COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A Columbus boxing team is preparing its fighters to compete at a USA boxing national qualifier event this weekend in Detroit.

The Rising Stars Boxing team from Columbus is sending five fighters to the event – the most of any gym in the country. Those fighters are Erick Martinez, 156-pound weight class; Johnny Little, 165-pound weight class; Junior Williams, 176-pound weight class; and Spencer Caron, 139-pound weight class. Another fighter, Jewel Cannon, is battling an illness and won’t be able to compete this weekend.

The team’s motto is giving every boxer a chance to shine and it all started in 2019.

“I would’ve never imagined it, I was content just training a couple guys,” says head coach and founder Ryan Dickey. “It kind of just grew organically. The brotherhood just continued to grow; the rest is history.”

This weekend, a team of 18 fighters will be competing on the national stage, but as Dickey said, it wasn’t an easy road.

“There hasn’t been many fights in the city in the last four years, so we’ve been traveling all over the place,” he says. “Packing up vans, packing up hotel rooms with air mattresses, you know, making it happen.”

This was the first year Rising Stars Boxing has multiple fighters qualifying for a national tournament. However, for Ryan and his amateur boxers, the sport is not a full-time, paying job.

“It was a hobby that quickly turned into a passion,” said Martinez, one of three original members of the team. “I’m an entrepreneur, I do real estate, help companies grow through marketing, stuff like that. So, this is just kind of a hobby for me.”

He’s only been fighting for four years, somewhat stumbling into boxing.

“I actually had a friend of mine that was a pro boxer before, ended up hanging out with the wrong guys, made a mistake, and now he’s locked up,” Martinez said. “I asked my friend when I went to see him, ‘Is this something I should do?’ He told me to do it. I’ve been doing it ever since, and here I am.”

Fast forward to now, and he’s preparing to fight for a chance to compete in the Olympics, something he said he never even dreamed of.

“Never had a goal to be there, but to look up at a national tournament, fighting against the best of the best, couldn’t ask for anything else,” Martinez said.

And that’s what Dickey is all about: pushing these men to be their best.

“Not everyone has the pro aspirations,” Dickey said. “We’ve got some very successful guys on this team who are successful outside of boxing. At the end of the day, it’s about helping these guys reach their fullest potentials.”

This weekend’s qualifying event in Detroit is the first of four this year for USA boxing.

Winners will automatically qualify for Olympic trials, which will be held in Layfette, Louisiana, in December.