Vanda VS Williams – the Aftermath
By: Laura Zink
With over 2,000 fans in the crowd, 1,000’s of fans watching at home, television cameras, live commentators, and every Minnesota boxing press taking notes and snapping shots at ringside, the Vanda/Williams fight was the most watched and most recorded bout in Minnesota in 2009. Fans across the upper-midwest took their seats in Hinckley or tuned in at home to see for themselves which fighting force would have the most force: Matt Vanda’s experience, chin, and speed, or Phil Williams’ sheer punching power. And after the bright lights and big fights last night were over, the results were in: Matt Vanda clearly had the magic in his corner that night.
“This fits right in with historical fights,” said commentator and Minnesota boxing historian, Jake Wegner. “It wasn’t what you call a grudge fight because each guy had respect for each other, but it was still a rivalry. No doubt about it. Typically when you look back at state history and you ignore the Vanda/Bonsantes or you ignore the Bobbick/LeDouxs…I mean those were prodigies, that was a different thing in its own right. But, most of the rivalries attracted 2,000 to 2,500 people, so it is right up in there. You have your Pat O’Conner/Raphael Rodriguez, 2,500 to 3,000 people. You have Brunette and Holmgren, same thing. It fits right in there with that thing. And another thing is that I am not so sure that they couldn’t have sold 4,000 tickets if there had been more space. So it lived up to what I thought it would be.”
And a packed house and clear rivalry it was. From the moment Williams entered the ballroom, the tensions were high. Fans erupted with colossal outpourings of their loyalties: for Williams, he walked stoically past the cheers and whistles of his fans and the rumbling boos from Vanda’s. And before Williams could even step into the ring, Vanda’s entrance music ripped through the speakers harkening the Skeletor’s way in. When Vanda entered the ballroom donning a skull facemask and a black leather vest, Vanda’s wife lifted a solitary index finger into the air, and the crowd’s chorus shifted, sections once booing, now cheering, and sections cheering, now sombering their tone down into boos.
“I was having a great time,” Vanda said after the fight. “It was a great night.”
“I was ready because I was in shape,” Williams said after the fight. “And you saw, I went 10. And I surprised myself because I felt so good. I still feel good.”
And as everyone who tuned in saw, Williams did make it through the entire 10 rounds. The first rounds had Williams throwing primarily jabs, which did well in keeping Vanda at bay, but as the rounds wore on, fans and commentators began to wonder, when is Williams going to let his hands go?
“I think the consensus was, if Vanda gets out of the first 5 rounds, once he drags him into deep water and it becomes not an ability contest, but stamina, and a willpower contest,” Jake Wegner explained. “Vanda has both those in spades.”
“I was fighting the 10 rounds instead of fighting the fight itself,” Williams commented after the fight. “So I felt like I was fighting 2 fights in 1 because I was experiencing my first 10 rounder against a very experienced fighter, so I knew that he was ready for 10, so I wanted to make sure that I was ready for 10.”
Williams’ stamina was up. He even took a moment at the beginning of round 5 to smile at Vanda and tell him so.
“He started talking to me,” Vanda said after the fight. “He started saying to me that he was in shape and that I better be ready or whatever, but whatever. That don’t mean nothing to me. You need to fight, not talk. But, you know, I got a respect for Phil.”
And perhaps this is so, but it didn’t take more than a minute before Vanda let Williams and the crowd know that he didn’t care for Williams’ commentary. As Williams kept trying to work his jab, Vanda hopped back and started pacing back and forth in front of Williams, his arms down, his eye on him. He clowned Williams, dropping his hands and sticking his chin out at Williams as if begging him to try and unleash that legendary power. But shockingly, Williams did nothing.
“I think Vanda got in his head,” Jake Wegner commented, “He delivered a couple of hard shots and Vanda took them surprisingly well, and then, Vanda switched to southpaw just to let him know that I can do this, too. He’s not comfortable with it. I think Matt played the perfect fight psychologically as far as…I think that he made Phil feel embarrassed by taunting him.”
“The fact that Phil wouldn’t even pull the trigger when Vanda put his hands down made us all a little stunned,” Wegner continued. “You don’t do that in front of a puncher like Phil. But he did it and he got away with it. He got in his head. His chin partly got him through the fight. And he would just walk down the puncher which was the thing that flabbergasted all of us. I don’t know what kind of fight Phil was trying to fight, and I don’t know what his corner was telling him. I don’t know if he followed the plan but that couldn’t have been the plan.”
“He did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Minnesota heavyweight, Joey Abell, noted after the fight, “You could tell right off the bat that he was in Phil’s head. He played it smart. He kept his hands up for most of the time. He put them down and danced around a little bit for the show, but everything that he was doing was getting into Phil’s head a little bit. It worked to his advantage. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. The likelihood of him knocking Phil out wasn’t very likely, and everyone thought that Phil was going to knock him out. So he fought the fight the way that he was supposed to, and he did exactly what he was supposed to do.”
So what happened? Did Vanda psych out Williams with his mid-fight antics? What was going through Williams’ mind as the final five rounds rolled on?
