The sport of boxing doesn’t often reward its devotees’ loyalty and emotional investment by producing yearned-for matches. As a result, the greater part of being a boxing fan is speculating whether, all things being equal, one fighter could best another fighter in the ring. That’s where pound-for-pound lists come in.
Here are the Fistic Mystic’s rankings of Minnesota’s best fighters regardless of weight class. Last year’s ranking for each ranked fighter is in parenthesis following his record. Unranked fighters are listed in alphabetical order.
- Jason Litzau – 28-2 with 21 kayos (1) – This spot was occupied by Litzau a year ago, and this year Litzau has widened the margin between number one and everyone else. Since the 2009 rankings Litzau has added two more good wins to his ledger: a technical decision win against Rocky Juarez and a split decision (which should have been a wide unanimous decision) over Celestino Caballero. No other Minnesota boxer can claim one so prestigious a win in 2010, much less two.
- Andy Kolle – 23-2 with 17 kayos (2) – Kolle maintains his position in the P4P rankings this year by virtue of style, rather than substance. Though Kolle went 4-0 this year with two first-round TKOs, none of his wins came against substantial opponents. The best of the four wins was a lopsided decision win against Matt Vanda in April, but Kolle had already defeated Vanda (albeit in less decisive fashion) back in 2007. Kolle gets to keep his spot, but like all of Andy Kolle’s admirers, I’m hoping for something bigger and better in 2011.
- Caleb Truax – 16-0-1 with 10 kayos (6) – After fighting five times in 2008 and another five times in 2009, Truax began to experience the typical deceleration of career progress that many prospects encounter when they become known; it becomes more difficult to get them fights that are winnable, useful, and profitable. So management has to be more selective, and fights become less frequent. Since last spring it’s been well known that Minnesota boxing mainstay Matt Vanda would like a shot at Truax, and that would be one of the biggest events that the Upper Midwest boxing scene could produce in the next year.
- Joey Abell – 27-4 with 26 kayos (7) – The fighter called “Minnesota Ice” benefits from some shuffling in the rankings this year. Abell didn’t do anything wrong in 2010, but he didn’t fight very much. The fights he did have went according to plan; Abell dispatched overweight journeyman Josh Gutcher in the 2nd round in April and then avenged a loss by punishing Arron Lyons for four rounds in July. Abell’s fans look forward to a career-defining moment on January 28th, when he’s schedued to meet former world title contender Chris Arreola in Temecula, CA. With a win Abell could find himself finally making waves at the national level.
- Phil Williams – 11-3-1 with 10 kayos (5) – The banger from North Minneapolis didn’t have a great year, fighting only twice and going 0-1-1 in 2010. Williams’ performance against 18-0-1 Donovan George in January was disappointing, but his April performance against Caleb Truax was more encouraging. Truax piled up the early rounds but Williams came on late, scoring with heavy shots and looking like the stronger man in the last two rounds of the bout. In a development that must have been hard for Williams to swallow, he had a third fight scheduled for December 18th but it fell out at the last possible moment when his opponent, Matt Vanda, was found to be under suspension in New Jersey, hence ineligible to fight in Minnesota. The bout was changed from a prizefight to an exhibition, and reduced from ten rounds to six.
- Matt Vanda – 43-12 with 23 kayos (4) – Some fight fans think that Vanda is slipping. I’ll reserve judgement for now, but I will point out that Vanda was only 1-3 this year, and that one win didn’t come against a great fighter. If it turns out that Vanda’s career really is winding down, that’ll be too bad for local fight fans. Few professional boxers exude more joy for the sport of boxing than Vanda – the pleasure that Vanda demonstrates in plying his craft reminds me of Johnny Tapia in terms of being a guy who just seems to love to fight. On the other hand, one local boxing authority has privately expressed to me a fear that Vanda will “end up tragic.” Whether Vanda’s failure to disclose his true professional status to the promoters of the December 18th show at Target Center is a step in that direction or merely an instance of profoundly poor judgement remains to be seen.
