Rixa Promotions and Grant Brothers Boxing staged another card of pro fights in Montreal and it was, all things considered, their most successful show yet. The Tohu Theatre is now the home for their regular events showcasing their line-up of talented prospects, and last night saw an almost full house and a series of entertaining battles. All unfolded as the organizers would have hoped: the fighters who were supposed to win were victorious; the boxers who were supposed to lose put in, for the most part, admirable efforts; there was plenty of entertaining action, and Erik Bazinyan has a brand new shiny belt in his possession, presumably the first of many.
First to the ring was Chann Thonson, a recent graduate of the Grant Brothers amateur program. He looked impressive in his pro debut, unleashing a series of vicious combinations which both bloodied Jackson Nguyen (0-6-1) and prompted him to surrender before the bell for round two. Jordan Balmir then upped his record to 2-0 in a hard-fought tilt with Mikhail Miller (0-1-1) of Toronto. The match went the route with Balmir winning a unanimous decision after four rounds. Miller did some effective work, but Balmir was stronger and more aggressive.
Next was an entertaining scrap, scheduled for four rounds, featuring Montreal’s Dwayne Durel (4-0) against Mexico’s Arturo Garcia (5-6). This match quickly revealed itself to be a contest between Durel’s sharp technique and Garcia’s durability as the hometown fighter repeatedly tagged his man with flush blows, especially hard right hands, one of which opened a deep cut over Garcia’s left eye in round two. The match devolved into a bloody and entertaining brawl as a desperate Garcia tried to turn the tide in round three. Durel stayed focused and continued to tattoo the Mexican with heavy right hands. In the final round a pair of rights caused Garcia’s knees to buckle and the referee decided enough was enough. No question Garcia could have continued, but he was bleeding all over the ring and had taken plenty of punishment.
Bruno Bredicean (5-0), the younger of the Bredicean brothers who are both stablemates of Lucian Bute, turned in a solid performance as he hammered out a unanimous decision over Tomasz Goluch (2-2). At the outset, both fighters displayed sharp jabs and quick hands, Goluch looking to counter with the straight right. But when Bruno heeded the advice of trainer Howard Grant and focused on digging heavy shots to the body, the battle quickly became one-sided. The stronger, more aggressive Bredicean dominated the last two rounds and he was awarded a unanimous decision.
Next up, one of the night’s main attractions, the pro boxing debut of legendary hockey enforcer Joël Thériault. Regrettably, a match which no doubt had helped sell a significant number of tickets turned out to be something of a farce. The athletic commission has to take some of the blame for this as the event organizers had chosen an opponent who was in condition and ready to fight, but officials could not approve him as he was giving up too much weight to the 252 pound Joël Thériault. So instead, we got Poland’s Kamil Kulczyk (0-2) who provoked raised eyebrows at the weigh-in. Not in anything close to fighting shape, Kulczyk may have carried more weight, but it was all flab. In any case, he was still some seven inches and 30 pounds smaller.
Still, Thériault is the type of performer who can’t help but be entertaining. Constantly gesturing to the crowd and embracing and pressing foreheads with everyone within reach, including his opponent, he was obviously thrilled to be on center stage. But once the fight got under way, the physical mismatch was impossible to overlook. Thériault towered over Kulczyk and he was soon overpowering his opponent as the crowd chanted Animal! Animal!
After the inevitable first knockdown, Kulczyk complained of being fouled and this appeared to enrage Thériault; suddenly all the sportsmanship and pressed foreheads were replaced with mouth-foaming malevolence. Two more knockdowns ensued before the referee waved off the match and “The Animal” had his first victory as a professional prizefighter. Thériault exulted, hugged everyone, and did a series of comical strongman poses for the photographers before being dragged out of the ring so the next fight could take place.
Afterwards Thériault explained to our own Eliott McCormick what caused him to become furious with his opponent: “The ref said ‘protect yourself at all times’ so what I didn’t like is we were fighting and he thought we were gonna stop so he could complain to the ref. The tough guys in hockey never do that. After, you talk to the ref. But during the fight I’m in front of you and I’m fighting. And then you stop to complain? Fuck that, I don’t take that shit. But I respect the kid. He came to fight. And I respect that.”
