Zach’s 3rd Pro Fight
Author: Zach Walters
My 3rd pro fight took place a month after my second. I was welled up with confidence from my last win and was eager to get back at it. Every day after my second fight I came home to the gym and trained. I wanted to build on my recent success and keep moving ahead. Resting after a fight was not part of my recipe for getting ahead. I knew from reading stories about early pro’s in the 1920’s that hard work was the key. I embraced it. You see, I compared what Chuck Horton and I were doing in Duluth to what early professional boxing people did to pioneer professional boxing into existence. Pro boxing had been absent from Duluth, MN for the longest time and our goal was to bring it back in a big way. How to do that was a continual riddle we had to figure out. It was hit and miss with the shows and I could tell it was wearing on Chuck even though he never let on. That was something I learned to admire about Chuck Horton. In the years that followed I would see this cape of bulletproofness he’d put on in trying times. No matter what the circumstances we were given he always continued to push forward in bold determination and confidence. In these times he got a look in his face when he’d talk. It was a glare with a goofy smirk. The expression a kid would get playing with firecrackers. Anyway, he was a big confidence giver for me over the years and this was the first time I started to identify what to look for in him. I’d watch him when things got tough. If he was chill, I would relax. There were time’s Chuck Horton got real intense and that’s when I knew things were bad. Thankfully, this rarely happened.
So for my third pro fight, Chuck Horton lined me up with a veteran road warrior from Kansas City, MO. His name was Vance Winn. Although Vance Winn had a losing record he was coming off a big win at Cruiserweight where he beat a guy 18-2. I weighed in at 175 and he weighed in at 185. It was clear he didn’t even try to make the weight. His size didn’t bother me at the weigh ins, but when I got in the ring with him it was clear that being the smaller boxer in this fight was a bad thing. I belted him with my hardest punches and they had little effect on him at all. In fact he just smiled and waved me in for more action. Vance Winn would let me bash him into the ropes and then he’d violently fight back in fistic flurries. This kind of fight was not hard to read. I just boxed him back ward and pulled away with a high guard before he retaliated. Back and forth we went in a fight of cat and mouse….except this mouse could fight back and hurt me if I was not careful. I recognized that I could not hurt him with my punches so I decided to win on skill instead. I knew if I controlled the fight tempo and landed the better shots I’d get it. This was not the kind of boxer I wanted to exchange shots with. I had great focus and conditioning from camp. Round after round I boxed smart and at the final bell I knew I had won the fight. After the fight the judges ruled a decision in my favor and I jumped to 3-0 1 KO. It was a great feeling. A few years later the decision got changed to a NC (No Contest). I was never sure why, but figured it had to do with Vance Winn coming in way over the contracted weight. I didn’t care too much about it. It was just a mark on paper. My goals in the ring were bigger than looking backward and fussing about a technicality.
This night was a confirmation that I could really do something. It confirmed to me that I was on the right track and with time things would grow into a great show. Every fight I had I walked into the ring with no excuses to be anything but ready for to fight… I literally lived at the gym! This was a special time for me. I was on a mission. Chuck was too. We shared this vision of making pro boxing something big in Duluth. We understood that to do so we both needed to do our part. I had to stay hungry and fight to my best and he had to keep setting the table and feeding the machine we were building. This machine we called “Jungle Boy”. I was the one in the ring, but we tied our success to the same thing; making Jungle Boy a big deal.
Now around this same time, Chuck Horton had gone out to the Olympic Training Center to get his Level-4 USA Boxing coach’s certification. It was a big deal. On that trip he met an Icelandic boxing coach with a vision of bringing boxing back to Iceland. Guðjón Vilhelm was the guy’s name, we just called him Gui for short. Iceland had outlawed boxing since the 1950’s and he believed the time was tight to pioneer it back. He was an ambitious fella. Very much like Chuck Horton; so much so they were like brothers from different countries. These two got to talking and conceived a plan to bring a boxing show to Iceland. This plan came to fruition weeks after my 3rd pro fight.