- Wilton Hilario – 12-2-1 with 9 kayos (3) – Hilario’s career trajectory illustrates just how difficult it is to rise and how easy it is to fall in the boxing world. After going 0-2 in 2010 Hilario has seen his stock fall precipitously. Hilario’s loss to Martin Honorio exposed some serious flaws in Hilario’s game, and his subsequent loss to Cuban prospect Luis Franco showed that Hilario is a slow (or reluctant) learner. The good news for Hilario: nope, there is no good news yet. If he’s serious about his boxing career Hilario needs to do some fast learning and get a couple of rebuilding wins. If not, there are some nice paydays out there for a fighter with a record like his. Now I don’t want to be unfair to a good fighter, so I will point out that Hilario’s two losses came to very tough competition – Luis Franco in particular is looking very good right now.
- Ismail Muwendo – 7-0 with 6 kayos (-) In hindsight, Muwendo should have been on this list a year ago. My bad. The “Sharp Shooter” is a real talent, a young man who has impressed in the prizefighting ring and earned the respect of other fighters in the sparring ring. Muwendo reportedly sparred with Jason Litzau three or four times before Litzau’s defeat of Celestino Caballero, to the benefit of both men. Expect to see Muwendo fight at the Hyatt on January 7th, provided an opponent can be located.
- Gary Eyer – 8-0-1 with 6 kayos (14) – Are you surprised to see Eyer rise so far in this year’s rankings? To be perfectly honest, so am I. Eyer only fought once in 2010, but it was a dazzling 2nd-round win against Brad Patraw, who has since reclaimed the Minnesota bantamweight strap that he had previously lost to Antwan Robertson. In that lone bout this year Eyer battered Patraw unmercifully, to the point that the only people in attendance who protested the stoppage were Patraw and his trainer, Johnny Johnson of the Rice Street Gym. Eyer’s size (he formerly fought as a welterweight but has worked his way down to super featherweight) and his power have made him rather an unattractive match, but his manager Todd Bechthold and trainer Chuck Horton are too smart to bet so much hard-earned momentum on a risky opponent. Eyer’s next fight is scheduled for February 12th, but no opponent has been announced yet.
- Corey Rodriguez – 5-1-2 with 3 kayos (10) – That Corey Rodriguez could maintain his position on the P4P chart after going 1-0-2 in 2010 owes something to the quality of his in-ring competition. Rodriguez fought only once during 2009, losing a close decision to unbeaten Dave Peterson in Rochester. C-Rod didn’t fight again for nine months after the loss, then packed three fights into five months. Moving up to middleweight to face Charles Meier, a very respectable boxer and a bigger man than Rodriguez, Rodriguez got a majority draw. Traveling to Cleveland to fight unbeaten Ohioan Dante Moore resulted in another draw. Finally, Rodriguez made the trip up I-94 to Fargo and came within a whisker of knocking out tough journeyman Nick Runningbear, earning himself a wide unanimous decision win.
- Cerresso Fort – 10-0 with 8 kayos (17) – That an undefeated prospect like Mr. Fort could be ranked lower than Corey Rodriguez owes something to the quality of his competition, as well. Fort seemed poised for good things as 2009 came to a close, though a close fight with Lamar Harris may have (should have) struck a note of foreboding in the hearts of supporters. But in 2010 Fort fought only once, earning a unanimous decision in a four-rounder against 3-8 opponent Steve Macomber in California. That’s it.
- Willshaun Boxley – 6-7-1 with 4 kayos (13) – Sometimes an athlete’s struggles against tough competition can establish the level of his talent even as he tallies a loss. Consider Boxley a case in point. Boxley’s record in 2010 was a dismal 1-4-1. The cumulative record of his opponents, however, was 54-3. Not only that, but at least one of Boxley’s losses (against Pier Olivier Cote) was an egregious miscarriage, booed by the fans and mocked by the television broadcast crew. Fortunately, Boxley ended the year on a better note, ending an 8-fight winless streak with a win in Canada and then earning a draw against 15-1 John Jackson at Target Center. Boxley is still as talented now as when he was 5-0.
