Who is Manny Montreal? Is he a journalist, a videographer, a hanger-on, or a bon vivant? Is he a professional photographer or just another Youtube personality, a glutton for attention, yet another internet diversion? Maybe all of the above, maybe none, but one thing we do know: the man has a deep and abiding love for one of the oldest cities in all of North America, the place they once called “Babylon on the St. Lawrence,” the city where he was born and raised, a city unlike any other. And the man knows his combat sports. He knows Montreal; he knows fighting. And he has a passion for both which few can match.
What does this have to do with Lucian Bute, with a Romanian-Canadian former world champion’s attempt to renew his career and regain the super middleweight championship of the world? Everything.
Combat sports have always been big in Montreal, but in recent years they have assumed an even higher profile. The city where Arturo Gatti learned to box is home to numerous world-class gyms and regular fight cards, both amateur and pro. What other city in North America could feature two stacked boxing cards on the same night in two different locations, without a single fighter from the city’s largest stable, that of Yvon Michel, making an appearance? As we keep saying, Montreal is The Fight City, and no one knows this better than Manny.
He is welcome at any gym in the city, but the one where he has staked out serious turf happens to be the same one from which Lucian Bute relaunched his career, The Grant Brothers Boxing Gym in Dorval, a suburb northwest of downtown of Montreal. The gym is actually located inside another one, the famous Monster Gym, a massive facility that never closes. On the second floor Otis and Howard Grant have their headquarters with two days per week reserved for serious sparring, and only one photographer is present every Tuesday and Thursday to catch all the action with full access and a lifetime VIP pass, and his name is Manny Montreal.
By coincidence, Manny and Lucian Bute started regularly climbing the stairs to the Grants’ domain of pain at almost the exact same time and so Manny has had a front row seat for every stage of the Bute comeback. He’s observed countless Bute workouts and he was ringside for Lucian’s fourth round TKO of Andrea Di Luisa when the Bell Centre crowd applauded the former champion’s return and Bute fought to hold back the tears. And he was in Quebec City when Lucian surprised many by taking IBF super middleweight champion James DeGale to the limit and giving him all he could handle.
So when word came that the man once called “Le Tombeur” was getting another title shot, this time against Badou Jack in Washington, D.C. for the WBC strap, naturally Manny had to be there. In part because this was just the next chapter in The Odyssey of Manny Montreal, but also because this time Lucian Bute was going to win. Manny could feel it. And he had to be there to see it happen.
Because by now, the Grant Brothers, whether they realized it or not, were Manny’s crew. Which means all of their fighters are like Manny’s blood brothers, including Bute. He was watching them all train, observing their progress, (not to mention helping them with social media or making them videos), and he had seen Bute prepare for the DiLuisa match, and then DeGale, and now Jack, and everyone agreed: Bute looked better than ever. Sharper, more confident, quick and explosive. He’s gonna do it, said Manny in his weekly video. And so off to D.C. he went.
There is only one Manny Montreal, and this fact sinks in when you watch the videos from his stateside adventure. Because while other journalists may cover the weigh-in for a fight and even make a video of it, who else sticks around to listen to all of the rules for the match from the representative of the athletic commission? Who else makes a video of the glove selection procedure with the boxers and trainers inspecting and signing the gloves, with Howard Grant joking around with former world champ and Badou Jack’s trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad?
No other correspondent could have made a video of Bute warming up in his dressing room minutes before the fight. And how often do you get to see a boxer’s walk to the ring from the point of view of actually being part of it, Manny’s camera peering over the shoulder of Chris Ganescu, Bute’s manager, as Lucian and his entourage approach the ring to the cheers of his fans? And who else but Manny would translate Bute’s French for all present at the post-fight presser, while simultaneously undercutting a Leonard Ellerbe joke made at Lucian’s expense?
Some dismiss Manny as a “homer,” but they’re missing the point. They don’t get what Manny Montreal is all about. Because Manny is a fan, first and foremost, a passionate and knowledgeable fan, who, with a wing, a prayer, and some low-budget video equipment, is living every fight fan’s dream: hanging out at the gyms; taking ringside seats at the fights; following champion boxers to the ring and into their dressing rooms; having his say at the press conferences; shaking hands with people he admires, guys like Harold Lederman, David Loiseau and Bernard Hopkins. And representing the city he loves, the fighters he loves, to anyone who will pay attention.
So now with confirmed reports that Bute has tested positive for a banned substance following the Jack fight, is Manny ready to throw Lucian under the bus? Label him a cheater and walk away? Of course not. Because Manny Montreal is all about loyalty and Lucian Bute is part of Manny’s crew. We wait for the B sample, and in the meantime keep your negative judgments and speculations to yourself. Manny ain’t interested.
Besides, he’s too busy right now getting ready to cover the big Groupe Yvon Michel card on June 4 with Artur Beterbiev, Eleider Alvarez and Oscar Rivas all in action. And then he’ll be ringside for the Rixa/Grant Brothers show on June 17. And then he’s gotta cover the Adonis Stevenson fight in July or August, as well as the next Eye Of The Tiger event. And make some videos for some of the guys at Tristar. Or Underdog. Or Hard Knox. Or Boxe Montreal. And of course, get to the Grants’ every Tuesday and Thursday for the sparring. Then spend hours and hours uploading and editing and posting.
And between all that, the man has to eat, so finding sponsors is the name of the game. Because, contrary to the speculation and the chatter on the street, not that many are putting money in Manny’s pocket for all his hard work. The dude had to hustle like crazy to make D.C. happen (“Thanks again to my sponsors …”), and if he wants to keep living the dream of every serious “boxinghead,” he’s gonna have to hustle some more.
As he says to Badou Jack in the video (no doubt hoping, as the “homer” he is, for a Bute vs Jack rematch): “Hopefully we’ll see you again. And everybody makes money.” The key word being “hopefully,” as there are stretches when hope alone has to get Manny through his days. That and his unwavering love for The Fight City. — Robert Portis