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.