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Truax-Vanda, Live: A Report

We saw a terrific evening of fights last night at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The main event featured local middleweights Caleb Truax and Matt Vanda; I previewed their bout here. We had a table in the interior section of the arena near the ring. You needed credentials to get there, like at a political convention:

Our guests included a professional boxer and a long-time fight fan who formerly covered Minnesota boxing for UPI, so it was fun to get their informed views as the fights progressed. There were seven bouts altogether, of which we saw six.

The crowd of around 5,000 was interesting, to say the least. In another sign of the times, everyone was wanded on the way in. Vanda reputedly belongs to a motorcycle gang in East St. Paul; I don’t know about that, but quite a few of his supporters do look the part. At one point during the main event, a skirmish apparently broke out between Vanda and Truax partisans. We were struck by the number of women in the crowd–I assumed it would be 70/30 men, but it was more like 50/50.

Between bouts we were visited by some notables of the local boxing world. The gray-haired guy in this photo once went the distance with Ray Leonard; his nephew, also in the photo, is a pro boxer and a friend of ours:

It was hard to get good pictures because of the low light, but I kept trying. This was one of the preliminary bouts; one of our guests fought the guy on the right to a draw:

Another undercard bout: the “African Assassin,” on the left, won this one:

The boxing was good, if sometimes crude, all night. But the main event was a thrill. One of our guests, a former amateur boxer who has followed boxing closely for quite a few decades, called it one of the best fights he has ever seen. We were rooting for Caleb Truax because he is a friend of my son; most of the crowd was pro-Truax, although Vanda had plenty of supporters too. Truax was pretty clearly the better boxer, but Vanda is a beast. He is heavily tattooed and, despite being near the end of his career, in superb condition. He looks ferocious: nicknamed the Predator, he prowls his corner before the fight and between rounds, staring down his opponent. He appears indifferent to being hit. In the photo below, Truax is in the red trunks with his back to the camera:

Truax won the early rounds, but Vanda, undeterred, came back strongly. During the 8th he absorbed a furious barrage from Truax and paused long enough to point skyward with his right glove in a show of defiance before launching a counter-attack that had his fans cheering. By the ninth, the whole convention center was roaring. The unnaturally tough Vanda, showing little effect from the pounding he had taken for eight rounds, staggered Truax. By the end of the round, Truax was hanging on. The tenth and final round was non-stop action–the whole fight was, really–as the crowd roared for three minutes. At the end, the boxers were slugging it out toe to toe. The fight ended to enthusiastic applause for both fighters.

Truax won a unanimous decision, but we, and I suspect most of the crowd, walked away shaking our heads at Vanda’s almost unbelievable toughness. If, as Vanda said, this was his last fight, the long-time local favorite went out in style. As for Truax, his record now stands 21-1-1, with his only loss to former world champion Jermain Taylor, and he likely has a future as a ranked middleweight.

So, what did we think of our first live boxing event? It was sensational. The two women at our table who weren’t sure what they would make of live boxing found themselves cheering raucously. For just about as long as I can remember, observers have been proclaiming the demise of boxing, but there is no sporting event that compares, in my opinion, with the excitement of a good boxing match, witnessed live. It is no wonder that the sport continues to have its fans.

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