It’s almost time to close the door on 2010, but before we do, let’s talk about the Best, worst, and most remarkable moments of the last year. I don’t know whether anyone – fan, media, or official – has been to all the pro boxing shows in Minnesota in 2010. The most likely candidate for that achievement would be Jesse Kelley of Minnesotaboxing.com. But I’ve been fortunate to attend many of them. This year’s “Best Of” awards are based partly on media reports and partly on word of mouth, but mostly on my own eyes.
Rules: A fighter is eligible for consideration if he’s from Minnesota, regardless of where his fights have taken place or who he was fighting. A fight is eligible if it took place in Minnesota or if one or both of the combatants was a Minnesotan.
Knockout of the Year
Javontae Starks TKO1 Alexander Tousignant on May 22nd at Shooting Star Casino – Starks displayed his preternatural punching power in this springtime bout in Mahnomen. For not the first time in his career, Starks started slowly, allowing his opponent to take some free shots while Starks leaned back on the ropes. I have no idea why he does that. But then Starks let his left hand fly and sent Tousignant reeling. Taking advantage of Tousignant’s vulnerable state, Starks flattened him with one more punch, and though Tousignant did somehow make it back to his feet before he could be counted out, referee Mark Nelson had no choice but to stop the fight.
Honorable mention: Andy Kolle TKO1 Darryl Salmon, Joey Abell TKO2 Josh Gutcher, Andy Kolle KO1 Francisco Ruben Osorio
Fight of the Year
Tony Lee UD4 David Laque on December 18th at Target Center in Minneapolis – Lee dominated the early going and looked to have Laque outclassed after two rounds. But Laque refused to be worn down, and after scoring with a nice combination in the third, managed to bloody Lee’s nose before the round ended. The fourth and final round showcased each man’s best attributes: Lee’s volumes of crisp and accurate punching versus Laque’s grit and determination. This one turned into a real crowd-pleaser.
Honorable mention: Caleb Truax SD10 Phil Williams, Corey Rodriguez and Charles Meier 6-round draw in which each man is knocked down once, Ismail Muwendo RTD5 David Laque
Worst Moment of the Year
Matt Vanda’s suspension revealed in the morning on the day of his scheduled main event bout with Phil Williams – This episode hurt everyone involved. Vanda looks unprofessional for failing to apprise the state commission of his true status, Williams is cheated out of a bout that he both wanted and needed, the commission looks inept for not knowing that Vanda had been suspended in New Jersey and was ineligible to fight in Minnesota, and both the promoter and the venue failed to notify the fans that the Main Event was no longer an officially sanctioned bout until the fans were in the building. Some of these criticisms may turn out to be unfounded, but the appearance of wrongdoing can be as damaging as the reality.
Dishonorable mention: Jon Schmidt and Josh Crouch are forced into a No-Contest due to a nasty cut caused by a clash of heads in round 4 of 6 scheduled.
Best Moment of the Year
If you were smart enough and lucky enough to buy a ticket while they were available, you saw the remarkable fruit of a remarkable labor when the brand new Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame honored its first class of inductees at Jax Cafe in northeast Minneapolis on October 12th. This event, and the effort that it signifies, will have a more significant and lasting impact on the boxing scene in Minnesota than any boxing match or fight card we’ve seen in the last year. The event was granted more coverage by the local media than they would ever give to an actual fight – even an important one – but maybe in the spirit of the moment we should be thankful for the attention given rather than resentful of perceived slights.
Honorable mention: Jason Litzau’s big win – read the next item!
Upset of the Year
Jason Litzau SD10 Celestino Caballero on November 27th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – Though it’s true that some local fans were predicting a Litzau victory based on a variety of factors (styles, weight classes, body types, Litzau’s commitment to the sport), the underlying factor is undeniably homerism. Anyway, it’s the Vegas odds that count, and by various accounts Litzau was a 12-1 or 15-1 underdog when he stepped into the ring.
Honorable mention: Hector Orozco UD6 Jeremy McLaurin, Bobby Kliewer SD8 Anthony Bonsante, Christopher Martin SD10 Chris Avalos
Best Performance on the Road
Jason Litzau SD10 Celestino Caballero on November 27th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas – It’s been reported by enough sources just how Litzau did it, but what’s most important for boxing fans in Minnesota – in the Upper Midwest as a whole – is that one of our own went out on the road and won the big one. This win was the biggest road triumph for an Upper Midwest boxer since Will Grigsby beat Victor Burgos for the IBF Light Flyweight title in 2005. That contest, interestingly, was also hosted by the MGM Grand. Keep an eye on that venue, fight fans.
Honorable mention: Jason Litzau TD7 Rocky Juarez
Prospect of the Year
Ismail Muwendo (7-0 with 6 kayos) – The lithe young Ugandan billed as the “Sharp Shooter” has his sights set on the big time. He has already come a long way, but his destiny as a prizefighter is only partly in his hands – like any fighter, his career will be influenced by outside forces including (but not limited to) frequency of boxing shows in the local market, the performance of manager and trainer Scott Tolzmann, his own health, cash flow within the industry, and other factors. Based on the part of the equation that Muwendo can control – his performance in the ring – his future looks very, very promising.
Honorable mention: Tony Lee, Jamal James, Gary Eyer
Boxer of the Year
Jason Litzau (28-2 with 21 kayos) – Litzau’s metamorphosis from an irrepressible brawler with untapped potential into a legitimate contender at the worldwide level is the biggest and best news in Minnesota boxing in 2010, though it didn’t all happen just in the last twelve months. One attestation of Litzau’s transformation is the fact that the man who started his career with 14 straight KO or TKO wins and once sported a record of 20-0 with 18 kayos has now gone four bouts without putting away an opponent. Litzau has embraced the virtue of winning his fights by any possible means, even if that means substance over style.
Honorable mention: Andy Kolle