There are essentially two measures of success for a night of live boxing matches: the number of empty chairs in the venue and the quality of the fights. Last night’s Grant Brothers Boxing card at The Olympia Theatre scored high on both counts with few vacant seats to be found and a series of exciting scraps which kept everyone highly entertained. The production values of this event were nothing less than top grade with massive television screens next to the stage to ensure everyone had an excellent view of the action, and one bout following briskly on the heels of another. The chandelier lighting and ornate art deco stylings of the nearly century old Olympia only added to the dramatic atmosphere, as did the eye-catching ringcard girls, television cameras and the in-ring interviews following each contest. With Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo watching on, the entire production, from start to finish, exuded professionalism and attention to detail.
Also from start to finish, boxing fans got more than their money’s worth in terms of action. Maybe it’s something in the Olympia Theatre’s water supply or maybe it had something to do with the cozy confines of a ring that looked smaller than your average boardroom table, but every boxer on the bill appeared eager to rumble and trade blows with an equally willing opponent.
The opening round of the night’s first bout helped set the tone. Lightweights Dwayne Durel of Montreal and Kyle Marsh of Toronto, both in their pro debuts, got right to work in their four rounder, trading heavy blows from the opening bell. All four rounds were closely contested, though Marsh’s heavier shots carried the first and fourth rounds in this reporter’s eyes. Durel was clearly the quicker fighter, but his lack of head or upper body movement made it a tough fight and he was hurt in the final round of a spirited clash. In my view a draw would have been the fairest verdict, but Durel received a unanimous decision win.
The assembled fans had little time to reflect on the night’s opener before Jessie MacMillan of Nova Scotia and Montreal’s Golden Garcia were in the ring. The two super-featherweights also wasted no time getting down to business, the relentless Garcia driving his taller and rangier foe into the ropes and landing heavy blows to both body and head. Garcia, in his third professional outing, appeared intent on a first round stoppage and got what he was looking for as MacMillan, winless in three previous outings, lacked the strength to fend him off. A series of hard, flush shots prompted the referee to stop the contest just past the two minute mark.
The night’s most frenetic battle took place next as heavyweights Eric Martel Bahoeli of Quebec City and Samer Barakat of Ottawa engaged in a tremendous brawl. The two big men went right at each other, ripping big shots, and seconds into the opening round a powerful right hand floored Barakat who, at 206 was giving away some 50 pounds to his larger opponent. Upon rising, Barakat looked at his corner, smiled and said, “I didn’t even see that.” He appeared demoralized and dazed and was decked again before the round’s end but he somehow survived to hear the bell.
It was more of the same in round two with Barakat getting battered until, out of nowhere, the smaller man landed his own monster right hand shot to deck Bahoeli. Then in round three, Barakat was sent to the mat again. And so it went: a genuine, no-holds-barred slugfest in which both men had their moments, but with Bahoeli’s greater activity, coupled with his significant size and weight advantage, allowing him to take a unanimous decision. This was, without question, the most action-packed fight of the night. And that’s saying something.
The fans had already gotten their money’s worth but another entertaining slugfest was up next as Bahoeli’s rival, Dillon Carman, who defeated Eric last October in Toronto to claim the Canadian heavyweight championship, took on Benito Quiroz of Mexico. Unlike the previous match, this contest did not feature a large disparity in weight, though Carman enjoyed significant advantages in height and reach over his stockier rival. When Carman thought to utilize those advantages, he was able to dictate the terms of the contest, but for much of the match he neglected to keep Quiroz at the end of his punches and the result was more toe-to-toe action with the smaller Mexican doing damage in rounds three and four, working “Big Country” over on the ropes or in the corners and regularly snapping Carman’s head back with left hooks.
But the punches appeared to wake up the big man from Madoc and Carman reasserted himself over the next few rounds. With his fans chanting Coun-try! Coun-try! he boxed smartly, getting off first and connecting with the cleaner punches. Ahead on points, he came on strong at the start of round eight, looking to make a statement, but as he did a counter left hand from Quiroz appeared to stun him. He backed off and spat out his mouthpiece and the resulting pause in action served him well. Recovered and rejuvenated, he battered Quiroz in the final minute, opening a nasty cut over the Mexican’s left eye and then knocking him down with an overhand right. Apparently the timekeeper was so caught up in the action he forgot to ring the bell as Quiroz beat the count but referee Michael Griffin stopped the bout just as time had expired. The result goes down as a TKO for Carman at 3:00 of round eight.
