John Kubler walks into the cold dark gym wearing a smile and hits the lights. The fluorescent bulbs flicker to life and illuminate the boxing ring with a soft light. On his way to the office/dressing room, he passes trophies and belts won fighters of old, a sketch drawing of Rocky, and a small stack of boxing gloves. As fighters arrive, the radio starts to play Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, a classic. Fighters begin to wrap their fists, and the buzzer signals the start of the first sparing round. Quickly the gym becomes full of the sounds of fists hitting leather bags.

Kubler smiles, as another day of retirement begins.

Nestled between the alley behind Gray’s Keg Saloon and an auto repair shop sits the Southside boxing gym. A small, cold concrete building about the size of a studio apartment. It is home to about 25 fighters varying from beginners to the pros like Haris Talundzic who will be competing in his second MMA fight in April.

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A mother wraps her son’s hands in the dressing room before training at the Southside Boxing gym on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska

For Kubler, the owner and trainer at the gym, he does it for the love of the sport, not the money.

“We are a non-profit organization, he said. “I only charge enough to keep the lights on.”

After retirement, Kubler decided to work full time in the gym. He did it to work with his kids and stay active. But eventually, he became the only boxing gym in Lincoln.

It’s been that way for the past 15 years.

“Boxing gives kids something to do when team sports may not be for them,” pro fighter Aaron Quintana said. Quintana is not only a pro fighter but also helps train some of the younger fighters.

Many fighters are paying for a chance to compete. Even the coaches who volunteer their time pay to help keep the place running. Boxing has been an escape for a lot of the pros and what had kept them in the game since they were kids.

“Boxing is a family,” boxing coach Tim Montgomery said. “A lot of guys go to the Southside Gym. Some go to get rid of stress and life problems in general, it is a good outlet.”

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Aaron Quintana spars with Haris Talundzic in the Southside Gym before at the Southside Boxing gym on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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Abraham waits for an opponent to put on their gloves before sparring at the Southside Gym on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As the day draws to a close, the coaches remind the fighters about the amateur fights in Crete on Saturday. Another chance to prove themselves and work toward their ultimate goal of going professional. Another chance to hang a belt on that wall, another chance to prove themselves.

Riverside Rumble is the first boxing show of the calendar year in the state. For in-state amateur fighters, it is their first chance to show their skills.

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Shahab Salahladin has his hand raised in victory after his TKO Topeka’s Jordan Bartee during the Riverside Rumble heavyweight match on Saturday, February 15, 2020, in Crete, Nebraska.

Shahab Salahladin, an amateur fighter who won his bout by technical knock out (TKO), explained how fighting is more than just the thoughtless punching.

“It went the way I expected it to go,” Shahab said. “He made a lot of mistakes and I took that to my advantage and used that against him.”

At the fight, Kubler sounded confident.

“If you lose you just have to work harder in the gym, figure out why you lost,” Kubler said. “We plan on winning every one of our fights tonight.”

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Turner KC’s Cooper Moore squares off against B&B Boxing’s James Pullen in the first round of their bout during the Riverside Rumble on Saturday, February 15, 2020, in Crete, Nebraska.
I’m fourth year Journalism and Broadcasting student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I am currently a photojournalist for Cedar County News. In Fall 2019, I will be a photo intern for the Omaha World Herald. I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming and it helped influence me in countless ways. First and foremost being taught that hard work is a way of life and doing a good job benefits everyone. Much of my time has been spent around hard working and honest blue collar workers and from them In have learned that hard work pays off. They knew that obstacles and fears and meant to be overcome and while failure is expected giving up is something I will not allow myself. My work is driven by an urge to educate people, in hopes that I can help eliminate fears and help people make connections to those they have never met. Showing people the human side of of stories and issues is the best way to inspire change. To go the distance to give the public the information to help them make well informed decisions. When I am not working I love being outside. I hike, rock climb, watch documentaries, and try not to get eaten by bears (they are everywhere you know). Anything that keeps me on the move helps me learn makes me happy.