Fight # 8: Making a Statement

After my quick knockout, victory felt pretty good. I came back to Duluth with a win under my belt and a fresh outlook on my boxing career. It felt good to win by knock out. I thought a little more about it and figured that’s what I’d shoot to do every fight from then on–knock out my opponent. If I stopped my opponent I wouldn’t have to deal with the judges. I was still bitter about my loss in Tacoma, WA, but the sting was starting to lessen. I used the remaining negative feelings from the loss and used it to push me even harder. 

The KO win felt good, but there was a part of me that still felt like I had unfinished business. I toyed around with the idea of a rematch with Robert Linton, but after digging into the logistics of making that match happen, it was clear that ship had sailed. I had to find a way to deal with my past without getting the opportunity to correct my history. Since I couldn’t remove the blemish or correct it with a later win I had to change the way I viewed it. I had a decision to make. Was I going to let it weigh me down as I continued to pursue flight into the boxing ranks or would I turn it into fuel to propel me further onward?  I chose the second option and I’m glad I did.  My new goal was to outperform the guy that beat me. If I couldn’t beat him in the ring, I would outperform him through other ways in boxing to show I was truly the better man. I wanted to finish better than Robert Linton. My record was at 6-1 5KO’s and Robert Linton’s record was 11-2 6KO’s after our fight.  My goal was to get past that mark without another blemish. I reworked my mindset surrounding the loss to turn it into motivation. After the win over Bogard I was back in the zone with all kinds of things I wanted to prove. I was reenergized.

Looking back, this was a good lesson to learn. Life can give us many disappointments. That’s just life, but learning how to deal with them in a healthy way is important or we will only hurt ourselves. The life skill of reframing a bad event into motivation has been a key in my resiliency over the years and it’s a skill I learned in boxing.

Chuck Horton could see my love for boxing was renewed and he wanted to harness it to bring out the most for my future fights

Chuck Horton could see my love for boxing was renewed and he wanted to harness it to bring out the most for my future fights

Chuck Horton could see my love for boxing was renewed and he wanted to harness it to bring out the most for my future fights. We had a meeting the week after the fight and discussed where to go next with my development. Chuck wanted me to get involved in a strength-training program to give me a better athletic foundation. He said, “Kid, you’ve always been a fighter first and an athlete second. To get to the next level we need to teach you how to be more of an athlete, not just a tough guy.” 

I couldn’t disagree. Prior to boxing, my only athletic involvement was a brief stint in 8th Grade Basketball. After that, it was only boxing. All I knew was to push myself in the gym so the fight would be easy. I did my roadwork because that’s what boxers did. I did my push-ups, abs, and pull-ups because that’s what I knew boxers did. I shied away from the weight room because I didn’t think that’s what made fighters. I thought it was all done in the gym. There are Old-School assumptions about boxing that say weight lifting will slow you down. Or that weight lifting will build muscle you don’t need. Not only that, but now as a seasoned professional boxer and accomplished amateur boxer I didn’t want to admit I didn’t know a thing about weight lifting.

It was time to swallow my pride. I accepted the assessment and asked what was next. Chuck Horton said he’d give it some thought and set me up with a local fitness coach somewhere. Enter Justin May, the head strength and conditioning coach for the UMD Bulldogs hockey team.  He had summer training program he was conducting called “Men Made By May” that started when the spring semester of college sports got out. The timing was perfect for me. I didn’t have a fight on the horizon, so I jumped right in. The “Men Made By May” camp was a 4-days a week program that split athletic development training between the track and the weight room. The group I jumped into was one composed of a bunch of talented high school hockey players. These kids were awesome! They were some of the cockiest little smack talkers I’d ever met, but they also loved to have fun and work hard at the same time. Everything was a competition to them and it was their eternal goal to beat me in everything they could. There was a learning curve to getting used to the regimens, but after I knew my way around I didn’t let them get away with much. These guys really grew on me and I started looking at them as a bunch of little brothers. Every day I had to compete to hold my position at the top.

So my days went as follows, 10:00-12:00 report to UMD Track and Field for work with Justin May; then 12:30 lunch followed by a quick stop to the beach for some volleyball and a quick swim. Then I’d make a break to get over to Horton’s Gym by 3:30 for boxing with Chuck Horton, which would bring me to 6:00 or so. Then I’d eat a little dinner and rest before I hit my evening run. I did this every day but Sunday. That day I slept in and went to church, followed by hanging out with friend, or catching a movie at the theater. Boxing was my life. I looked at every day as an investment into a business I believed in wholeheartedly. Me. I was investing in the career of “Jungle Boy”. I had started to learn about branding and learned that what I was doing was building a brand. I was the brand and the brand was I. 

That summer was also the time that Horton’s Gym moved out of my garage and into the space above the VFW in the West End of Duluth. The VFW was located in the middle of the block and the space above it hadn’t been used for a long while. A former gym member who thought the spot would be ideal discovered the space. Soon after that we were welcomed in to reemerge as Horton’s Gym back in the public eye and open for business. The space was nice and roomy and offered room to set up the ring surrounded by punching bags hanging from the rafters. New members quickly joined Horton’s Gym eager to learn boxing. For me this meant that I would have the opportunity to attract new sparring partners and as well as train in a more ideal boxing environment.

Spring semester was wrapping up for me at UMD and I was pushing hard to maintain my status at a Dean’s List Student. I was really into my studies. At this time I was a double major; Psychology and Criminology. I loved learning about how the mind worked and what social factors drove people to commit crimes. In a big way, my studies at UMD were general ‘case study’ on my own life. The more I learned in class the more I learned about myself and why I fell into the trap of having lived a criminal lifestyle. It was impossible not to diagnose myself and think my way in and out of the events of my past. I remember doing a lot of day dreaming while studying in the evenings. These days strengthened my character. 

Mid-week of finals, Chuck Horton gave me a call. We had been in touch daily and it was routine to get a call mid-way through my day. I caught the call walking from the library back towards the Kirby Student Center to grab lunch. He was excited! He said, “What are you doing? You busy? Free to talk?”… It was not like him to be chatty. He had a thing about only using “seven words or less” when talking on the phone. Chuck Horton liked to joke that phones were business use only and if we were to ever get stuff done we had to talk less and do more. Well after these questions he was already tapped out for words! I caught him up with my day and asked what was happening.

My adrenaline was racing. Chuck Horton told me the negotiations were almost wrapped up, but it looked like a sure thing if I wanted it.

My adrenaline was racing. Chuck Horton told me the negotiations were almost wrapped up, but it looked like a sure thing if I wanted it.

He replied, “How would you like to fight for the Minnesota State Title on TV?” My knee jerk response was “Heck Yea!! Who we going to fight?” Chuck filled me in.  He had just gotten off the phone with John Huffman who trained and managed Marty “Wolf man” Lindquist, 11-3 9KO. This fight was scheduled to air on Comcast TV throughout the Twin Cities. Marty Lindquist was a huge puncher and I was well aware of who he was. I had thought about fighting him earlier in my career because he was a potential match down the road, but thought that day would come later on. Marty Lindquist was a world-class kick boxer prior to getting involved in boxing. His reputation was a vicious puncher with a deadly right hand. Most of his knockout victories came in the first round and when those guys got knocked out they didn’t get up. My adrenaline was racing. Chuck Horton told me the negotiations were almost wrapped up, but it looked like a sure thing if I wanted it. 

I did. And a couple short days later I was signing a contract to box for the Minnesota Light Heavyweight Title. What a thrill! The match was set for September 11th, just three years removed from the tragic 9/11attacks. I couldn’t have asked for a better fight to follow my comeback fight. This match would surely satisfy my hunger for recognition. This would be the day I would show everyone what I was made of.

That summer, my training took a whole new seriousness. As I transitioned to becoming more of an athlete through the work with Justin May’s summer program I also saw my boxing skills taking major strides. My hand speed was improving. My reactions were getting faster and my footwork and balance were the best they’d ever been. In the gym as I pushed through Chuck Horton’s demanding training routines I could see that even though the work load was increasing I was able to keep up and stay ahead of the curve.

Then there was my punching power. My punches were landing harder than they ever had. My hands started to hurt and I’d walk around during the day with a dull pain in my palms. Typing my papers for school was tough too as my hands seemed to cramp up after a short while. I looked up hand and grip strengthening workouts as well as added a full sponge on each hand a knuckle guard. 

There were two exercises that helped my hands the most. One was the “News Paper Drill” and the other was plunging my hands into a bucket of rice. For the News Paper Drill I would take full pages of newspaper in each hand and crumple them up till they were little balls of paper in my hands. Then I would grip the ball of paper ten times and hold the 10th time followed by 10 wrist rolls each way. I’d go through two to three pages for each hand. The Rice Bucket was a process of diving my hands one at a time into a 5 gallon bucket of rice, gripping the rice, opening my hand wide and lifting it out flat. I did those for reps of 20 for 5 sets. There was a corner of the gym there was a giant stack of Sunday papers and a rice bucket.  It was a messy corner, but it was where I got my hands back in order. I didn’t want to punch lighter to spare my hands so my hands had to get with the program! 

When August came, Chuck had me go down to the Twin Cities a couple times to get sparring over the weekends, and then my sponsor paid for a trip out to Brockton, Massachusetts to get sparring out there. I got to put in work at the Petronelli Gym where Marvin Haggler trained and also in the very gym that Rocky Marciano trained in. I was in the very places that Hall of Famers trained and I felt the greatness of these two legends rub off on me. 

The sparring was second to none and better than anything I could come up with here in Minnesota. Also, I felt more comfortable out there to take risks in sparring, as I was ever suspicious of the onlookers and potential boxing gossip here in Minnesota. I was paranoid that people where secretly plotting against me and wanted to see me lose. I think I was half right, but who knows. Anyway, that August really built my confidence in the fight. I couldn’t have felt more confident.

The next week was spent catching up with Chuck Horton about all I had learned in my sparring portion of camp and solidifying a game plan for winning the fight. We hit a lot of mitts and worked through every fight scenario possible, including the event of getting hurt in the fight. That was a real possibility. In the closing days of training camp I felt destined for greatness. I kept telling myself that if I planned to be a world champion I had to beat boxers like The Wolf man. 

The day before leaving for the fight I had my bags packed early. I felt restless. I needed to do something, but didn’t want to do a full-blown workout. My mind was racing through the fight plan. I could visualize hitting and getting out of the way from the massive punch of Marty Lindquist, but then there was still the memory of my battle in Tacoma with Robert Linton. Those thoughts flashed in here and there, derailing my focus. As the hours eked on I started to have questions about my ability to be successful. Why was this! I didn’t get it.  I wanted to get my mind right so I drove over to UMD to ask the janitor to open the old wrestling room where there was a wall mirror across two of the walls. It was a place I’d used to shadowbox in the past. I spent a good hour punching my way through the fight plan. I was a sweaty mess when I left, but I felt much better. The next day it was all fight business so this was it. I went home and rested till we left the next day.

The weigh-ins for the fight was held a Spiker’s Bar in Anoka, MN. The bar had a huge indoor area that was used for year around volleyball, but on the agenda this weekend was Pro Boxing. There was no press or fanfare at the weigh in. Instead it was a small group of folks connected to the event along with the commission and promoter. Marty Lindquist was waiting for my arrival in a separate room, but when it was time to weigh in he came out. He was bigger than I figured, but just as scary looking as he looked on the fight poster. I smiled and shook his hand firmly. This was no place to show nerves, but I didn’t want to be a jerk about it either. That was never my style. Instead I chose to goof off.

When Marty got on the scale I shouted “Dang Marty! You are bigger than I thought, but much scarier in person than I ever imagined! I’m glad you look scary, because every day when I got up to run in the dark of morning I put your scary face by my light switch so the first thing I saw was your scary face looking at me. ‘Yep…that’s why I’m running. I have a werewolf to fight.’” He grinned and I laughed. I stepped on the scale to do my thing and when the commission read my weight I did a muscle pose that mocked what he looked like on the fight posters. The only difference was I looked funny doing it because I didn’t have the build Marty had. Those in attendance had a good laugh. Marty and I posed for a face off and then we split our separate ways. 

The next day came quickly and the hours rolled by like minutes. I slept in late and rested on my hotel room bed till it was time to leave for the fights. We arrived at Spiker’s Bar and patrolled through the venue to find our dressing room area. We found our way to a large bullpen type area on the crowd floor separated by large rolling walls from the fan’s chairs. There were assorted clusters of chairs that were set up as the opponent side locker room area; “The B-Side” as some would like to call it. There was nothing private or glamorous about it. The other boxers in the bullpen looked lost and nervous. Overlooking the bullpen was a long window.  Behind it was the “A-Side” dressing area. I realized this when I looked up to see Marty Lindquist staring down at me. He had a haunting silhouette made from the bright lights behind him contrasted with the darker arena area. It seemed like Marty Lindquist never left the window. It bugged me a bit, but I thought back to all the training I did for the fight and thought to myself; ‘this guy has no idea what’s about to happen to him.”  I was very confident in my ability to do whatever necessary to win the fight. I didn’t know how much it would take, but I was ready for a test.

The crowd filled in and the show began. One at a time the boxers from the bullpen would warm up, head out to the ring to fight, and then come back beaten and bloody. Then they would slump into a chair in some corner of the bullpen. The pain in their faces said it all. They were hurting. As a young pro, being in this environment as you prepare for a tough challenge can damage your confidence. Chuck Horton noticed this and told me to turn my chair to the wall. He looked me in the eye and said, “They aren’t you.” I smiled with a nod and brought my mind back to my fight plan. We then sat and wrapped hands.  It was almost time to warm up.

Finally it was my turn. Chuck Horton cleared a space in the bullpen floor to hit mitts. I shadowboxed a bit to loosen up and noticed Marty Lindquist was back in the window. Chuck Horton saw this and instructed me to turn my back to him while we warmed up. “Forget about him. He’s got to warm up too. If he doesn’t he’ll be sorry he didn’t.” Chuck was right. I looked up to the window while I was getting gloved up and noticed he was gone now.  My hands felt tight in the gloves. They were brand new gloves. This was a championship fight! I crushed some combinations with Chuck Horton and went through our game plan. We also covered the tendencies Marty Lindquist was known for. The main focus here was to avoid his right hand at all costs! He had a huge right hand that could knock a wall down. 

We walked to the ring first. The crowd roared and cheered as I walked out. The sound of “Welcome to the Jungle” echoed around the room. As I neared the ring a row of fans lined the aisle to give me a solid send off to the steps of the ring. I stepped in and took a lap around to get a feel for the ring space. It was a good size ring, which I felt was to my advantage because I visualized myself needing space to avoid Wolman’s attacks. Marty entered the ring to a similar fan reaction. ‘Here we go.’  I thought.  Marty looked even bigger than he did at weigh-ins. It was a sure case of man against boy in there. I liked the feeling of being the underdog this night. I believed that wining this fight would excuse that loss and put me back in the conversation as a promising pro. 

The bell rang and the fight was on. I circled Marty Lindquist with jabs and picked my opportunities to land combinations. Marty stalked me and tried to cut the ring off so he could clobber me with his giant right hand. It was obvious what he was trying to do, but it was harder to prevent than I anticipated. Mid way through the round Marty threw a jab to my face followed by a right to my body. It hurt. It felt like a person jumping on my belly while lying down. It was very unpleasant and there was no way I wanted to feel that again. I turned it up and started throwing more punches to regain control of the round. We mixed it up a bit.   I was able to land a few good shots, but nothing like the big one I took. ‘Bing, Bing.’ The round was over.

I went back to the corner to get water and instructions from Chuck Horton. I felt good about the round. I thought there was a chance I won the round, but knew I needed to show more to beat a boxer in his home town. Chuck Horton wanted me to keep up my lateral movement to prevent Wolfman from getting his feet set to hit with power and look for counter punches when he loaded up his right hand. The ‘tap tap tap’ of seconds out sounded through the room and it was time for round two. 

