Minnesota Boxing
Hall of Fame - Old Timers

Ranching, fighting, selling cars, they were all just a way to make a living for Charley Retzlaff, a kayo artist from the North Dakota tundra whose opponents were often stretched out quicker than a calf at branding time.

Retzlaff made a mockery of a large number of the fighters he faced, knocking out 54 of 74 opponents.  He won 61 fights in the 11 ó years that he fought, all but seven of those by knockout.  He rightly earned the nom de plume, the Duluth Dynamiter. He defeated a future world heavyweight champion, scored a knockout on a wrestling card, got knocked out by a fellow named Joe Louis and was the reigning Minnesota heavyweight champion when he retired.

Retzlaff was the best heavyweight of his time in the state and well beyond, although he was not a native Minnesotan. He was born in Leonard, N.D., the son of German immigrants who had staked their claim there in the late 1800s or early 1900s.  Once it became clear that Retzlaff was going to pursue a boxing career, he relocated to Duluth where on March 15, 1929 he knocked out Herman Raschke in two rounds. Retzlaff won his first 23 fights before losing on disqualification to Antonio de la Mata in on November 14, 1930 in Chicago, but promptly set the record straight. One month later in a rematch he needed only one round to dispatch the same opponent.

The knockout over de la Mata started a string of 11 straight wins before he suffered another loss, by unanimous decision to Joe Sekyra, who secured the victory by flooring Retzlaff for an eight-count in the seventh round of their 10-round bout. That was in September of 1931 and Retzlaff was 38-2-1 when he was matched against Dick Daniels for the state heavyweight title in January the following year.  Retzlaff needed only two minutes and 20 seconds to become Minnesota’s new heavyweight champion, knocking Daniels down three times. His first two defenses of that title were both against Art Lasky, a fellow Minnesotan and fellow Hall of Fame inductee tonight. Retzlaff stopped Lasky in six rounds on May 12, 1933, at the St. Paul Auditorium and again on September 19, 1935, at the same site.  Retzlaff fought only five more times. He won on points over Ford Smith at the Auditorium in October of the same year.

Then, in January, Retzlaff ventured to Chicago Stadium where he was matched against a rising undefeated star who was 23-0 at the time.

The young upstart was a fellow named Joe Louis who was 24-0 after knocking out Retzlaff in the first round.  Retzlaff fought only three more times, knocking out two more opponents before escaping with only a draw against Arne Anderson in defense of his Minnesota title on September 19, 1940.

He retired after that bout and returned to the family ranch in North Dakota to take over for his eldest daughter,Lois, who had handled matters there for several years.

Retzlaff did not pass on a love of boxing to his offspring. Only his son Jim tried his hand in the ring.  He scored a first-round knockout at the St. Paul Hippodrome in 1957 and promptly retired. Retlaff did have a brother, Al, however, who fought four fights and retired 2-2 after losing on points and then by kayo.

The highlight of Retzlaff’s boxing career was his split decision victory against future heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, the Cinderella Man, on May 13, 1932, in Boston Garden. Two years later, Braddock surprised the boxing world by dethroning Max Baer for the heavyweight title.

One of the most interesting inclusions on Retzlaff’s record took place on February 27, 1940 in Fargo, North Dakota. Retzlaff stopped one Abe Kashey, a wrestler making his boxing debut in 40 seconds of the fourth round. It was the only boxing match on what was a wrestling card.

Dan Retzlaff is Charley’s grandson and never saw his grandfather fight. Nevertheless, he does have distant memories and the stories, of course, told to him by his father and mother.

“My dad got laid out in the field a couple of times,’’ Dan said, “for talkin’ back to Grandpa Chaz. That’s pretty much all I heard about him, aside from when he moved from the ranch to Detroit Lakes and opened a car dealership.’’

Dan recalls riding past the dealership when he was very young with his father, but doesn’t recall much beyond that. “I do know that Grandpa Chaz was at that dealership until he died in 1970.’’

He recalls also that Grandpa Chaz protected him one time from his parents’ displeasure. “I broke some sort of glass, a light, while they were gone and got a cut on my face.’’ Grandpa Chaz went into defensive posture and Dan doesn’t recall that his parents every discovered the misdeed.

There are other memories of incidents that may have been influenced by the family exposure to boxing.  Grandpa Chaz delivered whippings in the ring and occasionally to his offspring who passed on that knowledge to their offspring. The family ranch has been passed on, too.

The town’s only ballpark now occupies a part of the ranch that was donated to the city of Leonard. And Charley Retzlaff, Grandpa Chaz, now occupies a place in the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame.

Charley Retzlaff
Born: October 28, 1903
Died: January 4, 1970
Bouts: 74*
Won: 61
Lost: 8
Draws: 3
KO’s 54

*Total bouts include one no-decision
and one disqualification.

Induction: 2015