Rolling with the punches

Nation’s only boxing team on third generation of coaches

Navajo Times | Cindy Yurth
John Bahe, right, counsels a boxer at the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym Monday night.


In John Bahe’s day job, or rather night job, as a mobile DJ, he runs the show. But in the boxing gym started by his grandfather and continued by his father, “I was always the behind-the-scenes guy,” he said.

Two years ago, Cal Bahe died. Either the venerable Damon-Bahe boxing gym was going to die with him, or someone had to take it over. One of John’s brothers lives out of state, another was ill, another had addiction issues.

John recalled his father saying before he passed on, “If this gym is going to keep going, you’re the only one who can do it.”

The behind-the-scenes guy leaned in. “So far I’ve done things pretty much like my dad did then,” Bahe said.

It seems to be working. The gym has added 10 more national champions to its list, plus 15 state and 15 regional rankings. The girls are doing especially well lately: Bahe’s daughter Mariah is No. 2 in the nation, Roselinda Harvey was No. 3 last year and Neildrea Harvey went to the Junior Olympics; their sister Nesha is headed to state.

Rachel Etcitty, who turned 18 and is now competing with adults, fought the top-ranked woman in the nation and is currently No. 3.

The boys are close behind. Bahe’s son Joshua is ranked No. 7 and his brother James, Bahe’s youngest, is in a four-way tie for 11th.

Bahe trains children as young as 7 and they can start competing at 11, even if he has to drive through four states to find them a match.

“It’s hard to find little kids in our weight category,” he explained.

If the thought of 11-year-olds punching each other makes your skin crawl, Bahe is quick to put your mind at ease. “According to national studies, it’s one of the safest amateur sports in the world,” he argued. “All the kids wear headgear that’s approved by a national boxing organization and a form-fitted mouthpiece, which is more than what’s required for basketball or football.”

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Categories: Community

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at