Here they come. Here come the pre-emptive disclaimers.
This list of Minnesota’s best heavyweights will probably offend someone because a fighter is excluded or the order seems wrong. But it’s my list, not yours, so I get to put whoever I want on it. If I left out a name that you think should be included, let me know and I may edit the list.
This list is not intended to offend those ranked at the bottom. This is a list of the best, so even those ranked at the bottom are the cream of the crop. So don’t get your knickers in a twist.
1. Tommy Gibbons (professional record 96-5 with 48 kayos)
Notable wins: Willie Brennan, Buck Crouse, Billy Murray, Billy Miske (twice), Harry Greb (twice in four bouts), Silent Martin, Willie Meehan, Georges Carpentier, Kid Norfolk, and others
Years active: 1911-1925
It’s almost enough to say that Gibbons may have been the best fighter ever produced by this state. Almost. But then I wouldn’t get to point out that Gibbons’ only losses came to a gallery of great stars: Harry Greb (twice), Billy Miske, Jack Dempsey, and Gene Tunney.
2. Billy Miske (professional record 72-14 with 34 kayos)
Notable wins: Jack Dillon (three times), Battling Levinsky (twice), Gunboat Smith (twice), Willie Meehan (twice), Bill Brennan (twice), Fred Fulton, Tommy Gibbons
Years active: 1913-1923
Miske is known for the tragedy of his death: he had an incurable kidney disease that killed him, but he fought right up to the end, defeating 76-18 Bill Brennan by knockout in the fourth round of a bout fought on November 7, 1923 – less than two months before his death. Miske ought to be remembered for more: he was a tough German kid from St Paul who fought every tough opponent he could lay hands on, including the great Jack Dempsey (a 3rd-round loss by kayo).
3. Art Lasky (professional record 45-9 with 32 kayos)
Notable wins: Jimmy Gibbons, Mike Mandell (twice), Dick Daniels, Tiger Jack Fox, Fred Lenhart, Lee Ramage, King Levinsky,
Years active: 1930-1939
Lasky’s first professional bout was against a fighter with a 9-10 record, and his second was against a man who was 6-1. By only his sixth pro bout Lasky was fighting (and defeating) 18-1 Jimmy Gibbons. Less than two years into his prizefighting career, in his fifteen fight, an undefeated Lasky lost to 31-13 Dick Daniels for Minnesota heavyweight supremacy before a crowd of 8400 in Minneapolis. Not quite the way we do it these days. Fighting the best available opponents has its risks, and Lasky did manage to lose a few to the likes of Primo Carnera, Charley Retzlaff (twice), Steve Hamas, Jim Braddock, and Nathan Mann. What’s my point? My point is that Lasky had an amazing career.
4. Fred Fulton (professional record 85-19 with 70 kayos)
Notable wins: Frank Farmer, Sam Langford (twice), Gunboat Smith (twice), Willie Meehan (three times),
Years active: 1913-1933
A native of Kansas, Fulton moved himself to Rochester and then to Park Rapids, Minnesota. His alias was “The Rochester Plasterer,” and he indeed plastered a remarkable number of opponents. Fulton was never a champion, but was a contender for years. Fulton fought Billy Miske before 8,000 fans in St Paul and met Jack Dempsey in front of an audience of 10,000. Fulton’s career ended in disgrace when he allegedly took $7500 to throw a fight against 32-4 Tony Fuente in California in 1924. Fulton would fight only six more times in the next nine years, losing four times.
5. Charley Retzlaff (professional record 61-8 with 52 kayos)
Notable wins: Dick Daniels, Jim Braddock, Art Lasky
Years active: 1929-1940
Retzlaff had an illustrious career, compiling 59 wins by the age of 32, but following a 1st-round knockout loss at the hands of the great Joe Louis in 1936, Retzlaff was inactive for four years. Returning to action in 1940, Retzlaff won two by knockout, fought to a draw with 17-9 Arne Andersson in a Minnesota heavyweight title bout, and retired.
6. Duane Bobick (professional record 48-4 with 42 kayos)
Notable wins: Scott LeDoux (twice), Bunny Johnson, Chuck Wepner
Years active: 1973-1979
The elder Bobick brother was the biggest man in Minnesota boxing for a time in the late ’70s, but his sparkling record conceals the fact that Bobick never quite measured up when matched against top-level competition. Nevertheless, Bobick’s two battles with Scott LeDoux were the biggest draws in the history of Minnesota boxing, and his winning percentage demands notice.
7. Scott LeDoux (professional record 33-13 with 22 kayos)
Notable wins: Rodney Bobick, Pedro Soto, Marty Monroe
Years active: 1974-1983
LeDoux was the face of Minnesota boxing for years. His very respectable record against extremely tough competition won LeDoux the respect of boxing fans and fighters alike. Love him or hate him, LeDoux fought the best competition available and his losses were never embarrassing to his fans. LeDoux’s record includes tough losses to Duane Bobick (twice), George Foreman, Johnny Boudreaux (controversial), Ron Lyle, Mike Weaver, Larry Holmes, Greg Page, Gerrie Coetzee, and Frank Bruno.
