As a new year begins, professional boxing struggles to stay alive amidst a raging pandemic that shows few signs of abating anytime soon. However, many of the game’s biggest promotional outfits, including Top Rank, Matchroom, Golden Boy and Premier Boxing Champions, have made noble efforts to keep their fighters active and relevant and to give them opportunities for significant wins and more exposure. And the same goes for Eye of the Tiger Management, an organization that boasts the largest stable of world-class talent in Canada.
A couple months back, Eye Of The Tiger staged the first show in its “Four Aces” tournament featuring their best super lightweight fighters and Yves Ulysse and Steve Claggett picked up dominant wins over Mathieu Germain and David Theroux. Fans are looking forward to a third Ulysse vs Claggett showdown, but as of this date, nothing has been announced yet in terms of when the next card in that series is to take place.
In the meantime, owner Camille Estephan announced his organization was moving ahead with acquiring even more fighting talent as the promotional entity signed up two new prospects, Alexandre Gaumont and Bree Howling. Gaumont is a middleweight power puncher from Gatineau, Quebec who is yet to make his pro debut but is eager to do just that. “I think it’s the perfect time to make the leap,” the 25-year-old stated via press release, “[and] I want to demonstrate that I am a complete boxer.” Female bantamweight Bree Howling is equally eager to show what she can do in the ring. When speaking to her, she expressed gratitude for being signed so early in her career.
“I train with Steve Claggett who is with Eye of the Tiger and through him I got to learn more about their organization and of course I was hoping maybe I might get the call someday. It’s been a dream because I had no idea that this would have been possible so soon, but now that I am signed, I’m so excited to be with them. To have that kind of support is going to be huge for me moving forward.”
Howling gravitated to combat sports to learn to defend herself from two older brothers, and she also watched boxing and mixed martial arts with her dad growing up. She has no formal amateur career to fall back on, though she boasts a 4-1 record and a national title in Muay Thai. Despite her lack of experience in boxing, Howling is eager to get her prizefighting career underway. “I’m confident I can hang with any of the top fighters out there and I believe in my ability to learn on the fly.”
Trained by Jared Velasquez out of the Amplified Athletics gym in Calgary, Howling is fully aware of the pain and suffering that lie ahead on her quest to become a champion. “For me, boxing is the most challenging sport in the world, but I thrive off having to struggle and to be emotionally, physically, and mentally challenged. That’s the biggest reason why I enjoy boxing. I love the challenge and the pain.”
“I don’t say this lightly and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it was possible,” continues Howling with clear conviction, “but I do plan to bring a world title to Canada. I don’t want my career to be easy. I don’t want a padded record. I chose to go pro without any experience because I like a challenge. I want to fight the best and be known as one of the best female boxers ever. Whatever that looks like and whatever comes from being one of the best, I want to achieve all of that.”
In addition to signing new talent, Eye Of The Tiger is ready to stage the third show in their “Commando” series in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Previous visits to Mexico in the series have seen such talents as Christian Mbilli, Luis Santana, Thomas Chabot, and Leila Beaudoin add to their records. The main event of Friday’s card will be Steven Butler (28-2-1) vs Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Macias (27-10-3). Initially, Butler was to face Francis Lafreniere in an enticing all-Quebec showdown, but while the domestic match may have been more alluring to Canuck fans, Macias, who is 4-1-1 in his last six, likely presents a stiffer challenge for Butler. After all, the Mexican boasts a win over the inactive Lafreniere and he went the distance with both Mikael Zewski (34-2) and Kerman Lejarraga (31-2).
But the real significance of this match is that this is an opportunity for Butler to rebound from the biggest setback of his career so far, a knockout loss to Ryota Murata last December in Japan. Since then, Butler has hired Mike Moffa as his trainer and it will be interesting to see what improvements or changes have been adopted. Butler’s biggest weakness has been his porous defense, and improving head movement and overall evasiveness has to be a priority. While Butler is still only 25, he needs to put together some wins to regain his standing so this fight against the durable Macias is a crucial test.
In the co-feature, Sadriddin Akhmedov (11-0) looks to continue his journey to contender status in the junior-middleweight division as he takes on veteran Stephen Danyo (17-3-3) of the Netherlands. With only six stoppage wins, Danyo is not the type of puncher to trouble Akhmedov, but he has never been stopped and he went the distance with Custio Clayton in 2018. If Akhmedov can score a stoppage win it will be a significant notch on his belt that might lead to a chance to take on a legit contender in 2021. Only 22 with eleven pro fights, Akhmedov is in no rush but progressively stepping up his competition will challenge him and help him develop new wrinkles in his game.
Which brings up the one area where Eye Of The Tiger merits criticism, namely their cautious matchmaking. Aside from David Lemieux, most of their fighters have yet to face opponents who can genuinely test them. As an example, Butler had yet to take on, let alone beat, a top contender prior to his title shot against Murata. Racking up wins against walkovers does nothing to help a fighter prepare for tougher competition and Butler’s career arc should be a warning sign. Yes, other top talents in the stable are young and in the prospect stage, but their level of opposition needs to start increasing so that they are ready when the time comes to face elite contenders.
That said, I can’t be too critical in regards to these upcoming matches for Butler and Akhmedov given the circumstances and the various difficulties involved in putting on fights right now. At least Macias and Danyo have proved to be tough and savvy enough to go rounds with higher-level talent and there is a solid chance they will test the mettle of Butler and Akhmedov and provide some serious competition.
The bottom line is Eye Of The Tiger deserves credit for forging ahead, looking for opportunities to keep growing and keeping their fighters active. When boxers compete they have the chance to both gain needed exposure and to sharpen their skills and those who have added to their records during this difficult time will be better prepared to pick up the pace once regular schedules return. Hopefully that means meaningful matches against tough and deserving opposition in 2021 and even bigger opportunities in the near future. — Jamie Rebner