Anton Charles Stecher, better-known to the boxing and wrestling world as simply, Tony Stecher (pronounced Stec-ker), was the Bob Arum of the sports promotional world in Minneapolis from 1933 to his death in 1954. In those 21 years, the amount of star-studded cards he promoted and talent he developed was surpassed only by the legions of friends and bonds he made in the Mill City. His untimely death shook the sporting community from coast-to-coast, and his likeness among Minneapolis promoters may never be seen again.

Tony Stecher was born on February 7, 1889 in Dodge, Nebraska. His father Frank, operated one of the largest farms in the area, but Tony and younger brother Joe, were not interested in seed and livestock, but rather the action and fame that only the prize ring could bring; specifically wrestling. Professional wrestling was different then. It was real. Real holds, real broken bones, and real matches with no fixed outcomes. After a disagreement with their father about them becoming wrestlers instead of farmers, Tony and Joe ran away from home, hitchhiking to Freemont, Nebraska where they joined the local Y.M.C.A. and began wrestling and honing their moves. It wasn't long before both men turned professional. Although Tony was a skilled wrestler himself as a professional, it was his brother Joe, that had the size and skills needed for world fame. So Tony took on the role of manager and promoter, and guided his brother to the world's Heavyweight title, not once, not twice, but three times. It was wrestling that we in boxing, have to thank for bringing us Tony Stecher. On a trip to Minneapolis in 1933, Stecher fell in love with the city and friend, George Barton, introduced him to Billy Hoke. The two formed a partnership, prompting the Stecher's to make Minneapolis their new and permanent home. On February 21, 1933, he promoted his first wrestling show, and Stecher grew the city into the nation's capital for the sport in just a few short years, promoting a total of 598 wrestling cards in his long career. Little did he know that he was about to revolutionize the local boxing scene as well.

By 1943, boxing was virtually dead in the Twin Cities. In 1941, there were 30 pro cards held. In 1942, there were only 10. In 1943 there were none. No shows at all. This put boxing in a perilous position, as the Twin Cities had now lost its national reputation as one of boxing's leading cities. No one believed that anyone could revive the sport, especially in wartime. The state athletic commission approached Tony in 1943 and begged him to take his promotional talents to the boxing game as he had done with wrestling. The entire state caught wind of this, and everyone begged Stecher to accept the venture. He did, and the state of the game took off like a rocket. He purchased the Minneapolis Boxing franchise that year on May 1st, and took up an office on the 6th floor of the legendary Dyckman Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, a place that would become legendary for where he put signings and deals together on his "lucky desk". He spent the remainder the year planning his strategy learning the game, and meeting all of the matchmakers across the country. In early 1944, he executed part one of the plan-build an empire around a superstar and that will in-turn spawn other aspiring boxers to join the pro game. That superstar was the National Golden Gloves champion, Austin Featherweight, Jackie Graves. Graves had indicated that he was not interested in turning professional. Stecher took a train down to Austin and convinced Jackie otherwise and walked away with a signed promotional contract. Stecher then called friend, and Heavyweight champion, Joe Louis and asked him to come to town to give exhibitions and referee his first pro card, (Graves' debut). On February 2, 1944, the plan took shape, as 5,200 people poured into Stecher's trademark venue, the Minneapolis Auditorium to watch Louis oversee young Jackie Graves score a 3rd round KO over Joe Law. The show grossed $6,013.65 (about $80,000 today) and a new era in Minneapolis boxing was born.

