The following isn't a round by round account of the final fight of Matt Vanda's career against Caleb Truax, but a look and feel leading up to the fight and after.
In professional sports, there are certain moments that you talk about and remember exactly where you were when they happened. Professional boxing in Minnesota has had a few such moments and Saturday night, Matt Vanda, in his final pro fight, cemented his place as an icon in the sport, and Caleb Truax became the face of professional boxing in Minnesota.
Vanda has been my favorite local boxer for the better part of a decade. As previously mentioned, my opinion is there hasn't been a more complete fighter in boxing history in the state. He won't be confused as the best tactical fighter, but from a combination of in and out of the ring, there hasn't been anyone better. When you buy a ticket to watch Matt Vanda fight (and thousands have), you know you are going to get your money back in entertainment.
The Predator hit the ring for the final time as he had done many of his 58 previous fights donning his famous skelator mask and Hells Outcast leather jacket. He paced back and forth like a caged animal waiting to unleash his fury. I had watched Matt fight many times over the years. There was only one time prior I saw him as dialed in and intense as he was Saturday night.
Not 90 feet away across the ring stood the Minnesota middleweight champion, Caleb Truax. He might have been a different world as he stood stone faced, showing no emotion as boos cascaded from the pro-Vanda crowd during the fighter introductions. I have known Caleb for almost eight years and he is cool, calm and precision like in and out of the ring.
The crowd was electric and both fighters opened the bout cautious. Throughout the entire fight, Truax had an answer for everything Vanda threw at him. Late in the fight when trying to rally, Vanda raised his hand following a fury of punches. Truax calmly returned fire and picked up a unanimous decision in his toughest fight as a pro. It was a war between two of Minnesota's best and it propelled boxing in the state to another level.
Leading up to the fight, I had imagined Matt, standing in the middle of the ring at the end of the fight with the microphone in his hands thanking his fans and allowing them to thank him for 17 years of great memories as the crowd chanted "thank you Matt" as he exited the ring.
That didn't happen.
Seemingly seconds after the decision was announced, Matt and his team left the ring and headed to the dressing room. They were bombarded by his Hells Outcast brothers and other fans that thanked him and congratulated him on a great fight. After a year off, he trained harder and was ready for this fight more than any in recent history. Few, including myself fully understand what it takes to climb between the ropes and battle. I know he hurt. Not just physically, because those hurts will heal over time. I am sure the mental part of being done will be much harder. He did send a message to his friends and fans on facebook.
"Special shout to all my friends, family, and fans that have stuck by me the last 17 years. I couldn't of done it without all of you. Hope you have some good memories. I know I do. Thank you everyone...."- Matt Vanda Facebook
Back in the ring, Truax was soaking up the biggest win of his pro-career. He has defeated the top fighters in the middleweight division in Minnesota and with momentum at his back is ready to take the next step and test the waters on the world stage. His only loss came at the hands of Jermain Taylor and a rematch with Taylor or a bigger fight with Sergio Mora has been discussed by his camp.
Truax has evolved into a complete fighter. He will always have his counter punching roots to fall back on, but he continued to show that his offensive game is something that needs to be reckoned with. Twice during the fight, Truax had Vanda buzzed and was the better fighter working a unanimous 10 round decision.
In the dressing room, Matt was surrounded by his wife, his trainer Jesse Garza and longtime friend Lenny McQuen along with Alfonso Vazquez who sparred with him during a tough training camp. I tried to think of the right thing to say. How many times in life have we prepared for something, gave it everything we had and fell just short.
There was more said, but the two words that I wanted him to hear from me were simply "thank you, Matt".
What made the night better was the fact that my 15 year old son was there to experience it too. It was his first ever fight card and I know he will tell his kids someday of a warrior that came to the ring wearing a mask lost the fight, but left showing he was this larger than life iconic figure in the ring.
He also watched Truax, in the prime of his career never waver from his game plan and prove to everyone in the Convention Center who is Minnesota's top middle weight.
Boxing is a ruthless sport. It is filled with people who love you one day and hate you the next. It is also filled with amazing individuals who although might look rough on the exterior but will give tirelessly, endlessly for the sport they love.
The 15 year old hit it on the head on the drive home.
"For guys who want to knock each other's brains in, they are pretty nice."
Amen kid, amen.
Click here for Jesse Kelley's full photo gallery of the event