Tag Archives: Darby Smart

Things Are Looking Up.

After a long period in the dumps, the Upper Midwest boxing scene finally seems to be bouncing back.

  • Troy Lowry travels to Indiana for an October 2nd matchup with prospect Andy Lee.  Lowry is expected to serve as a trial horse for the 23-1 Irishman.
  • October 9th at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis, Seconds Out Promotions presents an interesting little show.  Headlining this card is Caleb Truax testing himself against faded but still-tough Jonathan Reid of Contender fame.  Supporting bouts are said to include Ismail Muwendo, Jon Schmidt, Jon Schmidt, Jeremy McLaurin, Charles Meier, and Antwan Robertson against Miami-based Ugandan Phillip Adyaka.
  • October 28th is the date for the next Horton’s show in Duluth.  Though a couple of hot Minneapolis-based prospects have been pulled from the card, it still retains three pleasing puglists in Gary Eyer, RJ Laase, and the pro-debuting Al Sands.  The quality of the show will depend, as always, on the quality of the matchmaking.  The matchmaking is the question right now.
  • Jesse Kelley of Minnesotaboxing.com reports that Darby Smart (11-4 with 4 kayo) will face one-beaten prospect Tyson Cave November 6th in a ten-rounder in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
  • The night of November 13th may bring us a quality boxing show at Grand Casino Hinckley, depending on factors that few of us understand or even know about.  The powers that be in Hinckley, which recently has been ground zero for Minnesota boxing, will soon announce their intentions, one way or the other.
  • One the same date in Iowa City IA a boxing card featuring Emily Klinefelter and Liliana Martinez is scheduled to take place.  I’ll bring you more details as they become available, but for now only the main event is set.
  • Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you know that St Paul’s Jason Litzau (27-2 with 21 kayos) is slated to fight Celestino Caballero in Las Vegas on November 27th.   Caballero, the WBA super bantamweight world champ, carries the burden of a 34-2 record (23 kayos) and the stigma of a man who no one wants to fight.  No one, that is, except Jason Litzau.  This event will be triple-headlined by Caballero-Litzau, Juan Manuel Marez -vs- Michael Katsidis, and Andre Berto -vs- Freddy Hernandez.  Though none of these bouts rise to the first magnitude of boxing matchups, all three pairings are compelling and together they ought to make for a rousing fight card.

The Fistic Mystic says: There’s all this coming up and more. Yes, there are some things that I know but I can’t say because (shhh!) they’re secrets. Just know that the people who will bring you all this want to bring you more besides.


Minnesota’s Glamor Divisions

A couple of years ago it was written here that middleweight was the most talent-laden division in Minnesota boxing.  That statement could easily have been expanded to include the entire Upper Midwest – at the time the premier division boasted the premier names of Bonsante, Kolle, Kost, and Vanda.  Since then, however, the landscape has changed significantly.  Bonsante is retired, Kost might as well be for all the action he’s been getting, Kolle wants to move down to junior middleweight, and Vanda has been testing the waters of the super middleweight division.  Furthermore, no fighter is obligated to stay in any particular division, so any analysis has to allow for the certainty that weights will change over time.

With that said, what is the best division in Minnesota boxing now?

Let’s survey our most prestigious divisions.

Junior Featherweight (130#):

Players: Jason Litzau (27-2 with 21 kayos), Wilton Hilario (12-1-1 with 9 kayos), Willshaun Boxley (5-7 with 3 kayos), Ismail Muwendo (6-0 with 5 kayos), Gary Eyer (8-0-1 with 6 kayos), Allen Litzau (13-6 with 7 kayos), Hassan Wasswa (5-11-3 with 2 kayos), Darby Smart (11-4 with 4 kayos), Brad Patraw (6-3 with 4 kayos), Antwan Robertson (6-3 with 4 kayos), Vicente Alfaro (4-0 with 1 kayo)

Jason Litzau (right) lays some hurt on Verquan Kimbrough

Summary: Admittedly I’m being a little bit generous to the division by including a few men from lower divisions, but it’s a fact that in those lower divisions the fighters have to be willing to travel.  Jason Litzau is the only sure-fire world class fighter in Minnesota.  How do we know?  A sure sign that a fighter has reached that echelon is that lesser men are naming Litzau as a desired opponent.  Wilton Hilario has been on national TV before and will be again in less than two weeks.  It was less than two years ago that Tony Grygelko was calling Boxley “the second best fighter in Minnesota,” but the bright and affable Boxley seems to have no more idea how to manage his career than do the buttons on his shirt.  Proof of this fact: Boxley has now lost seven fights in a row against fighters with a combined record of 60-2, after starting his career with fight straight wins.  Hilario, Boxley, Muwendo, and Eyer are all very credible second-tier guys who fans would love to see matched against each other.

