Some of our Minnesota fighters gained ground this year, others saw their stock fall – some considerably. This was a tough year for Minnesota fight fans, but there were some bright spots. Here’s my take on who’s been moving up, who’s been going down, and who needs to make a move.
- Caleb Truax has passed some milestones this year. He ticked off five more wins to run his record to 9-0, he fought out of state twice (California in June, South Dakota in November), he beat two fighters who were coming off wins (Thomas Rittenbaugh and Bobby Kliewer), and he spent two weeks working out with contender Enrique Ornelas at Big Bear, CA. There is not another fighter in Minnesota whose stock has risen as much as Truax’s in 2008.
- Willshaun Boxley has only fought three times since turning pro in 2007, but he has tried oh-so-hard to make more fights. Those in the know acknowledge that Boxley has been willing to fight all the best young pros in Minnesota this year but the fights have just not developed. Boxley’s inactivity is not his fault. In January Boxley traveled to Chicago to face 28-fight veteran Barbaro Zepeda, and in February he kayoed Nick Arellano at the Myth in Maplewood. Although Boxley’s upcoming fight with 12-7 Torrence Daniels will take place in 2009, the groundwork was laid in 2008. This is enough progress to make Willshaun Boxley one of the top risers in Minnesota in a year when not much rising took place.
- Jon Schmidt isn’t one of the big names in Minnesota boxing, and he only fought twice in 2008. But Schmidt engaged Tim Taggart in an exciting battle on Taggart’s home turf this year and came out the victor, then came out on the winning end against Silas Ortley at Grand Casino Hinckley. These bouts saw Schmidt improve his record to 6-1, and that puts the Iron Man in a good place.
- RJ Laase made the most of his opportunities in 2008, winning all three of his fights including an exciting four rounder against the always competitive Mike Davis and a 3rd-round TKO against tough Tyler Gould. The win against Davis looks even better in light of Davis’s 2nd-round TKO of Gould in December. If Laase continues to win in 2009, there’s no telling what Chuck Horton might have in store for him. Whatever you might think about Horton and his gym, there’s no denying the professional strides that both Andy Kolle and Zach Walters have made under his management.
- Anthony Bonsante’s August 1 loss to Adonis Stephenson and the inexplicable and embarrassing circumstances surrounding it didn’t just damage his career. It further tarnished the already cruddy reputation of Minnesota boxers. Bonsante is a talented and smart old fighter who could still resurrect his career if he faces and defeats Andy Kolle or Kenny Kost soon. A rematch with Matt Vanda could also be a nice main event. Help us out here, Mister Bonsante. Minnesota fans need a sugar daddy.
- Zach Walters had some good moments in aught-eight. His wins against faded veterans Carl Daniels and Aaron Norwood looked like nice steppingstones, and Shawn Hammack was supposed to be a nice looking and useful win. When Walters suddenly went lame and got TKO’d in the final round of a bout he had been dominating, it was a big setback. The cancellation of his October meeting with Cory Phelps further stalled his career. Walters is a gifted fighter with many advantages who should yet make a dent in the light heavyweight division, but the dawn of 2009 finds him no closer to a title shot than he was a year ago.
- Andy Kolle, who once told me that he would like to fight five or six times a year, has now fought just twice in the thirteen months since his decision win against Matt Vanda – one obscure win in Superior WI and one very well publicized 1st-round loss to welterweight titlist Paul Williams. One good win would help Kolle to regain his stature as one of the top middleweights in the Upper Midwest, but 2008 has not been kind to Kaos.
- Joey Abell is just as good a fighter as he was last April, when his record was a glossy 20-1. Now three consecutive losses have sullied his reputation and set back his career. First came a shocking kayo loss to unsung Andrew Greeley, then a disappointing split decision defeat at the hands (and bullet-shaped forehead) of former cruiserweight titlist Al Cole, and finally – worst of all – an exasperating DQ loss to the woefully overmatched Jason Nicholson. Now in the quest for a guaranteed win, Abell’s team has matched him with 5-24 Orion Sistrunk of Philadelphia. Apparently Jimmy Poopwater was not available. Seriously, Abell is big and strong and smart and athletic. He doesn’t need to scrape the bottom of the barrel looking for guaranteed wins. I respect you and I want to be your friend, Joey. But I also think you should be fighting (and defeating) guys like Gerald Nobles at this point in your career, not a never-was like Sistrunk.
- Raphael Butler has continued to be Minnesota’s busiest prizefighter in 2008, fighting nine times. Unfortunately, Butler lost four times this year – twice to respected heavyweights Eddie Chambers and Malik Scott, but also twice to unsung Texan Homero Fonseca. Butler finds himself in a different position than he was in a year ago, and so do his fans. A bout between Butler and Joey Abell would once have been considered a local superfight, but now it’s looking less and less alluring. Someone had better make this fight while we’re still interested!
- Phil Williams – The thinking here is that Williams’ wins against Butch Hajicek (a useful measuring stick) and Marcus Upshaw (Minnesota’s knockout of the year) did much to elevate Williams’ status among Minnesota fight fans. The loss to Marcus Oliveria knocked him back down a couple of pegs. But Williams might be right when he says that losing to Oliveria was a blessing in disguise. Williams acknowledges that he has concentrated too much on knockouts so far in his career, and volunteers that he needs to spend more time on his footwork and body positioning. A broken right hand suffered early in his TKO win against Jason Dietrich has put Williams’ boxing career on hold for a while. Time will tell whether Williams takes advantage of this opportunity to cultivate the less glamorous skills that any successful fighter must rely on.
- Matt Vanda headlined a pay-per-view event in Las Vegas this 2008, but it’s hard to say whether his stock has risen or fallen since this time last year. Vanda brought his crowd-pleasing style to Canada to face Sebastien Demers in an IBF-sanctioned title fight last February, and in losing, pleased the crowd. He also fought Julio Cesar Chavez twice, one of those bouts generating some controversy and the other being the aforementioned PPV headliner – but he lost both fights. Vanda did manage two victories this year, but they came against Bruce Rumbolz and Desi Ford. What does such a year get you? If you play your cards right, it gets you some very good paydays and a lot of pats on the back. But it does not make you a rising star.
Make a move, already!
- Kenny Kost, inactive since his April 26 loss to Hector Camacho Jr, works in the construction industry. So it’s understandable that his summer and fall would be booked solid. But it’s January. A fight with Kolle, Bonsante, or Vanda should be makeable. Caleb Truax has mentioned Kolle’s name more than once. Even if no out-of-state fighters are kicking Kosts tires, he shouldn’t be lacking for prospects.
- Antwan Robertson – wait a minute, Antwan Robertson? He’s a small man, record is 4-0, only turned pro in 2007…so why is Robertson not listed as a “Riser” like Willshaun Boxley? Simple: Robertson only fought once in 2008, and that wasn’t even in his weight class. And it was in Canada. Ugh. This is no swipe at Lil Superman or his coach/manager, John Hoffman. The Fistic Mystic understands that it’s hard for small men to find fights. The good news is that the rumor mill suggests that Robertson may fight in Wisconsin on Valentine’s Day, and John Hoffman has been talking about putting on a show in Fargo this May. Here’s hoping that Robertson finds some willing opponents in 2009.
- Troy Lowry only fought once all year and that was a loss. At age 38 it appears that Lowry’s career is in cold storage. It’s a shame for the local scene, because Lowry make an interesting opponent for either Andy Kolle or Kenny Kost, and with a win against either man he could angle for one more big payday.