Born: April 6, 1966
Before there was the American Boy, there was the Predator. But before there was the Predator, there was a man whose mere presence made fans hoarse for weeks, as “The Rice Street Rocker,” Mike Evgen captured Minnesota boxing fans like few others. With a snake-like jab and a windmill uppercut, Evgen made life hell for men who stood across from him.
After winning a whopping 6 Upper Midwest titles, Evgen turned pro under the management of Joel Montpetit and Jim Rodgers and embarked on a quest for the top of the sport and a world title. Minnesota boxing fans were happy to come along for the ride. Beginning with his pro debut in 1989, Evgen packed the house whenever and wherever he fought. On January 21, 1989, Mike took out Rick Caldwell in the opening round, and the era of “The Rice Street Rocker” had officially begun.
Mike stayed busy in his inaugural year, fighting a total of 9 times and picking up the vacant Minnesota Jr. Welterweight title as well, beating Walter Cowans Jr. over the course of 8 rounds. In his next bout, he battered Kenny Brown so severely, that Brown could hardly see through the blood and sealed shut eyes that Evgen had given him, causing the referee to stop the bout in just the 5th round.
At the start of 1990, Mike held an unblemished record and growing reputation. He continued his winning ways, running off an unbeaten streak that lasted until June of 91′ when he dropped a controversial split decision to the tough Terry Ford. True to form, Mike bounced back with three consecutive victories, the last over Philippa Martin, which brought Mike’s record to 19-1 and set him up for a world title fight against KO artist, Louie Lomeli in April of 92′. Lomeli was a murderous puncher and skillful boxer, who had beaten some very stiff competition and was favored by many to win the IBO’s first ever title fight. Mike trained hard for the bout, sparring many rounds with fellow Minnesota prospect, Richie Albrecht, and worked on a plan with trainer, Jay Pelzer. It worked, as Mike came storming out in the opening round, determined to dictate the pace and fight his fight. He surprised Lomeli with his lack of respect, and repeatedly snapped Louie’s head back with stiff jabs and badger-like infighting, where Mike unleashed wicked uppercuts to Lomeli’s chin. Lomeli fought back valiantly in what shaped up to be a fantastic battle! When it was over, “The Rice Street Rocker” took the decision and the respect of thousands of fans in attendance and watching across the country on television. Mike Evgen had brought home a world title!
Not long after the Lomeli fight, Mike went after another world title in fighting Carl Griffith. It was a close fight, but Mike dropped the decision and immediately set his sights on fighting other top fighters. He got his wish, as the IBF granted him a chance at another world title in facing the dangerous Rafael Ruelas in Las Vegas in 1994. Ruelas was one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world at the time, and held significant victories over such men as: Freddie Pendleton, Darryl Tyson, Rocky Lockridge, Steve Cruz, and Jorge Paez. Mike gave it everything he had, but in the end it was not enough for the brave St. Paulite, as the fight was stopped in the 3rd heat. A dejected Evgen took the loss hard, but was warmly welcomed back by his legions of fans in St. Paul. He quickly rattled off a few wins and was granted another big fight against former Jr. Lightweight legend, Brian Mitchell in South Africa. Mike traded bravely with the living legend, but was stopped in the 6th round.
At the start of 1995, Mike still possessed an enviable record of 27-4, but was starting to lose his focus on boxing. He treated his fans to wins over Jason Harrison and Jeff Graffus before signing to face his former amateur rival, Larry LaCoursiere in October. It was an exciting affair filled with fast combinations by both men, but in the end it was LaCoursiere who showed the better fighter that night. After losing to Steve Valdez in July of 97′, Mike knew it was time to leave, as Valdez couldn’t have lasted 5 minutes with a prime Mike Evgen, and with that, he announced his retirement from the sport. The boxing community took the loss of their beloved champion hard, as he had inspired their nights and raised their adrenaline for many years, and now he was gone.
“The Rice Street Rocker” is still a rockin’ today, training young fighters and advising them on not just fighting, but life itself. Throughout his colorful career, Mike entered the ring to The Fabulous Thunderbirds song, “Tuff Enough”. It was fitting.
For some fighters, their goal is simply to win a world title. For others, it is to win fame. And yet for others, the goal is to win over the crowds and the fans. Mike Evgen can proudly smile and say he achieved all of these, as few fighters in state history have ever captivated The Land of 10,000 Lakes like “The Rice Street Rocker.” It was a love affair whose story continues to be written.