The Resurgence of Canadian Boxing

By: Ryan Stead - We were waiting. Waiting for someone to show us what we already knew. Someone to shoulder the load and take the lead. We were waiting for a title. Experts say boxing is in a sad state, worse than ever. Maybe, but Canadian boxing has never been healthier than it is right now.

We've had our glorious past. We'll admit it and look back in pride. You say Canadian boxing, and people think of the name George Chuvalo, as they should. There were others, the brilliant Jimmy McLarnin, the fearsome Sam Langford, and the great George Dixon. We have a rich history, but what happened? Why did Canadians forget for so long?

Take a closer look at our legacy. We had to go to America. It seemed inevitable. Our vast neighbour would accept the cream of our crop, take them as their own and later inform us that they were in fact Canadians. In a way we were to blame. The local support has rarely been there. George Dixon and Sam Langford basically fought out of the states, they had to. Jimmy McLarnin years later did the same thing; his manager went as far to say "What did Vancouver ever do for Jimmy?” Our Country was relatively new. Boxing had a stigma to it. It's not hard to see why Canada didn't pioneer the big boxing crowds. We were spread out. There was no internet. America had the population, the news coverage, and the first class training.

As the years went on, we started to warm up to the idea of Canada being on the big stage. The crowds were coming out. We began to believe that our boxers could compete at the highest level and could fight the best in the world. In 1946, record crowds showed up for the Canadian welterweight title fight between Dave Castilloux and Johnny Greco, drawing a capacity crowd of 14,750 with many more unable to get in. In 1958, "The Fighting Fisherman" Yvon Durelle almost got us our glory against Archie Moore, knocking him down four times before being stopped by the all time great in the 11th round. George Chuvalo got us our glory by beating the best and losing highly dubious decisions, but he never had the hardware to prove that he was among the heavyweight elite. Canada had accepted the fact that we were ready to win on the world’s stage.

Then it started, the non-believers took over. Who were they? The media? Boxing experts? Canadians ourselves? It doesn't matter, what matters is that our opinions of Canadian fighters changed. Pundits began to say we were lucky and nothing more. George Chuvalo unjustly had to live years with the stigma of the human punching bag, although the record proves otherwise. Yvon Durelle caught Archie Moore on a bad night. Jimmy, Sam, and George were really Americans. We turned away. We knew that the pundits were wrong but if you looked deeper a different story would emerge. World titles in the thirties, biased judging in the States, and a reluctant Canadian press resulted in a lost boxing heritage.
Through all this I haven't mentioned our local boxing gyms. Canadians didn't support boxing as a future career. It was a way to teach our youth pride, respect, and honour, the way the Americans do. The Canadian media gave very little attention to boxing. It seemed like hockey brawls were all fighting that we need to see on TV. It isn't.

Then our torch bearers started to appear. They were the guys who got us out to see them, and got us to believe again. One man most Canadians remember is Willie DeWitt. The easy answer to the media attention is that he was the next white hope, but the record shows he was a Canadian who earned his status as a contender. As soon as he hit a speed bump named Bert Cooper, the Canadian media abandoned him and said he was overhyped. With his 15 minutes of fame up the Canadian media turned away with no title in Willie’s hands. How much could he have accomplished? We'll never know. Public perception is he quit after tasting defeat at the hands of Bert Cooper and retired to become a lawyer. Willie fought on, winning his next six fights. Boxing never really left Willie because he always wished he could have got a rematch with Cooper. A Canadian boy to the end. There were others, Shawn O'Sullivan had a sad end, and Scotty Olson had a good career but just didn't go over with many Canadian boxing fans. Lighter weight fighters really had to do something extra. Donny Lalonde was a legit world champion who was only the second man to knock down the great Sugar Ray Leonard, a fight he almost won. Why Donny never got his due respect remains a mystery to me. As the 80's may not have been the best era for heavyweights, it's always where the casual fan looks first. We had the heavyweights. Trevor Berbick and Razor Ruddick were more known as Mike Tyson victim’s then great heavyweight Canadians. Don't get me wrong each of these men fought in Canada to raucous Canadian crowds but there was something missing. Through the early 90's you could see Billy "The Kid" Irwin, sport the red and white knocking out Americans on TV, but again he never achieved big time success.

I was a young boxing fan that rarely saw a Canadian fight for a title (Lennox Lewis doesn't count). Then one day; flipping through channels, I saw a Canadian fighting a man named Omar Sheika. He was a highly thought of boxer touted as a future champion. The Canadian was doing the strangest thing; he was winning. He moved great, he stabbed with the jab and accented it with a solid right hand. The man was Eric Lucas.

Eric was seen as another Roy Jones Jr. victim till he rejuvenated his career beating top competition such as Alex Hilton, Vinny Pazienza, and Glen Catley. I soon found out he was WBC world super middleweight champion and was drawing great crowds in Montreal’s Bell Center. I couldn’t believe a Canadian was doing this, beating the world’s best and fighting out of Canada. I read a ring magazine column that said if boxing lasted 100 rounds Eric Lucas would win every time, because of his amazing training and conditioning. His glory wouldn’t last. It ended when he fought Danny Green. He over trained and maybe the hopes of the nation got to him and he was uncharacteristically knocked out on home soil. Then something happened. The buzz was still there, the crowds didn’t leave. They wanted more. The American’s were taking notice. Montreal became the second biggest city supporting its own boxers, second only to Las Vegas. It was largely thanks to Montreal’s biggest boxing stable, Interbox, and their new owner, Eric Lucas. Suddenly Canadian communities were coming out to support local boxing promotions. Boxing crowds started sprouting up in places like Edmonton, Calgary, Ontario, and the Maritimes. Finally Canadians are coming out and the rest of Canada is getting on board. Boxing is declining in the United States, but Canada is now supporting its own local fighters.

Think I’m wrong? I never once saw a Canadian title fight on national television, ever in my life. You can regularly see Canadian title fights on Sportsnet and TSN. Canada has had arguably its most anticipated Heavyweight title fight in the rematch between Greg Kielsa and Neven Pajkic.

Steve Molitor, Troy Ross, Jean Pascal, Logan McGuiness, David Lemieux, and Kris Andrews are all being well supported in their hometowns. The landscape of Canadian Boxing has never looked better.

Article posted on 09.09.2010

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