Junior Middleweight (154#):

Players: Andy Kolle (22-2 with 16 kayos), Kenny Kost (14-4 with 6 kayos), Dave Peterson (12-0 with 7 kayos), Corey Rodriguez (4-1-2 with 3 kayos), Jon Schmidt (9-1 with 6 kayos), Javontae Starks (4-0 with 4 kayos), Danny Figueroa (3-1 with 2 kayos)

Andy Kolle after a job well done

Summary: Kolle is the current Minnesota middleweight title holder, and he’s on the cusp of cracking the top 15 in the world in that division.  Though Kolle has continued to campaign as a middleweight, for the last couple of years he’s been intermittently been protesting his desire to move down a class to take greater advantage of his length and power.  Expect to see Kolle finally make that move in the coming months, and he will stand head and shoulders above everyone on this list when he finally gets to 154.  Kenny Kost gets kudos for his experience and a win total in the teens, and for beating Matt Vanda back in 2007, while slippery Dave Peterson is credited with an unbeaten record and a hard-earned win against Corey Rodriguez in 2009.  This division is thick with prospects, none of which come with greater hype and potential than Javontae Starks, who has devastating power, and whose amateur accomplishments give him a national reputation.

Middleweight (160#):

Players: Kolle, Kost, Cerresso Fort (10-0 with 8 kayos), Tyler Hultin (1-0-1 with 1 kayo), Caleb Truax (15-0-1 with 9 kayos), Matt Vanda (43-11 with 23 kayos)

Caleb Truax

Hot prospect Caleb Truax

Summary: Kenny Kost isn’t officially retired, as far as anyone knows, but he hasn’t fought for two years and he isn’t getting any younger.  Caleb Truax is seen as an up-and-comer in this division, but the truth is that usually he weights in a pound or two over the limit.  With three wins against Matt Vanda and the now-retired Tony Bonsante in the last few years and no immediate challengers, Andy Kolle rules the roost here until he leaves.  Minnesota fans have asked for a Kolle-Truax matchup, but the promoters haven’t seen fit to make that fight.  One possibility: both fighters’ management are smart enough not to want to risk cashing in their fighter for the relative pittance that an all-Minnesota fight is likely to generate.

Super Middleweight (168#):

Players: Traux, Vanda, Phil Williams (11-3 with 10 kayos), Tim Taggart (4-2-2 with 2 kayos), Bobby Kliewer (10-11-2 with 5 kayos)

Heavy handed puncher Phil Williams

Summary: Despite the fact that he usually weights over 160#, Truax has been billed and marketed as a middleweight.  Matt Vanda is small for a super middleweight, but this seems to be where he wants to live, while Phil Williams is a former light heavyweight who moved down.  Taggart and Kliewer are young guys who will gain weight with age.  My point?  For most of these guys, the super middleweight division seems to be a way station on the road to somewhere else.  Nevertheless they are here now, and some interesting matches can be (in fact have been) made.

The Fistic Mystic says: The two best divisions in Minnesota right now are junior feather and junior middle.  This quick survey of active fighters and their records suggests that while middleweight still holds the potential for some very interesting matches, it’s junior featherweight and junior middleweight that have the most potential for fireworks.

Minnesota’s Small Men: The Challenge of Building a Boxer

One of the defining characteristics of the local boxing scene in the Upper Midwest is the scarcity of homegrown talent and the resulting infrequency of fight cards.  There are good fighters in most weight classes, but usually not more than one or two legitimate performers in any given class.  This dearth of population is as evident in the lower weight classes as anywhere else.  Talented fighters suffer long layoffs between bouts and sometimes struggle to stay in shape and motivated as a result.  The Fistic Mystic has long been fascinated by the dynamics of the small man’s struggle for activity and success, and it seemed like a good idea to talk to some of the men who train and promote our smaller fighters and find out what they have to say on the subject.  Promoters John Hoffman, Bob Van Syckle, and Tony Grygelko agreed to go on the record with me, and all three were candid and honest in their comments.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that Minnesota has a great boxing history, including some very gifted and accomplished small fighters.  Men like “The Austin Atom” Jackie Graves, who retired in 1956 with a career record of 82-11 (48 kayos) and the Flanagan Brothers (Glen, 84-23 with 34 kayos and Del, 105-22 with 38 kayos) represented Minnesota proudly in weight classes ranging from feather to middle during their careers.  More recently, “Steel” Will Grigsby of St Paul was a world title holder as recently as 2006, retiring with a final record of 18-4 (7 kayos) .  There were more prizefighters in Minnesota back in Graves’ and the Flanagans’ time, but that isn’t the only difference between the good old days and today.  Better nutrition, better medical care, and to some extent a more sedentary lifestyle have resulted in an increase in the average height and weight of American males today.  So there just aren’t as many small men available to match up as there used to be.  In addition, Van Syckle (promoter of Jason and Allen Litzau) observes: “Midwestern guys are more stocky, they’re not as wiry as the guys on the east coast, and the west coast, too.”  And it’s true that for instance, a modern 5-foot 4-inch man (if you can find one) weighs more, on average, than his predecessor did forty of fifty years ago.

