The sport of boxing may not be at the top of lists of most sports fans. Many people who pay attention to the local sports scene know the name Matt Vanda. Maybe they caught an interview on local tv or radio or maybe they know him as the guy with all the tattoos. Regardless, you could argue Matt Vanda has done more for the professional sport of boxing here in Minnesota than any fighter.
He has recently faced some of the biggest names in the middleweight division. Vanda has faced Julio Cesar Chavez jr twice, John Duddy, Peter Manfredo, Ossie Duran and Marco Antonio Rubio in the past four years. Locally, he built his record to 27-0 before losing to Armando Velardez in 2004. It was in 2007 however that he along with Anthony Bonsante changed the game locally.
Boxing is back:
It was in January of 2007 that Vanda and Bonsante finally stepped into the ring after years of back and forth between the two camps. The event which drew over 9,000 to Target Center was the perfect storm and the two battled in the main event of a card titled ‘Bad Blood'. It was a perfect match-up. Bonsante, the family man with #1 Daddy proudly stitched into the waist band of his black and white trunks against Vanda who donned a skeletor mask to the ring, wearing a cut off t-shirt with a skeleton with a middle finger salute. The hatred consumed both men as they battled for 10 rounds. It was Bonsante that came out on top in a unanimous decision.
That was the last time the Target Center and the state saw that many fans in the seats for a boxing event. Sure, there have been great fights since then, but not to that extent. Bonsante and Vanda put Minnesota boxing back on the map.
Fast forward nearly five years later and the landscape of boxing in Minnesota has changed. The middleweight division remains the most crowded and competitive in the sport and Vanda's name remains near the top of the rankings tucked in at #2 behind Andy Kolle and champion Caleb Truax. Truax defeated Kolle for the Minnesota middleweight belt nearly two years ago and has seen his stock rise in boxing circles. He had former world champion Jermain Taylor on the mat in the ninth round of their fight a year ago only to watch Taylor hang on for a unanimous decision. That fight handed him his only loss as a pro, but may have vaulted him into a different class of fighter. In his most recent fight, Truax, a self-described counter puncher wasn't going to wait around for Michael Walker. He stepped on the gas from the moment his music hit for the ring enterance and he destroyed Walker forcing the Chicago vet to take a knee in the fourth round.
Vanda was one half of the equation that helped the local fight game in 2007 and as he signed his name to fight Truax for the Minnesota title on January 19, has the rare opportunity to do so again with a catch.
After this, he's done, for good.
After 14 years in the ring and 58 fights, the 34 year old Vanda will hang up his gloves for good and retire. Now there are things in life that are certain, boxers retiring don't fall into that category. Sometimes the money is too good to pass up, other times the itch to prove the ability is still there forces a fighter back. While it isn't known what Vanda will do in the future, he is in a great spot financially and if he was ever going to walk away from the fight game, this would be the time.
The fight against Truax provides much of the same backdrop as the Bonsante fight. Both camps have passionate fan bases and although the venom isn't nearly as poisonous between the combatants. Truax is the baby face, the golden boy of Minnesota boxing and Vanda the guy standing in his way. The two have sparred and trained in the same gym at times through the years and the fight nearly happened in 2011 but was changed when Vanda was suspended. The change in opponent netted Truax a title shot against then champion Andy Kolle in which he captured the belt.
Passing the torch:
Some are saying this is a passing of the torch fight. Those who know both fighters well understand that it is more than that. Love him or hate him, if you bought a ticket to watch Matt Vanda fight, you got your money's worth and more. Styles make fights, but this sport is driven by emotion and passion and good or bad, Vanda brings that out of fans.
He won't ever be confused as the best boxer in Minnesota's fight history. What he will be is from an overall package one of the most complete in and out of the ring that this state has ever seen. If this fight is the last for Vanda and he is ready to ride his Harley into the sunset, he has a unique opportunity. His final fight will be in his back yard and win or lose, it will allow him to exit the ring with a standing ovation with the fans chanting his name.