- Dave Peterson – 12-0 with 7 kayos (8) – Missing in action for an entire year, Peterson is an enigma. Eventually he’ll probably cash in on his record for a nice payday or two against impossible opponents. Else he’ll retire undefeated. Either outcome would be disappointing for Minnesota’s boxing fans.
- Mohammed Kayongo – 15-2 with 11 kayos (9) – Here’s another fighter who hasn’t been seen or heard from in a year. This lanky welterweight seemed to be in a good place when he TKO’d James Todd at the Saint Paul National Guard Armory in November of 2009. Since then his name has come up a couple of times as a possible opponent for bigger names, but nothing has developed, and Kayongo and former manager Scott Tolzmann have parted ways.
- Jon Schmidt – 10-1 with 6 kayos (-) – Schmidt fought just twice in 2010: a no contest against 6-1 Josh Crouch in June when Schmidt suffered a bad cut, and a points win against dangerous but limited opponent Ryan Soft in October. Schmidt will take a major step up when he faces 10-0 former Olympian Shawn Estrada on the undercard of the Abell-Arreola event on January 28th in California. Schmidt’s career has been undistinguished so far, but the young man with a reputation of a workout fanatic has a great opportunity to shine. All of Minnesota should be pulling for Schmidt when the time comes.
- Javontae Starks – 4-0 with 4 kayos (18) – Young Starks has looked like a monster in the ring when he’s fought, but his opposition hasn’t been great and he has pulled out several fights in the last year. Now it looks like Starks has severed ties with his original promoter, MSC, and is appearing on the January 7th card presented by Tony Grygelko’s Seconds Out Promotions. Only time will tell what the future holds for this talented youngster. If he had been more active this year, Starks would surely have advanced further up the P4P list than he did.
- Vicente Alfaro – 4-1 with 1 kayo (-) – A year ago only the most obsessive fight fans in Minnesota knew of Alfaro, but now he’s the owner of wins against Brad Patraw and former Olympian Ron Siler. Alfaro also suffered his first loss in November, reportedly a one-sided beating at the hands of 11-0 Efrain Esquivias Jr in Ontario, CA. Nevertheless, Alfaro remains nicely positioned to fight local small men like Antwan Robertson, Derek Winston, Gary Eyer, or even Ronnie Peterson.
- Brad Patraw – 7-3 with 4 kayos (12) -Patraw, fighting out of the Rice Street Gym, had an uneven 2010. First he lost badly to Gary Eyer in April, then he faced off against Vicente Alfaro and lost a second straight fight by 2nd-round TKO (his third consecutive loss overall). Finally, on December 18th, Patraw stopped his skid with a unanimous decision win in the rubber match between him and Antwan Robertson. The win against Robertson was a carbon copy of the first fight between the two, which Patraw dominated. Patraw has big ambitions, but he might be wise to use the Minnesota bantamweight title strap as an inducement to make fights with other local small men before trying to move up on a national level.
- Jamal James – 3-0 with 3 kayos (-) – With Javontae Starks seemingly out of the picture, you can expect MSC to push Jamal James as the next big thing in Minnesota boxing. And why not? James is a talented technical boxer who seems to have found power to go with his speed, precision, and slickness. The junior welterweight from south Minneapolis also has a quirky personality. Watch him bow and flourish in the ring before a fight and try not to smile!