“I was thinking too much,” Williams explained after the fight. “It was my first 10 rounder. And with it being 10, you gotta fight 10. I was thinking that…and I should’ve let my hands go. I thought I hurt him once or twice. I did hurt him with that jab, I mean, that jab, he couldn’t get past that jab. I thought I controlled him with the jab. I mean, look at his face and look at my face. He didn’t do nothing. He tried to put pressure on me. He tried to throw combos. He tried to get his punches off, but I probably should have worked some more. You know, if you are going to take it to someone like that with 50 fights and I got 12, I should have took it. So next time, I am going to press on the gas a little bit more, walk him down a little bit more, and let my hands go. So it was a learning experience for me. Yeah, but I felt like I was thinking too much.”
Williams should have let his hands go. But, even so, Williams seemed to have steady energy throughout the entire fight. Even in round 10, when one reporter was snapping a picture of Williams in a tangle with Vanda, he actually looked over the top of Vanda’s head and told said reporter, “I’m all right. I’m all right.”
“I did that because I wasn’t going to let Vanda get off at all,” Williams commented about that moment in the 10th round. “And like I said, I think that I was just thinking too much. It was more of an internal thing, like ‘Make sure you got energy to finish up the 10 rounds and finish strong.’”
“I should have let ‘em go,” Williams continued while shaking his head. “I shoulda let ‘em go more, man.”
And what did Vanda think about Williams’ stamina?
“Well, you know, I was surprised that he went 10 rounds to tell you the truth,” Vanda said. “I thought that he would fade out and that I might get him later in the fight, but he showed a lot of heart, which was great.”
And even though Williams was able to make it through all 10 rounds with a steady flow of energy, Vanda had different intentions for the final rounds than merely keeping his reserves. As the rounds wore on, Vanda seemed to just get more energetic. For Vanda, every round was about stepping up the intensity of the fight. He even began the 10th round with some talking of his own. He told Williams squarely before the 10th and final opening bell, “C’mon let’s fight! Let’s fight!”
“Everyone has learned that you can’t count Matt out,” Jake Wegner said. “He’s got one of the best chins in the state if not the best chin in the state. And he comes on stronger as the fight goes on. He ages like wine. Williams he has a tendency to gas out after 5 or 6, so at first when Williams wasn’t throwing his punches, a lot of us in the booth started to think that he knew that that was a problem that he historically has had, and he was trying to reserve some energy, that maybe he was trying to play it that way. But the fact that Matt basically had rounds 1 through 6 in the bag, those were rounds Williams was supposed to bank on because he knew that he may have trouble in the back end of the fight. That’s when we started thinking ok, rounds 8 through 10 are going to be dangerous rounds for Matt because Phil knows that he has got to knock him out. But it never really materialized. Everything that he threw, Vanda was able to take, so it is what it is…and what it is was a great fight.”
And after all of the rounds that fight, the judges scored the bout 96-95 and 97-94 for Vanda, and 97-93 for Williams. Vanda had won by split decision. And while Vanda wasn’t happy about the split decision, everyone left the fight in high spirits about Minnesota boxing.
“It was a great tough fight but I didn’t think that it was a split decision,” Vanda said after having his picture taken with a group of fans. “I thought I won probably, you know, 6 rounds to 4, or something like that. It was a good fight. I have all the respect for Phil, and I would fight him again, but I don’t really see any reason to. But it was a great fight, and I hope that he does good in his career, and I will try to push forward in mine.”
“The Vanda fight was obviously my favorite because I have been working a lot with him and sparring quite a bit coming up to the fight and getting him into shape,” Joey Abell commented after the fight. “We got to the same gym, so that was an anticipated fight for just about everybody in our gym and for me especially.”
“I thought that Matt Vanda just put on a masterful performance,” Jake Wegner commented. “It was the best I have ever seen him. It was so beautiful. If anyone ever wants to know who to score a fight, and figure out that one thing that you can’t put your finger on, and that’s called ring generalship. That’s what it was! That’s what that looks like. And the other thing is, a lot of people who are new to the sport, they get impressed by speed and power and things like that, and they don’t necessarily know what experience is. Well, this guy has a lot more experience than that guy. That’s what you saw Vanda do to Williams tonight. That is what experience does. He knew how to get in his head, and he knew how to neutralize his advantages. And it was just a masterful display on Vanda’s part, I think.”
“I feel good,” Williams said as a fan congratulated him on his way to the after-party, “I am ready to work. I want to pave the way so that I can sit back and see these young fighters like Ceresso and Javonte. I just want to pave the way and let them know, if you want to be a fighter, challenge yourself. That’s what you got to do. Challenge yourself in the gym. Challenge yourself in the ring. There is no use fighting bums all your career because it gets you nowhere. So, I feel like I am learning. And I feel like my progress is stepping up. And I got a lot to work on. I’m going to keep working and keep tweaking it, and one day it is going to be like, ‘Wow. The man is unstoppable.’ So it’s coming, so keep watching the Drill ‘cause I am still here. Fans are still here. You see I can’t get out of here because people are still taking pictures and wanting autographs. So it is all good. I still feel pretty…” Williams said…and let out a good-natured laugh.