Depending on your point of view, last night’s inaugural show for the revived Casino de Montreal boxing series was either a grand success or a disappointing let-down. From the perspective of Groupe Yvon Michel and all involved in the promotion, the outcome was definitely positive. The newly renovated Cabaret room at the casino looked refreshed and vibrant, nary an empty seat could be seen in the venue, most of the local heroes made good, and luminaries such as Lucian Bute, Otis Grant and Lennox Lewis were on hand to receive enthusiastic applause.
However, from an entertainment stand-point, fight fans were left wanting more as truly dramatic contests were scarce and the most meaningful match of the night was scrapped at the last second. While no one had a right to seriously expect headlining prospects Custio Clayton and Erik Bazinyan to be severely tested, there was reason to believe the scheduled heavyweight bout between Dillon “Big Country” Carman and Erik “Boom” Barrak would be a slam-bang affair. But it never happened.
Alas, Dillon Carman played hooky, pulling out of his scheduled match at the last minute. Literally. Word came from event organizers that Carman was “sick” and could not compete just before he and Barrak were scheduled to make their way to the ring. Not long after, Carman went to social media to apologize to his supporters, explaining he had the flu and that he and his team felt the best decision was to forego the match. However, there were no problems as far as Carman’s pre-fight physical was concerned, and roughly three hours or so before he was seen walking about the venue and even going into the ring to shadowbox and test the ropes.
Naturally, once news of the cancellation sunk in, rumours and chatter started up, most of it pointing to an unhappy boxer who felt he wasn’t getting the star treatment he deserved. Unsubstantiated reports are that Carman had complained about both his purse and his hotel room in the days leading up to the match, and upon arriving at the casino he let people know his dressing room was too small for his liking. Again, none of this has been verified, and even if it were, it may not have anything to do with the cancellation.
But at one point staff were seen actively searching for Carman and there was speculation he had left the building, an action which, if taken, could potentially have serious implications with the athletic commission. According to event organizers, Carman had in fact thrown up in his dressing room and the supervising physician had verified that the Canadian heavyweight champion was indeed ill. Whatever the case, Carman was MIA while Barrak could do little but complain about his missing opponent’s lack of professionalism.
Prior to this debacle, the prelims had taken place. Super middleweight prospect Dario Bredicean (7-0) won a unanimous decision in six rounds over California’s Jaudiel Zepeda (12-14-1) as his stablemates Lucian Bute and Jo Jo Dan looked on. Another six rounder followed with Winnipeg’s Olivia Gerula (17-15-2) getting the judges’ nod in a hard-fought battle against Montreal’s Lucian Larcinese (7-11-1), and talented Marie Eve Dicaire of St. Eustache, Quebec went to 2-0 with a dominant four round decision win over Christina Barry (0-3).
Next up was Laval’s Yoni Sherbatov, an undefeated MMA fighter originally from Russia, making his boxing debut, and in terms of spirited, two-way action, this was the highlight of the night. While Mexico’s Juan “Zorillo” Benitez (2-6) was naturally brought in to make Sherbatov look good, he gave the local hero a serious test from the opening bell, slinging right hands with abandon and holding his own against a foe who was clearly more powerful. That power along with Sherbatov’s admirable accuracy and economy of movement, caught up to Benitez at the end of round three when he visited the canvas. Two more knockdowns in round four followed before the referee called a halt.
As the heavyweight tilt was cancelled, a noisy intermission followed with lots of pumping music and everyone milling around. Eric Barrak entered the ring to speak briefly to the crowd about his fight being cancelled at the last second before the proceedings resumed with undefeated Erik Bazinyan (11-0) taking on Poland’s Michal Ludwiczak (13-2). The hope was Ludwiczak would have the experience and ability to give Bazinyan a stiff test but the gulf in talent between the two made that a non-starter. The gifted pugilist from Armenia — who is managed by Rixa Promotions, trained by Howard and Otis Grant, and now co-promoted by Groupe Yvon Michel — won every minute of the eight scheduled rounds.
It was evident early on that the only drama this match offered was in regards to whether or not Bazinyan could score the stoppage win he clearly desired. His advantages in terms of quickness, accuracy and the greater number of weapons at his disposal allowed Bazinyan to dominate, while the tough Ludwiczak was reduced to desperate swings and lunges, which of course only led to more punishment. Erik began to really load up on his punches in round five but his opponent was like a tree trunk and while Bazinyan’s axe was hitting home and doing damage, Ludwiczak stood strong.
A one-sided match officially became a beating in round seven, but still the Polish warrior refused to buckle. He was tiring and twice lost his mouthpiece, but he hung in as best he could as Bazinyan, who mixed head and body punches well throughout the match, just kept hacking away. In the eighth, the crowd favorite closed the show, chasing Ludwiczak from one side of the ring to the other, clearly trying for the knockout, but it wasn’t to be. Instead Bazinyan showed for the first time he could go eight fast-paced rounds, while also demonstrating he’s ready for a step up in competition.
The night’s final bout was a showcase for another undefeated prospect, Custio Clayton, who was a decorated amateur star and is now, along with Bazinyan, one of the finest prospects in Canada. The super-middleweight is 5-0, has the physique of a prime Evander Holyfield, and has overwhelmed every pro opponent he’s faced. His adversary on this night, France’s Stanislas Salmon, with a record of 25-3-2, was supposed to possess the experience to provide Clayton a stiffer test, but such was not the case. Clayton dominated from the opening bell behind a powerful left jab and a vicious body attack.
A left hook to the liver put Salmon down near the end of round one and in the second round more left hooks brought the same result. The Frenchman rose but then Clayton just slammed home an assortment of body blows as Salmon, who had barely landed a punch, crumpled for a third time and the referee signalled the massacre was over. Going forward, the challenge for those guiding both Bazinyan and Clayton will be to find opponents who can test these two excellent prospects and help them develop into truly elite pugilists.
The next Casino de Montreal event is scheduled for March 17; Yvon Michel has reportedly pledged that Eric Barrak will be invited back. Presumably Dillon Carman won’t be. Here’s hoping it’s another sell-out but that also fight fans are able to see more intense action for the price of admission. And hopefully this time, no one plays hooky. — Michael Carbert