Some people get hit in the face once and it’s over. They either lose their confidence or bravery or the motivation to fight at all. A person’s reaction to getting hit with a tight fist says a lot.
A few months ago, in mid-January, a crowd of over 1,000 people surrounded the boxing ring inside the Expo Building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. The main event featured a local fighter making his sanctioned professional boxing debut.
Jesse Uhde. Born and raised in Lakeside. Single father of three children. Spent over a decade training and getting in shape, either in the gym or in the woods as a sawyer with his father, wanting to become a pro until he finally did at the age of 33.
Jesse and his opponent, the fifth-ranked fighter in the Northwest, fought rigid in the first round. Jesse couldn’t find a rhythm.
In the second round, his opponent threw a couple of big brash punches. Jesse stepped directly into one — head-on collision.
“I got rocked pretty good,” he says.
Some people get hit once and it’s over. Not Jesse Uhde.
Jesse came out of it like a raging bull. He attacked with mechanical combinations; dodged the wild punches and replied with clean, crisp fists, to the body, to the face.
He stayed aggressive all the way through the fourth round until the final moments of the fight when he landed a punch right out of the movies. He dropped his opponent straight to the mat as the audience rose in uproar.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he says, “to be in my hometown and to finish it like that.”
Shelley Burton never boxed growing up in Kalispell.
“I thought boxing was boring to watch,” she says.
When she was 23 years old she was in Butte and needed some extra money. She signed up for a “Tough Man Competition.”
She was a natural, but not in the traditional sense.
“I didn’t have a clue when I started. I was just tough,” she says.
She picked up the gloves and began training in Kalispell, at any location with a punching bag and a boxing ring. She prepared for fights by sparring with a few young local boxers. One of them was Jesse Uhde, who was helping coach the local youth boxing club and training on the side.
Pretty soon Shelley was emerging from the Club Boxing ranks as the state’s best, with an amateur record of 17-0 with seven knockouts and two state championships in less than two years competing in the sport. She made her professional debut in 2003 and by 2006 she was 8-2-1 and earning a bout with one of the top names in boxing. Shelley fought Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali, in Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 11, 2006. In the fourth round, Ali landed a barrage of punches that ended the fight with two seconds left in the round. Ali improved to 23-0, successfully defending her WIBF and WBC Super Middlewight belts. Shelley retired shortly after.
Years later she moved back to her hometown and found herself sitting behind a desk. She didn’t like it.
Last summer, at the age of 35, she quit her job, became a licensed promoter and opened a small gym called Burton Boxing, first on Meridian and now on Center Street. The refurbished facility is for anyone and everyone, young or old, male or female, who wants to get in shape. Or learn a few things about boxing. Or maybe try to follow her footsteps.
Jesse Uhde was one of the first people to walk through the door.
His dad, Scott, used to be a boxer. Like father, like son. Jesse started when he was 15. He trained at a local club for a couple of years until the coach walked away and it shut down. Another club started up a few years later and so did Jesse.
By the time Kalispell began hosting club boxing events years ago on Wednesday nights, Jesse was a boxing machine. His name became well known in the club boxing circuit. He won 31 of 35 bouts, including the regional competition. Advancing to the next level seemed possible.
Promises started coming in from professional promoters. In the meantime he fought unsanctioned pro fights, winning most and earning extra money to help raise his two daughters, Shawna and Jessy, who he raises full-time, and his son Riley. But promises turned into apologies, and one sanctioned fight after another fell through.
“I was frustrated because I trained so hard and so many times I had people promising to get me a pro fight,” he says, “and then I would be just short of a contract.”
He even gave up the gloves, but that never lasted long.
“I tried walking away a couple times,” he says. “It’s a lot of work. But after a couple months, well, it’s just in my blood.”
Jesse came in and Shelley sat him down.
“I told him there’s no point fighting unsanctioned. I said you’re just fighting for money, not a dream or a goal of yours,” Shelley says. “I told him I’ll put on a show and get you a sanctioned fight.”
And she did. No broken promises. Goals are important to her, whether they’re her own or someone else’s. That’s what she preaches inside her gym. You need to have a goal, she says.
“My goal when I first started was to win a title and fight Ali’s daughter,” she says. “They laughed at me when I told them that. They said a title would take maybe 10 years and Ali’s daughter, never.”
These days, in between raising his children, working as a personal trainer and helping coach the Flathead Boxing amateur program at Burton Boxing, Jesse is in the gym preparing about four hours a day. He’s training for the next phone call.
“You have to be ready,” he says in between a recent workout, sweat dripping down a tattoo on his left arm where his three children’s names are written around a pair of boxing gloves.
And two weeks ago, the phone call came. The largest boxing venue in the Northwest, the Emerald Queen Casino, wanted Jesse on the fight card. It was short notice, but Jesse wasn’t about to turn it down.
He quickly began doubling his workout regimen. He feels like he’s in better shape than ever, even if he’s older than most professionals getting their start. He has new goals – 10 pro bouts by the age of 35 and fight as long as he can.
And who’s to say he can’t? He’s been taking punches this long and nothing has stopped him yet.
“You have to have a fighter’s heart,” Shelley says. “You have to keep going. You can’t ever give up. Jesse has a passion for this and always has. He can take a hit. He showed that to our crowd last time. He stayed up … Jesse was ready. He’s always been ready.”
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