The photos that wallpaper the gym are proof that in the five short years Cream City Boxing (5246 N. 35th St., creamcityboxing.com) has occupied this stretch of Old North Milwaukee, its reach has extended far beyond the surrounding neighborhood. A quick rundown from the owner, Kirby Lockett, lets a visitor know that boxers ranging from 6 to 67 have stepped into his ring.
But Lockett doesn’t have time to get too deep into the backstories of, for example, students from Marquette University or a native Russian who have come through his doors looking for pugilistic pointers. He’s getting set to take about a half-dozen of his fighters down to the South Side to spar with members of the Milwaukee Christian Center at the Kosciuszko Community Center.
As the fighters prepare for battle, gloves tightened and headgear in place, Lockett is quick to dispense some last-minute advice. A good-natured rib often repeated has Lockett pleading with his fighters to “hit him like he stole your girlfriend.” But no matter how ferocious the three 2-minute rounds might play out, the boxers always embrace before the next two sparring partners step into the ring. And that always brings a smile to Lockett’s face.
The 47-year-old former city employee (don’t hate him; he was responsible for ticketing your illegally parked car) isn’t getting rich by teaching the sweet science. For him, it’s more about giving kids and young adults an outlet that keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.
“We got guys in here that are 25 or 30 years old, and it seems like they never had a father figure in their life,” Lockett says. “If these doors weren’t open, half these cats would probably be incarcerated; I hate to say it.” That’s why he’ll gladly stay open until midnight if there’s someone itching to spar or train or just talk. “Boxing isn’t always about fighting. Instead of just training someone how to box, it’s our job to find out what else is going on in their lives.”
Shawn Payne admits his life might have turned out drastically different were it not for Lockett’s influence. The 23-year-old native Milwaukeean and former gang member first met Lockett in August of 2012 after leaving another club. Since meeting Kirby, he says, “I want to make the next Olympics.”
Lockett would end up playing a major role in getting Payne admitted to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where the welterweight is studying accounting and business management. He says he hopes to follow in his mentor’s footsteps and open up his own gym.
Payne, who has kept in regular contact with Lockett, says, “Every time he’s in my corner, I do very well. He definitely influenced where I’m at today.”
But Lockett says that for everyone who steps inside Cream City Boxing, he is quick to stress that “win or lose, it doesn’t make any difference. Just don’t quit.”
Tres Para Mayo
Cinco de Mayo Run & Walk ➞ Celebrate Mexico’s victory over the French by running a 5K, 10K or half-marathon. Yeah, we’re not sure how these are related either. May 3, 8 a.m. W330 N5113 County Rd. C, Nashotah, silvercirclesportsevents.com.
UPAF Ride for the Arts ➞ Short of risking a visit to the hoosegow, this is your only opportunity to ride over the Hoan. Bonus: It supports the arts! May 31. South Gate of the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, events.upaf.org.
Miller Park Sprint ➞ Yes, this takes place at the ballpark, but it won’t be as easy as a tater trot. The Spartan organizers are keen on setting up a grueling obstacle course for this 3-mile route. May 23, 8 a.m. 1 Brewers Way, spartan.com.