A Chance Encounter Leads to a Great Opportunity

Let me take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Mike Lufholm and I am an amateur photographer residing in Minneapolis, MN. I grew up in Hermantown, MN and moved to the Twin Cities about five years ago for work. I am a frequent visitor to the northland and try to make it up north as often as possible to visit family, friends, and the beautiful landscape.

On a recent visit to Duluth I had some time to kill, so I grabbed my camera gear and headed to my favorite scenic overlook to shoot some photos. As I pulled up to the park, I heard a guy yelling very loudly and being verbally abusive to a young woman. It seemed as if the man was on drugs and he continued to get more and more out of control. The woman seemed scared and it looked like she was trying to get away from him. I kept a close eye on the situation and decided that I should probably notify the police if he continued. At that moment a gentleman, after hearing all of the commotion, came out of a nearby building to see what was going on. He asked me, “Do you know that knucklehead?!?” I quickly responded, “No sir, but I am getting ready to call the police on him if he continues to get out of control!”

He walked back to the building and yelled for a couple of other guys to come out and further investigate the situation. I held off on calling the police. It seemed like these guys would be able to deescalate the man’s behavior. After an unsuccessful attempt to try to calm the man down, the three guys came back over to me and told me it’d be necessary to notify the police, so I made the call.

Chuck Horton and his friends came to the rescue of a girl in need.

– Mike Lufholm- Chuck Horton and his friends came to the rescue of a girl in need.

I proceeded to go about my business and started unloading my camera gear. The first gentleman I spoke to came over to my car to thank me for calling the police and told me,  “We don’t need that type of stuff around here.” The man introduced himself and told me his name was Chuck Horton. The name rang a bell. He noticed my camera gear and asked if I was a photographer. I responded, “Photography is my hobby and I just like doing it for fun.” He asked to see some of my work and proceeded to tell me that he’d just been talking to the other guys about finding a photographer for an upcoming event they were hosting. I showed him some photos on my phone and he seemed very impressed, inviting me into the building to introduce me to the other guys. The building was a boxing gym and the other two guys he wanted to introduce me to were Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters and Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands. I don’t follow boxing too closely, but I had heard of all three of them before and knew they were all very well-respected in the boxing community.

Normally, I turn down freelance photo gigs. I have a full-time job and it pays the bills. The time I get to spend shooting photos is like therapy to me, it is my passion and I have been careful to keep it as a hobby. I am just not interested in shooting the typical photos that most photographers shoot, i.e. weddings, senior photos, family portraits, etc. But the event they spoke of was nothing like those thing —  it included blood, sweat, and raw emotion. All of which caught my attention and seemed like something that’d be fun to shoot. It really seemed like something I wanted to do, so I agreed to shoot their upcoming boxing event at Black Bear Casino. I exchanged information with them and headed out on my way.

The next morning, I received a phone call from Chuck. He was excited to have me on-board to shoot the event and we reflected on how strange the events were that lead us to cross paths. Keeping the community safe and free of riffraff is an important thing to Chuck. He explained how he is currently devoting his time to make a positive impact on his community by giving free self-defense classes to women and young teens in order  to raise awareness about domestic violence in the northland. It all seemed like something I wanted to get behind and help out in any way that I could. He booked me a suite for the upcoming boxing match that was to take place on October 25th, where Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands would be squaring up against Andres “Taylor Made” Taylor in the headline fight.

Fast-forward two weeks and I was on my way back up north to document my first boxing match. My job was to capture the emotions that went on behind the scenes in the locker room as Al Sands prepared for the headline fight. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, because I’d never done anything like this before.

I was greeted in the hotel lobby by Zach Walters. He showed me around the building and handed me a pass that allowed me to go anywhere I wanted in the building to shoot photos. After giving me the timeline of how the night was going to go, he sent me on my way to start snapping photos.

- Mike Lufholm - Zach Walters helps prepare Al Sands for his upcoming match.

– Mike Lufholm- Zach Walters helps prepare Al Sands for his upcoming match.

Al Sands arrived to the locker room a few hours before the main event and started prepping for the fight to which he had dedicated months of training. It was an intense experience to see what goes on behind the scenes as Al physically and mentally prepared himself for battle. Zach Walters and Chuck Horton accompanied him the entire time, offering him words of wisdom and reminding him of different training techniques that they had practiced. Al spent a lot of time meditating and listening to music to get him in the zone. As time passed and got closer to the time of the fight, the anticipation continued to grow. Al kept having bursts of energy and was reminded by his trainers to save his energy for the time of the fight. Boxing truly is an art that requires just enough movement to loosen up the body without burning yourself out before going into the ring. Even though it is an individual sport, it requires a team of people to help prepare the individual.

- Mike Lufholm - Al Sands in the ring

– Mike Lufholm- Al Sands in the ring

During the time of preparation, Chuck told a story and I heard him mention that he had over 18 years of sobriety under his belt. I myself am a recovering alcoholic and just celebrated my second year of sobriety a couple of months ago. Al chimed in, “That’s awesome man, I am sober too! We’re all sober here!” All of us in the room were sober, yet very lifted because we were actively pursuing our passions. Photography has been my main support since I made the decision to quit drinking. It’s always there if I needed to escape reality for a bit. I am sure the same goes for them and boxing.

Zach taped up Al’s hands and Chuck worked on a few different exercises with him. He changed into his boxing wardrobe and was ready to step into the ring. All of the time spent training in the gym lead to these final moments of preparation before the fight. His entrance music was cued up and the opening fights of the night were complete. I could tell that Al had flipped a switch and it was ready for showtime. The laughs and smiles they shared before the fight were over. Now was the time to get concentrated and in the zone.

- Mike Lufholm- Al Sands edges out Andres Taylor in a 10 round bout

– Mike Lufholm- Al Sands edges out Andres Taylor in a 10 round bout.

The match up was a good one. The two fighters ended up going all ten rounds, both delivering some good punches. At the end of the 10th round, the crowd awaited the final decision from the judges.

The announcer came over the speaker and announced that after a unanimous decision (96/92), Al “The Haitian Temptation” Sands was the winner of the fight.

After Al and his team celebrated with the crowd, they returned back to the locker room and Al was checked by the medics. He was wearing a permeant smile the entire time. After Al was given some time to get some food in his body, he was interviewed by a local news station. All of the hard work they had spent over the past several months paid off.

- Mike Lufholm -After months of preparation, Al Sands efforts prove victorious once again.

– Mike Lufholm- After months of preparation, Al Sands efforts prove victorious once again.

Once all of the people started clearing out of the locker room after the fight, Chuck Horton invited their opponent and his team into their locker room to have a chat. I was extremely impressed with how much class both men and their teams showed. These two guys were just in a ring trying to knock each other out, and now they are sharing handshakes and hugs, sitting next to each other having a civil conversation. That is the part of a boxing match that most people don’t get to see. It truly is a form of art.

I’d like to thank Chuck Horton, Zach Walters, and Al Sands for giving me the opportunity to go behind the scenes and document an incredible experience. I have a newfound respect and admire all of the hard work that these guys put into their passion. I hope to continue to help them with other events down the road.

Author: Mike Lufholm