As a result, it’s become more difficult to get a small fighter into fights to build his record and improve his skills at the beginning of his career.  To find more fights, the options are three: make fights with local men of similar size, hit the road, or pay a premium to bring opponents in from out of town.

Local Competition

The first and most preferred option from a fan’s point of view is for the local guys to fight each other.  Unfortunately in Minnesota we have a lot of young men in buildup-mode right now, and they seem reluctant to fight each other – or their management is reluctant to make it happen for worry of blemished records and lost potential revenue.  One notable exception to that trend is the fight between Darby Smart and Allen Litzau back in June of 2005, billed at the time as a Minnesota State Featherweight Title fight.  Van Syckle recalls, “When we made the fight between Allen and Darby, I wasn’t trying to sign Darby and John Hoffman wasn’t trying to sign Allen.  So that’s why that worked.”


Hoffman, who manages featherweight Smart and junior flyweight Antwan Robertson among others, points out that “Generally if you’re fighting out of town, you’re a big underdog.  Antwan walks around at 117#.  He truly should never box over 112#.  But he has to go to Denver to find the closest flyweight, so he boxes as big as featherweight to get some work.”  Brothers Jason and Allen Litzau, on the other hand, have taken to the road to find work.  Jason has fought in seven states plus the US Virgin Islands during his 25 bouts-old career, making just eight appearances in his home state of Minnesota in that period.  Allen has appeared in five states in his 16 career bouts, fighting in Minnesota 11 times.  According to Van Syckle, both men would like to fight close to home more frequently, but that’s especially difficult to arrange because “Minnesota promoters are greedy.  They want 100% of everything, so they get 100% of nothing.”


But the reality is that not everyone is able to hit the road for a nascent boxing career.  School, work schedules, family obligations and financial pressures keep most young fighters closer to home.  That brings us to importation of opponents.  Paying a man a few hundred dollars to take a fight can be a smaller expense than the cost of his travel expenses.  Says Hoffman, “Trying to find a good opponent that is local enough to make it pay…now that’s the trouble.  [There are] just not enough boxers.”  From a business standpoint, this is the most proactive solution but also the one that requires the greatest commitment and the biggest immediate expenditure by the promoter.


It’s a shame when a gifted athlete can’t find an arena in which to compete, particularly when that athlete is a boxer fighting at or below lightweight.  Though the casual fan may not pay attention to anyone but the heavyweights, the knowledgeable fan knows that it’s often the little men who offer the most entertainment.  Tony Grygelko notes that “Little fighters are the most exciting because they’re a lot more on speed and quickness.  They understand body positioning and they move their feet more.”  Grygelko thinks that even at the grassroots level small fighters may see their earning capacity handicapped – “People just love to see two giants fight.  They’re not as eager to see two little guys fight.”  But Hoffman thinks that promoters are just as happy to showcase small fighters: “Promoters just want to sell tickets.  If they guy sells tickets, they don’t care what they weigh.”

The men:

Featherweight Willshaun Boxley (3-0 with 2 kayos) of Minneapolis, a young man with a lot of ambition and who by reputation is willing to fight anyone, has had only three fights since turning pro a year ago, winning all three – two of them by TKO.  Grygelko may be working the angles when he says that Boxley is “right now, the second best fighter in Minnesota.”  Whatever the case, Grygelko notes that you can expect to see Boxley fight in a Seconds Out show at the Saint Paul Armory on January 17.

Super Featherweight Wilton Hilario (9-0-1 with 7 kayos) of St Louis Park, billed as the “Pretty Warrior,” is believed by some to be a special talent.  Rumored matches with both Allen and Jason Litzau have failed to materialize, and the excitement surrounding Hilario’s early career seems generally to have subsided as he has fought only once in the last year, and has failed to knock out his last three opponents.  The excitement will build again quickly, though, if Hilario can get back to his spectacular old self soon.

