The Ring Cycle

Can Twin Cities boxing fight its way back into the fistic spotlight?

The big draw tonight is a promising middleweight from Shakopee, advertised as Anthony "The Bullet" Bonsante. Everybody calls him Tony. Bonsante enters the ring wearing a loose-fitting flannel shirt and a no-nonsense scowl. His wife Tawnya and five-year-old daughter Brittany fidget in their seats. So does his mom, Cindy Thompson, and his fan club, mostly hometown friends. Bonsante goes to work, pounding fiercely on a game middleweight from Tennessee, Rico Cason. Cason is leaner and taller than Bonsante. He needs to keep his opponent outside, to use his jab, but Bonsante presses and charges. A former amateur champ, Bonsante has a long record in the ring, though just 13 fights as a pro. He also has a strong chin, so there's lots of toe-to-toe action. "Come on, take his head off, Anthony!" his mom hollers, rising from her seat. In the seventh round, Cason throws some rabbit punches in clinch, hammering away at Bonsante's kidneys. Mom charges the ring. "Come on, you can't pull that shit!" she squeals.

When the decision is announced--unanimous, for Bonsante--the fighter hoists his daughter onto his shoulders, sops up the glory as he parades about the ring, and, for the first time tonight, smiles. The fight redeems some of the card's low spots. Tim Eastman is hoping to make Bonsante a staple of his future shows. The kid can draw. The kid can fight.


Daniel Corrigan

The Prospect

A couple of weeks after the Brawl, Tony Bonsante is back in training. He works out at the Bloomington Karate Center, located in the Great Bear Shopping Center. The gym, with its low, tiled ceilings, is tucked underneath a sports bar. There is no natural light. It is furnished with just the bare essentials: a small ring, a matted workout area with full-length mirrors, a variety of punching bags, and, in a cage over in the far corner, a big white parrot with a fondness for gouging fingers.

Most days, Bonsante comes straight from his day job at the Kmart distribution center in Shakopee. Since he has no impending fights, a light workout is on tap, commencing with a bit of shadow-boxing. He approaches his craft earnestly, flicking away at the air with jabs and half-thrown hooks, his eyes locked on his imaginary opponent. Bonsante, who grew up in the central Minnesota town of Crosby, has big dreams--of million-dollar fights. "It could happen. It's a definite possibility," he declares with conviction during a brief break. But Bonsante is far from naive. "Boxing," he grants, "is a tough sport. It's a corrupt sport. I want to get my money and get out. I got two kids--I don't need to get my brains scrambled."

Now 28, Bonsante has fought professionally for just under three years, but already he is considered among the most promising talents in the state. In part, the reputation is based on his successful amateur career, during which he won a total of five Upper Midwest Golden Gloves championships at various weights. In '91, he took second place at the Golden Gloves nationals. After an extended layoff to attend college, Bonsante began to notice former amateurs he had once beaten now fighting on TV and making money. "If those guys could fight as pros, why can't I?" he figures. "I'll give it a three- or four-year try."

He started with a call to Bill Kaehn, one of the last of the old-school managers and trainers from Minneapolis. Kaehn, now 76, has been a fixture in Twin Cities boxing for six decades. He used to run the boxing program, now defunct, at the University of Minnesota. In the '40s and early '50s, Kaehn trained Del Flanagan, the lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight who beat a slew of champions over the years, including the legendary lightweight Sandy Saddler. Since then, Kaehn has seen a lot of promising boxers come and go. And he's seen his share of disappointments--guys like Sherman Griffin, who, as an amateur, once outpointed future heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Griffin left town when the first money offers came in and, in short order, got shot in a convenience-store heist down in St. Louis. It wasn't fatal, Kaehn says, but it ended Griffin's career.

As Bonsante pounds away on the heavy bag, Kaehn looks on approvingly. He calls out little bursts of encouragement and polite criticism. "I've pretty much got everything wrapped in Tony now," he says. Kaehn likes to wait on fighters, to bring them up slow. But because Bonsante is relatively old, he feels some pressure to take the tougher fights sooner rather than later--any fight, really.

Bonsante established his status as a footnote on the national scene a year and a half ago, in a fight held at a casino in Morton, Minnesota. Bonsante's opponent was '96 Olympic bronze medalist Roshii Wells. In general, a medal confers instant money status on a fighter once he goes pro; medalists tend to pick opponents carefully, working their way up to bigger paydays and major titles. The Bonsante-Wells bout was ruled a draw--though, as is often the case, witnesses tended to see it differently than did the judges. "Tony slapped him around pretty good," says heavyweight Bill Corrigan. "I'd heard Wells was slick and I thought Tony would be too flat-footed and too much of a banger. I'll be the first to admit, he completely amazed me."

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