- Hector Orozco – 3-6 with no kayos (-) – 2010 was Orozco’s best year as a pro. As the new year dawned Orozco’s record was 1-4. Orozco’s 2010 unfolded this way: first Orozco lost controversially to unbeaten Jeremy McLaurin, a stoppage due to a cut that was ruled a TKO. In a rematch with McLaurin, though, Orozco befuddled his 7-0 opponent and took the win. Next Orozco was rematched with 3-0 welterweight Danny Figueroa, by whom he had been beaten in a technical decision in 2009, and gained another win. Finally, Orozco would take a loss to end up at 2-2 for the year courtesy of the blinding speed and punishing power of 6-0-1 prospect Michael Anderson. The remarkable thing about Orozco is that all three of his wins have been against unbeaten fighters (Figueroa, McLaurin, and in 2009, RJ Laase). In fact, the cumulative records of all of Orozco’s opponents at the time that he fought them was 37-7-1. How good would this guy be if he were more selective of his opponents and a little more lucky in the ring?
Missed the cut:
Scott Ball – The middleweight from Rochester lost his only bout in 2010, to Marcus Upshaw, to go to 10-7 with 8 knockouts.
Anthony Bonsante – Came out of retirement to fight Bobby Kliewer after 20 months of inactivity. Dealing with some stress in his personal life, Bonsante had hoped for a cathartic experience. Instead he got a tough fight and was handed a humbling loss by a club fighter.
Raphael Butler – Only fought once in 2010, was outpointed by Canadian heavyweight prospect Neven Pajkic. Butler felt he had earned the win and been cheated, but what losing fighter doesn’t think that?
Levi Cortes – After bursting on the scene with a gutsy performance against Gary Eyer a year ago, Cortes has been missing in action.
Danny Figueroa – This Hastings-based fighter is a genuine talent, but only fought once in 2010, losing to Hector Orozco.
Kenny Kost has reportedly been seen in the gym recently. Kost, who hasn’t fought since losing to Hector Camacho Jr in the spring of 2008, should be expected to require a tuneup bout before getting into any serious scrap.
Tony Lee – Two fights into his professional career Tony Lee has an unblemished record. His first fight, a win against Hector Orozco, I saw and was not too impressed. His second fight, an all-action victory against scrappy David Laque, I didn’t see, but Lee got good reviews from everyone who saw it. I expect good things from Lee in 2011, and you should too.
Antonio Johnson isn’t officially retired as far as anyone knows, but has only fought three times in the last three years, so what’s the difference? Johnson hasn’t been seen or heard from professionally since notching his first loss (to Francisco Santana) in March of 2009.
Bobby Kliewer had lost four in a row and eight out of nine before shocking Anthony Bonsante in December. That’s not to say that Kliewer is a bad fighter; the book on “Sweet Dreams” is that he’s a short notice opponent for good prospects. A couple of wins in 2011 would get this young (23 years old) veteran a ranking a year from now. He only just missed the cut this year.
Allen Litzau – I refer back to the elder Litzau’s entry from last year: “not a bad fighter, but no big wins in several years. I’m hoping to see Allen fight and win several times in 2010.” There’s been serious talk of matching Litzau and Gary Eyer in Duluth. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Jeremy McLaurin fought three times in 2010, winning controversially against Hector Orozco, losing a rematch with Orozco, and winning impressively against 3-0 Joel Flores of Michigan. I don’t know what to make of McLaurin. He’s a likeable young man and a talented boxer, but I’m not sure he has the chin of a good prizefighter. McLaurin has a lot of options, so expect to see him gain a couple of wins and get tested in the new year.
Jonathan Perez just turned pro a couple of weeks ago. It’s too soon to give him a ranking, but with some good wins we could see him make a splash. Having a promotional deal with MSC doesn’t hurt.
Antwan Robertson suffered through a 1-3 campaign this year, his only win coming against 0-1 William Bellcourt. Robertson is a tremendous athlete, but that athleticism hasn’t consistently translated into success in the ring.
Derek Winston has only fought twice since turning pro in October of 2009, both times taking wins against difficult opponents, but has yet to show the kind of potential that built him a reputation as an amateur. A cousin of Antwan Robertson, Winston has talent and access to good sparring. Some say that Winston is a better boxer than Robertson. With a little luck and some more favorable matching, 2011 could be Winston’s year to make some noise.