Boxing's change of venue has found the right stage

Boxing promoter Chuck Horton was ready to delve into the world of professional boxing after success staging amateur bouts, so he organized a pro fight card at Wade Stadium in June 2002.

Boxing promoter Chuck Horton was ready to delve into the world of professional boxing after success staging amateur bouts, so he organized a pro fight card at Wade Stadium in June 2002.

It was a disaster.

Rain washed out any chance of getting a good crowd, but boxers, event organizers and middlemen still wanted their money. Horton claims he lost $40,000 on the venture, but has persisted to today, when another large crowd is expected to pack Grandma's Sports Garden for Bridge Battle II featuring Horton's headliners Zach "Jungle Boy" Walters and Andy "Kaos" Kolle.

After years of bobbing and weaving from venue to venue, Horton has found a home for his stable of fighters. Since October, Grandma's Sports Garden has hosted a monthly boxing event on a Thursday night in seven of the past eight months.

"You want to get a home, and here we feel like we have one," Horton said of the Sports Garden. "The people here treat us well, and we've been able to pack the house for them every time. I don't think there are too many Thursday nights in February where Grandma's is going to draw 1,000 people. This is good for everyone involved. In business, it has to be a win-win."


Horton, 43, served eight years in the U.S. Army before returning home to Duluth in 1992. He began training younger boxers and within a few years was scheduling amateur bouts. His early headliners included Wayne Putnam, Freddie Martinez and Will Robinson.

Horton took his fighters on the road to gain exposure and staged bouts all over the Twin Ports to build his product. Some locales were selected as favors to friends. Others were by necessity. Horton's bouts have been held on Proctor parking lots during Hoghead Days and in the now defunct Hermantown Golf Skydome; everywhere from the DECC to the Solon Springs Community Center, and at seemingly every bar in between. Eventually, Horton was packing in more than 2,500 people.

"My career as a promoter has been an evolution," Horton said. "I've had ups and downs, but the reason it keeps going is because of success and nothing else. We found that the more we rose, the higher we got."

Brian Daugherty, Grandma's president, said he had "absolutely zero" interest in boxing before attending his first bout at Wisconsin-Superior last year that piqued his interest. Shortly after Grandma's Marathon last summer, Horton approached him about having bouts at the Sports Garden.

"I was fascinated by the culture and the crowd, and was very impressed with how artful and athletically precise it was. It's a wonderful product," Daugherty said. "Until I had seen those fights, I probably would have said, 'Thanks, but we don't do fights.' Instead, I said, 'Let's go for it.'

"It's been mutually beneficial for both of us. It's been a real one-two."

Daugherty said tonight's bout will complete the 2008-09 fight season, with another round of amateur boxing events likely to start next fall. The drawback to the Sports Garden is its 1,000-person capacity, which is small for showcasing pro bouts but ideal for Golden Gloves.

Walters said he can't wait.


"Grandma's Sports Garden was always one of the most happening places amongst my college friends," Walters said. "And they would say, 'Zach, you have to fight at Grandma's sometime. That would be so rad! And I'd say, 'Someday I will.' Back then, we were fighting wherever, but Grandma's was a spot we never tapped into until recently, but I'm glad we did."

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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