Stecher's plan began to unfold. As Graves continued climbing the fistic ladder, Stecher began to feature him in his weekly newsletter, "Sports Facts", a 4 page publication that went out regularly to over 7,000 readers. He then sent matchmaker, Wally Karbo to begin making relationships with Golden Gloves trainers and coaches to get the skinny on all of the upcoming talent. When they found someone who looked promising, they arranged for meetings to spell out for young fighters the potential fame and money that could come from a professional career. Steam began to pick up like coal fed to a furnace, and it wasn't long before many talented young fighters began boxing for Tony. Fighters such as: Glen & Del Flanagan, Billy Smith, Eddie Lacy, Mel & Buzz Brown, Jackie Burke, Howard Blehyl, and Vince Donnelly to name a few. As the attendance marks began to increase, a base was being built, with Graves leading the way. It wasn't long before Stecher was able to pay for big-name opponents to come to town, which naturally grew the game even more. Stecher had created a machine and the Press was happy to oblige. Writers such as: Dick Cullum, George Barton, Charley Johnson, and Frank Diamond wrote regular pieces on boxing and covered Stecher's cards religiously.
In 1945 his cards grossed $146,000. By 1946, his cards grossed $179,000. During that year, Graves was rated #2 in the world, and Stecher arranged a historic non-title bout with champion, Willie Pep. The bout grossed $39,866.00 ($477,500 today) and could have brought in double if there had been more seats available in the Auditorium. By 1947, the Twin Cities was once again viewed as the epi-center of boxing. Thanks in large part to these efforts, there were also more stars than just Jackie Graves to headline cards; stars such as the Flanagan's, Brown's and a handful of others. When Tony promoted the 1950 clash between Del Flanagan and Jackie Graves, he used the media like few others, utilizing print, radio, and even local television commercials. Treasurer and ticket master of the boxing club, Harry Hirsch, suffered a heart attack while being blitzed for tickets at the box office, and was forced to retire. Garnering attention and buzz were skills that Stecher had mastered like few others. But Stecher was not without his faults, his generosity being one of them, as by 1948, Stecher had developed a reputation as one of the best-paying promoters in the entire country, and he began to lose money on card after card; a victim of his own success, as now even preliminary fighters were demanding exuberant purses for even 4-round fights. Add a few cancellations and some bad luck with weather, and Stecher began to consistently find himself coming out on the short end over the next few years. By the end of 1952, Stecher had promoted 84 total fights, grossing $877,000, but showing a $41,000 overall loss for the same time period. Stecher continued on, and eventually got back into the black. On February 21, 1953, a lavish party was thrown at the Minnesota Valley Country Club in honor of Tony's 20th anniversary as a sports promoter in Minnesota, half of it in boxing promotions.

On the evening of October 9th, Stecher took in a show in St. Paul with his son Dennis and matchmaker, Karbo. He complained of a feeling of uneasiness along with some numbness in his arms and retreated early for the night to his home at 4016 Xerxes Avenue S. in Minneapolis. His wife Leona was in California at the time visiting her mother, so when around 3 am the following morning Tony began feeling more intense discomfort, he phoned his son Dennis, asking him to come over. By the time Dennis reached the home, Tony had taken a turn for the worse, suffering from a severe heart attack. He died before the physician could arrive. The sporting community was stunned the following day upon hearing the news. Letters poured in from around the nation from politicians, celebrities, and sporting men in the boxing and wrestling community including. Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, and Willie Pep, all flew into Minneapolis for the funeral. WCCO filmed the funeral and segments were sent to various news stations across the country. His former main attraction, Jackie Graves was in Denver, Colorado when he got the news, and when asked for a comment, replied, "I'm devastated by the news. I cried some too, as he took this little Austin kid and made me a winner. It's the end of an era and a part of me is now gone too." A large bronze plaque was made for Stecher and placed in the lobby of the Minneapolis Auditorium where it hung from February 21, 1955 until about 1973, when the city gave the plaque to Tony's widow, Leona. The family then donated it to the Dodge County Historical Society, where it hangs today.

Over his illustrious promotional career, Stecher promoted over 100 professional boxing cards, and set state records at the time for both attendance and gates for boxing. His cards showcased many world champions including: Willie Pep, Rocky Graziano, Jimmy Carter, Sandy Saddler, Harry Jeffra, and Beau Jack. The amount of contenders he promoted would be too long to list, as are the memories of the jolly cigar-puffing magnate, who helped revive boxing in our state, and who with fellow Class of 2013 Inductee, Jack Raleigh, take their places atop the top of the mountain of Minnesota boxing promoters.

Minnesota Boxing
Hall of Fame - Expanded
Tony Stetcher
Born: February 7, 1889
Died: October 10, 1954