8. Dick Daniels (professional record 43-20 with 11 kayos)
Notable wins: Clyde Drury, Babe Hunt, Art Lasky, Johnny Risko (twice)
Years active: 1926-1939
Does a man with 20 losses belong on this list? This one does. Daniels started his career with a kayo loss to 105-46 Frank Moody. That’s right, in his professional debut, Daniels fought a man who had already won 105 prizefights. Daniels followed up the loss with ten straight wins, including one against the 23-1 Clyde Drury. In his long career Daniels fought for the Minnesota heavyweight title only once, losing to 32-2 Charley Retzlaff in 1932. But many wins against good opposition make Daniels a heavyweight that Minnesota can remember proudly.
9. John Sargent (professional record 29-5 with 18 kayos)
Notable wins: Yuri Vaulin, Jimmy Lee Smith, Ross Puritty, Chauncy Welliver
Years active: 1990-present
One of the mysteries of Minnesota boxing is this: what happened to John Sargent’s prime? The Hoggman’s amateur career included multiple UMGG championships and respectable results on the national level. His pro career began in great style, but before long alcohol and inactivity derailed his progress. Still active at the age of 44, Sargent exemplifies wasted potential.
10. Jimmy Lee Smith (professional record 11-3 with 6 kayos)
Notable wins: Mark Carrier, Rocky Sekorski
Years active: 1989-1993
It would be easy to overlook Smith due to his short career and abbreviated record. But a close look at the progression of Smith’s career reveals that after reeling off 7 wins against limited opposition, Smith stepped up the competition level: his last 7 opponents carried a combined record of 129-29 into their matches. It isn’t known what caused Smith to rush into such tough competition at such an early point in his career, but it isn’t a strategy one sees much anymore. Whatever his motivation, Smith fought some of the most feared heavyweights of his time in “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon and Carl “The Truth” Williams, defeated a fighter with a 27-1 record (Carrier) and ended the career of fellow Minnesota Rocky Sekorski.
11. Rocky Sekorski (professional record 23-13 with 11 kayos)
Notable wins: Leon Spinks
Years active: 1981-1993
Sekorski deserves attention not only for his TKO of Spinks, but also for his willingness to risk defeat against tough opponents. Sekorski’s record is littered with losses, but the opponents to whom he lost include Marvin Camel, Pierre Coetzer, Jimmy Young (twice), Adilson Rodrigues, George Foreman, Michael Dokes, and Jimmy Lee Smith. Fighting the best opposition doesn’t always advance a fighter’s career, but it might get him on this list.
12. Joey Abell (professional record 22-4 with 21 kayos)
Notable wins: Mark “Oak Tree” Brown, Teke Oruh
Years active: 2005-present
The reason that Abell is ranked below Rocky Sekorski is the level of competition. In a twelve year career Sekorski managed only one more win than Abell has now. But look at the relative “strength of schedule” and you’ll find that Sekorski was losing to some tough dudes, while Abell has not yet stepped up to fight anyone better than Teke Oruh. On the other hand, the power and athleticism – and the fact that his fights usually end early and in spectacular fashion – have made “Minnesota Ice” well known among fans of the US heavyweight scene. The word from the Fistic Mystic is that Abell has plenty of time to and talent to make his career more notable, and you can expect him to do so.
13. Rodney Bobick (professional record 37-7 with 18 kayos)
Notable win: Mike Weaver
Years active: 1972-1977
It’s unclear what “The Bowlus Bear” might have accomplished in his prizefighting career had he not been killed following an auto accident at the age of 25. His only win against a notable opponent (big puncher Weaver) came at the beginning of Weaver’s career, before Weaver had learned the rudiments of boxing. Nevertheless, the younger Bobick must be considered one of the best heavyweights ever produced by the North Star State.
14. Raphael Butler (professional record 34-8 with 27 kayos)
Notable wins: none yet
Years active: 2004-present
Butler’s amateur accomplishment of winning the Golden Gloves Nationals in the heavyweight division outshines anything he’s done in his professional career to date. Butler’s record isn’t a sham, but it wasn’t built against world-class competition, either. Nevertheless, a man who wins 34 heavyweight bouts as a pro has earned his way onto this short list of the most accomplished heavyweights in Minnesota history. Butler’s career reminds me of that of Rodney Bobick in that the quantity of wins is more impressive than the quality, and in that his professional performance has not lived up to the evident potential.
Unrankable: Pat Killen (professional record 35-2 with 32 kayos)
Notable wins: Joe Lannon
Years active: 1883-1891
In a time when many results weren’t recorded, the big counterpunching Pennsylvania transplant won at least 35 bouts against two known defeats. Killen’s knockout ratio is very impressive and his winning percentage is the highest of any fighter on this list. Killen never fought for a world title, but he won and defended the “Northwest Heavyweight Title” in his last two bouts before being murdered at the age of 29, ten days after his last fight. Because Killen never fought anyone else on this list and hails from an entirely different era, I find it impossible to insert him anywhere in these rankings. But I can’t entirely exclude him, either – hence this pathetic copout.