The Road to Redemption: The Beginning of Zach Walters’ Career
This is the first entry in this series in which Zach Walters recounts the trials, tribulations, and glories of his boxing career.
It’s been a while since I’ve thought back to my professional boxing debut. Thinking of crossing over to the pros brings back a bunch of memories about why I did it. My debut was a fun fight that I won by TKO in the first round. The 1-0 1KO was nice, but didn’t mean as much to my career as it did to my life. This represented the beginning of a story. A boxer and a coach not knowing much, but believing they could make it happen–if they stuck together and if they worked hard enough. For me personally, it represented the beginning of my new life.
You see, I never intended to turn pro back when I was boxing as an amateur. I simply loved to fight and did it because it had become who I was. I was in college working my way toward a degree in psychology so I could work with troubled youth. That’s what I saw as my career. But in life we can make plans, think we have it all figured out, but then stuff happens and plans change.
For me it was a dramatic change that pushed me into the pros. I was at the top of my game in the amateurs and had just won the 4-state tournament. I earned my trip to nationals and this time I felt really good about placing high. I won the fight at 4-State with ease. The other two boxers were tough, but I was on top of my game at my personal best. I felt great!
However, along with my success in the ring and in college, was my life behind the curtain. This life was very contradictory to the positive life I showed everyone. I had been trying to keep both lives apart and at the worst time ever they spliced together. My other life was that of a street hustler/dealer, an attempt to fund my party ways and then some. I got in deep enough to get the attention of the Duluth Police Task Force Team and my house was raided. This bought about an all time low that I have never felt since.
The echo of this event in my life got to my trainers, Chuck Horton and Bill Plum, who were extremely disappointed. In their own words they both agreed that I was no longer welcome at the gym. It was February and at this time, I would jog 23 blocks to the gym, work out for 2 hours, and then jog home. On this night I had to jog all the way home right after getting to the gym. The run felt longer than usual as my mind started to clog with thoughts of how my life was crumbling in front of my eyes.
I got home only to find my roommates in a house meeting discussing my living there. It was decided that I had to find a new place to live. I had to move out. My mind clogged up more as it felt like life was imploding on me. At that point I felt like throwing in the towel, giving up. It seemed like the easy thing to do…the only thing to do… I didn’t know what to do! I let my life continue to erode as I slept on my friend’s couch with my belongings packed in his garage.
After the initial wave of consequences settled in, I started to think my way out of things. My court date was set for late June, but I figured why wait till then to start changing. I knew I needed to change or I’d lose everything for good. At this time I put my hope in God. I hoped He would work things out. I didn’t know how it would work out, or what life would look like, but I knew it couldn’t feel as bad as I did right then. Being a son of missionary parents I figured God was going to make me be a prison missionary from the inside. After all, I was facing two felonies and it looked like things were set with no way around it.
After coming to this conclusion, I started training again. I wanted to get myself into good shape and put on some bulk. It was April 1, 2001 (April Fool’s Day) that I declared to myself and my friends that I was going to live sober. No more drugs and drinking. I joined the YMCA on a 3 month student membership deal and worked out daily. I started to improve my grades in school and got all caught up in my classes. I also checked myself into treatment. I figured the courts would recommend it anyway so I would take care of it before they told me to. After all, I knew I needed some support crossing over to a sober life.
Something was still missing though. I missed boxing. I missed the atmosphere of the gym. Hitting the bags and training with a purpose. I was at the end of my YMCA membership and I decided to go over to the gym to see if they’d let me back. “No” was the answer I got. I went back to the Y and finished out my membership time there. But when this was over I still had a burning desire to get back into the gym. I once again went back into the gym and asked to come back. I had tears in my eyes. I told Chuck Horton that boxing was a huge part of my life and I missed it dearly. I also told him I would only be there for a short while to keep in shape before I faced my charges. He said to come back the next day and we’d talk about it. It wasn’t “No”, so I figured I’d come in wrapped up and ready to go.
