If Yves Ulysse Jr and Steve “The Dragon” Claggett were to fight ten times, or a hundred times, one suspects the script would never change. Typically, that would imply something tedious and predictable, but in the case of these two skilled and scrappy Canadians, it means exhilarating action, exhausting punch output, and very little separation on honest scorecards. In 2017, Claggett (27-6-2) marched into Montreal and imposed his will to claim a controversial split decision; when they finally met for a much-anticipated rematch, Ulysse (18-1) prevailed by competitive margins of 96-94 and 97-93 (twice), claiming the WBA’s Gold title, a belt which is exactly as preposterous as it sounds.
By all accounts, Ulysse vs Claggett II was another barnburner, but thanks to a Facebook stream that lasted about as long as Marcos Maidana‘s comeback, anyone who wasn’t in the embarrassingly empty venue couldn’t watch any of the seesawing action after round five, right when it appeared that Ulysse was settling into an impressive rhythm. I managed to squint my way through live cellphone footage for the bout’s second half, which ended up being equal parts comical and frustrating considering that these are our guys, Canada-made and world-class.
But technical glitches aside, Ulysse vs Claggett II was imbued with a pair of contrasting storylines that the first fight lacked. Having just signed a lucrative three year, nine fight co-promotional deal with Golden Boy, Ulysse needed a win to launch a serious world title run, because at 30-years-old a second loss to Claggett would have knocked him to the bottom of the fringe contender scrapheap. Claggett, on the other hand, could make legitimate claims to close wins over both Ulysse and Mathieu Germain, who he actually fought to a draw in a tremendous battle, and yet the perpetually disrespected Albertan has never secured an important top-15 ranking or been granted house fighter perks. In other words, Claggett was fighting for the official recognition he arguably deserves twice over, if not more.
One thing was abundantly clear from what we could actually see of Ulysse vs Claggett II: Ulysse did not separate himself from Claggett in the way most — especially in the Quebec media — assumed he would. But you know what? That’s not just an acceptable outcome, it’s one that’s better for boxing in Canada as a whole. That Yves Ulysse couldn’t dominate Steve Claggett from pillar to post is no indictment of Ulysse’s credentials as a top contender; rather, it plainly shows that Claggett remains firmly in the mix and still nipping at his heels.
Those of us from Canada know that Ulysse is worthy of being ranked in the top ten at 140 pounds. We don’t need a Golden Boy deal or approval from an American audience to put some kind of official stamp on that. But what we do have to acknowledge is that Claggett is nearly as good; cruder and less gifted perhaps, but ruthlessly proficient at applying sustained volume punching and imposing his bruising style. I had Ulysse winning their first fight and felt he was ahead after five rounds of the rematch, but every single stanza was competitive, punishing, and captivating.
It must be noted that Ulysse’s command of distance, the way he sat down on his punches, and his more purposeful movement, stood out as marked improvements from the first fight. After the Albertan bullied him in round two and made him wince with a couple of left hooks to the body, Ulysse became the bull in the third and manhandled Claggett, backing him up for significant stretches. The misconception about Ulysse is that he’s a cute boxer who likes to dance, prance, and potshot. Hardly. He’s developed into a formidable in-fighter and body puncher, and his straight right hand remains blindingly fast and hard enough to snap jaws. Whether Ulysse is ready for “anyone” remains to be seen, but at the same time there’s no doubt he is a legitimate challenge for any top contender.
And if Ulysse is targeting the upper echelons of the major sanctioning bodies, Claggett will give anyone ranked below that level nightmares. To fight Claggett is to be ground through a thresher, and “The Dragon” clearly earned future appearances on a platform like DAZN and against name opponents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Claggett will get that opportunity as an A-side in the near future, but something tells me that won’t lead to any insomnia. He knows he belongs. He’s proven it more times than anyone in this era of brazenly corrupt world title maneuvering should have to.
In a sense, the most honourable follow-up to Ulysse vs Claggett II would be a trilogy fight. But that won’t happen. Ulysse will now be banging on the championship belt-reinforced door of the WBA to go along with his other major rankings, and dipping back into the Claggett well is just asking to slip in and drown. Ulysse has the major promotional backing, as well as the momentum, while Claggett has now lost the little leverage he had. Debate the scores if you want, but this is one where the on-paper result truly matters in terms of practical career direction and advancement. The only way we see Ulysse vs Claggett III in the near future is if it’s an official title eliminator.
Claggett may decide to seek a rematch with Mathieu Germain and put another undefeated scalp on his ledger and such a win would propel Claggett right back to the serious contender table where Ulysse now occupies a seat. As for Ulysse, Claggett was the first truly dangerous opponent he fought since, well, Claggett, give or take a Cletus Seldin. So what we need now is to see how Ulysse fares against an opponent who poses a different stylistic puzzle. The one undeniable truth we do know — and it isn’t that Yves will definitely win a world title, although he certainly could — is that he is now an infinitely better fighter for having battled Steve Claggett for 20 remarkable rounds. Indeed, this may bode well for the future and should Ulysse achieve the ultimate success and bring a world championship belt back to Montreal, “The Dragon” deserves to be his first challenger. –Zachary Alapi