The first time Danny Huffman saw a boxing match was at the DECC when he was 10 years old.
He actually fell asleep in the middle of the event, only for his mom to wake him up when Zach "Jungle Boy" Walters stepped into the ring. He was facing off against Jesse "Iron Jaw" Sanders.
"That was a crazy fight," Walters said. "We were slipping on blood on the ring. It was the ultimate fight."
Walters won by decision that evening. Now Huffman will have his chance.
Huffman's professional debut was scheduled for July 21 in Oshkosh, Wis., at the Menominee Arena. Flanked by managers Walters and Mike Bockovich, they entered the arena eyeing the boxing landscape, looking for Huffman's opponent. But they couldn't find him.
"We don't see anybody matching the description of this victim we're about to smash," Walters said, recounting the evening. "He's here somewhere."
His opponent had fainted from heat exhaustion and wouldn't be able to fight. Huffman's debut was canceled.
"It was a little disappointing to say the least," Huffman said. "I went through a two-month training camp, Jungle (Walters) put in a lot of hours, I put in a lot of time getting down to 135 weight. It was a little heartbreaking to say the least."
It wasn't just heartbreaking for Huffman. The Duluthian sold every ticket he had to friends and family members, who made the six-hour drive and reserved hotel rooms just to see their friend fight.
Despite the mid-summer disappointment, Huffman has a second date scheduled for his first professional fight. And this one is a little closer to home.
"It was a blessing in disguise because it turns out I'm going to be fighting at home," Huffman said.
Like his coach before him, Huffman will be fighting at the DECC, although he doesn't know who he'll be fighting first. Walters predicts it'll be someone out of Iowa, Missouri or the Chicago area.
"Champs aren't born, they're made," Walters said. "Right now, Danny is 0-0. So undefeated, but no credibility. Right now, we're just working on actualizing him."
Walters said there isn't a lot of money to be made in the first few fights of a boxing career. Professional boxers starting out don't usually know who their opponent is going to be. Huffman's first few matches are about building up his reputation.
Even though he has no professional experience, Walters has a good feeling about Huffman.
"Right now, Danny is starting out with a ton of potential," Walters said. "And as good as he is right now, he keeps on getting better. And that's one thing that is making this so exciting."
After winning the Upper Midwest Golden Glove championship earlier this year, Huffman found himself at a crossroads. He could work his way up through the amateur ranks and fight for the same title again. Or he could descend the amateur pedestal he had finished climbing and start scaling a much taller mountain: professional boxing.
He chose the latter and then spent the next couple months preparing for his fight. Even when that fell through, Huffman intended to stay in shape, in case the opportunity for his first fight did happen.
"I just told myself, 'If a fight came up tomorrow, I want to be in shape. I want to be ready to take the fight,' " he said.
Huffman's first match is scheduled for Sept. 29. He'll be fighting at 140 pounds, five pounds heavier than his previously planned bout. To prepare for a heavier fight, his workout regiment has included more strength training with Kettlebells.
Huffman's debut at the DECC is also boxing's return to the region, which hasn't hosted an event in more than a decade. Helping to promote the event is Tony Grygelko, whom Walters says is the "premier promoter in Minnesota."
"I've had several talks with Zach about Danny," said Grygelko, president of Seconds Out Promotions. "He told me how talented he was and I knew under the tutelage of Zach Walters he could be a good fighter."
Grygelko used to fight in the amateurs. After an injury cut his career short, he took up the promotional profession. The event may play host to Huffman's first fight, but it's also what Grygelko and Walters see as a new age in Duluth boxing.
"I think there was a time when Zach Walters was at the peak of his game and Duluth was flourishing with talent," Grygelko said. "Boxing in Duluth isn't dead, but it has died down. It just seems like the right time to resurrect and infuse some excitement into the area."
Even as this event marks the beginning of that resurgence, for Huffman it's still just the first step in his professional career.
"I don't really get nervous anymore," Huffman said. "I'm just ready to go. I just can't wait for September 29."