I once again stayed on my jab to keep Marty Lindquist at bay. We circled each other jabbing away to set up our punches. I could see my back was nearing the ropes and before I could adjust my footing Wolfman came charging in with a double jab to my face followed by a massive right hand to the body. I blocked the jabs and then blocked the right to my body with my elbow, but blocking with my elbow almost hurt as much as getting hit in the gut. My arm throbbed as I circled away. Then right away, almost out of instinct, Marty Lindquist charged in again with a double jab. I braced for the body punch again, but his right hand sailed high instead. The punch caught me directly across the jaw and knocked my mouthpiece out boomeranging into the crowd! The scene was dramatic as my head flung sideways and my mouthpiece flew, but to my pleasant surprise I was not hurt. Chuck Horton raced through the chairs desperately searching the floor for my mouthpiece. Some fans found it and pointed it out to Chuck. I looked over to the neutral corner where Wolfman was waiting to resume the fight. I saw him smiling and entertaining a cluster of crazy fans that had rushed the ring to cheer him on. Chuck Horton rinsed my mouthpiece and put it back in my mouth. The ref walked me over to the opposite neutral corner of Wolfman and called the fight back into action. Wolfman rushed across the ring. As he galloped over, I saw his right hand was cocked. It was a moment that seemed to be in slow motion even though it was milliseconds. I charged at him as well and when we met in the middle, I took a quick step to my left and threw my right hand hard as I could at Wolfman’s face. Wolfman’s punch missed and mine caught him square on the button. 

The result was tremendous! Wolfman’s head flew back so far he appeared decapitated as my punch drifted through. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him crumble into a pile. He was down! He was hurt! I just flattened Wolfman! I threw my hands up and screamed at the crowd as I walked to the neutral corner. I turned around to look at Wolfman and saw that he had gotten up, but the ref was holding him up with one arm and waiving the fight to a close with the other. I turned around and jumped up on the ring buckles with one hand in the air and screamed again!! The people were all on their feet and screaming with me. The place went absolutely wild! 

I looked over to see Marty stagger back to his corner of the ring with assistance from the ref and his corner men. I jumped down and went over to thank him for the match. Marty smiled and said, “Nice shot kid.” I thanked him again for the fight and I went back to celebrating. By this time friends and fans looking to celebrate with me were rushing the ring. My brother Jake climbed in the ring and said “Get on my shoulders. Let’s go!” I didn’t think twice about it. I jumped on with my new state title belt secured around my waist and took a few victory laps around the ring with my hands in the air!

That was one of the happiest moments of my life. Right there in the ring on my brother’s shoulders. The feeling was like a dream being lived out. I was a champion! 

Many of my extended family and distant friends were there to cheer for me. They had supported me all along and this was a big victory for them too! I didn’t want to leave the ring. It was my magic place. The place I defied the naysayers and beat the guy they thought was going to whoop me. I felt like I validated my supporters with the win. Now that I was the State Champion I stood out as the best. 

The night wrapped up with a long-standing boxing tradition with my family; a late dinner at Perkins Restaurant topped off with milk shakes!  We had started going out after the fights since I was an amateur boxer. It was nice to sit with family and a few close friends after my fights to recap the night. I was still on Cloud 9. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Fight 7: Jumping Back In – Zach Walters

My first loss hurt my confidence. I wasn’t that I didn’t believe in my ability to fight, it was this feeling of letting everyone down that had believed in me up to that point. ‘Was I really cut out to be a world champion?’ I thought. Before the call from Chuck Horton regarding a comeback plan, my mind was blank. I was simply going through the motions of life without any real ambition.

After my final class at UMD that day I flew home to the garage to meet Chuck Horton. When I walked in the back door of the garage Chuck Horton was already inside pacing around while talking on the phone. He looked up with a shark’s grin to acknowledge my arrival and continued talking on the phone. After he hung up he said; “Kid, we go you another fight!” I was thrilled.

The phone call Chuck had just hung up with was a call with Jesse Garza. Jesse had a show coming up only 2 weeks away at The Grand Casino in Hinkley, MN! This casino was just a short one hour drive down from Duluth. The business arrangement was a small percentage of tickets sold. In the end, it was a two way favor between me and Jesse Garza. A 6-round fight was on the table and I knew I could sell a bunch of tickets so I wasn’t concerned there. Not only that, but my fight was slated as the Co-Main Event of the night! What a great opportunity. I knew it was a tall order to throw together a fight in short notice like this. Chuck Horton must have really pulled some strings. I had plenty of motivation. I wanted very badly to rid myself of the sour taste of losing my last fight. Making money was not high on my list at this point. Getting back in the ring to show I was better than my last fight.

I raced around Duluth with an envelope full of tickets filling seats at my next fight. In a short time had turned the envelope of tickets into an envelope full of money. I knew only a small portion was mine, but I didn’t care. I understood what the fight was for and I wanted to get as many people to the fight as I could. I wanted show them what I could do. At this time, I didn’t know who my opponent, but with the limited time available to make a fight happen I didn’t care. I was willing to fight anyone.

With tickets sold and a week to go I found out my opponent, Wayne Bogard from Kokomo, IN. My first thought was ‘Who the heck is Wayne Bogard?!” I did my research and found out my information on him. He had ten fights but hadn’t won since his pro debut. He had a string of 9 consecutive losses…. A 1-9 boxing record. What a terrible record. Boxers like Wayne Bogard can be spoilers to fight. They have terrible records but have faced good opposition along the way so if they wanted to could draw on experience to make problems. Bogard had lost by the decision and only once had been stopped in the first round. I quickly saw my responsibility as having to deliver a beating to this guy like nobody had done prior. I had to whack this guy out faster than the boxer that stopped him in one round. Sure he’d lost, but I wanted to stand out so I had to be impressive; nothing else. I needed to look good so I devised a thrashing game plan with a pedal to the floor type mentality. I wanted this guy out of there and I wanted to do so quickly.

Jesse Garza came down to the lobby to meet me. He sauntered over with the swagger of a major player. He was casually dressed, but I knew he was the one running the show so I showed respect

Jesse Garza came down to the lobby to meet me. He sauntered over with the swagger of a major player. He was casually dressed, but I knew he was the one running the show so I showed respect.

The weekend of the fights was upon us. I drove down to Hinkley to meet with Jesse Garza before the weigh-ins. Chuck Horton stayed back that night with plans to meet up on fight day. I got to the casino and ventured my way over to the hotel front desk to call Jesse Garza. The air was full of cigarette smoke and the noise of slot machines. I hadn’t been in the Grand Casino before so this was all new to me. I thought people couldn’t smoke indoors. This was obviously not the case here. Jesse Garza came down to the lobby to meet me. He sauntered over with the swagger of a major player. He was casually dressed, but I knew he was the one running the show so I showed respect. We went back to his hotel room and settled upon tickets sold. My remaining portion of the money was just a little more than enough to cover my travel expenses for the weekend. Jesse Garza gave me a few buffet vouchers to help with my meals and that was that. He was impressed with the amount of tickets sold and I was happy for the opportunity.

Following our meeting I checked into my hotel room and went down to the casino floor to find out where the weigh-ins would be. The casino didn’t have the new ballroom addition they have now. There was a hall that hooked left after passing through the poker tables that led to a decent sized conference room where the fights would be held and across the hall were two dressing rooms. One was used for the weigh-ins. I saw a few familiar faces there and felt the welcome of being around fellow boxing folks. The scene was a cluster with little organization. The commissioner had flown in from Colorado but was a familiar face in the MN Boxing scene since there weren’t any local commissions at the time. It was a one-man show; just a single commissioner there from out of state to regulate everything.

I scoped out the room and laid eyes on a boxer about my weight. He was introverted backwoods looking fella dressed in as classic red flannel and blue overalls. He also wore a super thick glasses on. His eyes looked like the kind goldfish have when he stared back at me. When I was sizing him up he looked at me and tried to make a mean face, but the look of his eyes behind the thick lenses of his glasses made him look more comical than scary. It was like a scene of the comic pages of the Sunday paper. Anyway, he was there with another boxer from Indiana who looked about the same weight so I figured one of them was Mr. Bogard.

My mentality was to aim for a KO in each of my future fights to seal the victory. No more letting the judges dictate the future of my career

My mentality was to aim for a KO in each of my future fights to seal the victory. No more letting the judges dictate the future of my career

First to the scale was the main event. This was JJ Corn and incidentally vs the other guy from Indiana. That left the backwoods fella as Wayne Bogard. We walked to the scale and he kept his mugging stare. He was put together better than I had assumed. He was actually kinda ripped. Under his flannel and overalls was a well-conditioned body fight for a fighter. I was in good shape too so this only made sense. After all, it was a co-main event. Wayne Bogard didn’t break character throughout the weigh-ins which let me think he may be a pain to fight the next day. Then I reminded myself of his record and my responsibility in the ring the next day. I quickly snapped out of it and got back to thinking straight. There was no way I was going to let this guy steal my show. No way! I was there with one thing on my mind; the redemption of my record and getting a win behind me. Period. “Wayne Bogard looks well prepared? Good. I’ll have even more fun.” That was my mindset.

The next day I met Chuck Horton in the hotel lobby. I filled him in on my observations of my opponent from the day before and we made plans on how the day would play out. It was always important to have a plan all the way to the ring to fight. No surprises. With no questions about the day, I had mental space to focus on my fight. No, questions.

Before I knew it I was in the dressing room getting my hands wrapped and warming up to fight. The night was going fast and there were only 5 fights on the card. As I punched the air to warm up I shadow boxed my game plan for the fight. I had prepared myself to demolish my opponent in each round of the fight till he was out. If it took one round. Good. If it took two or three rounds. Fine. My plan was to keep the fate of my fight out of the hands of the judges. My mentality was to aim for a KO in each of my future fights to seal the victory. No more letting the judges dictate the future of my career.

Then it was time for my ring walk and we were off. The familiar music of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses filled the air and I felt more alive than ever. We made the quick walk across the hall to the conference room and through the room to the ring. Wayne Bogard was in the ring mugging at the fans and then at me as I neared the ring. I was lit up. I wore a mischievous smirk into the ring. There was a good amount of fans there to see me. It was a nice reception for my first fight back in MN since the three fights in Tacoma, WA. During the introductions, I noticed Wayne taking his stance a few times. He stood very square. I though “Uppercut”. I was always looking for clues on my opponents as I entered a fight. How they walked. Their posture. Everything they did was like a window into what to expect. I took note of my final observation and waited the start of the round.

“BING! BING!” The bell rang to start the first round. I rushed to center ring. Soon as we met Wayne Bogard threw a lunging jab to start the fight. I took a fast side step to my right of his jab and launched a wicked right uppercut up the middle. The shot caught him clean in the throat. Wayne Bogard staggered back to the ropes choking in pain as he tried to catch his breath. Rushed after him and led my next combination with a lead right uppercut to his body followed by a left hook to the head. Wayne Bogard had not yet gathered himself from the opening exchange when I caught up to him. The uppercut doubled him over and the left hook took him off his feet as his head spiked into the canvas. The ref stepped in to deliver an 8-count and Wayne Bogard valiantly decided to continue, but it was not a good idea. I rushed across to finish things. I didn’t let him leave his corner. I was right on him like a nightmare. I twitched a faint which froze him enough for me to land a final right-left-right combination to his head. Wayne Bogard bent forward and staggered back in a daze. I shuffled up and once again through a hard packed right uppercut. This time it caught him right in the mouth and nose, and I don’t know if the pain made him jump or if it was the punch that landed just right, but Wayne Bogard’s feet left the floor like I launched him off his feet when I hit him. He flew back at an angle with his butt leading the way through the ropes. Most of his body fell through the ropes, but his knees caught on the middle rope and one of his arms tangled the upper rope enough to save him a trip onto the judges table. When this ref saw this he ran at Wayne Bogard waving one hand in the air to stop the fight while extending the other to help Wayne get back into the ring. That was it. BAM! Mission complete! TKO at 1:18 of Round-1. That stands to this day as the fastest anyone has dispatched Wayne Bogard. I made the statement I wanted to make and separated myself from the others that had beaten him. That was my goal and I did it. What a good feeling!

I ran across the ring and jumped on the ropes in the corner and threw a glove into the air in victory. I got a standing ovation from the crowd. Boy was I happy! The friends and fans that had come to support me filled the aisle as I walked back to my dressing room. I was back! I was a hit and I felt the feeling I loved so much. ‘Victory’! At that moment, I didn’t care what was next. I was a winner.

Author: Zach Walters

My Bully Story – Zach Walters

“I’ve never knew this story about Zach and the information below is completely new to me. It’s a very powerful story, and it has now become clear to me what drove Zach to work so tirelessly.”

– Chuck Horton

All the reading I have been seeing on social media and the news about bullying in today’s schools has brought back memories about my younger years of getting bullied. Those memories aren’t fun to think on, but maybe if I share them you can find some hope for yourself. As you can see, I am typing this so it all worked out in the end. Below is my bully story from start to finish.

The early days of my childhood where spent on the island of Madagascar in a good home with loving parents and three siblings. I have an older brother, a younger brother, and younger sister. Life on Madagascar was simple and it was a life I understood from an early age.  I was into being in the wild and connected to nature. I enjoyed hunting, fishing, and hiking around as much as I could. I had a pet parrot that rode around on my shoulder. It was an easy life and I liked it. Then my family ran into some tough decisions and had to move to US.

I thought the move would be temporary. “How could we ever live in the US the rest of our life?” I thought. As the weeks turned to months and months to years I realized we were not going back. These days were a struggle for me on many levels.

She told me it was not ok to climbing trees and if I climbed trees again I would get in trouble. I didn’t tell her I was actually trying to hide from the kids that picked on me.

“She told me it was not ok to climbing trees and if I climbed trees again I would get in trouble. I didn’t tell her I was actually trying to hide from the kids that picked on me.”

I was 12 years old then. I was new to the US Public Schools. The atmosphere was not kind and welcoming like I thought it would be. I was clueless to say the least. When we moved from Madagascar it was the middle summer there.  February was the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, but winter time in St Paul, MN. I was “fresh off the boat” from Madagascar and couldn’t feel more out of my element. I never liked the cold. In school I was in 5th grade, but I was older than the kids in my class due to being held back the year earlier. I was awkwardly taller than the others in my class so it added to my standing out.

I didn’t know much about fitting in or other social rules with kids in the States.  I was clueless. I thought being from Madagascar would be a cool thing, but it was not. It made me different.  I remember at lunch time I wanted to hang with the 6th graders because I thought I could relate a bit more to them Du to being closer in age. The trouble was labeled a 5th grader despite my age. I had to sit at the 5th grade table. When I tried to hang with the 6th grade kids after eating it didn’t go well. They told me to go away; sometimes not very nicely. I didn’t like feeling of being rejected so I chose to walk the snowy borders of the school yard till the bell rang to go inside.

I was a loner and wanted to make friends in the worst way. I talked with kids here and there who asked questions about where I was from and what not, but not much else. This was when the jokes and taunts started. It was mild at first as the kids got to know me. Then after I opened up a bit more kids started using it against me. “Go climb a tree bush whacker”…  I remember hearing being yelled at me one day as I walked the yard. I looked over at the group of kids who all thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t do anything; just kept walking. The days that followed got worse. I had snow balls thrown at me by the group. I hated the snow and the cold got colder. I never got hit hard enough to be hurt, but knowing kids were throwing stuff at me because I was a loner new kid was eating at me. 

One day I remember trying to hide up in a tree. I thought I would be safe there till the bell rang. I was not hidden well, but figured walking the grounds led to taunts and snowballs thrown at me so a tree would be safer. I was wrong. I maybe stood out more now that I was in a leafless winter tree. The kids found me and actually drew a little crowd. The ones that had me picked from before started hurling some comments to make fun of me. Then there were a few that threw snow balls and ice chunks up at me. I just tried to ignore them. They were not a good throw anyway and I knew they would leave me alone sometime because lunch time was short. The bell rang and they left. As I climbed down a teacher saw me and walked over scolding me for climbing the tree. “What were you doing up there? You could fall and break your neck…” I told her I was trying to catch a squirrel that had darted into a leave nest.  She told me it was not ok to climbing trees and if I climbed trees again I would get in trouble. I didn’t tell her I was actually trying to hide from the kids that picked on me.  

I then tried sitting on the steps by the front door where everyone lined up to go inside. I wanted to be as close to indoors as possible. My butt froze on the steps those days, but the taunting group of kids left me alone when I was there. Maybe it was because I was close to the office windows where staff could see them. I don’t know. 

