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