When I got there the next day, Chuck hadn’t arrived yet, so I just kept to myself and started training. When he got in I was hitting the bag. I glanced over at him and we did a mutual nod and that was that. I was back in! I showed up daily and trained independently. I was so happy to be back in the gym. I trained very hard as if I was getting in shape for a national tournament. That’s where I left off and that’s where I was happy to jump back in. Chuck Horton and I didn’t talk during these times. We just quietly moved about the gym and stayed out of each other’s way.
Then one day Chuck came into the gym with an intense look on his face. He walked over to me and asked what was going on with my court case. I told him it was coming up the following week and at that time I would most likely be shipped off to prison. He said, “No you’re not kid! We’re gonna get you a lawyer and make sure you stay.” He told me he’d had a sleepless night and couldn’t stop thinking about my situation. I was shocked. I thanked him for the offer, but told him I couldn’t afford a lawyer. I was a broke collage kid and my only source of income was washing dishes at a local restaurant. Chuck said not to worry about it. “We’ll figure it out later”, he said. Right then he took me for a walk though the sky walk over to Rick Holmstrom’s office. Rick Holmstrom was a leading defense attorney in MN. I still had my hand wraps on and a light sweat from training. Chuck told me to sit and tell Mr. Holmstrom everything about my case and Rick would tell me what my options where. I explained things to Mr. Holmstrom and he told me the potential of getting around my charges was next to nothing, so we would work to get sentencing lessened. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I had faith that whatever happened was part of whatever plan God had for my life. Rick Holmstrom ended up getting me accepted into a program called Drug Court which would expunge or reduce my charges if I completed it successfully.
I was so happy I could cry! I was extremely relieved I didn’t have to do time in prison! Meanwhile, I was still training, but had no fight on the horizon. I had taken a break from competition while sorting out my legal matters. Then an idea came to mind. I would repay my trainer for hooking up the lawyer by fighting professionally. I could use the money I made from fighting to chip away at paying him back. I presented the idea to Chuck Horton and he agreed to give it a shot. He had set up a two-fight deal with Wade Stadium in West Duluth (a baseball stadium) to debut the start of Pro Boxing in Duluth. I was now a part of it. The name of the show was “War at the Wade”.
Anyone who lives in Duluth knows about the weather and will tell you its extremely unpredictable. This can be dangerous for any outdoor event planning because if it rains there’s a chance your show takes a hit. Wouldn’t you know it, all week prior to the show it was sunny weather and then on fight day it was rainy! Not downright pouring, but just enough wetness to make it a pain. The show went on. I was one of the opening fights and Anthony Bonsante was the Main Event. I was amped to fight. I had sold a huge crowd of tickets to my friends and was ready to show them my best.
The route to the ring was from the dugout over to home plate where the ring was set up. Chuck Horton had a crew jimmy up a large blue tarp to divert the ongoing rain from the ring canvas. This was my first time walking out to “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses. This was also my first time fighting as “Jungle Boy”. Until finding the ring walk music I was unsure of the moniker, but on this day it fit! I entered the ring and felt naked without a headgear protecting my face from punches. It was really different. The bell rang and my opponent took to action throwing wild combinations behind a stiff jab. He was a lefty and our head crashed together. Ouch! That hurt! It was my first time getting head butt in the face without a headgear. The punches landed differently on my opponent too. It was like they slipped off his face every hit. I knew I was catching him square, but I didn’t have the dense connect as I remembered from landing a shot on a headgear. I threw a continual onslaught of punches until the referee stopped the fight. My opponent hadn’t landed much and started to fade. It was like I ran him over with an avalanche of punches!
Boom! Now I am pro! My debut was done and I was now officially a pro. I saluted the crowd of people there to watch. After getting dressed I went into the crowd and sat with my friends and fans with a huge stack of debut photos. I quickly signed all 500 of them. It was a happy day! I thought of the long road that led to that moment. The dues I had paid to get there. It was a celebration of my life’s renewal, my new life being clean and sober. The fight was short, but the road to that moment was a year long. It was a year that changed my life for the better from then on. This was the start of something big.