The emotional high point of the evening came next as Erik Bazinyan made his way to the ring. His many fans cheered while the haunting strains of traditional Armenian music filled the hall. This year marks the centenary of the Armenian Genocide and the undefeated Bazinyan dedicated his eighth professional fight to the memory of that tragic event, his cornermen wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with “2015 100 Year Armenian Genocide.” At least five full-size, red, blue and orange Armenian flags could be seen waving in the crowd as Bazinyan stepped through the ropes.
After the largely undisciplined brawls leading up to this match, it was refreshing to see Bazinyan quickly assume control of the ring with some excellent boxing technique. His opponent, Morgan Le Gal of France, sporting a respectable 11-2 record, appeared demoralized by the Armenian-Canadian’s quick start, with Erik’s sharp jab and straight right hand repeatedly breaking through Le Gal’s defense. At the conclusion of round one he returned to his corner with an expression on his face that said, “What can I do?” He uttered something to his highly animated cornerman who angrily slapped him in response.
The second round was more competitive but Bazinyan remained in control, constantly backing his man up and mixing head and body punches to perfection. The youngster’s confidence and poise was impressive to say the least. Hard jabs to both head and body, vicious right hand counters, and excellent footwork were the hallmarks of an educated ring craft which 19-year-old boxers don’t usually possess. Bazinyan even smoothly switched to southpaw at times, the better to land right hands to Le Gal’s body, before switching back to attack again with the jab.
Credit to Le Gal for never giving up, but he was taking a beating and an unanswered flurry of punches in round five prompted the referee to stop the match. Le Gal’s lone cornerman immediately went ballistic, repeatedly shouting “Pourquoi! Pourquoi!” even as Le Gal himself appeared to accept the outcome. Of course, it’s easy for trainers to be brave. Le Gal was clearly outclassed as Bazinyan gave the crowd, in terms of classic boxing skill, the stand-out performance of the night.
Now it was time for the flamboyant Tyson Cave of Halifax to assume center stage and those anticipating theatrics and hijinks were not disappointed. Taunting and clowning are Cave’s stock-in-trade and from the opening bell the eccentric “Prince of Hali,” crab-walking and deking and darting like a break dancer with boxing gloves, did his strange thing and, for the most part, controlled the contest. His opponent, Abraham Gomez of Mexico, had sparked a controversy the day before by arriving some 15 pounds overweight. The terms of the fight were renegotiated, but Cave taunted Gomez at the weigh-in, saying: “We all know you’re not in shape. It’s Taco Bell time!”
Gomez though proved game but he lacked the speed to keep up with Cave who outlanded him by a large margin in most of the rounds. Inspired by Cave’s constant showboating, he responded in kind, sticking his tongue out and deliberately fouling on a regular basis, hitting on the break or after the bell, using his forearms and punching low in the final round. He showed a solid chin, though admittedly Cave has little power. There was no question as to who deserved the win after eight fast-paced rounds, but Cave showed class after the final bell as he made up for much of his taunting by embracing Gomez and exhorting the audience to applaud him.
The final bout of the evening featured home-town favorite and Canadian champion Francis Lafreniere in an eight round middleweight match against veteran trailhorse Mohammed Akrong of Ghana. This was perhaps the least entertaining fight of the evening, but not because it lacked for action. The contest was fought at a fast pace from the opening bell with Lafreniere, cheered on by his enthusiastic followers, pressing and initiating toe-to-toe warfare. His sharper punches and stronger attack clearly carried the fight, but Akrong’s steel chin nullified Lafreniere’s offense for round after monotonous round. Neither man could hurt the other. Akrong’s lack of balance meant his punches carried no weight and the African’s inhuman capacity to absorb punishment prevented Lafreniere from striking any resounding blows.
That is, until the final round when all the clean punches Akrong had been absorbing appeared to catch up to him. Lafreniere finally scored a knockdown and though the brave Ghanian beat the count, shortly thereafter the referee halted the bout, a few punches later than necessary in this writer’s opinion.
All things considered, the night could hardly have turned out better for the Grant Brothers as their biggest show yet looked to be a tremendous success and all of their fighters came up winners. Here’s hoping this event marks the start of more such boxing galas at the Olympia Theatre as stand-out Montreal talents Garcia, Bazinyan and Lafreniere continue to build their records and the Grant Brothers team works to assert itself as a major player on the Canadian boxing scene. — Robert Portis