Kingmakers of the Queen City

Premier Boxing Champions, that prizefighting cruise ship steered by an invisible captain, docked on the shores of Lake Ontario Friday night. It was the first card of significance in Toronto in many years, and as with most PBC events, fans were treated to fine production quality and mediocre match-ups. Was it enough to revive boxing in Canada’s biggest city, as the promotion’s tagline had promised? Probably not, although renaissances of any type only occur over time. At the very least, the rebirth was given its start, even if the event’s end—with Tommy Karpency stumbling woozily as Adonis Stevenson primed himself for an airborne celebration—was entirely predictable.

The night’s best fight was doubtlessly the super featherweight brawl between Sandy Tsagouris and Shannon O’Connell, which Tsagouris won on points. It was the only competitive bout on the card, and featured knockdowns, ample blood flow from O’Connell’s forehead, and memorable displays of bravery from both women.

Fight of the Night: Tsagouris vs Shotgun Shannon
Fight of the Night: Shotgun Shannon vs Tsagouris

In other action, Dillon Carman made good on his promise to The Fight City that he would end Razor Ruddock’s comeback hopes, which he did via third round knockout; Prichard Colon dispatched Vivian Harris in four rounds (Harris having likely been exhumed from a boxing graveyard whose location is known only to Al Haymon); Ionut Dan Ion unanimously decisioned Rafal Jackiewicz; and on the co-main, the highly touted Errol Spence stopped the shimmying, shaking Chris van Heerden in eight rounds.

The event was held at Ricoh Coliseum, a medium-sized venue well suited to hosting a PBC card. The stands weren’t full, but there was a respectable turnout, particularly since the event coincided with the opening weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival; this is not to suggest TIFF impinged on a boxing event, but it likely made hotel rooms less affordable and monopolized the media’s attention. Also, the surging Toronto Blue Jays are mired in an important divisional series against the New York Yankees, and a quick survey of local media this morning revealed plenty of baseball but a dearth of boxing coverage.

Title Boxing
Dillon Carman did this to Razor Ruddock.

Can boxing get big in Toronto, per the wishes of Les Woods, the Toronto-based promoter who staged last night’s event in concert with Yvon Michel? It can probably get bigger, but fostering a rabid following among sports fans who are only casually interested in boxing will be difficult. The sport isn’t woven into the city’s fabric, as it is in Montreal, and indeed, many of the same figures you’ll inevitably see on the floor of the Bell Centre were on hand yesterday, clustering in the same groups that monopolize real power over this sport in Canada.

A Montreal fight veteran told me that she admired the event’s production, and was chiefly impressed with the chicness of the men and women seated ringside. Her comment was telling, because those on the floor were either wealthy businessmen or part of the boxing establishment, while those in the stands were either hardcore fans or people with direct connections to the fighters. Put another way, while the people you would have expected to show up yesterday did, nothing was gleaned about the city’s true potential, which can only be ascertained over time. Ultimately, the popularization of the sport here will depend on whether its promoters can effectively reach average sports fans.

Lewis, left, will help Woods build Global Legacy in Toronto.

Woods and his team will only succeed if they stage cards with more competitive fights and attractively propagate the idea of Toronto as a boxing hotbed. How can they do this? The most effective way might be to leverage its status as Canada’s premiere cultural and economic power, and make these elements the cornerstone of their ‘Toronto boxing’ promotion. Global Legacy has been intent on making ‘glamour’ synonymous with its product, but this is in many ways an archaic term that evokes a sentimentalized idea of boxing as a sport of noble violence staged between gentlemen. That idea is at odds with what boxing is today, and for any promotion to work, it must reinforce whatever is compelling about contemporary culture, of which, in Toronto—with its vibrant music scene, youth culture, and growing sense of self—there is so much mineable material.

There is a chance to build something new, and for it to work the product must personally resonate with those it’s designed to impress. Elegance is fine, but my sense is that any appeals to grace and sophistication will leave most Torontonians unmoved. The messaging might resonate more if  ‘glamour’ were replaced by ‘power.’

         —  Eliott McCormick

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