A few days later the same kids that taunted me in the field invited me to play a game with them and a large group of other kids. It was a game I had watched them play before; “Red Rover Red Rover”. The game was set up with two big lines of kids linked by the elbows. The goal was to call out a kid from the other side to run into the line on the other side. The goal was to break the chain. If the chain was broken the winning side got to steal a person from the other to grow their side. If the chain held that team would gain a player.  This exchange would go back and forth till one side took all the players from the other they won. OK, so here I go. Here was my opportunity to earn some friends. All I have to do is hold on or break through the other side if I’m called on. I can do that. 

“Red Rover Red Rover send Steven right over…” a girl on my team called out.  Steven (Not his real name) was one of the kids from the group that picked on me. He was kind of the leader. Steven came running across the divide and right at me. I gripped my elbows tight to do my part and hold on. Instead of hitting my elbows he barreled his shoulder right into my stomach. My arms were gripped tight by the other kids and I was hit dead in the guts. I wasn’t ready for a hit in the belly and the wind got knocked out of me. I crunched to the ground gasping for air. I was in shock. He laughed hard and loud. Almost like a fake laugh. The other kids joined in snickering along with him. 

“Come on squirrel boy. You gotta hold on better than that if you’re going to play with us.” Steven said. I was still painfully trying to catch my breath. I choked back my tears of pain and nodded my head. Steven picked a person to grow his team’s line. Then it was their turn to call one of my team over. I was ready if they called me. They called did call me. 

“Red Rover Red Rover send ‘Madagascar boy’ right over.” It was a nick name I had been called in the before. I didn’t like it, but whatever. It was my turn to run across and break the chains. I knew I could do it. I ran across the divide right at Steven. I wanted to get him back for nailing me good and I was also tired of all his crap. Right as I was going to smash into his arms he said “phantom chains”, which was some trick wording rule he made up, and let go right where I was trying to hit. 

I went sailing past and clumsily fell onto the frozen ground. The kids laughed at me. I was embarrassed. I knew now these kids weren’t trying to be my friend. They were using me for a joke. I got up with tears in my eyes. I didn’t want them to see them so I turned away and started walking. They called me back to keep playing, but I just walked. I was confused on the game and confused on why they were being mean to me. ‘Was “phantom chains” a real rule? If not then why didn’t the kids on my side challenge the rule.’ They must have been in on the joke.  

When I was a safe distance away I asked; “Why are you guys being mean to me.” This was mainly directed at Steven.

 “I’m not being mean. It’s how you play the game.” He answered.  

I knew this was a lie. I had never seen this rule, or the tackle, during the time I watched the game played from the steps. I couldn’t stop the tears this time. I turned away and walked toward the edge of the field. Here I thought I was finally getting some acceptance, but all it was really them trying to find a way to get away with hurting me. I started to feel deep anger well up.

I was deep in the field when bell rang to get back to class. I walked back toward the school slowly. I was very mad and didn’t know what to do about it. I was a good kid; a missionary kid. I just wanted to go back to Madagascar where I knew stuff. I wanted to go back where I knew how to be cool and accepted. The cold hell of Minnesota was not for me. 

On my way back in from the field a kid I never met walked up to me and asked why I was being such a baby. I can’t remember his name. He wasn’t part of the group from earlier. But he was like them. Mean. I didn’t answer right away. After his question he laughed and he kept pace with me walking toward the school. I couldn’t believe his nerve. 

Then I mumbled, “How would you feel if you were me.” 

“Huh? What you say? What? You tryin’ to get smart now?” He was grinning with a mean smile and got up real close. He put his face right in front of mine in with a sad clown face looking for an anser. At this very time I got an itch in my nose and sneezed. My sneeze sprayed all over. The kid pushed me stumbling off to the side.

“You think you can spit at me?!” he yelled. He looked fierce now. Not joking around.

“I didn’t. I sneezed.” I replied. No sooner did I say this and he snorted and spit a giant flem ball in my face. The flem ball hit the corner of my eye, nose and mouth.  Some got in my mouth. It was gross. It smelled like un-brushed morning breath. I didn’t cry. I just wiped it off and kept walking in. I felt numb. I had already cried my tears in the field and had none left. I wasn’t scared. I was at me breaking point.

“That’s right. Keep walking Africa Boy.” He said as we split to go in separate doors.

That was the worst lunch hour of my life at that time. After school it was time for the long walk back to the Mission Apartments. We would gather in lines by the cross walks and wait for our turn to walk through as a group. I stood in line about three deep from the front. A  kid pushed me from behind and made a comment about the Red Rover game from earlier. I turned around and without much thought pushed him back hard as I could. He stumbled back a bit in surprise and came back at me to push me again. As he got close I punched him hard as I could in the face. My little punch hit him square in the nose and blood exploded everywhere in the white snow around us! 

“What the heck” he said. “I thought we were playing around. Why did you hit me.” I just stood there, numb to the whole situation. Again, I was somehow in the wrong. A teacher came rushing over and took us to the office. The kid was quick to talk. “We were just paying around and he hit me.” I didn’t say anything. I was mad. I was fed up and felt like nothing could help. 

My mom got a call to come pick me up. I was broken inside and just sat there in a daze. I was so full of anger from this terrible day. I had all I could take. When my mom arrived to pick me up from school she had to meet with the principal and me. I tried to tell my story. But got choked up and distorted my points. I’m not sure if it made any sense at all.  

My consequence was ‘closed noons’ for three days. What a relief. This was actually a bonus because I got to stay warm instead of freeze n the step.  I didn’t care that I lost my mid-day freedom. I was also glad to be away from all those mean kids on the yard. After that bad day things died down a bit. My noon hours were lonely, but at least I wasn’t a target any longer. 

A few months went by and my folks decided to move to California. There was an apartment center in Fresno California for families transitioning from third world countries. It was the perfect fit for us. All of the family needed a little extra help and there was a counseling center there to help us through. We had a brief family meeting about the decision, but it seemed like a no-brainer. Of course we wanted to move to a warm place. I hated the snow and didn’t ever want to see the mean kids again. This would be a better place for us.

The move to California went fast.  Life there was not as easy as I had hoped. It was actually a bit harder, but at least I didn’t have to deal with the cold! I didn’t tell kids I was from Madagascar. Instead I told them I was from MN. I thought this was safer, but I was wrong. That made me un-cool because I guess California kids are where cool begins and Minnesota was not cool. OK. 

Then there was my first nick name. It wasn’t based on being teased about being from Madagascar. It was something far off. It came from the school milk. The school milk was from “Zacky Farms”. Bang! There you go. My name was now “Zacky Farms” and I couldn’t shake it. I asked kids not to call me that, but it didn’t work. Random kids would yell it from a distance when I would walk out to play for lunch time. I remember one day at the lunch table getting so angry about kids calling me names I hammered my fists onto the table and yelled, “STOP!!” 

A teacher came over and asked what asked what was happening. I told her the kids around me were making fun of me. She scholed the kids around me and then moved me the end of the table closer to where she was to keep an eye on me. I could hear a few of the kids whisper “Zacky Farms” and “Squealer” under their breath. Here I was again. I was the brunt of the jokes and couldn’t make a friend to save my life.

On kid in particular had my number, his name was “Bubba.” This was his nick name. I can’t remember his real name. He was a big kid. Way heavy for his age and height. He was a rolly polly tank of a kid that the other kids didn’t mess with because he was twice their size. Anyway, one day at noon hour I joined in a game of soccer. I could play as good, or better, than most the kids in school due to playing a bit in Madagascar. Soccer was a major sport in Madagascar and my basic understanding of the game helped me fit in a bit during noon. I would watch the game at play and figure out which team was down a few players or loosing then join in. 

One day I was doing my thing and joined a game. There was a time mid-game that Bubba was dribbling the ball down the field. He was not very coordinated and his skills were terrible, yet the other kids would let him through with the ball because they were intimidated. I matched up with his path and easily stole the ball with a few kicks. I ran the ball down the field and kicked a goal! I was pretty pumped for my team and turned around smiling. To my surprise the kids on my team didn’t look very happy. They instead looked scared. Right then before I knew it I got kicked from behind right between the legs. I dropped to the ground in shock before turning see who kicked me. It was Bubba.

There he was ten paces away laughing at me in my pain and embarrassment. I felt a rage seep down my spine. My stomach hurt and I felt like barfing, but the anger was more. I charged at Bubba and did a flying jump kick to his chest. I had learned this kick in Madagascar from scrapping with my buddies for fun after watching Bruce Lee movies. Anyway, the kick sent Bubba backward to the ground and I collapsed on top of him. I proceeded to pound his face in with my fists. There was a shadow of kids that gathered around us as I let it all out. It was quite a scene. All the anger I had build up from my time in Minnesota and now in my early days in California got taken out on Bubba. I kept smashing away at his face till I was restrained by a few teachers. We were taken to the office and got suspended for the rest of the week. I got in major trouble from my folks too. They were very disappointed with my actions. I tried to justify them by giving a history lesson about Minnesota kids and now California kids being rotten. My basic argument was ‘they don’t understand me’, but they didn’t buy it. There was no reason to fight at school. 

When I got back to school the next week a few kids talked to me. They were impressed that I stood up to Bubba. They asked where I learned to fight. I told them it was self taught from watching kung fu movies and rough housing with my brothers.  I didn’t see myself as any hero. I was just a kid that got fed up and blew up on Bubba. I didn’t care why these kids befriended me. I liked it. I finally had friends. One thing about these friends, though, was they like to get into mischief.  They had older brothers that were into gangs and we started to think of the four of us as a little gang. We didn’t make up a name or anything, but we each agreed to have each other’s back so if anything went down we could defend each other. This seemed fair to me. These were my first friends.  We got in to trouble for various minor issues till I was eventually expelled from school. This was 6th grade.

Then in 7th grade it was ‘welcome to middle school’. Kids were older and there was the pecking order of kids getting into gangs to force their way. One day I tripped a kid trying to budge in the lunch line with some of his gangster buddies. The kid stumbled a bit and turned around to punch me. Before he got his punch off I rained punches on him in a chaotic mess. 

I thought this would be like 6th grade where I got in one fight and made a few friends. I was wrong. I had major problems this time. I got suspended, but when I got back to school I had made my first real enemies. There were rumors about their gang plotting to kill me. This was real talk in Fresno and not to be taken lightly. Drive bys were big those days. When I walked home from school would continually stare in the windows of the cars driving to see if I could recognize any of them in the windows. I didn’t want to get shot. 

The death threats didn’t materialize, but I did get jumped after school a couple times. I remember sneaking my way home by jumping the fences to walk along the canals. Those were a safe bet. There were no cars to watch out for drive by shootings and the gangster kids didn’t know my secret get away.

 Finally, there was another gang that I somehow offended by ‘dissing them’ by wearing the wrong color belt on a walk. This was not at school, but over the weekend. These three kids went to my middle school and I knew about them from talk in the halls at school. They trapped in me along a fence and wouldn’t let me go till I gave up my blue belt. I took a couple punches to the face, before reluctantly giving them my belt. It wasn’t that bad, but it was embarrassing.  I figured after I gave them my belt I would be ok with these guys. I was wrong. There was one of the gangster kids that decided to carry thing on when he saw me at school. Ramon was his name. He was real mean. He was the one that punched me a few times over the belt. When he saw me in the hall the following week he made a point to start a problem. He wanted me to show some respect when I saw him coming. I didn’t know what he wanted me to do. Next thing I know I get decked in the face in front of a bunch of his ganger buddies. I didn’t understand this, but I knew I didn’t want to let it go any further. I needed to make it stop; how to do it was the question. 

 I figured I would have to get single him out and confront him one on one. I was confident in my ability to fight one on one with anyone at school. Getting jumped was the thing I had to watch out for. I made a violent plan to get back at him in the hallway the next day. I was planning to attack him by surprise when he didn’t see it coming. I figured if I beat him up one on one I’d get me respect back from him. I brought a little pocket knife along with to fend off his boys if they saw things go down and jumped in. My plan was set.  

I had one friend I trusted at the time. CJ was his name and we had first hour of class together. I told him my plan in confidence because I was anxious about what I was planning. During my second hour class I got called to the office. I didn’t know why this would be because I hadn’t done anything recently to be in trouble. After I stepped in I found out CJ had told the office my plans. He was afraid things would go too far if I carried out my plan. He was probably right. You don’t mess with a ganger kid without facing the after math. I was expelled from school that day due to a zero tolerance rule for weapons on school property. I was ticked off at the time, but for all I know, CJ saved my life.  Had he not told on me I may have done something really stupid which would ultimately put me on a short list for further gang retaliation.  AKA… being shot, stabbed, or seriously hurt in some way. 

"I didn’t want to do the things I did, but in my short sighted mind I didn’t see much of a choice."

“I didn’t want to do the things I did, but in my short sighted mind I didn’t see much of a choice.”

I went to home schooling for a few months and then got into another school across town. My problems didn’t stop there. Shortly after going to school there I joined a gang and shortly after that I wound up getting expelled from that school as well for bad behavior.  My 7th grade year was tough. I treated it like a battle field. I was continually on edge watching my back. I started to strike first when a kid got smart. In a way, I started turning into the kids I didn’t like.  I didn’t realize it till later in life. All in knew was it was a process of me trying to stand up for myself the best I knew how. I didn’t want to do the things I did, but in my short sighted mind I didn’t see much of a choice.

After my seventh grade year my folks had enough of Fresno California and decided to moved back to Minnesota. I wasn’t the only one having a tough time out there. Our whole family was in a rut. We moved to a tiny town called Erhard, MN  (population 167) and lived on a farm. After living in a 400,000+ population city Erhard, MN felt like another culture shock to me. I took my social lessons from California and applied them right away in school. Since Erhard was so small my siblings and I went to school in nearby town called Pelican Rapids. 

I didn’t want another disaster episode in school so I tried to play it cool. I tried my best not to cause waves.  I made a few friends and we caused some playful mischief, but nothing too bad at first. Then I started taking it too far. The lessons I learned in Fresno didn’t apply in small town MN. Getting respect by making the others fear me was not ok. The class mates in my grade were not the issue. It was the students in the several grades above me that brought a problem. Being an 8th grader out me in the high school where there were young adult type kids in the hallways. Soon the fight started and I was getting pushed around in the hallways by upperclassmen. I was back in the rut of getting in trouble. I was labeled a trouble maker and in a small town once your labeled that’s it. it feels like you can’t change.  

I started to hang with the local rough crowd and did what they did. Some were drop outs from a few years back and some were in my school. They smoked cigarettes and experimented with drugs so I did the same. I was like a chameleon. I just wanted friends and if my friends did drugs so did I. My troubled times only got worse as I got older and more capable of bad. My brothers were having similar problems. We had become a trio of hardened kids. We fought with each other and everyone in between and our level of mischief had become seriously criminal. My parents were at their wits end for solutions to the rough adjustment I was having to living in the US. This was when I found boxing.

It started with my training for kick boxing with a local Tae Quan Do instructor. I wanted to train to fight, but didn’t want to get into the belt system. My brother Jake had been in Tae Quan Do for a year and had a high ranking belt. I didn’t like the idea of him having a higher belt than me so I trained there as a kick boxer. This worked out for a few weeks till the instructor recommended boxing to me. He had boxed in his early years and recommended a gym in Fergus Falls. I checked it out and fell in love with the sport the first day. The crowd in the gym was a rougher group of guys and they sparred every day! I liked the idea of sharpening m fighting skills every day and signed up to join the next week. From there, my life started to get better, but it was not an instant resolution. It was a slower process. 

Boxing was an outlet for the anger I had and a constructive way to vent it out. It was also a positive identity for me. It was how I started to be known… “Zach the boxer kid.” I liked it. Not only that, but with my reputation as a boxer I was able to be the tough guy I wanted people to think I was and not have to fight in school. I was better at boxing than I thought and I got a lot positive attention for my accomplishments in the ring. In fact, in my first year of competition I battled my way to 3rd in the nation. 

My family move again to get another fresh start. This time we lived in Fergus Falls where I had started boxing. ‘Here we go again’, I thought. A difference with this move was some of the trouble I had caused in Pelican Rapids came with me. This caused a hiccup in my early days of boxing. The stuff I had pending was more severe than I wanted to realize and it was clear a juvenile justice placement was on the horizon. When I got word of this I ran away from home. This was a dumb idea. I lived on the streets for 3 long months before getting caught.  I stayed at friends houses, abandoned cars and finally lived out of an abandoned trailer house out in the woods for a while. 

