As a Montrealer and self-confessed boxing fanatic, I have to admit I’m pretty spoiled when it comes to watching live fisticuffs on a regular basis. How many other cities boast almost weekly boxing cards? Whether it’s an amateur tournament, a gala at one of the city’s many gyms, a pro card with a line-up of local prospects, or a big event at the Bell Centre being broadcast on Showtime or HBO, if you want to fill up your appointment calendar with live fight cards, Montreal is the place to be.
Last Saturday night we had two live events happening at the same time, and while the competitiveness of the match-ups might have been better, everyone had the chance to see a line-up of strong local talent in action at two great venues. Then a few days later, we’re ringside for the second of three planned shows staged at the Casino de Montreal by Groupe Yvon Michel. Yeah, we got it good up here.
The casino series was recently resurrected by GYM and, for the mainstream media, is another sign of the so-called “resurgence” of boxing happening here, though in truth there is no resurgence; boxing has never gone away, but only waxed and waned to some degree in terms of the sports and entertainment zeitgeist, which in turn is largely dictated by the fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens. Right now, Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge is having a terrible season, so boxing gets a boost in attention.
The only down-side to all this is that the three most recent events may signal the cementing of a ‘Cold War’ of sorts. Groupe Yvon Michel, Interbox, Eye Of The Tiger Management and Rixa Promotions are all jockeying for position and ticket dollars and not everyone is willing to play nice in the Montreal boxing sandbox. Two of the three events happening on the exact same night points to this truth.
But from a boxing fan’s stand-point, the truly tantalizing take-away from three fight cards in six days is all the great matches possible between the various talents showcased. A round-robin tournament of the best prospects in various divisions would truly represent a ‘golden age’ of pugilism for The Fight City. Who wouldn’t want to see Custio Clayton take on Mian Hussain? Or Schiller Hypollite battle Erik Bazinyan? Or Francis Lafreniere clash with Steven Butler? But fans know boxing politics means truly meaningful matches will continue to be the exception instead of the norm, though that’s the case for the sport in general, so why should it be any different here?
The first casino show on January 21 was marked by two things: a pretty much sold-out venue and a last second cancellation when Canadian heavyweight champion Dillon Carman, citing the flu, pulled out of his match with Eric Barrak just minutes before it was to get underway. Top prospects Erik Bazinyan and Custio Clayton, among others, easily vanquished their out-matched foes and everyone, except Barrak, left happy.
A similar script was followed last night, complete with a major disappointment for Barrak, though thankfully no one got the flu. First up, outstanding super-middleweight prospect Patrice Volny of Montreal stopped Michel Tsalla (1-12-2) in the second round of his pro debut. Huge sigh of relief for the young Volny as the fighter had attempted more than once to get his pro career going. Volny showed quickness, power and killer instinct in a quality stoppage win for his first fight.
Next up, another super-middleweight prospect, Dario Bredicean (8-0), who resides with his brother and fellow pugilist Bruno in Florida but trains out of the Grant Brothers gym in Montreal, had a tough six round battle with Francois Miville (7-5). This was perhaps the most competitive and exciting match of the night, which is to say that while Bredicean likely won every round, Miville gave it everything he had and worked to make life miserable for his talented opponent, including some not completely legal tactics. Bredicean scored knockdowns in rounds one and three to secure a clear points win.
Signalling their desire to develop a new star in women’s boxing, GYM once again featured Marie Eve Dicaire on the undercard. She was dominant in January and last night was no different though credit to her opponent, Marta Patricia Lara (9-5-0) of Mexico, who absorbed a ton of punishment but refused to cave in. Dicaire demonstrated once again the talent which may propel her to the top. After just three pro matches, already a step up in competition appears necessary.
Next up, super-bantamweight Vislan Dalkhaev (6-0), who we last saw in action on the undercard of the Sergey Kovalev vs Jean Pascal rematch, made short work of Jorge Reynoso (10-10-0), knocking the Mexican down three times to force an opening round stoppage. Originally from Russia, Dalkhaev’s corner team included countryman Artur Beterbiev who we hope to see back in action in the near future.
Super-bantamweight Yoni Sherbatov (2-0) of Laval was tested by a game and gritty Santos Lira (0-3), but secured a unanimous points win in a hard-fought battle. Sherbatov showed impressive speed and ring smarts as he earned a clear-cut win.
Time for a big man rumble with a version of the Canadian title on the line, something we were deprived of at the last casino show. Monstrous 6’7″ heavyweight Raymond “Mount Kilimanjaro” Olubowale was just too big and too powerful for Eric Barrak, who appeared exhausted as early as the second round. That said, Barrak kept slinging right hand haymakers in an effort to get the big knockout but appeared to have no gameplan beyond that. Olubowale scored a knockdown in the second and in the third a short right hand put Barrak on the canvas face-first, prompting the referee to immediately halt the bout.
It should be noted that the belt contested between Olubowale and Barrak is not the same one that would have been fought for had the match between Barrak and Dillon Carman gone ahead in January. Thus, we have the confusing situation of there somehow being two Canadian heavyweight champions. We call on Carman and Olubowale to face off as soon as possible, preferably in Montreal, to sort out this mess.
Next up, the main event, and another step forward for undefeated prospect and former amateur star, Custio Clayton (7-0). No one doubts Clayton’s pedigree or talent, but the knock on him to date has been the failure of organizers to find him credible and challenging opponents. Credit to the night’s organizers for trying to change that trend by scheduling Clayton to face Alvaro Robles (19-5) in a match which promised to be, by far, the toughest of Clayton’s career to date. However, visa problems forced that match-up to be cancelled. Thus, Hector Munoz (23-18-1) accepted the fight on very short notice and everyone anticipated another mismatch, but instead Clayton was extended for the first time in his career, having to battle into the ninth round to get the win.
As in the night’s previous bouts, the local hero was never in danger of losing but had to work hard as the determined Munoz kept forcing the issue while showing astonishing resiliency, eating up punches like they were Skittles. In round nine Munoz made the mistake of turning to the referee to complain about a foul and Clayton took advantage by landing a flush right hand to the jaw. Munoz hit the canvas and while he gamely rose to his feet the referee took advantage of the knockdown to call a halt to what had become a one-sided beatdown.
Finally faced with an opponent who battled hard and could take his punches, Clayton looked as impressive as ever. There’s every reason for Custio’s career to continue to move forward as quickly as possible. He has all the talent in the world, but at 28 years of age, he needs to stay active if he wants to rise to the elite level while still in his prime.
All in all, another quality card from Groupe Yvon Michel and Montreal fight fans can look forward to the next Casino show happening May 24. — Robert Portis
Photos by Bob Levesque.