A little after three months of going to boxing workouts, I still think the hardest part is the hand wraps. 15 feet of fabric you wrap around your hands in an around, over, under, between your fingers, and around again x-shape. I inevitably have to redo them at least once. But don’t worry, one of the trainers is always happy to help, or even do it for you. That’s the vibe at Dropout Fight Club boxing gym. It breeds an attitude of kindness, community, fun, and no judgment that all comes from the top. And at the top is Otto Ohlsson. When the pandemic hit, Otto, like all of us, was looking for reasons to get out of his house. Packed with certifications, a bag of old gloves, and a love for boxing, he posted a simple request on his social channels. It was something like, “Hey, if you wanna blow off some steam, learn how to box, just get outside, let me know.” Before he knew it, his schedule was packed, and he found himself teaching clients how to box at Lake Park, Atwater, the beach, wherever they could find space. He got so busy he had to take the post down, but he started wondering, how do I offer this to more people? Then he found an abandoned warehouse in Riverwest. It was full of scrap metal and not much else, save for four steel columns in the middle of the room. “I’m like, worst case scenario I just throw some rope around these, that could be the ring.” As the pandemic rolled on he kept teaching his outdoor classes and saving money. Eventually, he had enough for bags. So, he threw a pizza party where he made his friends help him fill them with scraps of leftover fabric. Then he had enough money for the ring. A ring that was built by the same company that made the ring for the Ali Museum, by the way. Then came the muralists and the artists, making the place look cool as hell. Then came the people looking for a new workout, curious wanna-be boxers. People like me. “Are you right-handed or left-handed?” I’m right, Otto’s left, so he did it all backward to show me. You’ve got six punches: left and right jab, left and right hook, left and right uppercut. “Have you ever been on a skateboard before?” No. “Me neither, but you kind of stand like that.” Literally within five minutes, I was “boxing.” Not well. Poorly, in fact. If I was in a real match, I’d be dead. But I was doing it. All while trying to remember if the one punch was a left or right, remembering to keep my gloves in front of my face so my imaginary opponent didn’t crack my head open, thinking about where the weight of feet are to distribute that weight from back to front for maximum effect, and to just keep moving. In the first hour of boxing, the biggest thing I learned was, boxers are maybe the smartest and smoothest, and toughest athletes in the world. Otto runs the classic “Fight Club” group workout class, but he can’t do it all on his own, and he doesn’t want to. Luckily, coaches with amazing boxing pedigrees were drawn to what he was doing and brought their passions. Donna, who spent 10 years as an amateur boxer, runs a women’s only class; Giovanni, with a background in boxing and MMA, teaches The Sweet Science and his personal favorite, the kids class. Now there are student nights, sparring classes, fight nights, community nights, and hopefully more to come. “When we were all on lockdown, I’d just come here and power wash the walls and I just thought it was never going to end… and it was just like man, what am I doing? Is anyone even gonna fucking show up?” Now every class is selling out left and right, thanks to word of mouth. Which is good, because that’s pretty much the only advertising he has. “It actually acts as this cool filter system… It’s like when you were a kid and you discovered this amazing record that you thought no one knew about. You don’t tell everybody about it. You go, I found this record, like, I don’t think Dave will get it, but Brian, here check this out. He’s like yeah dude, that’s my jam.” Otto is pretty clear he doesn’t want to sell anybody anything and he doesn’t see himself as an entrepreneur. He’s careful not to look ahead to something bigger and miss what’s happening right in front of him. “Every time I put the key in the door and I open it up and I’m like, fuckin’ hell there’s a fucking gym in it!” So, why ‘Dropout Fight Club’? “I just wanted it to, like, feel risky. I wanted those moms from Shorewood to tell their husbands, I’m going to get coffee with Jessica, and then she’ll meet Jessica at the Fight Club.” And somehow, it does feel like that. It feels underground, it feels like our secret. I’ve brought friends and I’ve made friends there, even if it’s just for one class. I love fist-bumping gloves with strangers between rounds, hyping each other up when we’re doing great, and even getting called out when I’m starting to slow down. About a month after I started going to the Monday night Fight Club class, Otto said he wanted to make an announcement before we started. He asked Tommy, a younger kid, to join him up front. I knew Tommy because he had been in every class I’d been in. My first time there he immediately introduced himself, and after the class, he congratulated me on my first workout. Apparently, he’d been coming to the gym before it was even technically open. He’s always the first one in and the last one out. Otto was so touched that this kid had invested so much in him and the gym, he wanted to say thanks. He was gifting Tommy their fight camp and kitted him out with new shoes and a fight night robe. It was really special, and it exactly encapsulated the type of place Dropout Fight Club is. Just so you know, I’ve gotten better. Not a lot better. I’d still probably be murdered in the ring, but enough to feel good about it, and myself. I’m thinking less and connecting more. I’m even up to working on combos and slips and rolls and hitting the mitts of trainers while they call out combos. And after three minutes of a 1-2-3b-3b-3b combo, all the bullshit melts away. B stands for body, by the way, picture whoever’s body you like. As we’re winding down the interview, about a half-hour before class starts, like clockwork, in comes Tommy. He’s there, like we all are, for the people, the community, the space, the music, to learn something new, and to have “the most aggressive therapy session of your life.” Just soon as I figure out how to put these damn wraps on right. Oh, and where is it? It’s in a warehouse in Riverwest, down the hall, and behind a huge metal sliding door. If you hear old-school hip-hop, leather being pounded against leather, grunting, and the occasion “You got this!” you’ve found the place. Welcome.