When I was finally picked up I ended up in Woodland Hills Group Home here in Duluth. At Woodland Hills I started to connect the dots of how I could better sort out my anger. I also learned how my poor choices affected my parents indirectly. Learned a lot about myself, but I ultimately learned I wanted a different life than what I was doing.  After my stay at Woodland Hills I got back into boxing as a therapeutic outlet to deal with my anger and use as a motivation to avoid the party life of drugs and alcohol.  

 What ultimately saved my life was getting back into boxing and living a sober Christian life. Leaving the party scene behind and perusing boxing gave me the life I have now.

What ultimately saved my life was getting back into boxing and living a sober Christian life. Leaving the party scene behind and perusing boxing gave me the life I have now.

After I graduated high school I decided to return to Duluth to attend college at UMD and continue my pursuit of boxing at Horton’s Gym. I saw life in Duluth as another fresh start. I was determined to make this one my last start. This would be my home. I wanted a clean road and a good history. I didn’t want to have legal trouble in my history. I excelled at boxing and did well in school, but a year and a half into my new home I ran into a major snag that almost derailed my dreams. What ultimately saved my life was getting back into boxing and living a sober Christian life. Leaving the party scene behind and perusing boxing gave me the life I have now. Today I have a family, a career, and live a city I now call home.

I sometimes wonder how my life would have gone had I not been bullied during my early years in the States. In the end I see it all as part of what made me, me.  It was tough getting bullied. I hated it. Because of it I wound up making a lot of poor life choices.  But in the end my history makes me who I am today.  

These days are a bit different than back when I was in school. Social Media and the internet provide growing options to bully. We won’t eliminate bullies and we can’t stop kids from picking on each other. What we can do is teach kids how to deal with bullying in a positive way and confront bullying when we see it. I made a lot of mistakes in how I dealt with the effects of my bullies. I am not saying what I did was the right way to deal with being bullied. It’s just my story. I am glad to be past those years for sure.

I will leave you with a quote from my friend’s voice mail; “Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.” I think of it often as I go through my days. It’s so true. It wasn’t fair that I went through my years of getting bullied, but because of that I found boxing and boxing changed my life for the better. I love the person I’ve become.

Author: Zach Walters

Fight 6: Trial By Fire

The high I felt after my 5th pro fight lasted several weeks. Upon returning home to Duluth, there was a victory celebration party Chuck Horton had put together at Duluth Athletic Club, a fancy restaurant down town that had a private meeting room in the back. There was a good turnout of local friends and fans there to hear from us about our fight trip and watch the video of the fight.

Then there was the ripple effect of a job well done in the ring. We got our promotional contract proposal from Brian Halquist Productions and over all it looked like a good deal. The fight purse guarantees were a topic of negotiation, but it didn’t seem like something we couldn’t work out. The general premise of the contract was to build me into a local attraction in Tacoma. I would eventually move out to Tacoma and fight there while building my fight resume until I hit the big time. It was a flattering proposal and I was glad to get the attention. I didn’t sign it yet, but things were looking good. Jeff Crane signed on as my first personal sponsor through his company to fund training camps and other boxing expenses. This was a big step up for me. As I looked at how fast things were growing I could only sit back and smile at how well things were going.

I pointed out that in spite of Robert Linton’s boxing credentials I was the boxer coming in with momentum and was a naturally bigger boxer.

I pointed out that in spite of Robert Linton’s boxing credentials I was the boxer coming in with momentum and was a naturally bigger boxer.

Brian Halquist Productions asked us to come back for another fight. By this time working with the Tacoma-based promoter seemed like routine business. Hitting 5-0 and coming off a strong performance boosted my confidence in the ring. The opponent that was proposed was a local Tacoma boxer named Robert Linton who had twice my professional experience with a record of 10-2 6KO. Robert Linton was also an amateur boxing standout at the national level. I thought about it for about a second and agreed to it. Chuck Horton had some reservations about the match, but I was able to convince him enough to get his approval as well. I pointed out that in spite of Robert Linton’s boxing credentials I was the boxer coming in with momentum and was a naturally bigger boxer. Robert Linton had turned pro at middleweight and slowly grew into a small light heavyweight. His pace of fighting had slowed down and it looked like I would have an edge regardless of my experience deficit.

Camp started a week after I returned home. There was no rest needed for me as I had won my last fight by 1st round KO. Training felt like a continuation of my last camp. Like a layer cake I was getting better each camp. I gave my sponsor a call and told him the news about my returning to Tacoma Washington to fight. He was delighted to hear this and asked how he could help with my preparation. Chuck Horton and I talked it over and figured the best move would be to start training camp in Duluth and finish up in Tacoma. After all, we were looking at potentially moving out to Tacoma for the rest of my career so it only made sense to check it out. I gave my sponsor a call and he agreed it made sense to train in Tacoma for this fight. In a few short weeks we were on the plane again. This time with bags packed for a three week stay. My sponsor made arrangements to set up Chuck Horton and I at an extended stay hotel in the Port of Tacoma not too far from the hotel the weigh-ins were held the last few times we had been there.
When we landed in Tacoma, Washington we were met at the airport by Chad Van Sickle, a cruiserweight boxer that Brian Halquist had recently signed from Columbus, OH. He drove us down the hotel and along the way we made plans to train the next day.

The feeling of being in Tacoma was different than the last couple visits. This time I looked at everything through the framework of a person who was thinking about moving there. I liked being on the coast and the occasional views of Mount Rainier were pretty far out! Here I could live by a volcano. Sweet! The scenery was very nice and I could see myself living there.

He was a rough dude for sure and had the resume to back it all up.

He was a rough dude for sure and had the resume to back it all up.

Morning came and we were off to train with Chad Van Sickle. He brought us out to the edge of town to a little gym that was set up in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t the typical inner-city gym feel. It was dingy and old and smelled like rotten leather. The dank state of the training facility was still a step up from my garage back home so it actually felt like an upgrade. Even still, I wondered what kind of champions trained at a gym like this. The head trainer there was a former professional boxer named Greg Haugen. He was a former world champion and won his title back when they had 15-rounders! He gave Hector Camacho his first loss and took his title, boxed Julio Cesar Chavez to a controversial stoppage in Mexico City, took on Pernell Whitaker for his title, and boxed Vinny Pazienza three times in a back and forth exchange of the world title. He was a rough dude for sure and had the resume to back it all up.
During training Greg Haugen would fill the air with fight stories. He had a continuous flow of stories he’d tell. Each one led into another and at the end of each there’d be a message to us training on why we should do something he said. My favorite take-away story was when Greg Haugen talked about fighting Julio Cesar Chavez in Mexico City. He trained in Mexico for the fight and during the press tour for the fight he made some nasty remarks about Julio Cesar Chavez’ accomplishments in the ring. One of them was stating Chavez professional boxing record was built up over years of beating up drunken Mexico City cab drivers. The remarks put Greg Haugen’s life at risk with the diehard Chavez fans which earned him military escort the remainder of his training camp in Mexico. The fight ended up as a 5th round TKO stoppage, but Greg claimed to be ahead on the cards and “smashing Chavez cuz he couldn’t fight a lick anyway” before the stoppage. It was a good story indeed. The lesson from this story was something like this… ‘At the top you gotta roll the dice and fight everyone there. It’s all business and your gona get beat by someone. It might as well be against the best.’

Greg Haugen had a comical way of telling a story. We’d laugh till our abs cramped but get priceless information at the same time. In boxing, there are many talkers and when getting information you learn to always consider the source. Is the info grounded in legitimate experience or is this just a person reciting some info he read in a book or online? With Greg Haugen, his words were scripture to me. This guy had been there and done that and experienced things I could only dream of at the time. Storytelling is an art and Greg Haugen knew it well. Those moments of camp were fun.

I got some good sparring in camp. Chad Van Sickle was good work. He was big and quick for his size. He had sparred with Robert Linton before and told me a bit about him. He said Linton was slick and had pretty good pop on his punches. My rounds with Chad Van Sickle were intense with little pauses between the punches. It was my style to attack continuously and his style was standing his ground and trading shots. Another boxer in camp was a veteran boxer named Kenny Ellis. He was training for a 12-round fight for the NABA Middleweight Title. Kenny Ellis was battle tested and crafty. He was overweight for his 160 lbs match by about 20 pounds when I got to camp! It was an issue Greg Haugen was on him about. Sparring with Kenny Ellis was a different type of battle. No matter how much I pushed him, pressured him, or attacked him, he remained very chill and unaffected. It was like he could box all day and not tire. I was amazed by this. He had a style of smooth head movement and footwork. He could slip a punch and land a counter shot in its place at the same time. He’d rush in and crowd me, but then not punch. I’d punch away at him to keep him away, but most of the shots were deflected or missed. Soon as I showed a sign of tiredness there he’d be; picking me apart with perfectly placed shots in the midst of my drained state. But like I said, Kenny Ellis did this and barely broke a sweat. Greg Haugen would yell at him to get busy so he’d get more of a workout, but that was not his style. On our runs, Kenny Ellis would trot at a medium pace and talk about sports; mostly pro football and basketball…. very little boxing. This was a totally different attitude to me. Here this guy was fighting for a title and it didn’t seem to be anywhere on his radar to be motivated for it. That and he was way over where he needed to be for the weigh-in 3 weeks away. I wondered how he would ever make it let alone win his fight!
Back at the hotel between workouts, it was boring! I had brought my homework with me from college but had that wrapped up in the first couple days. The hotel room started to feel like a jail cell. Chuck Horton and I strained ourselves to kill time! There was lots of Jerry Springer on the TV for entertainment, but that got old very fast. Thank god for my little travel chess board! Chuck Horton and I must have played over 200 games during camp. I have always loved chess and Chuck had been talking real tough about beating me in the game. Before this time, he had claimed not to play me because he didn’t want to break my confidence. I assured him I’d be fine and challenged him to games several times before, but he never took me up on a game. Well, he would agree to a game, but say we’d have to meet after practice which never worked out. Ha ha. Anyway, when we finally got to playing our games he maybe beat me twice the whole three weeks! Of course, I had to give him a lot of grief for ducking me and then getting beat so many times! His defense went back to saying he was only trying to boost my confidence by letting me win. I knew he was trying though.

One time we were bored and he said we should go outside for some conditioning drills. I grabbed my boxing gloves and followed him out. In the back parking lot of the hotel he, had me do wind sprints followed by punchout drills on the mitts. It was a muggy 80 degrees outside in the afternoon sun. After about an hour of this I got gassed! He then, said “Come on. Lets go. Time to play some chess.” What!? I was spent. I was sweaty, tired, and mentally out of it. All I wanted was a drink of water and a cold shower. Chess was not on my mind. I laughed hard on this one. What a crafty move! After getting back to the hotel room it was right to chess. No shower. No water. Chuck and I were laughing about this. I told him I’d take him out quick. He said if I was a real chess player it shouldn’t matter how I felt. It would be in my blood. OK… So we play chess. And I beat him again!!! He flipped out! It was the funniest thing all camp! He was like a little kid. We had a good laugh on this.

Camp was memorable on many levels. I got to see the Seattle Fisherman’s Wharf and venture around the downtown area where there were hundreds of panhandlers. We checked out the Space Needle and other touristy attractions. It was fun. Camp had many hard days of training and many good times in the midst of boredom between work. When it came time for the weigh-ins I felt very confident. I was living my dreams and fighting to get ahead in life. It was fun!

We went back to the hotel where the weigh-ins always were, but this time instead of showing up alone as an out of town entity we were there as part of the “in crowd” of the local boxing scene. It was all smiles walking in. I saw Robert Linton in the corner with his trainer and several friends. Since he was from Tacoma he definitely had a presence there and knew all the people well. It got time to step on the scale. I made my weight with a pound or so to give and he stepped on the scale a pound over. Chuck Horton stepped in and the pound became an instant issue. Robert Linton said there was no way he could lose it and that he was feint from drying out in a sauna. Chuck replied that he didn’t care and said the pound needed to come off or the fight was off. Robert Linton was given 2 hours to lose the pound. When he came back to weigh in he was two more pounds over! Chuck Horton called the fight off after that and told me to pack up. By this time my sponsor, Jeff Crane, had shown up with his wife and asked what was going on. After getting briefed about the matter he, agreed it was a good call to not go forward with the fight. We made a quick plan about the rest of our stay and decided to attend the fights that night after heading up to Seattle to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Jeff Crane told me it was time to have the best piece of steak I had ever had and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is where we needed to go. Along the way to Seattle Chuck Horton’s Phone was buzzing back and forth with the promoter. The promoter wanted to make the fight happen and was willing to do whatever it took. Chuck told him to double my purse and hold the fight as an exhibition fight off the books. The promoter agreed to this and we went on with our evening.
I felt mentally jerked around a bit, but knew I had a legit boxing camp to back me up so I felt good about my ability to perform. I also felt good that whatever way the fight went it my undefeated record wouldn’t be affected. Dinner was good and the steak was indeed the best I had ever had! I enjoyed the meal, but in the back of my head I kept in mind I had to fight.
We got to the venue and went to our pipe n drape dressing room area. The doors of the show opened and the fans started to fill in. I began getting ready for my fight. Chuck Horton wrapped one of my hands and started on the other. At that time, one of the boxing commissioners came over and said the fight was off. He said they couldn’t do an exhibition fight. The fight either had to be on the books or not at all. Chuck Horton and I talked it over. I told him I felt good about things and wanted to go through with it. We notified the commission we were on for the fight and they brought a scale over to re-weigh me. They said we needed to get new weights since it was a new fight agreement. OK. I weighted 183lbs after dinner and Robert Linton weighed a whoppin’ 192lbs! I was shocked at how big he was! I realized now how much that one pound on the scale meant earlier that day. The fight was on. We were now a cruiserweight fight and that was that. There was a funk in the air after this that didn’t clear. Things didn’t feel right, but I was committed.

The time came to get in the ring. It was fight time! When I stepped in the ring the rest of the room disappeared. I felt my focus close in on the task at hand. Round one started slow. I could see Robert Linton was looking for counter shots. He leaned way back on his left foot and flicked his jab as he closed in. I circled and jabbed. I looked for my angles to get a nice attack. I was able to land some nice combinations and get away before the counter attack came. Robert Linton was well schooled and remained unaffected by my punches. I knew I caught him a couple times, but he had a poker face. In the next few rounds we, picked up the pace. I wanted to challenge his conditioning with pressure as that was one of my assets in the fight. There was no way Robert Linton was in better shape than me. Maybe equal, but not better. I attacked and he countered. True to the assessment of Chad Van Sickle, Robert Linton had a good punch! I got nailed with a slick left uppercut a few times, but it was never enough to stop my attacks. The fifth round was a war to the last second. I caught Robert Linton with a nice right hand that staggered him back to the ropes. I knew he was hurt and rallied to finish him, but ran out of time. Then it was time for the sixth and final round. I was not tired and felt really good. Robert Linton pushed the attack on me this round since he needed the round from losing the last. I kept my range well and boxed behind a long jab. It was a different round as we switched roles in the fight. The closing seconds were a mutual flurry of punches to the bell. I was not worried about the decision as I felt I had shown I was the better boxer by attacking early till I hurt my opponent and then closed the fight with boxing at range and avoiding the onslaught of punches that were thrown at me.

