Attempting to rebound after a shocking loss to Shawn Hammack on August 31, Zach Walters was scheduled to fight Cory “The Cobra” Phelps on October 25. That event, however, has been postponed until November or December. Walters announced the postponement in an October 15 press release that included this somewhat cryptic statement: “The plan is to make a huge fight card to burst the local boxing scene to a new level. We hope to keep our fight with Cory Phelps for that date and so far that looks like it will work out.” The Fistic Mystic is as curious as you are to find out what it all means. In any case, Phelps’ 13-4 record doesn’t include any significant victories, but as Walters points out, “Phelps is not coming to lose and we can’t count out our fellow boxers that come in to give us a rough night.” Walters didn’t like it that I called Phelps a tomato can in an earlier article. “I think it is disrespectful… I am prepared to make sure the fight is a solid win for me, of course, but your comment takes away from the win and leaves the fans to take it for granted.” He’s absolutely right, and I suppose that I’m guilty as charged. I’ll have to pull out the old thesaurus and see whether I can find a less insulting euphemism for an opponent with a limited chance to win.
I asked Walters to analyze his boxing style and he described himself as a boxer/puncher, but said “I can drop a big bomb when I need to.” His strategy is to cater his style to his individual opponent. His training generally consists of running in the morning and boxing in the afternoon, but he is reticent to reveal too much about his training. Since turning pro at the age of 21 Walters has fought as a light heavyweight almost exclusively, and plans to stay there – “I feel very comfortable at 175 lbs.”
As he attempts to regain ground that was lost with the defeat to Shawn Hammack, Jungle Boy’s training is taking place in a new setting. Last spring a fire damaged the building that housed Horton’s Gym and rendered most of the gym’s equipment unusable. By the end of the summer a new home had been found in downtown Duluth, but in the meantime Horton’s stable of fighters was forced to improvise. “We trained in a pole barn out of town [until the new location was ready]…the transition was rough, but fighters and trainers hung together. Now we have a new beginning in a nice facility.”
Walters had this to say about his friend and gym mate Andy “Kaos” Kolle. “Kolle’s last fight was a big opportunity for him. Kaos is the kind of guy that never backs down from a challenge. He stepped in with a guy that is regarded as the pound-for-pound most dangerous fighter. Paul Williams must be everything he is talked up to be because I have known Kolle since we started boxing and I have never seen him hurt like that. I know that if Kolle can see a shot coming he’ll brace himself for it and it won’t hurt him. The hook he got hit with came wide behind his vision. That’s what I think got him. I watched him prepare for the fight. His level of intensity was off the charts. I figured Williams was in for a tough night with KAOS. When it ended as it did I was shocked. Kolle makes no excuses and he is in good spirits. He lost a fight to a two time world champ. His career is very accomplished for having less than 20 fights. He will come back strong as ever before.”
Walters offered a further endorsement of two other Horton’s Gym cohorts: “RJ and Gary are good. They have their own styles and are polar opposites aside from their potential to make some waves in the boxing scene.” RJ Laase (4-0 with 2 kayos) is known as a smooth and technical boxer, while Gary Eyer (4-0-1 with 3 kayos) is a flamboyant fighter with good power.
One of the very compelling aspects of the Jungle Boy story is his desire to bring a title fight to Africa. It should come as no great surprise that a young professional athlete wants to ply his trade in front of the hometown folks, and it’s natural that Walters has a persistent vision to bring a title fight to Madagascar. “Back in 1999 I was in Madagascar with my brother Jake on a mission trip. Before leaving the island for the US we had a chance to visit with many of our friends. My Malagasy was rusty from not using it much in the states, but I had enough vocabulary in order to tell them that I had gotten into boxing and would someday return to Madagascar. At the time I was an amateur boxer. When I turned pro the sport opened up new doors for me. When I won the WBC-African Boxing Union title I thought it would be a great opportunity to line up a title defense in Madagascar. That way I’d fulfill my promise to return and would also get a chance to showcase my boxing.” That vision may not be on the back burner, exactly, but it isn’t front-and-center at the moment. Losing is bad in any game, but in prizefighting it’s a calamity. Usually a fighter who wants to win a major title isn’t allowed to lose at all on his way to the top.
In one of my more presumptuous moments I asked Walters to tell me something he had learned from each of his three professional losses. His reply to that query was one of the more emphatic responses I got from him. “The first loss [to 10-2 cruiserweight Robert Linton in 2004] I got ripped off by the judges. I learned not to rely on the judges to get a win. I learned that to win a fight I have to take it away from my opponent. I became more aggressive after that loss and worked on my punching power. The second loss [to 38-3 Hugo Pineda in 2006] I learned about prefight distractions. I learned that I can’t beat everyone on determination alone. After that fight I focused on my boxing skill to become a better ring general. My trainers worked on giving me more dimensions. I became a better boxer after that fight. This last loss [to 15-6 Shawn Hammack] I learned about dehydration. I was boxing superbly and had the fight in the bag. I don’t feel like was beaten by my opposition. The loss was the result of a fluke punch that found its mark at the right time. I found out afterward that an element of dehydration is a surge of endorphins. I could feel a cramp developing in the back of my left leg, but didn’t think much of it because I had plenty of energy. Anyway, when I got hit I knew something was way off. I couldn’t shake the punch. Dehydration got me.”
The Fistic Mystic says: The time can’t be too far off when the Jungle Boy will be given an opportunity to step up to the next level. Here’s hoping that this loquacious young man with the fascinating story will make a major splash in the rapidly evolving light heavyweight division.