Recent years have demonstrated, with great success, the viability of the tournament format for professional boxing. The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) has so far staged five elimination style tournaments since 2017, featuring a number of highly competitive and memorable battles with star-making opportunities for several champions, including Oleksandr Usyk, Josh Taylor, and Naoya Inoue.
Now it’s Canada’s turn to try its hand at a major boxing tournament as Eye of the Tiger Management is set to launch their own four-man round-robin event featuring the nation’s top super lightweights: Steve Claggett (28-6-2), David Theroux (16-3), Yves Ulysse Jr. (18-2), and Mathieu Germain (18-1-1). All fighters will face each other at least once with a scoring system that awards three points for a knockout or unanimous decision, two points for a split-decision, and one point for a draw. Ultimately one man will be left standing and that winner will receive a cool fifty grand on top of their purses for the fights, in addition to significantly improving their world ranking.
It’s an intriguing project, not to mention one that likely would not be happening if it were not for the circumstances thrust upon us thanks to Covid-19. The tournament kicks off in Rimouski on Saturday with Claggett vs Theroux in the co-feature while Ulysse and Germain will do battle in the main event. Both bouts are scheduled for ten rounds. While Theroux is the least proven commodity among the four participants, he will undoubtedly use that as motivation to get himself ready to perform at the highest ceiling of his ability, and that fact is not lost on Claggett ahead of their opening-round matchup.
“I think he’s going to be hungry because people are looking at him as the underdog,” says the Alberta-based fighter. “But not me. I know what it’s like to be the underdog, so I know the fire that creates. I’ve watched his fights … and I’ve studied his movements and his habits. I see a lot of tenacity, and I know he’s strong … [but] I truly believe in my preparation, so whatever he brings on fight night, I will have an answer for it. I know he’s a commendable opponent, and I can’t wait, because I want to beat him at his very best.”
In the main event, Ulysse vs Germain pits two fighters desperately looking to regain some of the shine they lost in their more recent outings. Ulysse last fought a year ago when Ismael Barroso convincingly outpointed him in a televised Golden Boy main event in Costa Mesa. That setback prompted him to make a trainer change as he parted ways with renowned Quebec coach Renald Boisvert in favor of American John Scully. However, with Scully choosing not to travel into Canada during the pandemic, Boisvert will be back in Ulysse’s corner on fight night.
Meanwhile, Mathieu Germain no doubt also feels the pressure to notch a big win after suffering his first career defeat when he was stopped in five rounds by Uriel Perez (19-5) just over a year ago. While “G-Time” rebounded a few months later with a points win over Gilberto Meza (11-9-1), questions remain regarding his current form. If Germain is to prove he is still one of the country’s best junior welterweights, he needs to give a strong performance against Ulysse, who many pundits view as the tournament favorite.
Of course, Germain begs to differ, citing Ulysse’s decision to skip a recent press conference as proof he doesn’t have the mental toughness to succeed. “For me, [his not showing up for the presser] is proof he is not mentally strong. The mental game will be the difference in this fight and I will have the edge.”
“For this fight, I have something to prove,” says the now taciturn Ulysse who wants to save his talking for the ring. “Every time I have suffered a loss, I was able to bounce back in the next fight. I intend this to happen against Germain.”
But if Ulysse is viewed by many as the one most likely to win, in fact it might be Claggett who should be regarded as the tournament’s strongest draw. That’s because his past battles with both Yves and Germain were highly entertaining and action-packed. Indeed, what is most intriguing about this tournament is the familiarity shared between Claggett, Germain and Ulysse and the sense there is unfinished business waiting to be resolved.
In 2017, Claggett upset the undefeated Ulysse by split decision in Montreal. In their rematch two years later in California, Ulysse won a decision to even the score, and until now there were no plans for a rubber match. Similarly, in January of 2019, “The Dragon” battled “G-Time” to a draw at the Montreal Casino in a terrific battle. As we reported, the first Germain vs Claggett clash “featured multiple momentum swings, dizzying punch output … and captivating in-fighting …” Again, a rematch would have been welcomed long before now, so hardcore Canuck fight fans will be more than pleased to learn Claggett vs Germain II is officially on its way.
The bottom line is fight fans in Canada and Quebec who appreciate legit domestic rivalries are in for six meaningful match-ups and some high-stakes action. And if the tilts deliver on November 21 with some drama and fireworks, there will be even more interest in the next round, whenever and wherever it takes place. It’s been a terrible year in so many respects, but for Canadian boxing, the “Four Aces” tournament from Eye Of The Tiger is a welcome beacon of hope in the darkness of 2020. — Jamie Rebner