The score cards were in and we were called to center ring for the decision

The score cards were in and we were called to center ring for the decision

The score cards were in and we were called to center ring for the decision. The announcer read a unanimous decision in favor of Robert Linton and my heart sank! How could this be? I boxed so well. I followed my game plan and felt that I had won the fight based on all scoring qualities. I shook Robert Linton’s hand and asked for a rematch. He said “Sure. Anytime.” Everything went silent. My mind closed off the noise of the scene as thoughts shot back and forth about how this would impact the ascension of my career. I couldn’t hear the crowd. I couldn’t see the faces. The memory of this is a blur. When I think back on this night I can only remember a feeling. I felt empty. It was not my fight to lose, but what could I do? After the judge’s cards are in that’s that!
My head hung low as I got dressed. I stayed and watched the rest of the fights. Kenny Ellis made weight the day before and was about to enter the ring for his main event fight. I was curious how he’d do in his fight because I never saw him push himself in camp. He was always calm and paced himself in sparring and bag work. Fight night was different though. He came alive like nothing I could have imagined! He boxed a high paced fight and pulled off some very slick moves. It was an incredible display of boxing. He won by 11th round TKO. Chad Van Sickle had a good night in the ring too. He won his fight by 8th round TKO in an 8 round fight. I was the lone loser from our camp which was yet another reason for me to feel down. I stepped on the plane back home 5-1 4KO. It didn’t feel good going home a loser.
On the fight home I kept replaying the fight in my head. I could get over having a loss. I went back and forth between hanging up my gloves and wanting revenge. All these feelings were new to me. Was I as good as I felt I was? Why did I get the fight taken from me? Could my career still make it to the big time like I had hoped? All these questions and more circled in my head on the flight home.
Back in Duluth I was bombarded by people asking how the fight went. Each time I talked about the fight I had to tell them how I let them down. I didn’t want to face them, but I didn’t avoid them. At college I sat through my classes and attempted to key in on the content, but my mind was mush. All I could think about was what to do next with my boxing career. Chuck Horton told me to take the week off while we figured out what to do next. I hadn’t taken a break from boxing since Chuck Horton kicked me out of the gym several years back. Take a break?! What! I felt lost. I was quite hard on myself, but it was only because I was serious about my pro boxing career. I wanted to live up to my potential.
Then in the middle of the week I missed a call from Chuck Horton during one of my classes. I called him back on my way to my next class. Chuck had an excited tone. He said, “I know what to do, kid. I got a plan. Forget taking the week off. Let’s meet up at the gym when you’re done with school and we can talk more there.” The call was like a shot of life that ran through my ears down to my toes! Suddenly the air felt clean and my mind cleared. I didn’t know what the plan was, but I sure wanted to rid myself of the funk I was in! I didn’t need to know the details as I trusted whatever Chuck Horton said. If he had a plan, that was that. I was in.
This was good news!

Author: Zach Walters

Fight #5: Signed Back to Tacoma

On the flight back home to Duluth following my fight in Tacoma I noticed something different in my ear. The pressure was building in one as we ascended into the sky, but the other didn’t have that ‘pop’ feeling when I yawned. This was a first. I was used to flying from my youth as a missionary kid traveling back and forth to Madagascar. I had flown countless times before this trip, but this ear thing was bothersome. I pinched my nose shut and blew pressure into my ears to try and clear the ear that wouldn’t pop. That’s when I noticed what could be the problem. When I blew pressure into my ear I could hear air leaking out of it like a tire valve. I called Chuck Horton over to consult with him and we came to the conclusion my ear drum must have gotten busted when Louis Lopez smashed me with his over hand right. This made sense as I had yet to feel 100% balance on my feet since then. I thought I just got rocked and the slight dizzy spell I felt was the leftovers from getting whacked.
The day after we got back to Duluth I stopped down to the St Luke’s Hospital and checked into urgent care. The funny thing with “urgent care” was that service was never “urgent”. I expected this and waited for my visit. After what seemed like eternity I was called back. I showed the doc how air was escaping my ear when I pressurized it. He snapped at me not to do that again as it could make things worse. I didn’t do it again. After the doc took a look in my ear with his light scope he told me a third of my ear drum was blown away from the sides. He asked how in the world this could happen and I explained the fight to him. He smiled and shook his head. “You can’t think of a better way to pay your way through college?” he asked with a friendly smirk. I just laughed and explained that I loved boxing and fighting was in my blood. I told him I’d rather make a few bucks fighting than get into trouble with the law. The doc gave me some ear drops to use in the AM after I showered and reminded me not to blow pressure into my ears.

By this time the UMD Statesman had started covering my boxing advances and there were news papers throughout the college with my picture and fight story.

By this time the UMD Statesman had started covering my boxing advances and there were news papers throughout the college with my picture and fight story.

Following the visit I went back to UMD to hit up my last class. By this time the UMD Statesman had started covering my boxing advances and there were news papers throughout the college with my picture and fight story. This was cool. I remember sitting the Kirby Lounge reading the write up from this fight. Right next to me was another student reading the same story. He didn’t know I was the boxer he was reading about. I didn’t say anything; just took a mental picture of it. As small as this was I was filled with great joy and pride for what I was doing. I was a moment I’ll never forget. People I never knew were starting to follow my boxing career. It was a crossroads moment where I started to realize what I was doing was being followed by more than just my immediate circle.
This feeling of happiness compounded as the day went on. Class was a breeze and soon enough I was on my way back to the gym for training; or should I say my dingy garage with slick, muddy floors to train in the cold. I didn’t care. I took pride that I was doing big things with minimal means. When I got to the garage I could see that Chuck Horton had a similar feeling. We were both pretty stoked on what was happening. Then, Chuck Horton’s phone rang. I could tell it was business because he switched to serious mode on the turn of a dime. Toward the end of the call I could see him loosening up a bit and he started to smile again as the call wrapped up. The promoter back in Tacoma Washington wanted me back on his next show and was even considering signing me to a promotional contract that would include accommodations to move out to Tacoma to live! This was unreal! I was pumped. There was a catch though. I had to beat one more boxer before ink would go on paper. If I gave another good showing on my next fight in Tacoma the next step would be to negotiate a contract with Brian Halquist Productions. We agreed to this proposal and got right back to work.
I was matched with Josue Cielos, 3-3 2KO. I had no idea what he looked like, but figured my last opponent was 4-3 3KO so this guy would be lighter work. Chuck Horton warned me against thinking this way and reminded me that regardless of what a pro record holds there’s usually a lot of amateur boxing experience behind the fighter. He also stressed that this fight was a ‘test’ to see if the promoter wanted to sign me so Josue Cielos had to be good. Whatever the case I had a job to do so I needed to get serious about it.
I trained extra hard for this fight. I wanted to make a big impression and seal the deal with the promoter. There were high stakes on the line and I didn’t want to get exhausted mid-fight like I did the previous time with Luis Lopez. This fight was also scheduled for 6-rounds; the first 6-rounder of my career. A four round fight was 12 minutes of continual punching with only three minutes of rest. This was already a task for me. I was a high punch volume fighter and I questioned how anyone could ever go a full 12-rounds! The fight was scheduled 6 weeks after my last one and that was just enough time to recover from the ear injury and get my body in shape. I didn’t leave Duluth for sparring. I still felt sharp from my last camp and Chuck Horton didn’t want to risk my eardrum getting reinjured. I focused on getting my lungs and body into the condition needed to take and give extreme measures of abuse if needed. Each day I ran I would imagine a fight started and finished with intensity.
I found a running rout I really liked. I would run along 8th Street in West Duluth between Central Ave and 40th Ave. Along the way there were several up-hill streets that lead to dead ends along a railroad track that paralleled 8th Street. I would start from my home on central and run down to 40th Ave at a brisk pace. On the return rout I’d cross the street to the upper side of the road and sprint all the little hills to the tracks. Following the sprints I’d throw left-right punches at a jogging pace till I rounded the corner to the next hill to sprint. Then when I got back to central Ave I’d take a few quick turns and get on Highland Street which was a 1.2 mile hill. I would charge the hill like the leading soldiers in battle. There were several times early on I could taste the blood in my lungs from the stress I put them through. Once I got to the top I’d return to the bottom at a recovery shuffle as I followed my steps back home. I did this run every day in the evening. It was dark on Highland Street as there were no street lights to spot my steps. I just ran in the middle of the road and crossed over to the other side when a car would come.
An additional perk to my fighting in Tacoma Washington was a family friend named Sandy Crane heard about my fighting in Tacoma Washington and wanted to bring her husband up to watch my fight. Sandy was a long time family friend from the days my family lived in Fresno California. My mom and Sandy became very close during our time in Fresno because her kids were all similar ages to me and my siblings. We to the same schools, had many of the same interests, and shared a love of the wild side of life! Our two families got together every week and in the end it felt like all the siblings blended together like a Brady Bunch type dynamic. After several years in Cali my family moved to Minnesota, but my mom and Sandy always kept in touch. I was so looking forward to catching up with her and meeting her husband.
Before I knew it the week of the fights had come again. The intensity of training calmed down a bit and I got restless. The nights seemed long as I’d wake up here and there only to lie awake dreaming of my next fight. I could see the fight. I embraced the idea I would be putting myself out there again to potentially get hurt really bad. The consequences of boxing weren’t at the tip of my mind though. When I thought about my fight I only saw myself attacking and being victorious. I always did my best to control my thoughts leading up to a fight. Every fight comes with a mental battle during the last days of camp. It was a conscious effort to keep my thoughts positive.
The flight went fast. Duluth, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Seattle, and then a shuttle to the hotel for weigh ins. My nerves were way less as I was familiar with the process from my last fight trip. When we pulled up the hotel there was the familiar crowd of boxing people walking about. This time tough, they gave a nod to say “hello” instead of mug us when we got off the bus. It was a sign of respect earned after our last fight trip when we boxed Luis Lopez.
Chuck Horton and I knew our way though the hotel to the conference room where weigh ins were held. Upon entering the room we were greeted with a few smiles and handshakes to welcome us back. It was far different from our first reception. The room was stuffy with the dank smell of a locker room mixed with the polluted sea salt air and smoker’s cloths. It was funky, but it was our scene. These were boxing folks.
I scanned the room to see if I could figure out who my opponent was. I saw a crazy eyed fella swaggering in place shifting his weight from one foot to the next. He was wearing a cream colored leather starter coat with a flat billed red hat. When my eyes paced by him I noticed he was staring at me. He looked a little bigger than my boxers in my weight class, but then again WHY was this dude staring at me?! I gave him the respect nod, but he just swaggered and stared. Could this be Josue Cielos? I stared back at him now and grinned. Maybe this dude was just in a pissy mood from making weight, maybe he was boxer I was matched to fight. I didn’t know. If this was my opponent I can’t let him stare me down. Nope.
The staring match broke when the promoter called attention to start weigh ins. Pair by pair the fights were weighed in and then it was my turn. Sure enough, the swaggering crazy looking dude across the room was my opponent. What were the chances… I walked to the scale with a grimace on my face from the irony. I was well prepared for this fight. I was feeling confident. I had no need to be scared. Josue Cielos plodded his way to the scale as well. His intensity didn’t waver. He just looked angry with the world and today I guess it was my fault . He didn’t say anything to me. I was shocked to see we both came in underweight for our match. I could have sworn he was heavier. After we weighed in we squared off for a pre-fight photo and went our separate ways to head over to the Emerald Queen Casino for the buffet only to meet up again on the shuttle for the ride over. This is one of the parts of boxing you have to be ready for. You will have several encounters with your opponent before stepping in the ring. It’s important to keep your composure in these times as the final battle is mental on both sides. My goal in these situations was always to show confidence, but not be jerk. That being said, it was a quiet ride over.
The next day felt like it was in fast forward. It felt like I woke up, packed my bag for the fights, and had my hands wrapped for fight time in the blink of an eye. I was excited to fight and show Brian Halquist Productions I was worth signing. I was third up to fight. I warmed up during the first fight and got my gloves on for my fight during the second. The first two matches went to decision and the crowd was getting restless. The fist boxer who won fought his way to an easy one sided win. The second fight was a similar match of light fisted punches and I could hear the crowd boo a few times to urge the boxers to press the action. This crowd was the kind that liked fights, not so much the sweet science of boxing. This crowd was unbelievable! They were a one of a kind fight fan. I walked out to see what round it was and saw my time was getting close. I walked back to my warm up area and was met by a person I’d never met. He greeted me with a huge smile and wished me well on my fight. It was Jeff Crane, Sandy’s husband. He told me he and Sandy had front row seats and were really looking forward to watching me fight. This was a cool thing and made feel pretty cool. Here I was a kid from Duluth MN fighting in Tacoma WA and getting a well wish from a fan from Fresno CA! Now felt even more energized!
My turn came up and the music of “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses filled the air. I shuffle stepped my way toward the ring. The arena air felt cold as it hit my skin. This was before I had my tiger robe so I shuffled to the ring just trunks and gloves. I was all business.
Josue Cielos was already in the ring. I saw him through the ropes glaring at me as I made my way to the ring. He was still looking scary and from where I was looking up at him Cielos looked like a monster. The kind of bad guy you see in a movie. I entered the ring and took a lap around to the neutral corner where I said a quick prayer. It was almost time to get to work. I stripped my face of the smirk and smile I carried prior to the fight. I was not playing around. The intensity spiked even higher as we walked to the middle of the ring to touch gloves and get referee instructions. Josue Cielos swaggered in with his dead stare. He had wide eyes that didn’t blink. Chuck Horton walked to the center with me for instructions. When we walked back to the corner following instructions Chuck Horton’s final words were. “Don’t be stupid. Box this guy smart.” I just gave a wink and smiled.
“Ding!” Round 1 was on. I dashed across the ring and attacked Josue Cielos with everything I had. It was a hot mess of punches that took Cielos by surprise. I didn’t give him a chance to start his game plan, nor did I want to. I slipped a few wild counter punches from him that had the sure signs of deadly force. I did not want to get hit by one of those. Then to moved around to my right where I noticed he was blindly following me with jabs to set up his right hand. I stopped and through a quick right uppercut under his jab followed by a crushing left hook to the head that flattened Jouse Cielos to the mat. He got up but I could tell he was still rocked. I chased after him ripping him around the ring with punches till on caught him just right and staggered him backward toward the ropes. As he stumbled back I chased him with jabs till he hit the ropes in the corner and then my punches hit him in the face. He was in trouble and I knew it! I had the upper hand and I knew it! The crowd was going berserk! There were screams and cheers like you couldn’t believe! This was what they wanted. A fight!

I continued to pound Josue Cielos in the corner till he found room to escape. I maneuvered back to center ring where Cielos started an attack of his own to drive me back. He was fight with an unsteady base and his punches were easy to read. I countered with swift left hook as I moved back. It caught him right on the chops and his knees buckled. I poured it on once more and smashed him back to the ropes. I could hear the 10-second warning for the end of the round sounds just as I nailed him with a nice right that once more sent Cielos to the mat. This time face first. He again got up, but during his 8-count staggered backwards prompting the referee to stop the fight! Boom! TKO Round 1!!! The crowd continued to freak out while I walked around the ring with my hands raised. I walked passed a judge’s table that Brian Halquist was sitting at and said “You Like That!!?” He was all smiles and said “I’ll talk to your trainer.”
I was on cloud 9! This was two for two huge nights in the ring for me at the Emerald Queen Casino. I felt like the sky was the limit!
Following the fight I was able to catch up with Jeff and Sandy to thank them for coming. It sure was cool to be able to give them a huge win like that for their first time watching me fight. We made plans to catch up for a bit to eat at the casino buffet after the fights.
Dinner was fun. Conversation was a blend of catching up with Sandy and Jeff about their family and my telling them about how I ended up as a pro boxer. Jeff asked if I had any sponsors. I told him I didn’t, but was always open to the idea. He asked if I would like to be sponsored by his company which I was delighted to hear! That night we came up with a basic plan for his company to sponsor my training camps and training expenses moving forward. What a deal!
It was fun to see how doors would open the more I kicked butt in the ring. The more people saw of me the more people believed in me. There was a contagious excitement that followed me. People that heard my story loved it and wanted to be a part of it. This was a fun time for my career. The feeling was that of being on the crest of a huge wave. I wave of excitement that rushed through everything I was doing. Life was on a sure upswing from my days of living on the gym floor and washing dishes to make a few bucks! I was a happy recipient of the transformational power of boxing. I felt new; brand new. I paid my dues and now I was reaping the benefits.
I flew back home to Duluth as 5-0 4KO’s. I was undefeated and on top of the world!

