Visit ACR Boxing Gym in Coon Rapids, the training home of Caleb Truax.
There's gravel in the parking lot. Paint chips falling off the building. The air conditioner is an open door on a warm spring afternoon.
Inside ACR Boxing Gym in Coon Rapids, fighters shadowbox in front of mirrors, hoping to hit their dreams one day.
At the center ring, Caleb Truax, 26, hops in and punishes the punching pads, bobs and weaves, and works on his jab ahead of the biggest fight of his young career, a Friday night matchup against Minneapolis' Phil (The Drill) Williams at the St. Paul Armory.
Truax has a degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota and has turned down job offers, choosing instead to work at a liquor store and keep a flexible schedule so he can train. But he hopes to quit that job soon and box full time.
"I gotta pay the bills, man," he said. "I don't make too much boxing, not yet anyway."
Truax, an Osseo native with a 14-0 professional record (nine knockouts), is one of the best bets to revitalize the struggling local boxing scene.
Those close to him believe he's a few bouts away from going national and taking a fight against a high-profile contender at middleweight or super middleweight.
Golden Boy, a powerful promotional arm operated by boxing icon Oscar De La Hoya, has already called about booking Truax on one of its cards.
Truax, named Boxing Digest's prospect of the month in April 2009, said he dreams of fighting for the world middleweight championship at the new Twins stadium.
"Everybody thinks that as new fighters in Minnesota, we have to go somewhere else to be successful," he said. "I'd like to take it back here and invite all those people that have been supporting me ... although, I would like to fight in [Las] Vegas."
Truax believes he's ready to make a national splash and fight one of his division's best. His promoters, however, want to bring him along slowly and avoid mistakes made by past Twin Cities fighters who went for the money too early.
"We're kind of holding him back, making sure he's a polished fighter," said Tony Grygelko, who heads Seconds Out Promotions. "Plenty of offers have been there ... but we're developing this kid."
But is the local fan base and economy strong enough to support a promising local boxer on his upward climb?
Boxing's national decline has trickled down to local markets like the Twin Cities. Fights in armories and other smaller venues signify the sharp turn taken since Minnesota native Scott LeDoux fought Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight title and former heavyweight champ Ken Norton at the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington 30 years ago.
And competition from mixed martial arts hasn't helped.
A day after Williams (11-3, 10 knockouts) fights Truax, who holds the World Boxing Foundation super middleweight title, a group of Ultimate Fighting Championships veterans will take part in "MAYHEM IN MPLS," an MMA event at Target Center. Taco Bell is one of the sponsors of the Saturday event, which will be broadcast to a global audience online.
"Boxing is just lacking a little bit of depth," said Brock Larson, a Brainerd native and former UFC competitor who is fighting on Saturday's MMA card. "They've got one or two top guys, where in MMA, you can shock the world. ... No one seems to be on top for very long."
Truax said he's not interested in MMA and doesn't view the sport as a rival to boxing. But the Friday night undercard will feature MMA action.
He believes that potential upcoming bouts like Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao will pique interest in boxing.
"It's not my thing, but I guess I'm biased," Truax said about MMA.
Truax's most immediate challenge, however, involves avoiding what Grygelko calls a "nuclear weapon," the powerful right hand of the 32-year-old Williams, who knocked out his first eight opponents in the pros.
"If I don't knock him out, I will be disappointed," Williams said.
Williams beat Truax during a 2005 Golden Gloves regional tournament in Minneapolis. Truax, a former all-conference football player at Osseo, said he lied about his record to get into that tournament and didn't have a lot of experience at the time.
He knows losing a second time to rock-solid Williams, who KO'd Brandon Burke in 10 seconds during a 2007 fight, could derail his career.
A win, however, will keep the momentum going and the dream alive.
"I'd like to kind of carry the torch," Truax said. "I feel like I have the talent and I definitely work hard enough for Minnesota to kind of jump on my back. I hope I can represent Minnesota boxing and hopefully bring it to more of a mainstream sport."