Super Featherweight Allen Litzau (13-3 with 7 kayos) of St Paul was much heralded when he transitioned from a highly accomplished amateur career to a professional career back in 2002, but after just sixteen fights in the last six years, Litzau’s career seems to have lost steam.  According to promoter Van Syckle, Litzau “is stuck at 130# right now.  He can’t seem to get the weight off.”

Featherweight Jason Litzau (23-2 with 19 kayos) of St Paul is generally considered the most accomplished boxer in Minnesota today.  “The American Boy” hasn’t fought since losing a world title bout to Robert Guerrero back in February, after pulling out of a planned October 24 fight due to an arm injury.  According to Van Syckle, the injury “wasn’t serious, but it was painful, so we didn’t want to take a chance…He was fighting a tough guy who had never been stopped in like 30 career fights, so he needed to be at 100% and he wasn’t.  Because of the pain he couldn’t spar and he couldn’t fully train.”

Featherweight Brad Patraw (4-0 with 3 kayos) of St Paul, a former Upper Midwest Golden Gloves titlist at 112#, Patraw fights under the banner of Johnny Johnson’s Rice Street Gym in St Paul.

Lightweight Ronnie Peterson (1-0 with 1 kayo), son of trainer Ron Peterson, made his professional debut at 130# despite his ability to make 112#.  Peterson told Jesse Kelley of www.minnesotaboxing.com in an interview published November 11th that he had prepared for his professional debut by sparring with a fellow debutante, Malcolm Cowans, who fought at 192# and that he was interested in a match with Antwan Robertson.

Super Flyweight Antwan Robertson (4-0 with 3 kayos) of Anoka is a wiry small man with respectable power.  Robertson won the 2007 Upper Midwest Golden Gloves at 112# before being stripped of his amateur status and turning pro in August of 2007.

Bantamweight Darby Smart  (10-4 with 4 kayos) of Chisholm, the old man of the group at age 38, has had his pro boxing career curtailed by his work schedule and remote location.  Although he isn’t officially retired, Smart hasn’t been in a boxing match since the summer of 2006 and has been passed over for at least one card in his own backyard (August 31 at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, Minnesota).

Upcoming Events, Minnesota Boxing Scene – July 19, 2008

None of this information is new, but you may not have seen it all in one place before.

  • Shakopee’s middleweight professional boxer Anthony Bonsante (31-9) is scheduled to face up-and-coming Haitian prospect Adonis Stevenson (11-0) in a 10-rounder on August 1 in Montreal.  The fight is a co-featured bout along with middleweights Sebastien Demers (25-1) -vs- Fulgencio Zuniga (20-2) and will be televised on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights program.
  • Andover-based Seconds Out Promotions will be co-promoting an event at Grand Casino Hinckley on August 29 with Los Angeles-based Goossen-Tutor Promotions.  The event has been titled “Undefeated” and will feature knockout artist Phil Williams of Minneapolis (8-0 with 8 kayos) against Marcus Oliveria (13-0-1 with 10 kayos) and Caleb “Golden” Truax of Osseo (7-0 with 4 kayos) against Stephan Pryor (10-3-1 with 7 kayos).  Local fighter Willshaun Boxley (3-0 with 2 kayos) continues the “undefeated” theme, while Mohammed Kayongo (13-2 with 10 kayos), Jon Schmidt (5-1 with 4 kayos), Van Goodman (2-1-1 with 2 kayos), Brad Laffin (4-2 with 4 kayos) and Kirstie Davis (3-1 with 3 kayos) help to round out the card.  Former St Paul resident Antonio Johnson (7-0 3 kayos), now of Oakland California, has told the Fistic Mystic that he also expects to be on this card.
  • Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, Minnesota is expected to host an event on August 31.  The only confirmed name on that card is Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters of Duluth in the feature, though speculation is that this might be a good chance for former Minnesota featherweight titleholder Darby Smart of Chisholm to get back in action after a 23-month layoff.
  • ESPN’s Dan Raphael has predicted that St Paul’s Matt Vanda (38-7) will get his rematch with Mexico’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr (37-0) following Chavez’s controversial win on July 12, which ended with Chavez’s hometown crowd in Hermosillo, Mexico pelting him with cups, bottles, beer and ice after the decision was announced.  Chavez’s camp now claims that he was ill going into the first fight, while Vanda’s cutman Jim Maurine has posted on the Minnesota Boxing Forum that Chavez’s head trainer visited Vanda in the locker room to tell him that he had won the fight. (http://minnesotaboxingforum.aceboard.com/274221-1022-4215-1-SPLIT-DECISION.htm)
  • Both Anthony Bonsante and Matt Vanda are tentatively scheduled to fight in separate matches on September 20 at Treasure Island Casino in Red Wing.  No opponents have been named, and the only name on the undercard is new pro Ceresso Fort of St Paul, who is 1-0 with 1 kayo after defeating Ray Walker of St Paul in a bout contested at light heavyweight in his professional debut on June 13.