Author: Zach Walters

Welcome to Tacoma: 1st Out- of -State Pro Fight

“Zach Walters is my most loyal of fighters as he’s been there through the thick and thin. Together, we were responsible for putting Duluth boxing on the map, and I consider this one of the most special moments of Zach’s career.” – Chuck Horton

Welcome to Tacoma: 1st Out- of -State Pro Fight
It was December 2003 and Chuck Horton had been calling around to find fights to keep rolling my career forward. There weren’t many opportunities in MN at that time so we agreed to look at options on the road. The first connection to materialize was with Brian Halquist of Halquist Productions. Brian Halquist had continuous shows year around at the Emerald Queen Casino in the port of Tacoma, WA. The shows were always packed and the fans were a very rowdy sort. I found that out as soon as I got to the venue. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
My record at this time was 3-0 with 2 Knockouts and I was matched with Jason St Louis from Edmonton, Canada who had a 1-0 record. I liked the match as it pinned me against another fighter foreign to Tacoma, WA. I was confident I could win a fight on fair ground and trained hard for this opportunity.

", I possibly had the worst conditions for a young pro boxer, but I had great trainers with Chuck Horton and Bill Plum."

“I possibly had the worst conditions for a young pro boxer, but I had great trainers with Chuck Horton and Bill Plum.”

By now I had moved out of living in the gym, but an ironic turn was that the gym downsized to about 6 members and moved into the garage of the place I rented. I was living in a small house off Central Ave in West Duluth with a small single car garage. The garage was cold in the winter and we had a few space heaters in opposite corners blowing hot hair, but it barely helped. It was still very chilly. We had a heavy bag and the ball bag in there. The space was crammed already so adding any more bags would make training as a group impossible. The floor was greasy from years of oil changes gone bad and when we trained it would get slick and mucky. I remember dropping cat litter on the floor to soak up the gunk, but that just ground into a nasty paste. The training conditions were not ideal. It was tough. I told myself it’s not where you train, but who’s training you that mattered. You can have the nicest gym in the world, but if the trainers are clueless to the fight game they will not produce good boxers. In my case, I possibly had the worst conditions for a young pro boxer, but I had great trainers with Chuck Horton and Bill Plum. I enjoyed having the gym at my house. I thought this was pretty cool as it still offered me the same opportunity to train anytime I wanted as it was when I lived at the gym.
I needed some good sparring so I called up my good friend, Andy Kolle to get some solid rounds in. He lived in Fargo, ND and was attending college there. We were close from the amateurs as we started boxing a few weeks apart in Fergus Falls, MN several years before. We boxed together all through high school and he had come up to Duluth to box on several amateur cards Chuck Horton put on prior to my turning pro. Andy Kolle was still boxing as an amateur at the time, but this didn’t mean he was lacking in skills. He was very good and had been to the nationals seven or eight times by now. He was holding off on going pro because he was on a quest to capture the Upper Mid-West Golden Gloves Championship. That was a crown he wanted to get before he took his craft to the pros. We agreed to meet up for an extended weekend over New Year’s Eve as we were both on Christmas Break from school. It was well worth my trip. We sparred several evenings for about an hour or so in his apartment garage where he too had a little gym set up. I started training camp in my garage on the East side of the state finished up camp in his garage on the West side. After our last day of training we went out to celebrate the 2004 New Year with a bunch of our high school friends that lived in Fargo. It was a fun night and a great send off.
I drove back to Duluth and didn’t even unpack my bags when I got back. One week later I was set to fly out for my fight so I lived out of my suitcase at home. I was amped. I couldn’t wait! One thing I learned to love about boxing was that it took me places. There are many places I’d never have gone if not for boxing. Tacoma Washington was one such place. Also, as we traveled for boxing it was fun to make conversation with the other travelers and tell them fight stories. That was always a fun bonus.
We landed in Tacoma and there was a chauffeur there with our names on a card waiting for us when we walked out of the gate. It felt very surreal. I know it was only a ride to the hotel, but thoughts were rushing through my mind as I imagined things to come. These were the days I dreamed of when I was busting my tail in training in the early days of my pro career. I dreamed of traveling around the US fighting people to make a few bucks. To me, this felt like a significant step forward from things as they were. I had about 16 pro fights by this time although only 3 counted towards my record. I felt like the dark horse in the mix and assumed people didn’t realize what I was capable of. I assumed these people in Tacoma underestimated me and I was looking forward to representing Duluth Minnesota to the fullest! A side thought that I adopted over my years of boxing was that ‘toughness didn’t have a zip code.’ In boxing, it doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you’ve got skills and heart you can emerge from anywhere in the world! For me, I came from Duluth, MN and I believed I had every right to feel confident in the ring with anyone.
The van took us directly to a rundown hotel in the Port of Tacoma where the weigh-ins were to be held. There were several clusters of boxers that had already shown up from out of state and from around the surrounding cities. In the weigh-in room, there was a crowd of the usual boxing folks bunched around the room, some standing, some pacing, some sitting at tables talking about other fights and boxers from recent shows. They were usuals you’d find at a boxing weigh-in… You know, a group of middle-aged men looking like ‘trouble-maker kids’ that didn’t grow up much and found a safe place in boxing where they could still misbehave. It could be intimidating to some. But for me, as foreign as I felt, there was still a sense of belonging that overrode any anxiety I carried with me. This was my scene and I was excited to be a part of things.

"I looked up some info on him and figured since I was 3-0 and undefeated this fella would be no sweat!"

“I looked up some info on him and figured since I was 3-0 and undefeated this fella would be no sweat!”

I weighed in right at the 175lbs limit, stepped off the scale, and grabbed a jug of Gatorade I brought with to rehydrate. My opponent was not there yet, but I didn’t care. I did my job and I knew that if the promoter had paid to bring me out this far I was bound to fight! We waited around the weigh-in for a few hours for my opponent to show. Then we found out my opponent had trouble making it down from Canada. He was turned away at the Canada/USA border due to some legal charges on his record and now we had a problem. I needed a match!
Chuck Horton networked with the available boxing personalities at the weigh-in and came to me with a suggestion, Luis Lopez (4-3 3KO) from Pasco, Washington. I looked up some info on him and figured since I was 3-0 and undefeated this fella would be no sweat! After all, I had more professional fighting experience than my 3-0 represented and this guy had been beat three times! I was sold. I told Chuck to accept the match so we could take the shuttle to the buffet and eat. This whole time I felt like I was starving to death with only some Gatorade in my belly. I was getting grumpy at this point and now that I had a fight again I was overjoyed! The plan was that my opponent would drive to the fights the next day and weigh in at the venue. I didn’t care how Luis Lopez got to the fights, I just wanted to eat!
The casino buffet didn’t disappoint and I quickly over ate till my belly was about to burst! I think I had fourths of all the good food they provided. It was the best food I’d had in a long while and it tasted even better since I had been cutting weight for the last several weeks leading up to this point.
The shuttle took us back to our dingy hotel and we checked into our rooms. It was late evening now so we geared down to go to sleep. Only trouble was now I couldn’t sleep! The blood sugars were racing through my body since eating all the tasty food my belly could hold and I was excited to fight the following day. I must have laid awake till 3:00 AM. I remember looking at the shadows on the speckled popcorn ceiling and putting faces together with the dots. Then there were the continuous sounds of semi trucks coming and going from the port. There would be the occasional ship horn that would sound over the roaring of engines and honking of semi truck air brakes. Sleep seemed impossible, but somehow I drifted off.
The next day I must have slept till noon. I met with Chuck Horton and we walked over to a rest stop type diner to get some breakfast. The air was musty. It smelled like exhaust and sea water. Not that great. The short walk to the diner made me appreciate the clean air and water in Duluth even more than I already had to that point. Following breakfast I returned to my hotel room and Chuck Horton walked me through a visualization exercise about the fight plan for that night. Following that, I laid there in my room till it was time to leave for the Emerald Queen Casino.
We gathered out front of the hotel lobby and packed into a shuttle. When we got to the casino it was a bit of a maze getting into the showroom. It was smaller than I had imagined. It could seat 800 people or so. Not too big. As I mentioned before the crowd was a rough looking bunch. They weren’t very welcoming, but not cold either. They were just a hard set of people. The kind that you would imagine knew a bit about fighting whether they were boxers or not. By the looks of a few of their hands, you could tell these folks worked with their hands and very possibly got into frequent fights. Anyway, the locker room situation was pipe and drape partitioning with 8 small 6×6 rooms. It was very small. My fight was the second bout of the night so I quickly got settled. Soon after I found my dressing room space I was notified that Luis Lopez had arrived and was about to weigh in. I couldn’t wait to put eyes on him. Till now I had no idea what he looked like. I got to the scale area and found a short Mexican fighter that was full of tattoos. One tattoo was his last name L O P E Z written in an Old English arch over the upper part of his belly. He looked like a rough guy. Luis Lopez was a soft build and looked like he was fighting above his weight class. I swelled with confidence on the site and watched him weigh in. When he got off the scale he looked up at me dead in the eye and with a smile said; “You are tall.”, then chuckled a bit, but didn’t break his stare. It was like he was trying to under qualify me for boxing due to my lanky tallness. I smiled back and said “you’re short.” I didn’t break my stare either. Without any more words, we had a conversation. We told each other we both felt very good about whooping the other. Chuck Horton called me back over and I broke away with a respectful nod with a smirk. Now I all the pieces were together. It was Fight Time!

"Chuck Horton wrapped my hands and we discussed the game plan for the night. Then Gloves were delivered for the fight and I warmed up. Time was flying!"

“Chuck Horton wrapped my hands and we discussed the game plan for the night. Then Gloves were delivered for the fight and I warmed up. Time was flying!”

Chuck Horton wrapped my hands and we discussed the game plan for the night. Then Gloves were delivered for the fight and I warmed up. Time was flying! Soon enough, it was my time to walk out to the ring. My fight music filled the little arena and I made my way to the ring. Across the ring from me was Luis Lopez. He looked like an enraged bulldog. With his chin down he mugged across the ring with a dead stare. I just smiled. It was not worth it to try and scare this guy. He was on a different level of tough guy. I knew mugging back would only fuel him more. Ironically in his corner was also the gentleman who claimed to be a neutral party matchmaker at weigh-ins. Chuck Horton and I had a little laugh at him in the corner before introductions. The fix seemed to be in, but we still felt good about whooping this guy.
Ding! The first round started and I quickly went to work on Lopez with vicious combinations. I paid significant tribute to digging in somebody punches as I assumed he was out of shape due to his physique. The entire round was a one-sided beating. Several times Luis Lopez looked rocked enough to maybe go down, but he would somehow maintain his composure. After the round, I told myself he’s got one round left and he’s out of there.
Ding! Round two started and I jumped on my opponent like a spider wrapping up a bug stuck in his net. I hit Luis Lopez hard with every shot. Over and over I punched his head and body. He staggered a bit here and there which gave me confidence in my plan, but I started to also feel my arms getting heavy. Luis Lopez was now cut over one eye and the other was getting swelled up. I knew I would be ahead if I wrapped this around up the way I started. I finished the round in stellar fashion with fast combinations, but I knew I needed to take a round off to get back on track and come back from my depleted energy. My game plan changed from taking him out to taking around off in the 3rd so I could finish well in the 4th. My idea was to use my legs to float around behind a jab to buy some time. Ok…
Ding! Round three starts and my legs aren’t quite as limber as I’d hoped. Fending Luis Lopez off with a jab started to become a good 1-2 before stepping off. Then my 1-2 turned into standing my ground and throwing combos. Luis Lopez just kept coming! This was not my plan. Luis Lopez had become a nightmare! He haunted me with the persistence of a bad dream and I was getting really tired. I had hit him several times with my best shot and he took it. He ate the punch like Pac Man eats dots.
I was getting worried. I resorted to throwing a combination and tying him up instead of floating away. I was fading fast. On one of the breaks, Luis Lopez took his mandatory step back, but bounced off his back foot with a huge right hand! The punch looped over my left shoulder and crushed down on my ear. I felt the life leave my legs and the sound of a siren went off in my head. My ear had a tingling like never before and the ground seemed to turn into an uneven slope. It was like I was walking on a trampoline. I staggered over to a corner where I saw Luis Lopez rushing in. The next thing I remember was looking at his black and red Adidas boots walk away. It was a split second before I realized I was laying in a heap on the mat. I jumped up in embarrassment on bad legs. I didn’t want the ref to call the fight! He count finished and the ref let the fight resume. I was shocked but relieved. I knew all I had to do was survive less than a minute and I’d get my stool. It was a horrible finish and to this day I still wonder what the ref was thinking letting the fight continue. I looked terrible now!
In the corner, I sat on the stool. I was happy to get a break, but that’s not what I got. Chuck Horton was irate! He slapped me across the face and yelled at me. He asked why I had got away from the game plan to keep my reach and box. I was exhausted and all I could think of was the advantage Luis now had on the cards. I told Chuck I needed to knock him out or I’d lose the fight. Chuck disagreed and yelled even more. He was red in the face with urgency for me to box. I just said, “I gotta knock him out, Chuck”. Chuck shook his head, gave me a swig of water and said “OK. You’re on your own kid.” and stepped out of the ring. There was still a few seconds lift in the break so I stood up and paced around a bit to get my legs back.
Ding! The bell for the fourth and final round rang and I was at it again. I charged in on Luis Lopez with vicious desperation. He met me in the middle of the ring with equal ferocity. We squared off in a back and forth battle of trading punches till I finally put a miracle of combinations together. I let him bull into me and while I staggered back I ripped two left hooks to his jaw. The second clipped him just right causing him to straighten up a bit. I dug my back foot into the canvas and followed up with a massive right uppercut followed by another left hook and a final right uppercut. The last punch caught Luis Lopez right in the crease of his Adam’s apple and jaw. His mouth guard launched out of his mouth deep into the crowd and he fell backward like “TIMBER!!!……” I slumped forward after the punch and raised my hands as I walked away. I knew the knockdown at least evened the score up if, not putting the fight back into my pocket.

It was a great feeling as I walked over to the neutral corner. From the looks of how he fell back, there was no way Luis Lopez was getting up from that shot. But true to the nature of his prior rounds this guy was tougher than any regular man. Maybe not even ten men! He rolled over, crawled to the ropes, and pulled himself up. The referee got to the count of eight and asked Luis Lopez to step forward to show stability, but when he did so he swayed backward as he stepped forwards as if just getting off a merry-go-round. The fight was called. I threw my hands up for a few paces, then crumbled to my knees in the center ring. I could hardly believe what had just happened. I wept a few tears of joy. Chuck Horton came out of his shell in celebration. He freaked out! I walked over and gave him a big hug. In my ear, Chuck Horton said, “Don’t ever do that again kid.” He then looked at me with a smile and eyes watered with joy. I walked across the ring to check on Luis Lopez and thank him for the fight. He was sitting on a stool and under inspection from the doctor. I shook him hand and he pulled himself up, but didn’t let go. He all he said was “Rematch homes. Rematch”… I smiled and said, “Sure, anytime.” But in my mind I was like “HECK NO!!! You gotta be CRAZY!!’
What a night that was! It will forever be a night I cherish as a golden memory from my pro career. It is a golden moment that happened a long ways away from my home. It is a memory only Chuck Horton and I share. I have told the story countless times, but it never seems as real as it was when it happened. That night was magical. It was the kind experience that is never as good told as it was experienced.
That night again, I didn’t sleep. This time because I was so filled with adrenaline from the night’s events and dreaming awake of what would become of my boxing career. If my career was done at that moment I would count my days in the ring a success. That’s how I felt.
But there was also this addictive side to the experience that drove me to seek a moment like that once more! It was like a high I wanted to find again. At this point, I had just gotten a taste and I was already hooked! I was a fighter and proud of it.

Author: Zach Walters

The Road to my 4th Pro Fight

There was a lot of questioning going on in my mind between my 3rd and 4th fight. What was I doing in the pro’s anyway? Chuck Horton and I continued to work toward getting the pro boxing picture up and running in the Twin Ports, but our advances continued to be slow. During this time we held over 13 small shows, all of which didn’t go on my record. We packed little venues to the wall in Superior, WI and the surrounding area. Places like Tyomy’s Bar and Fat Daddy’s Bar in Superior Wisconsin, couple at Solon Springs Community Center, The Pit Stop in Proctor, Fergus Falls Armory, shows right in the gym, and even a big show at UMD Romano Gym. Some of the shows were exhibition fights and some of them were straight up fights that didn’t get documented in my professional record. The goal was to fight as much as possible and get in front of a crowd as much as possible. I kept an “off the record” type record book that documented my fights and the results. Some of the boxers used aliases and others didn’t. It was a fast-paced saturation of boxing shows with me as the usual main event of the night. The shows usually drew a few hundred people and a loyal fan base of support started to develop as we did more shows. Sometimes we had a mix of MMA, Kick Boxing, and Boxing all on one night. Crazy…, but we just wanted to keep pushing ahead. The shows were always different and exciting.


