punches from Son and the ref waved off the fight.
A win alone would have been surprising enough, but a first-round stoppage floored everyone from Son and Ohio State boxing club coach Nat Shineman to the organizers of the event – and suddenly Son put his entire bracket on notice.
“The president of the NCBA came up to me after and just sat down and looked at me and said, ‘Man, who the hell is Edward Son?” Shineman told Eleven Warriors.
No one in Charlotte had to ask that question after Saturday, when Son punctuated a 3-0 run in the tournament by avenging his only previous loss to win the national title, becoming the first national champion in the history of Ohio State boxing club. To put the feat into perspective, even Shineman – who first encountered Son at OSU boxing club as a freshman in 2019 – said the results were “shocking to me.”
“It'd be really cool to just get OSU boxing on the map and get some more national champs. Because there's definitely some kids that are capable. If I can do it, anyone can."– Eddie Son
Son, a Cincinnati native, had no boxing background or particular inclination to try his hands at the sweet science upon arriving on campus in 2019. But that all changed when the boxing club piqued his interest at Ohio State’s involvement fair. At the time, Son was using the club as more of a way to get in shape than an avenue to launch any kind of boxing career.
According to Shineman, who joined the club as a student in 2017, participation may have been as low as a dozen members up until then. The club exploded to over 100 members in 2017, and by the time Shineman became club president in 2019, he said it had nearly 300 members paying dues. But the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on that progress and threatened to weed out members like Son, who might have been taking a more casual approach to club participation.
However, Son said his training “kind of really actually took off due to COVID.” Son described himself as “super bored” during the pandemic and began training at a mixed martial arts gym to stay active during the downtime. That’s where Son said he “really learned how to kind of fight,” and by the time the Ohio State’s boxing club was back up and running, Son was training both MMA and boxing with more vigor than before. But when commuting to Cincinnati to train MMA no longer became feasible, Son focused all of his energy on boxing.
Students don’t have to pursue competitive boxing to join Ohio State’s club team, but by Son’s third year in Columbus, he was ready to take the next step. In March 2022, Son was lined up to fight a student from Xavier.
Between juggling schoolwork and the buildup to his first competitive match, though, Son had to battle through trepidation all the way up until the fight.
“Just leading up to that moment, it was honestly one of the most stressful times in my life. It's up there,” Son said. “I think because of the stress of just competing in my first match, I actually got shingles, like stress-induced shingles. … So I was super nervous, plus that happened. So that kind of like impeded my training before the fight. And obviously it's like around finals time as well. So I was kind of studying pretty hard for all that stuff as well.”
But the result was an overwhelming success. Son said he “whooped” his opponent to score a decision win, and despite all the negative thoughts beforehand, the accomplishment of a win in the ring made it all worth it – and caused him to clamor for more.
“It was one of the most fun experiences after. Not during. During the fight, it's absolutely terrifying,” Son said. “But after the fight, it's like, 'Wow, I really just did that.' Like I went through all this stuff and I won. Like, I did that. Nobody else went in there but myself. Before the fight and during the fight, you're questioning like, ‘Why in the world am I doing this stuff? Like, I'm not getting paid? I'm a student. What is wrong with me?’ But then afterwards, I'm like, ‘Oh my god, that was the most amazing experience in my life. And I cannot wait to go back in there.’”
With just one fight under his belt, Son didn’t qualify for nationals last year and said he “totally would have gotten whooped” had he attempted to compete at that level. But Son watched all the competitors in his weight class in the national championship tournament and thought, “If I begin training now, I'm pretty sure I could beat all these guys.”
Son got a membership at Pilger's Old Skool Boxing and Fitness Academy in Grandview, Ohio, where he trained all of last summer while working at a hospital. There, Son even sparred with former NFL running back Le’Veon Bell as he trained for a fight with Adrian Peterson.
"I beat all the academies from West Point to the Naval Academy to the Air Force Academy. So that's three officers there who got beat by Eddie Son. Ohio. I'll tell my kids that, for sure.”– Eddie Son
Still, Son had to work on cleaning up parts of his game to get to the next level.
“He's a talented guy, he's a hell of an athlete and he's got all the right instincts for boxing. He just had a listening problem,” Shineman said. “And I've been getting on him for two years now. Me and our other trainer, we've been telling him a couple things you need to do. And if you do these things, you have the potential to be an outstanding boxer. And we'd seen these flashes of greatness, but there were just a few things, some bad habits he had that were really holding him back.”
Those tweaks began paying off during Son’s senior year when he beat an Army student at a local show at The Athletic Club of Columbus and went on to win his first match against a North Carolina boxer in the regional tournament in Cincinnati. But in the regional finals, Son said a sickness held him back as he took on Navy’s Jake Jones, who was the national runner-up the year prior.
Son suffered his first defeat, and Shineman said “it was bad.”
“I just got the absolute crap kicked out of me. That kind of sucked,” Son said. “My confidence took a hit there. But I was also sick as a dog. So I was like ‘All right, we'll regroup.’ Keep training, push through and rematch at nationals.”
Son got his wish. After notching his statement win over Parham less than a month later in Charlotte, Son followed it up with another impressive performance the next day, forcing the corner of Air Force’s Angelo Ganac to throw in the towel after the second round, wherein Son wobbled his opponent with an uppercut, followed up with a right hook and dropped him with a stiff right straight.
The win set up a rematch with Jones for all the marbles.
“I thought that first dude would knock me out and I would just be on a free vacation to Charlotte, you know? But like, holy crap, I'm here doing it,” Son said.
In the finals this past Saturday, Son faced what he called “the hardest fight of the bunch” against an “absolute unit” in Jones, who utilized the same clinch-heavy game plan that won him the first matchup against Son. This time, though, a healthy Son weathered the storm and eked out a split-decision victory to win the national championship.
“I was literally like, 'Give it to me, please God. Please give it to me.’ … I thought I lost honestly. I was ready to collapse, like I was the most tired,” Son said. “That was like definitely the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, physically. Because that kid is an absolute beast. … I felt very accomplished, very fulfilled. It was kind of cool. My route to the final was, I had to face all academy fighters, which are usually the best. So I beat all the academies from West Point to the Naval Academy to the Air Force Academy. So that's three officers there who got beat by Eddie Son. Ohio. I'll tell my kids that, for sure.”
The moment was also rewarding for Shineman, who went from club member to club president to head coach in just a few years and volunteers his time to run the program every week.
“My heart was beating so fast. There's so much adrenaline in all of us, even in the corner,” Shineman said. “We'd been screaming at him for the last six minutes, I had no voice left. … My hands were shaking. I was stressed. It was down to the wire. Man, coming out on top felt really good.”
Shineman hopes the national title will help spur the program forward and wants to take the entire team to regionals next year. Shineman’s other goals include hosting a home show that Ohio State students can attend, furthering fundraising efforts for the team and getting a boxing ring in one of the rooms of the RPAC. Shineman also wants to set up intramural bouts for Buckeye students in the future.
Son isn’t sure if he’ll return to competition for Ohio State next year as he’s preparing to take the Medical College Admission Test, but said “I’ll never stop boxing,” whether it’s at Ohio State or elsewhere.
Son hopes his national title will be the first of many for Ohio State’s club program, and wants his success to prove to other students that they’re capable of achieving something they might not have thought possible.
“It'd be really cool to just get OSU boxing on the map and get some more national champs. Because there's definitely some kids that are capable,” Son said. “If I can do it, anyone can. I don't feel too special. I feel like this is kind of just like an accumulation of a lot of work. But I'm not like some super athlete. I'm a student that likes to train and fight, you know? I'm just a regular guy.”