Minnesota Pro Boxers Who Really Need a Fight

When a writer can’t think of a grand theme to write about, he makes a list.  Here’s today’s list from the Fistic Mystic: Minnesota fighters who really need a fight.  In no particular order:

  • Antwan Robertson – The 3-0 super flyweight Robertson didn’t even intend to turn pro, but after inadvertently forfeiting his amateur status in 2007 the super flyweight got into three quick fights – in August, October, and November.  Since November, however, Robertson has been idle.  Now there are rumblings that he may fight in Winnipeg on May 30 and in Grand Forks this August.  We should hope so, because this young man may make some noise if he gets the chance.
  • Willshaun Boxley – the supremely confident Boxley is always looking for a fight, but never seems to find one.  Most recently he was expected to appear at Graham Arena in Rochester on April 26 (didn’t happen) and the St Paul Armory on May 17 (didn’t happen).  John Johnson of the Rice Street Gym claims to have made Boxley an offer to face Brad Patraw at a bar show on June 13, but Boxley’s management is said to have declined the offer.  Boxley sees himself as the next big thing, but even a mighty oak has to start out as a little acorn.
  • Andy Kolle – Kolle made a commitment to be a full-time professional boxer when he moved from Fargo to Duluth last January.  But Kolle’s planned fights in February and April never happened, and it’s now been six months since Kolle made a dollar in the ring.  His momentum may not have completely dissipated, but it’s going to be hard for Kolle to get any respect outside of Minnesota with the boast that “I beat Matt Vanda last year.”  The good news for Kolle is that his upcoming bout with 34-9 Jonathan Reid (June 6) appears to be going forward.  Kolle will benefit from the income and the ring time.  Here’s hoping he beats Reid convincingly and finds another fight soon after.
  • Troy Lowry – Is he retired?  Is he a spent force?  Lowry’s name has come up in connection with a few possible matchups in the last year or so, but no bouts have materialized.  It’s been rumored that Lowry is unable to get licensed in his home state due to concerns about his health and recent record.  But so far all we’ve had are rumors.
  • Andson Griggs – Griggs is the light middleweight out of Horton’s Gym whose name seems to appear on every preliminary schedule but never on a final bout sheet.  While there is no Griggs fan club clamoring for him to fight, there is an expectation that he will (one of these days) make it to the ring on fight night.
  • Darby Smart – Question: When will Smart again appear in a professional boxing match?  Answer: When he gets his work schedule and his fight schedule synchronized.  Smart, a former state featherweight champ, is an important guy in his workplace and can’t just take a day off here or there when the mood strikes him.  He needs a solid commitment from a promoter before he can block out time for training and fighting.  So I’m told.  Best bet for Smart may be the August 31 event in his own back yard at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower, MN.  If I may be candid about Smart, he’s a talented and exciting fighter when he’s active, but at age 37 a small fighter cannot afford to go nearly two years between bouts.  It may be time for Smart to fight or disappear.
  • Antonio Johnson – Johnson’s situation may be the most frustrating on this list.  After a year of inactivity Johnson was finally lined up to face 22-2 Ricardo Cortes in San Jose, only to turn up lame and pull out.  It must be a huge source of aggravation for a talented boxer like Johnson to be sitting on a 7-0 record more than three years after turning pro – especially after racking up (reportedly) more than 200 wins as an amateur.

To read Willshaun Boxley’s response to this article you can go to http://mnboxingforum.aceboard.com/299294-7945-5103-0-Minnesota-Boxers-Really-Need-Fight.htm



May 8 Card for Green Bay is Postponed

A disappointed John Hoffman has notified the Fistic Mystic that the May 8 event at the Riverside Ballroom in Green Bay has been postponed by the promoter.

A new date has not been set yet, but is expected to be 1-2 months out.

Minnesota fighters who were expected to appear on this card included Antwan Robertson, Darby Smart, Jake Betz, and Danny Schlienz.

Darby Smart Pulls Out

According to Minnesotaboxing.com, Darby Smart has pulled out of the December 15 card at Grand Casino Hinckley, citing “work schedule” trouble.  That could mean that he couldn’t get time off to fight or to train, he couldn’t make weight, or he didn’t have gas money to get to Hinckley.  Or it could mean something else.