It was back to serious competition in the next match as Golden Garcia upped his record to 7-0 with an exciting stoppage of Jesus Perez (4-7). Perez of Mexico showed he had not come up to Montreal to lie down as he gave Garcia all he could handle over the first three rounds. Golden was landing the heavier, cleaner shots, but Perez would fire back with flurries every time he was tagged. The first three rounds were close, though Garcia appeared to have the edge thanks to his power, but round four clearly belonged to the Mexican as he outworked his man and suddenly it appeared an upset might be in the making.
But then Garcia lowered the boom with a flourish, rushing out of his corner to start round five and landing three huge right hands to send Perez to the canvas. The game Mexican beat the count but was in deep trouble and the referee wisely stopped the fight. The way Garcia sized up the situation and then imposed his will with serious killer instinct and knockout power was indeed impressive. Definitely a character-building fight for Garcia who appears to be progressing and gaining more confidence with every match.
Next, the co-main event, in which Shakeel Phinn (9-1) dominated and stopped the far more experienced Janne Forsman (22-6) with relative ease. Forsman himself appeared surprised by Shakeel’s power as the Montrealer leveled big punches to the body and hard right hands upstairs. The first two rounds were all Phinn, and early in round three he landed a short but powerful straight right on Forsman’s chin that buckled his legs. A follow up right scored the first of three knockdowns, all of them courtesy of Phinn’s powerful right hand, before the referee stopped the bout. Shak looked very sharp: power, timing, varied attack — a great performance for a young fighter who will be back in action in less than a month to defend his Canadian super-middleweight title in New Brunswick.
Now it was time for the main event and with hundreds of Erik Bazinyan (14-0) fans in the stands, it was not a moment too soon. Several Armenian flags waved in the crowd as Erik made his way to the ring in dramatic fashion, with a biographical video on the big screen and the haunting strains of traditional Armenian music on the sound system. This match was for the WBO Junior World Championship (whatever that is) and it was hoped that in opponent Aro “Thunder” Schwartz (10-2) of Germany, Bazinyan would finally have something resembling a serious challenge; thanks to Erik’s talent and ring smarts it was anything but.
One thing can be said to Schwartz’s credit: the man is incredibly tough. He ate countless clean shots from Bazinyan who, while not a devastating power puncher, had nine stoppages in 13 wins. Schwartz never came close to going down, but he also never came close to winning a single minute of any of the bout’s ten rounds. He showed plenty of guts and fought back as best he could, but he was outclassed. Bazinyan won every round on all three judges’ scorecards; you can’t get more dominant than that.
That said, it was a fight not without entertainment value as both boxers set a fast pace and in the fifth round there was a violent toe-to-toe exchange that roused the crowd. That resulted in a small cut on the corner of Bazinyan’s right eye and a stern lecture from trainer Howard Grant in his corner. The only other round that Bazinyan came at all close to losing was the eighth when both fighters allowed the pace to slow, but near the end Erik landed a heavy left hand to take it. In the final round, with the crowd chanting his name, Bazinyan put an exclamation mark on an outstanding performance, dominating Schwartz and staggering him more than once with vicious left hands.
Having watched Erik Bazinyan compete a number of times, what is most striking about this young pugilist who appears destined for championship glory is the array of weapons at his disposal. His opponents never know what is coming next, as Erik mixes up his offense with creativity and intelligence. He has good power in both hands, throws the jab up and down, switches stances with ease, delivers wicked body shots and beautiful counterpunches, and repeatedly strikes with clean lead shots delivered from different angles. As long as he stays focused and in top condition, it appears extremely unlikely that anything other than an elite-level boxer will derail his progress.
And thus ends another successful event with winners all around for the Grant Brothers stable of young talent. As Bazinyan put the first of what should be a series of shiny belts over his shoulder, the crowd applauded and the organizers, ecstatic over both the fight results and the sell-out crowd, were already hyping the date of January 21, the next event at the Tohu Theatre, which truly is a great venue for boxing with not a bad seat in the house. With a secure venue, a fan following, and with a potential bonafide star under contract, everything appears to be falling into place for Rixa Promotions which, along with Groupe Yvon Michel and Eye Of The Tiger Management, is now one of the major players for pro boxing in The Fight City. With Interbox out of the running, the competition between the three is seriously heating up, and the real winners in the months ahead should be Montreal fight fans. — Michael Carbert