Chuck took a large group of the gym members over to Iceland to partner with Gui to hold the first boxing show in decades in Iceland. There were at least 18 of us. It was a controversial deal in Iceland to be a part of a boxing show there because boxing was still technically outlawed. Chuck and Gui had talked the Icelandic Parliament into conditionally legalizing boxing for one show. This show was to show them that boxing was not barbaric and a sport that could be recognized again. This is when I met Skúli Ármannsson, the future Icelandic Heagyweight Champion. Skúli Ármannsson and I had many similarities too. We were both they type of person to fearlessly chase goals no matter how impossible they were. Our meeting happened in the ring for a 4-round exhibition. I was much lighter, but the trade off was that he had less experience than me. I was suited up in 24 oz gloves, they felt like pillows, and he was to have the same. Not the case. He was wearing much smaller gloves than I. The gloves looked like 10oz pro fight gloves, but I’m sure they were probably 16oz or so. I looked at Chuck Horton prior to the ring announcing of our names and we had a good laugh seeing that we’d been tricked, but being that the fight was all in good fun we didn’t mind. I just shrugged and said “He’s gona pay for that.”
My plan was to dig all my power shots into his body and wind him out so the later rounds would be target practice for me. The plan worked, but not without a few shocks. I got nailed with a really nice uppercut when I was going in for a body attack and the shot dazed me pretty good. In the corner I asked Chuck Horton if he’d seen the punch. He did. I said, “New boxers don’t throw uppercuts like that. How new is this kid?” It was a good punch. I had been dazed before so I played it off and kept working away. Each round was like a mongoose and a cobra. I circled around Skúli attacking with fast combinations and he was holding the middle of the ring firing back with one or two big shots. It was a beautiful dance of punches. At the final bell I took the win and congratulated him on a good fight.
Later that night there was a huge after party where we all got together to celebrate the first boxing show in Iceland in over years. Skúli Ármannsson and I got to talking and he wanted to know if he could come to the US to train with me and learn how to box better. I agreed that this would be fun and this is where we changed from being comrades in the ring to good friends.
Over the next 7 years Skúli Ármannsson would come over in three to four week spurts to train with me at Horton’s Gym. He really like the style of boxing Chuck Horton trained and was hooked on mastering it. He went on to fight in some pretty big European boxing tournaments and got into the Olympic Qualification Tournament on April 7-14, 2008 in Athens, Greece, but fell short on making it to the Olympics. His last trip to the US he made his professional boxing debut which made him a national icon for boxing in Iceland. He was matched with Caleb Nelson of Hayward, WI who had a strong MMA background and good punching skills. Skúli Ármannsson dominated an exciting fight and won by knock out. The future looked bright for him, but VISA difficulties made it tough for him to return to continue fighting.
Since then Skúli Ármannsson has kept himself in great shape, but with a different goal. He now enjoys training with a group of guys dedicated to becoming the world’s strongest man. He has put on significant bulk since we boxed the first time, but is still active in boxing. Skúli Ármannsson trains fellow Icelanders to box and still gets into the ring on occasion, but not to fight; only to spar. Most recently he put in several rounds with Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson who is better known as Gregor “The Mountain That Rides” Clegane from the popular HBO series Game of Thrones. You can see the sparring video online.
I share the additional story of meeting Skúli Ármannsson to show how my career was anything but the norm. At this point in my career I was 2-0 1KO, but had already traveled across the world.Every day of my career was an adventure. Much of this was due to Chuck Horton’s sense of adventure and my willingness to jump head first into whatever Chuck Horton was up to. After all, if not for Chuck Horton sticking his neck out for me early on none of these memories would be possible. He taught me through his actions that we all get knocked down in life. The difference is who gets back up. Had Chuck Horton given up on Pro Boxing back when we had our first show none of this would be possible. Had Chuck Horton given up on me when I was knocked down by my poor decisions I would have never had the great pro boxing career that I had. In many ways, boxing made me. It made me the man I am today.