Zach Walters, who is now a family man and head trainer of Jungle Boy Boxing Gym, talks about the path to his fourth career fight as a professional boxer

Zach Walters, who is now a family man and head trainer of Jungle Boy Boxing Gym, talks about the path to his fourth career fight as a professional boxer

During this time Minnesota still didn’t have their boxing commission. Any fight that was to count on the books needed to have an out-of-state commission come in to sanction the event. There were commissioners from Colorado, Iowa, or Oklahoma that would frequently come up to sanction the fights. This was an additional cost on top of paying the boxers to compete on the cards. The local crowds were still growing, but not enough to justify all the additional expenses of an out-of-state commission.

Other boxers in Minnesota were turning pro the same time I was. It was like we were a graduating class of boxers chasing our dreams into the pros.  Jason and Allen

were two of the boxers that were active in my amateur days. These two characters could really fight and were very successful amateur boxers. I had known them for quite a while and never forgot the day I met them. It was my first time at the 4-State Silver Gloves Tournament. The tournament was held in Fergus Falls and all the boxers were staying in the Best Western Hotel down the road. I lived in a neighboring town at the time so I too stayed at the hotel. The weekend was insanely snowy and many teams couldn’t make it. The ones that did were the few that came early to dodge the storm. Anyway, I was passing through the pool area on my way to my room when I walked by Jason and Allen Litzau and

Zach remembers his first encounter with the Litzau brothers

Zach remembers his first encounter with the Litzau brothers

Antonio Johnson. Jason asked me what weight I boxed and when I told him I was 140lbs he said I should be glad I wasn’t in his older brother Allen’s weight class cuz he’d ‘whip my ass.’ I was shocked! I didn’t know how to take this. Jason must have been about 90lbs at the time and his brother couldn’t have been more than 106lbs. Both were littler than me so I thought they were kidding. They were not. I brushed it off as a joke and continued on. Those two would go on to become top-10 rated amateur boxers in the USA. We eventually became friends as we continually attended tournaments. They were always a lot of fun! They always had a lot to say and where not afraid to back it up in the ring. Anyway, I had known them for quite a while by the time they were in the pro’s. They had become a promotional piece called “The American Boys”. They were a package deal. They had stuck together since their early days of boxing and nothing was to separate them. That was that. If you were to see Jason, you were sure to see Allen too. They had both turned pro in 2002, and then took showcase fights in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Antonio Margarito vs Andrew Lewis (WBO World Title Fight) undercard a few months earlier. What a cool opportunity!

This show they were on would be their second show at the St Paul Armory. It was set up as a huge homecoming type event. There was a big buzz about these two and I was glad to be on the card.

I trained hard for the fight. At this point in my pro career I was fighting guys I had no idea what they were made of. I didn’t know how to read a pro record. You see, in the amateurs it’s all about “how many fights you have”, not so much what your record was. If a boxer had 20+ fights he was considered an experienced boxer. In the pros it was different. A boxer with three fights could be 3-0 but be a serious threat. Or a boxer could have 20 fights but a mixed record of say 5-15 and you could see that he may not be as much of a threat. Anyway, I was matched with a guy that was 8-47-3. 50+ fights! I didn’t know what to think of this! Granted he’d lost most of his fights, but you could also say he had tons more professional experience. I thought to myself “if this guy decides to draw on his experience he could be a threat.” I just trained hard and did my best to be ready for anything. I had an official record of 2-0 1KO with 1 NC (No Contest) so this was my third official fight for my record. I had about 9 fights that weren’t on my record, but that just made me feel more confident in front of a crowd. I was familiar with showmanship by now and knew what the crowd wanted. They wanted KO’s.

Bill Plum was the one in my corner for this fight. He and Chuck Horton had trained me together for years and I was very comfortable with both in my corner. I was fully confident with my corner and in my ability to beat my opponent. I was happy to be on a card with a fight that counted toward my official record and now it was time to get in the ring and prove I was as good as I thought I was.

I got warmed up and walked to the ring. My fan base was still small at this time, but there were still enough people there to cheer me into the ring through a tunnel of cheering fans. It was great to get this reception outside of Duluth. My opponent was already in the ring pacing around with a scowl on his face. I got in the ring and took a lap around to feel my space. The first bell rang and it was time to box. I started off behind a stiff jab. My reach was a huge factor in this fight as my opponent was short and more muscular. He tried to cut the ring off with movement, but I was able to throw a fast combination and dart out of the way back to the middle of the ring. This cat and mouse game took up the first two rounds until I got caught with a big shot. I wasn’t hurt, but it looked bad. I got back to my corner where Bill Plum yelled at me and asked; “Why are you playing around in there. Don’t embarrass yourself. Get in there and do your job!” I never thought of it that way. You know… like I had a job to do. Boxing was always something I did because I liked it. It was never a job. But Bill Plum had a point. I was down there to show I was an up-n-comer so the point was clear.

The next round I took more initiative to attack Gerald Sheldon. Instead of backing up and leaving jabs behind to set up counters I marched him down with my jab and landed power shots behind. I hurt him a few times in the third round, but he hung in there tough. He tried fighting me off a few times, but I shut down his attacks with a greater one. The third round wrapped up with me pummeling him into the ropes at the final 10-seconds bell.

Bill Plum was more pleasant in the corner this time. He even had a grin on his face as if he was amused at the thrashing I had put on my opponent. He was short and direct this time. He said; “There we go. That’s more like it. Now you have one round to put this guy away, or you can consider this trip a waste of my time.” He knew how to light a fire under my butt. I would have been happy winning on points if not for him. The next round I finally caught Gerald Sheldon with some clean shots and hurt him bad enough to drop him. He got up, but it would have been better for him to stay down. I rushed in with a lead right over his lead jab that staggered him back. I continued to follow him as he fell backward with a few jabs and finished things with a slamming right had. He crumbled to his knees in the corner and the ref stopped the fight. I won via TKO-4. My official record improved to 3-0 2 KO (1 No Contest).  I was happy with my victory and thanked my opponent for the fight. Following the fight, I got paid with an envelope of crisp $100 dollar bills. It felt pretty good.

I didn’t know how far boxing would take me, but in these days I was happy to be able to make a few bucks for doing what I loved to do. When I got back to my temporary home at the gym it all seemed worth it. I thought to myself, “This sure beats washing dishes at Red Lobster!”  My college schooling was back on track and I had my first appearance on the Dean’s List that spring. I was still on probation and in the Drug Court program, but that only seemed like a formality I needed to complete to get my life back. I saw the program as an opportunity more than a consequence. I felt like these were people that cared about me and just wanted to help if I let them. It seemed like so long ago, but as I write this story those times still feel like yesterday.

It’s amazing how fast life moves on. How at the start of something it seems so long, but when it’s over it feels like a flash. What I’m trying to say is, savor the moments as they happen because they go so fast.

I am thankful one of my professors gave me that advice early on. I started keeping a journal about my life and times. Doing this gave me a moment to step outside myself to see my life from a third person perspective. Writing about my life as it happened helped me to savor the unique times of my career.

That being said, in the grand scheme of things my 4th pro fight could be looked upon as just another fight, but for me it was a brick in the foundation of something big I was working to build. Something I had no idea how big it would become, but I had a feeling it was going to be pretty cool in the end.

Author: Zach Walters

Zach’s 3rd Pro Fight

Author: Zach Walters

My 3rd pro fight took place a month after my second. I was welled up with confidence from my last win and was eager to get back at it. Every day after my second fight I came home to the gym and trained. I wanted to build on my recent success and keep moving ahead. Resting after a fight was not part of my recipe for getting ahead. I knew from reading stories about early pro’s in the 1920’s that hard work was the key. I embraced it. You see, I compared what Chuck Horton and I were doing in Duluth to what early professional boxing people did to pioneer professional boxing into existence. Pro boxing had been absent from Duluth, MN for the longest time and our goal was to bring it back in a big way. How to do that was a continual riddle we had to figure out. It was hit and miss with the shows and I could tell it was wearing on Chuck even though he never let on. That was something I learned to admire about Chuck Horton. In the years that followed I would see this cape of bulletproofness he’d put on in trying times. No matter what the circumstances we were given he always continued to push forward in bold determination and confidence. In these times he got a look in his face when he’d talk. It was a glare with a goofy smirk. The expression a kid would get playing with firecrackers. Anyway, he was a big confidence giver for me over the years and this was the first time I started to identify what to look for in him. I’d watch him when things got tough. If he was chill, I would relax. There were time’s Chuck Horton got real intense and that’s when I knew things were bad. Thankfully, this rarely happened.

 After the fight the judges ruled a decision in my favor and I jumped to 3-0 1 KO

After the fight the judges ruled a decision in my favor and I jumped to 3-0 1 KO

So for my third pro fight, Chuck Horton lined me up with a veteran road warrior from Kansas City, MO. His name was Vance Winn. Although Vance Winn had a losing record he was coming off a big win at Cruiserweight where he beat a guy 18-2. I weighed in at 175 and he weighed in at 185. It was clear he didn’t even try to make the weight. His size didn’t bother me at the weigh ins, but when I got in the ring with him it was clear that being the smaller boxer in this fight was a bad thing. I belted him with my hardest punches and they had little effect on him at all. In fact he just smiled and waved me in for more action. Vance Winn would let me bash him into the ropes and then he’d violently fight back in fistic flurries. This kind of fight was not hard to read. I just boxed him back ward and pulled away with a high guard before he retaliated. Back and forth we went in a fight of cat and mouse….except this mouse could fight back and hurt me if I was not careful. I recognized that I could not hurt him with my punches so I decided to win on skill instead. I knew if I controlled the fight tempo and landed the better shots I’d get it. This was not the kind of boxer I wanted to exchange shots with. I had great focus and conditioning from camp. Round after round I boxed smart and at the final bell I knew I had won the fight. After the fight the judges ruled a decision in my favor and I jumped to 3-0 1 KO. It was a great feeling. A few years later the decision got changed to a NC (No Contest). I was never sure why, but figured it had to do with Vance Winn coming in way over the contracted weight. I didn’t care too much about it. It was just a mark on paper. My goals in the ring were bigger than looking backward and fussing about a technicality.

This night was a confirmation that I could really do something. It confirmed to me that I was on the right track and with time things would grow into a great show. Every fight I had I walked into the ring with no excuses to be anything but ready for to fight… I literally lived at the gym! This was a special time for me. I was on a mission. Chuck was too. We shared this vision of making pro boxing something big in Duluth. We understood that to do so we both needed to do our part. I had to stay hungry and fight to my best and he had to keep setting the table and feeding the machine we were building. This machine we called “Jungle Boy”. I was the one in the ring, but we tied our success to the same thing; making Jungle Boy a big deal.

Chuck Horton Olympics

Chuck Horton had gone out to the Olympic Training Center to get his Level-4 USA Boxing coach’s certification. It was a big deal. On that trip he met an Icelandic boxing coach with a vision of bringing boxing back to Iceland

Now around this same time, Chuck Horton had gone out to the Olympic Training Center to get his Level-4 USA Boxing coach’s certification. It was a big deal. On that trip he met an Icelandic boxing coach with a vision of bringing boxing back to Iceland. Guðjón Vilhelm was the guy’s name, we just called him Gui for short. Iceland had outlawed boxing since the 1950’s and he believed the time was tight to pioneer it back. He was an ambitious fella. Very much like Chuck Horton; so much so they were like brothers from different countries. These two got to talking and conceived a plan to bring a boxing show to Iceland. This plan came to fruition weeks after my 3rd pro fight.

Chuck took a large group of the gym members over to Iceland to partner with Gui to hold the first boxing show in decades in Iceland. There were at least 18 of us. It was a controversial deal in Iceland to be a part of a boxing show there because boxing was still technically outlawed. Chuck and Gui had talked the Icelandic Parliament into conditionally legalizing boxing for one show. This show was to show them that boxing was not barbaric and a sport that could be recognized again. This is when I met Skúli Ármannsson, the future Icelandic Heagyweight Champion. Skúli Ármannsson and I had many similarities too. We were both they type of person to fearlessly chase goals no matter how impossible they were. Our meeting happened in the ring for a 4-round exhibition. I was much lighter, but the trade off was that he had less experience than me. I was suited up in 24 oz gloves, they felt like pillows, and he was to have the same. Not the case. He was wearing much smaller gloves than I. The gloves looked like 10oz pro fight gloves, but I’m sure they were probably 16oz or so. I looked at Chuck Horton prior to the ring announcing of our names and we had a good laugh seeing that we’d been tricked, but being that the fight was all in good fun we didn’t mind. I just shrugged and said “He’s gona pay for that.”

My plan was to dig all my power shots into his body and wind him out so the later rounds would be target practice for me. The plan worked, but not without a few shocks. I got nailed with a really nice uppercut when I was going in for a body attack and the shot dazed me pretty good. In the corner I asked Chuck Horton if he’d seen the punch. He did. I said, “New boxers don’t throw uppercuts like that. How new is this kid?” It was a good punch. I had been dazed before so I played it off and kept working away. Each round was like a mongoose and a cobra. I circled around Skúli attacking with fast combinations and he was holding the middle of the ring firing back with one or two big shots. It was a beautiful dance of punches. At the final bell I took the win and congratulated him on a good fight.

Later that night there was a huge after party where we all got together to celebrate the first boxing show in Iceland in over years. Skúli Ármannsson and I got to talking and he wanted to know if he could come to the US to train with me and learn how to box better. I agreed that this would be fun and this is where we changed from being comrades in the ring to good friends.

Over the next 7 years Skúli Ármannsson would come over in three to four week spurts to train with me at Horton’s Gym. He really like the style of boxing Chuck Horton trained and was hooked on mastering it. He went on to fight in some pretty big European boxing tournaments and got into the Olympic Qualification Tournament on April 7-14, 2008 in Athens, Greece, but fell short on making it to the Olympics. His last trip to the US he made his professional boxing debut which made him a national icon for boxing in Iceland. He was matched with Caleb Nelson of Hayward, WI who had a strong MMA background and good punching skills.  Skúli Ármannsson dominated an exciting fight and won by knock out. The future looked bright for him, but VISA difficulties made it tough for him to return to continue fighting.

Skúli Ármannsson

Skúli Ármannsson

Since then Skúli Ármannsson has kept himself in great shape, but with a different goal. He now enjoys training with a group of guys dedicated to becoming the world’s strongest man. He has put on significant bulk since we boxed the first time, but is still active in boxing. Skúli Ármannsson trains fellow Icelanders to box and still gets into the ring on occasion, but not to fight; only to spar. Most recently he put in several rounds with Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson who is better known as Gregor “The Mountain That Rides” Clegane from the popular HBO series Game of Thrones. You can see the sparring video online.

I share the additional story of meeting Skúli Ármannsson to show how my career was anything but the norm. At this point in my career I was 2-0 1KO, but had already traveled across the world.Every day of my career was an adventure. Much of this was due to Chuck Horton’s sense of adventure and my willingness to jump head first into whatever Chuck Horton was up to. After all, if not for Chuck Horton sticking his neck out for me early on none of these memories would be possible. He taught me through his actions that we all get knocked down in life. The difference is who gets back up. Had Chuck Horton given up on Pro Boxing back when we had our first show none of this would be possible. Had Chuck Horton given up on me when I was knocked down by my poor decisions I would have never had the great pro boxing career that I had. In many ways, boxing made me. It made me the man I am today.

My Second Pro Fight, and Life in the Gym

Officially, my second professional boxing match came in the fall of 2002. However, my second fight as a pro actually happened later that summer. This fight never made it to my pro record because Minnesota didn’t have a commission at that time. The day after my pro debut Chuck Horton and I met in the gym for a brief meeting. Chuck told me that was it. He was done promoting pro boxing. He was rethinking his aspirations of promoting professional boxing in Duluth.  Although the show was an overall success it didn’t go quite as he’d hoped. I pleaded with him to give it at least a year before making up his mind. He eventually agreed and we kept going. What a relief! The following weeks I trained for my next fight which was to be held a few weeks later.

