Some boxing managers are drawn to the glitz and glory of the sport … to the idea of standing in the ring behind a fighter who has just been crowned world champion, holding up the belt and basking in the cheers of the crowd.  It was something much different that inspired Gardner Payne to throw his hat in the ring, and take on the careers of some of North Carolina’s most promising boxing prospects. 

Payne was born in North Carolina to parents who valued family and work above all else.  His mother was a teacher, and his father worked in textiles, a job that kept the family on the move during Payne’s childhood.    While attending college at North Carolina State, Payne secured an internship with then-Governor of North Carolina, Jim Hunt.  He’d return to Hunt’s office after graduating college, working as a speech writer and press aid.  He then turned his attention to law school, attending and graduating from Campbell University. 

It was then that he met his wife of 10 years at a church retreat.  He noticed her beauty across the room, and once he got to know her, Payne found her to be smart, kind and witty, and the two were soon wed. 

The newly minted attorney would then put the work ethic he’d inherited from his parents to the test, entering the hectic and grueling business of lobbying.  It was a job that required Payne to be on the go and away from his wife and children, from early in the morning until late at night, seven days a week.  Not one to pass up an opportunity, Payne balanced his lobbying work with serving as the Campaign Finance Director for both a Governor and Lt. Governor race during this time.  

The grueling, unforgiving schedule keeping him away from his family more than he liked, and it was time for a change.  While his lobbying career died down, a business opportunity presented itself, and Payne switched his attention to Sweepstakes Internet Cafes.   The business grew, and Payne provided jobs to more than 80 people in North Carolina.  He would then hit a road block.  North Carolina introduced legislation that resulted in Payne having to lay off many of his staff.  It was a low point for the attorney, businessman, boss and mentor to so many, but like all great fighters, he got off the canvas and continued to fight. 

In 2017 a friend asked Payne if he’d partner on a professional boxing event in Wilson, North Carolina.  Like all of Payne’s businesses, he took seriously the responsibility of putting on a quality event for his community, and thus began spending time in the local gyms.  It wasn’t the promise of bright lights, cheers and piles of cash that drew Payne to boxing.  He was taken in by the fighters’ hard work, commitment and the stories he heard of their overcoming adversity.

After the event in Wilson, Payne signed his first managerial contract with undefeated lightweight Marko Bailey, whose resilience in the face of adversity had caught Payne’s attention. Committed to being a “hands-on” manager, Payne set himself apart early on from the businessmen-turned-managers that enter the boxing world each year, taking to heart the responsibility of driving Marko’s career, and providing opportunities to other North Carolina boxers. 

While others may pursue a career in the sweet science it for the potential of glitz and glory, Gardner Payne is a manager who leads by example, exuding a modest and humble nature that belies his experience and work ethic, and one that sets himself apart in his devotion to the fighters who trust his hand to guide their careers. 


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