After the Bell with Matt Vanda
It’s not uncommon for young athletes to dream of turning pro and making a great deal of money. It’s probably a big part of why athletes work as hard as they do, if you ask me. But what happens when the big payday never comes?
Life goes on.
For pro boxer Matt Vanda that is exactly what happened. After sustaining a fight-ending injury early in his final bout with Sean Monaghan, Vanda found himself looking for another way to earn a living. The “Pride of the East Side” did what any working man of St. Paul, Minnesota would do; he got a job. I asked him if he was the working man’s boxer.
“Yeah, I guess I am. I’m a union construction worker now, blue collar, hardworking man. I always took the fights no one else wanted to. It worked out pretty good. It was fun…I had a lot of fun.”
Vanda recalled what it was like when he started boxing. His father loved it. He thought it was the “macho cool thing to do”. But his mother, Lili, was a little more nervous. That was a feeling his wife, Cyndi, began to share after about fifteen years of watching her husband fight. Vanda confesses that his wife is seeing some signs of possible damage from the hard blows he’s endured.
“The last three or four years she’s been pushing me to get out,” Vanda said of his wife. “She’s noticed stuff with me, things that probably aren’t right, from boxing hits. I probably should kick back a little bit; I’m getting older and it’s harder to recover. I’m 36, if you can’t hold up you’re just sore all the time.”
I don’t think you have to be a boxer to feel like that. I’m just sayin’.
And the calls still come. Vanda hasn’t fought for nearly a year and a half and says he doesn’t think about it as much now. Before when he got a call he would pace the house thinking about it. (Anyone else picturing a predator lurking, slinking?) Now he blows the calls off saying that he’s trying to hang it up, but it’s tough.
He looks back over his career fondly, not regretting taking a single fight. He does, however, wish he would have taken the running and conditioning a little more seriously. Again, you don’t have to be a boxer to feel like that, am I right?
So where does The Predator see himself in the future?
“In ten years? Still rockin’ and doin’ something good in my job. In twenty years I hope to be retired from the labor union, living in Arizona in the winter and Minnesota in the summer. I hope my kids go to college and be smart, do something good in life.”
And there’ll no doubt be a Harley. Vanda and his wife and friends ride every chance they get. Recently they took a trip to Chicago and Milwaukee to the Harley museum. He calls the group a “Great bunch of friends who have a great time”. Seems easy enough to believe.
What’s more difficult to believe is that The Pride of the East Side is ready to hang it up completely. My gut tells me if the money was right, Vanda would slip back through the ropes. It’s hard to turn down the possibility of a big payday. He even coyly admits it.
“There’s a fifty-fifty chance. Gotta keep ‘em guessing, right?” Yep, guessing.
But Vanda softened when I asked him about his tattoos. His mother bought him his first one at age fifteen. When asked about which one was his favorite, without hesitation he says it’s “the one with all my girls’ names”. Mother, Lili, wife, Cyndi, and daughters, Gabriella and Viviana, definitely have a hold on the tough guy. He pauses a little and there’s a smile in his voice when he speaks of them.
Who knew, The Predator has a soft side.
Author: Roxanne Wilmes
Roxanne is a freelance writer, author, ghostwriter, and avid boxing fan. She first met Chuck Horton when she ran his wife’s campaign for MN House of Representatives. Past experiences have led her to be a strong advocate for anti-bullying and substance abuse issues. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rocketwilmes on Twitter.