The Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame has selected the class it will induct in celebration of its 10th anniversary October 11 at Mystic Lake Casino. Selections, made by a voting committee of twelve, include three fighters in the modern class, one in the old-timer division and a promoter, referee and ring announcer in the expanded division. In addition to its Hall of Fame selections, the HOF will give special recognition to three other individuals who have contributed extensively to Minnesota boxing.
The three modern day fighters who will be inducted include Anthony Bonsante of Shakopee and Matt Vanda and Brian Brunette, both of St Paul. The expanded category includes promoter Ben Sternberg of Rochester., and ring announcer Chuck Van Avery and international referee Mark Nelson, both of St Paul. Welterweight Johnny Tillman was selected in the old-timer division.
The seven Hall of Fame inductees will be honored at the annual banquet as will three individuals chosen for special recognition, including Sankara Frazier of the Circle of Discipline boxing club in Minneapolis; Cory Rapacz, a matchmaker for and manager of several Minnesota fighters from Fargo, N.D.. and Rob Brant, who won the World Boxing Association middleweight title in October. Fighters must be retired from the ring three years for consideration as a Hall of Fame inductee.
His ring moniker was “The Predator” and Vanda lived up to everything it suggested, fighting inside and outside of Minnesota. He was never afraid to step into the ring against some of the sport’s “celebrities” including Julio Caesar Chavez, Jr., to whom he lost two decisions. He fought primarily as a super welterweight, but ventured even into the light heavyweight ranks, compiling a 45-16 record that included 25 knockouts from 1996 to 2014.
Bonsante made his fight against Tony Ayala the last one for the San Antonian, stopping him for the IBA super middleweight title in 2003. Bonsante also defeated Vanda for the vacant IBA Americas middleweight and state middleweight titles during a career in which he compiled a 34-13-3 record with 18 knockouts.
Brunette lost only one of 25 fights, with the highlight of his career a match against Patrizio Oliva for the WBA super lightweight title. Although Oliva stopped Brunette, that was the only time the Saintly City Slugger, as he was called by his trainer/manager/brother Tom, did not leave the ring a winner. The biggest victory of his career came with a narrow decision over Hall of Fame fighter Gary Holmgren, a fellow St. Paulite.
Johnny Tillman was a Minneapolis welterweight whose career spanned three decades. His record was 27-22-17, excluding newspaper decisions; if included, he was 71-63-26. He fought for the first time in 1913 and for the last in 1930.
Nelson, the premier referee in Minnesota history, joins his father, Denny, in the state hall of fame. Nelson has refereed numerous world title bouts, including fights involving Manny Pacquiao and Terence Crawford, traveling throughout the world frequently to ply his trade. He started his career as the third man in the ring for Golden Gloves competition in 1989 and continues to this day referring professional bouts between some of the sport’s premier fighters worldwide.
Van Avery was a colorful, charismatic ring announcer for several decades, primarily in St Paul, often cited in his columns by Hall of Fame writer Don Riley. Van Avery brought humor, color and electricity to the premises whenever he was the designated announcer.
Ben Sternberg was not only a promoter of boxing in his hometown, Rochester, but also promoted several cards at Met Sports Center in Bloomington, including the two fights between Hall of Fame heavyweights Duane Bobick and Scott LeDoux. He also promoted Hall of Fame middleweights Pat O’Connor and Duane Horsman. In addition, he wrote a column on sports, including boxing, for the Rochester Post Bulletin.
Brant, 25-1, won the middleweight title last October with a unanimous decision over Ryota Murata and defended it with an 11thround TKO against Khasan Baysangurov, unbeaten at the time, in February. He has a rematch scheduled against Murata July 12. Brant was born in St Paul and started his career there, but has relocated to Dallas for training.
Frazier is not only a professional trainer for boxers but is a grand master in martial arts with a 10thdegree black sash. He is a native of Minneapolis and boxed himself as a youth. He is the founder and executive director of Circle of Discipline.
Rapacz originally from Argyle, Minn., lives in Fargo, N.D., and has been the exclusive matchmaker for Grand Casino Hinckley and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. He and partner Greg Cohen guided Brant to the world championship. He also helped negotiate the deal that made ESPN the exclusive television home to Brant.