Return to Victory Boxing

Servando Perales and Luis Rodriguez at Victory Boxing in 2017. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
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July 5, 2017 - 6:45am

Six years ago we introduced you to two former south Omaha gang members connected by a boxing gym. Their stories were part of our documentary on gangs in Nebraska called “Gang Fight.” Mike Tobias of NET News returned to the Victory Boxing Club to catch up with Luis Rodriguez and Servando Perales.


Servando Perales and Luis Rodriguez were featured in the 2011 NET News documentary "Gang Fight Nebraska," which examined gang activity in Nebraska and efforts to fight back.

 


Luis Rodriguez works out at Victory Boxing. (All photos by Mike Tobias, NET News)

 


Servando Perales watches two Victory Boxing fighters spar.

 


Inside Victory Boxing Club.

It’s been six years since I interviewed Servando Perales for our "Gang Fight" project. The infusive personality who greeted me earlier this summer at the door of his Victory Boxing Club hasn’t changed. The former professional boxer opened the gym a little more than a decade ago in south Omaha to keep kids from doing what he did. In 2011 he told us about his life as a meth-addicted, gun and drug-selling gang banger.

“Before the gangs were even really prominent in south Omaha I feel that I was majorly responsible for a lot of that stuff. I thought I was going to be a drug kingpin,” Perales told us in a 2011 interview for “Gang Fight.”

Arrested in 1996, Perales emerged from federal prison 18 months later a different man. He found God, became a minister, got married and continued a childhood love of boxing. He then opened Victory Boxing Club. That’s where Luis Rodriguez comes into the picture.

This summer I watched Rodriguez work on his movement, shadow boxing while ducking under a rope dissecting a ring at Victory Boxing. Now he’s 24 with more facial hair and a little heavier than when we first met. He’s admittedly a little out-of-shape, but still looks like the successful boxer who won two-thirds of his fights.

Now here’s the connection to Perales. Rodriguez was also once involved with gangs, running with a South Omaha gang called Must Be Criminals. It started when he was just 13.

"I was selling a little bit of dope for a while to all these kids and it’s pretty cool getting money,” Rodriguez told us in his 2011 “Gang Fight” interview. “It was pretty cool getting a little bit of money some easy way.”

One evening Luis' dad brought Rodriguez to Victory, hoping he'd take an interest in something positive. He gradually disconnected from gangs and connected with boxing and the Christian focus of the gym. When we left Rodriguez in 2011 he was a high school graduate with a job, girlfriend, baby son and dreams of professional boxing.

So six years later I wanted to know where life had taken these two men.

The gloved fists of Rodriguez slam into a 100-plus-pound heavy bag as he bobs and weaves to avoid an imaginary opponent.

“My dreams, they’re still there man. They’re still there,” he said this summer. “I’m working on them.”

Rodriguez hasn’t fought since 2012. He left Victory and worked out at a couple other gyms. Perales said he didn’t see him for three or four years.

Rodriguez says he stayed away from gang stuff, but struggled to grow up.

“I started partying, and not hanging out with different crowds, I was just seeing the things I didn’t get to see when my parents wouldn’t let me out,” Rodriguez said. “Now I realize why my parents didn’t let me out. I started partying again, getting into, what was it, just bringing the drama home.”

Rodriguez said he realized he needed to reconnect with Christ and the peace he originally found with Perales and his gym. Perales opened the doors again to let him train here, still trusting Rodriguez to lock up when we’re done talking. His girlfriend and now school-age son came by to watch him work out. They all have their own place. She’s pregnant with their second child and Rodriguez said they’re planning marriage. She’s got a good job and he’s hoping to land a union job working in concrete construction. That’ll mean long, grueling hours, making it hard to chase that dream of fighting professionally, a dream rekindled by the success of Omaha boxer Bud Crawford. But Rodriguez hopes to keep training and get back in the ring later this summer.

“I still have potential,” he said.

As for Perales, he’s still coaching 30 or so kids a night at Victory Boxing, and there’s a waiting list. Through grants and donations he’s done well enough to buy the building and run the gym as a full-time job. That means coaching, but also cleaning bathrooms, mowing the lawn and fixing equipment.

“It’s been a challenge but at times it’s a risk,” Perales said. “It’s been amazing though. It’s been amazing. Because I’m finally able to get paid to do what I love to do.”

Perales talked about his success stories, kids like Rodriguez he helped escape gangs and crime. He said they still get kids who are close to going the wrong direction and that that’s one reason the optional bible studies they do after practice are important. Perales said 80 percent of the boxers stay for these. “Jesus Christ is the difference maker,” he said.

Perales thinks gang activity has actually decreased in south Omaha since we first talked six years ago, and thinks the growth of positive options like his gym have helped.

“In a one mile radius around here, two mile radius, there’s some phenomenal facilities, a lot of great things are going on,” he said. “I think that has a major impact on kids (because they) have an outlet, they have somewhere to go. I think it’s gotten a little better. Some of the gangsters that were gang-banging back then, now they’re older, they’re growing up, they’re getting families, they’re kind of really settling down.

“When it’s all said and done, you’re going to go to prison or you’re going to get murdered. That’s the bottom line. There’s only two routes in that gang life,” Perales added.

Rodriguez also doesn’t see as much gang activity in south Omaha.

“More activities, the community doing programs like these opened up for a lot of the kids,” Rodriguez said. "And there’s (the) gang unit, there’s police officers doing their work keeping all of these guys out of the street.”

It’s hard to know what life will be like for Luiz Rodriguez and Servando Perales if I catch up with them again in another six years. But for now, in the words of Perales, “it’s all good.”

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