If you feel a rumbling on January 28, don’t panic. More than likely, you’ll be feeling the tremors spreading out from the Menominee Casino Resort, the posh epicenter in Kenesha, Wisconsin. That night, Matt Karaja, Hannahville Indian Community, will be making his professional boxing debut. And the heavy hitter won’t be holding back.
Karaja was once one of the most feared and acclaimed amateur fighters in Indian country, fighting for the Native American national boxing title each year from 2003 to 2005, winning the championship in 2003 and 2004, and taking second in 2005.
But following his runner-up finish at the 2005 nationals, Karaja struggled, losing two straight fights and the necessary drive to keep going. His body, too, was worn out. “I brought my body through hell. I had a habit of overtraining myself and being overprepared. It affected my immune system,” he told the Escanaba, Michigan Daily Press. Convinced he was ready for a new challenge, Karaja hung up his gloves, finishing with an overall 30-8 record.
Hired by the Hannahville Police Department, Karaja devoted himself to being a good cop, displaying the grit and work ethic that had previously made him a champion pugilist. “When I first started (as a police officer in Hannahville) I loved it. The first two years on the job, I really worked as hard as I could. There are some good things about it. I love helping people out, and taking drugs off the street was fulfilling,” Karaja said. But it wasn’t long before his love for boxing, feeling again the fire that had always burned in his heart, had him back in the gym. He had something to accomplish yet—fighting as a pro.
“Hanging up the gloves, I was never the same person again. Boxing is who I am, it’s what I do, it’s me. When people hear the name Matt Karaja, they don’t think of Matt the cop, they think of Matt the boxer,” Karaja declared. With the support of his family and community, he reconnected with his trainers, and accepted a chance to take on his first professional bout. His veteran, crafty opponent, Booj Labarge, Lac du Flambeau, will be facing a confident and fit fighter.
“I carry power with both hands. I have a wicked left hook and a nice right hand. I move very well in the ring and utilize movement and quickness to my advantage,” Karaja said, when asked about his fighting style by the Daily Press. Still, this will be a big test for him, and in front of a big-time audience.
Karaja’s fight will be part of the Professional All-Native Fight Night at the Menominee Casino Resort. The six-bout card will feature the legendary JJ Corn in the final fight of his 15-year pro career and the nation’s number 7-ranked light heavyweight, Marcus Oliveira, Menominee, in a homecoming, in separate matches. If Karaja can deliver a knockout performance here, he’ll be on the right path, the path that ignites the passion in the heart of his warrior.
“My main goal was to turn pro and win a world title someday,” Karaja confided. “I’m very dedicated. Boxing has been my passion since I was 15 years old. This has been my dream since I was a kid. I’m actually getting to do it.”