Every passionate fight fan remembers what sparked their love for The Sweet Science. For some it was watching Rocky or When We Were Kings, or coming across a copy of The Ring or KO magazine, or seeing Sugar Ray Leonard or Mike Tyson fight on TV. Last month Rafael Garcia wrote about watching the first legendary Chavez vs Taylor fight as a child in his native Mexico and how it galvanized his fascination for pugilism. But my own version of this experience is a little different. The emergence of my inner fight fanatic happened at, of all things, a Timothy Bradley fight, the only one to ever happen north of the border.
The thing is, interest in boxing started at a later age than most. As a teenager, I remember wondering why when I was flipping through the TV channels my grandfather would get so excited every time I stumbled upon a boxing match. I definitely didn’t share his enthusiasm. Give me basketball or hockey any day, but two guys in a ring was “Snooze City” for this jaded teenager.
But that changed when I sat down and read Becoming Holyfield, the autobiography of “The Real Deal,” a book that gave me a new perspective on the sport. Now I too was fascinated by the fight game and I was ready for the next step: a real, live boxing match. It happened to be April 2009 and around Montreal one saw posters for the upcoming title match set to go down at The Bell Centre. And to top it off, it was a clash of champions, each set to make the second defense of their respective titles. A unification showdown for my first live boxing event? Not too shabby.
But as excited as I was to see the main event, some were perplexed by its being staged in Montreal. In this city, fight cards are more often than not headlined by local favorites. Whether it be Adonis Stevenson, Jean Pascal or Lucian Bute, usually local heroes were the headliners. But on April 4, 2009, it was two Americans, Timothy Bradley from Calfornia and Kendall Holt from New Jersey, who topped the Bell Centre marquee.
But that night all that really mattered for this fledgling boxing fanatic was that a major match was happening and I was there to see it live. I couldn’t wait for Bradley vs Holt. And I was determined to make the most of it, which meant taking on the challenge of securing a better vantage point. From my initial position near the rafters, I gathered intelligence during the undercard regarding available empty seats and before the co-main event started, I made my move, a feat that went against my risk-averse nature. I bought some snacks to make it appear I had only left my expensive seat for a brief intermission and to my relief the presiding usher took no notice of me as I went past with my pizza.
Soon enough, it was time for the main event. Bradley, wearing red, blue and white trunks in homage to the city’s beloved “Les Canadiens,” started the opening round in his customary pitbull-like style, determined to push Holt back on his heels. Despite not being a big puncher, he wanted to get inside and use his shorter reach and faster hands to his advantage. That strategy was working well until, amid a heated exchange, Holt’s left hook detonated on Bradley’s chin, snapping his head around and sending him to the canvas. Bradley got up, walked to the nearest corner, and then wisely took a knee to regain his bearings. Although it was the first time he had ever been knocked down as an amateur or pro, Bradley showed the poise of a veteran.
Demonstrating the tremendous grit that would be a hallmark of his career, “Desert Storm” appeared fully recovered to start round two and, in what would become the fight’s prevailing pattern, Bradley elevated his activity rate and out-worked Holt, who seemed content to wait for another opening to land a big punch. With Holt waiting, Bradley had an open invitation get home his own shots, and that he did, especially to “Rated R’s” midsection which he softened up with jabs and right hooks.
In round four, Holt amped up his attack, snapping Bradley’s head back with authority when he connected with a stiff jab. But as was the case with the rest of his arsenal, he just didn’t throw it enough. Despite Holt’s attempt to take control, Bradley’s activity level simply wouldn’t allow it and the prevailing pattern of the bout appeared to be a clear case of volume over power in favour of the Californian.
In round seven Bradley continued to hunt Holt down, landing a vicious counter left hook to the body that took the wind out of Holt’s sails and put him in survival mode. With Holt focused on defending and covering up, Bradley continued to throw flurries and he punctuated the round with a double left hook, a la Micky Ward, the second one thudding into Holt’s liver with authority.
As the championship rounds began, Holt picked up the pace, perhaps sensing he was down on the cards. But Bradley was willing to take it up a notch as well, to a level Holt simply couldn’t match. Maybe it was Bradley’s superior conditioning or maybe it was his aggressive style that would always cause a counter-puncher like Holt problems. Or maybe the real reason, to use a classic sports cliché, was that Bradley just wanted it more. Whatever the case, it was evident this was not Holt’s night. After all, he had landed his best shot in the opening round and scored a knockdown only to see Bradley rebound and not be slowed in the slightest.
Before the last round, Holt’s corner did all they could to pump their man up, imploring him to give everything he had but he failed to attack with ferocity and Bradley outworked him, just as he had for most of the match. That is, until Holt, with just 30 seconds left, caught “Desert Storm” with a hard right uppercut. The punch staggered Bradley and he put a glove to the canvas to remain upright. Referee Michael Griffin correctly ruled it a knockdown, adding a dose of drama to the final verdict. Were the two knockdowns, combined with some close rounds, enough to swing the scoring in Holt’s favour? But the judges awarded Bradley a unanimous decision and made him the unified world champion of the super lightweights.
But if Holt didn’t do quite enough to get the win, his punching power, combined with Bradley’s spirited performance, made the battle an entertaining and memorable one. I left the arena charged with excitement after my first live boxing match and as I went out into the night, my senses taking in the bright lights of The Fight City, I understood my grandfather’s love for boxing in a new, more visceral way. And I knew my passion for pugilism was only going to grow, and so it has, never wavering in the time since, and all because of the night Bradley vs Holt went down in the rather unlikely locale of Montreal, aka “The Fight City.” — Jamie Rebner