We made a bloody show of our match. We gave the crowd four solid rounds of back and forth action. It was a very fun fight and I’ll never forget it.

We made a bloody show of our match. We gave the crowd four solid rounds of back and forth action. It was a very fun fight and I’ll never forget it.

Chuck Horton had a two fight deal with the Wade Stadium so he was obligated to hold another show there later that summer. With careful planning he pulled it off and it was a good show. Scott LeDoux was a guest announcer. There were several amateur fights and a hand full of pro fights on the card too. It was a fun show, but it didn’t count on my record. Minnesota didn’t have a commission at the time. I boxed a crafty boxer under an alias name. We made a bloody show of our match. We gave the crowd four solid rounds of back and forth action. It was a very fun fight and I’ll never forget it. My second official fight was a memorable fight as well, but before I get into it let me give put into context what life was like for me at that time. 

My living arrangement was most unique. At this time I lived in Horton’s Gym. I found my way to making Horton’s Gym my home though a course of random life events. If you remember, I had recently gone through the court system and was accepted into an intensive probation program called “Drug Court”. This was an open ended program that gave the courts full access to my life to make sure I was living to their standards. If I successfully completed it, my charges would vanish from my record. I was fully committed to changing my life so I saw the whole program as a huge opportunity to get my life straightened out. Shortly after my pro debut my probation officer had a search team do a random inspection and search of the college house I was living in. This was popped on me randomly without warning. I was not worried about it since I was living straight, but following the search they deemed it “unfit as a recovery environment”. At the end of the day, my roommates were good friends, but they liked to party here and there so I couldn’t disagree. Probation reported their findings to the Drug Court Judge, the honorable Carol Person, and she gave me two weeks to find a new place to live. It was a wrench in my plans, but I had to make it work or be written up on a probation violation.

 I didn’t know what to do in such short time so I called Chuck to see if he knew of any open rooms I could sublease. I told him my predicament and he had a simple solution. He said; “Just move in the gym, kid. You can stay in my office. It will work out fine.” I was taken aback by his generosity and thought living in the gym would be really cool. I didn’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity.

I quickly moved in before Chuck could change his mind. I don’t think he would have, but just in case I wanted to act quickly! I didn’t have many belongings in those days so moving was easy. I did it all in one move with my car. Chuck Horton’s office was not that big, maybe 10×8 feet. I bought a cheap curtain railing and anchored it close to the ceiling about three feet from the back wall of his office. Behind the curtain I had a hanger railing for few shirts with a few stackable bins below it with drawers I used for a dresser. My bed was a mattress that I laid on the floor. During the day I tipped it up against the wall behind the curtain to hide it and dropped it down at night to sleep. 

There was another area of the gym separate from the main rooms of that had a shower room. The room was very large with a simple shower head coming out of the cement wall. I didn’t complain. It worked. Most mornings were very cold so I’d turn the shower on extra hot to make a bunch of steam around the shower head to offset the draft. Just outside of the shower room I set up a kitchen area. I used a book shelf as a pantry and put a small dorm room fridge alongside of it that worked as a small counter top. To make up for regular kitchen amenities I had a variety of appliances; a hot plate burner for cooking Mac n Cheese and frying eggs, a small microwave for heating things up, a blender, and a toaster. I mostly ate egg and cheese sandwiches so my hot plate got the most play. 

It was a simple time, but I time I’ll never forget. It hardened me into the person I am today. When I look back I will always think fondly of those times. It was very “Huck Fin”. There was a sense of adventure in the air every day I woke up in the gym. The simplicity also made it easy to focus on my goals; do well in college (this was my first semester getting on the Dean’s List at UMD) and commit 100% to boxing. 

I didn’t pay rent so in return I helped out around the gym. I was the odd job guy. If it needed to be done, I did it. One of my duties was to open the gym for the 7:00 am class before I went to school. I also cleaned up at the end of the days doing janitorial type work.

There a lot of perks to living there too. One of them was access to lots of boxing videos. Between the office/entry way and the rest of the gym was a small living room area where there was a TV with cable access. There was a boxing video library with movies about the great boxers from the past. I took full advantage of these and watched all the videos countless times. After all, I had no roommates and so this was like my social outlet. This was also before I had a cell phone, so keeping in touch with friends was tough. That part didn’t matter though, after I hit rock bottom earlier that year I didn’t feel very social anyway. I liked my quiet times. Of course I had some favorite videos, two for sure. One was “Latin Legends” about Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Carlos Monzon, and Julio Cesar Chavez and the other was “The Fabulous Four” about Marvin Haggler, Thomas Herns, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Duran. I also made time to catch the “Wednesday Night Fights “and “Friday Night Fights” on ESPN 2 as well as any HBO or Showtime Boxing that was on. I was on a quest to do my best. I saw boxing pro as a new beginning. I started undefeated and I wanted to keep it that way long as possible! I thought of the great boxers from prior generations as ones that left a road map to be followed. I wanted to do well so I studied as much as I could about their lives. 

Another perk was I could train any time I felt the need. As I learned more about the sweet science I was able to try out new moves and perfect them any time I felt like it. Having things to hit also helped me in my late night college studies. When I’d start dozing off reading text books I would glove up quick and hit a few rounds on the bags to get my blood moving to wake up. The gym was the perfect place for me to live at the perfect time in my life.  I will always remember living in the gym as a really cool experience and be forever thankful for the opportunity.

Now we have window to see my life at the time I can fill you in on my second ‘official’ pro fight. It took place October 26, 2002 at the Golf Sky Dome in Hermantown, MN. Chuck Horton had to pay the Iowa Commission to come up as he did with my pro debut. The show was titled “Battle at the Dome”. Prior to the show being scheduled I was looking for a fight that would excite the local fans and make a good show. In my search I found out that another Duluth boxer had turned pro in July the same year as I had and at the same weight as I was. His name was Joe Lorenzi. He and I both had one pro fight. Mine was a TKO win and his was a draw. Joe Lorenzi felt he deserved the win and the draw was unfair to him. We both entered the match with an agenda to prove. For me, I wanted to prove my TKO win was well deserved. For Joe Lorenzi, he wanted to prove he should have a 1-0 record. We also had scores to settle from the amateur days.  We had boxed twice already and I knew him well. I knew him as a crafty boxer with good skills. That being said, I had beaten him both times; the first time by decision at the Lake Superior Ball Room at the DECC and the other by KO at the Golf Sky Dome. I felt confident I’d beat him again and also give the fans a good fight.  At this time Lorenzi was training with Clem Tucker Sr. in St Paul, MN at “BT Bombers” boxing club. The BT Bombers had a long list of talented amateur boxers and had a few successful pros as well. They knew the game. I knew Lorenzi would bring his A-game so I trained for this match like I did all my fights; like my career depended on it.

At this time I had Bill Plum and Chuck Horton in my corner. Bill Plum was very hardcore with his fight strategies and knew how to get my mind ready for any fight. He could put me in a very intense state of mind to be ready for any kind of ring war. Chuck Horton was great on laying out a game plan and winning strategy. Together, they partnered to get me in great shape mentally and physically. The basic plan was to fight on the inside and use pressure and angles instead of fighting outside with my reach. They wanted to tweak my skills a bit to make me into a foreign boxer to Joe Lorenzi. We didn’t train to box like we did the first two times. We trained to straight up fight. 

Fight time came and I entered the ring. Joe Lorenzi and I mugged across the ring at each other in confidence. Then it was time to fight. From the opening bell the fight was messy. Both of us threw everything into our punches and never let up. The plan to prepare for a fight was the right plan! I did a bit of boxing at range too, but most of the fight was a battle of wills fought in close quarters. Jim Perrault was the referee. He had his hands full as this was a fight both Joe Lorenzi and I were passionate about winning. Each round was charged with action. After the final bell the judges unanimously scored the fight a 4-round Unanimous Decision victory for me and my career improved to 2-0-1KO. 

The fight was everything we’d hoped. It was exciting and full of back and forth action. The fans definitely got their money’s worth that night. Following that night our careers went on opposite paths, but nonetheless we both look back at this night as a great fight.

Author: Zach Walters

To learn more about Duluth Boxing, please visit Chuck Horton’s other sites.

The Road to Redemption: The Beginning of Zach Walters’ Career

This is the first entry in this series in which Zach Walters recounts the trials, tribulations, and glories of his boxing career.

It’s been a while since I’ve thought back to my professional boxing debut. Thinking of crossing over to the pros brings back a bunch of memories about why I did it. My debut was a fun fight that I won by TKO in the first round. The 1-0 1KO was nice, but didn’t mean as much to my career as it did to my life. This represented the beginning of a story.  A boxer and a coach not knowing much, but believing they could make it happen–if they stuck together and if they worked hard enough. For me personally, it represented the beginning of my new life.

You see, I never intended to turn pro back when I was boxing as an amateur. I simply loved to fight and did it because it had become who I was. I was in college working my way toward a degree in psychology so I could work with troubled youth. That’s what I saw as my career.  But in life we can make plans, think we have it all figured out, but then stuff happens and plans change.

For me it was a dramatic change that pushed me into the pros. I was at the top of my game in the amateurs and had just won the 4-state tournament. I earned my trip to nationals and this time I felt really good about placing high. I won the fight at 4-State with ease. The other two boxers were tough, but I was on top of my game at my personal best. I felt great!

in life we can make plans, think we have it all figured out, but then stuff happens and plans change.

in life we can make plans, think we have it all figured out, but then stuff happens and plans change.

However, along with my success in the ring and in college, was my life behind the curtain. This life was very contradictory to the positive life I showed everyone. I had been trying to keep both lives apart and at the worst time ever they spliced together. My other life was that of a street hustler/dealer, an attempt to fund my party ways and then some. I got in deep enough to get the attention of the Duluth Police Task Force Team and my house was raided. This bought about an all time low that I have never felt since. 

The echo of this event in my life got to my trainers, Chuck Horton and Bill Plum, who were extremely disappointed. In their own words they both agreed that I was no longer welcome at the gym. It was February and at this time, I would jog 23 blocks to the gym, work out for 2 hours, and then jog home. On this night I had to jog all the way home right after getting to the gym. The run felt longer than usual as my mind started to clog with thoughts of how my life was crumbling in front of my eyes. 

I got home only to find my roommates in a house meeting discussing my living there. It was decided that I had to find a new place to live. I had to move out. My mind clogged up more as it felt like life was imploding on me. At that point I felt like throwing in the towel, giving up. It seemed like the easy thing to do…the only thing to do… I didn’t know what to do!  I let my life continue to erode as I slept on my friend’s couch with my belongings packed in his garage. 

After the initial wave of consequences settled in, I started to think my way out of things. My court date was set for late June, but I figured why wait till then to start changing. I knew I needed to change or I’d lose everything for good. At this time I put my hope in God. I hoped He would work things out. I didn’t know how it would work out, or what life would look like, but I knew it couldn’t feel as bad as I did right then. Being a son of missionary parents I figured God was going to make me be a prison missionary from the inside. After all, I was facing two felonies and it looked like things were set with no way around it.

After coming to this conclusion, I started training again. I wanted to get myself into good shape and put on some bulk. It was April 1, 2001 (April Fool’s Day) that I declared to myself and my friends that I was going to live sober. No more drugs and drinking. I joined the YMCA on a 3 month student membership deal and worked out daily. I started to improve my grades in school and got all caught up in my classes. I also checked myself into treatment. I figured the courts would recommend it anyway so I would take care of it before they told me to. After all, I knew I needed some support crossing over to a sober life. 

Something was still missing though. I missed boxing. I missed the atmosphere of the gym.

“Something was still missing though. I missed boxing. I missed the atmosphere of the gym.”

Something was still missing though. I missed boxing. I missed the atmosphere of the gym. Hitting the bags and training with a purpose. I was at the end of my YMCA membership and I decided to go over to the gym to see if they’d let me back. “No” was the answer I got. I went back to the Y and finished out my membership time there. But when this was over I still had a burning desire to get back into the gym. I once again went back into the gym and asked to come back. I had tears in my eyes. I told Chuck Horton that boxing was a huge part of my life and I missed it dearly. I also told him I would only be there for a short while to keep in shape before I faced my charges. He said to come back the next day and we’d talk about it. It wasn’t “No”, so I figured I’d come in wrapped up and ready to go. 

When I got there the next day, Chuck hadn’t arrived yet, so I just kept to myself and started training. When he got in I was hitting the bag. I glanced over at him and we did a mutual nod and that was that. I was back in! I showed up daily and trained independently. I was so happy to be back in the gym. I trained very hard as if I was getting in shape for a national tournament. That’s where I left off and that’s where I was happy to jump back in. Chuck Horton and I didn’t talk during these times. We just quietly moved about the gym and stayed out of each other’s way.

Then one day Chuck came into the gym with an intense look on his face. He walked over to me and asked what was going on with my court case. I told him it was coming up the following week and at that time I would most likely be shipped off to prison. He said, “No you’re not kid! We’re gonna get you a lawyer and make sure you stay.” He told me he’d had a sleepless night and couldn’t stop thinking about my situation. I was shocked. I thanked him for the offer, but told him I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I was a broke collage kid and my only source of income was washing dishes at a local restaurant. Chuck said not to worry about it. “We’ll figure it out later”, he said. Right then he took me for a walk though the sky walk over to Rick Holmstrom’s office. Rick Holmstrom was a leading defense attorney in MN. I still had my hand wraps on and a light sweat from training. Chuck told me to sit and tell Mr. Holmstrom everything about my case and Rick would tell me what my options where. I explained things to Mr. Holmstrom and he told me the potential of getting around my charges was next to nothing, so we would work to get sentencing lessened.  I didn’t know what that would look like, but I had faith that whatever happened was part of whatever plan God had for my life. Rick Holmstrom ended up getting me accepted into a program called Drug Court which would expunge or reduce my charges if I completed it successfully.

I was so happy I could cry!  I was extremely relieved I didn’t have to do time in prison! Meanwhile, I was still training, but had no fight on the horizon. I had taken a break from competition while sorting out my legal matters. Then an idea came to mind.  I would repay my trainer for hooking up the lawyer by fighting professionally. I could use the money I made from fighting to chip away at paying him back. I presented the idea to Chuck Horton and he agreed to give it a shot. He had set up a two-fight deal with Wade Stadium in West Duluth (a baseball stadium) to debut the start of Pro Boxing in Duluth. I was now a part of it. The name of the show was “War at the Wade”. 

Chuck Horton

Chuck Horton introduced Zach Walters to leading defense attorney, Rick Holmstrom

Anyone who lives in Duluth knows about the weather and will tell you its extremely unpredictable. This can be dangerous for any outdoor event planning because if it rains there’s a chance your show takes a hit. Wouldn’t you know it, all week prior to the show it was sunny weather and then on fight day it was rainy! Not downright pouring, but just enough wetness to make it a pain. The show went on. I was one of the opening fights and Anthony Bonsante was the Main Event. I was amped to fight. I had sold a huge crowd of tickets to my friends and was ready to show them my best. 

The route to the ring was from the dugout over to home plate where the ring was set up. Chuck Horton had a crew jimmy up a large blue tarp to divert the ongoing rain from the ring canvas. This was my first time walking out to “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses. This was also my first time fighting as “Jungle Boy”. Until finding the ring walk music I was unsure of the moniker, but on this day it fit! I entered the ring and felt naked without a headgear protecting my face from punches. It was really different. The bell rang and my opponent took to action throwing wild combinations behind a stiff jab. He was a lefty and our head crashed together. Ouch! That hurt! It was my first time getting head butt in the face without a headgear. The punches landed differently on my opponent too. It was like they slipped off his face every hit. I knew I was catching him square, but I didn’t have the dense connect as I remembered from landing a shot on a headgear. I threw a continual onslaught of punches until the referee stopped the fight. My opponent hadn’t landed much and started to fade. It was like I ran him over with an avalanche of punches!

Boom! Now I am pro! My debut was done and I was now officially a pro. I saluted the crowd of people there to watch. After getting dressed I went into the crowd and sat with my friends and fans with a huge stack of debut photos. I quickly signed all 500 of them. It was a happy day! I thought of the long road that led to that moment. The dues I had paid to get there. It was a celebration of my life’s renewal, my new life being clean and sober. The fight was short, but the road to that moment was a year long. It was a year that changed my life for the better from then on. This was the start of something big.