The Return of Big-Time Boxing
How Toronto is Becoming the New Hub for the Sweet Science
Words by Christopher Metler
Photos courtesy of Global Legacy Boxing
Boxing. On its best day, a pugilistic craft vaunted for pride, glory, and outrageous bankability. One where current greats like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. can generate more than $600 Million in a single evening squaring off against each other—a figure higher than the GDP of over 30 countries. But at its worst, boxing is a scandalous venture coined the ‘Red Light District of sports’; an athletic landscape akin to the Wild West. Where bottom-line seeking participants have conspired to fuel an ugly cycle of corrupt decisions and, most egregious of all, the best not fighting the best.
Love it or hate it, this is the Fight Game. The Sweet Science. And it’s a jaded ring that the city of Toronto is looking to throw its hat back into.
Toronto has a short but rich history of world championship boxing. Most famously, the legendary Muhammad Ali beat Canadian Heavyweight Champion George Chuvalo at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1966. But the last title bout held in Toronto was back in 1984, when Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor retained his Junior Welterweight Championship at Varsity Stadium. And save for a lackluster series of world title bouts hosted at Orillia’s Casino Rama between 2007 and 2010, premier boxing in Ontario has all but vanished since. Knocked into the shadows in favour of better regulated, more sponsor-friendly sports like hockey, baseball, basketball, and soccer.
Cue the great Lennox Lewis, boxing’s last Undisputed Heavyweight Champion and a former Canadian Olympic Gold Medalist. The British-born, Kitchener-raised Lewis has partnered with Toronto’s Global Legacy Boxing to put on a string of shows in the city that aim to lend the sport exposure, thus returning it to public consciousness. In other words, to develop Toronto into a ‘Boxing City’.
There’s already precedent for it in Canada. Consider Quebec, arguably North America’s hottest boxing market outside of Las Vegas. While Toronto lacks Montreal’s abundant plethora of superstar talent, it certainly has an audience eager to support the fights. Just look at UFC’s roaring success so far in the Big Smoke. The mixed martial arts federation moved 40,000 tickets for its debut event in Toronto in 2011. So the unadulterated taste for combat is here. The question is: will Lennox Lewis and Global Legacy Boxing be able to tap into it?
Their first test came this past September at T.O.’s Ricoh Coliseum, when Montreal-based Light Heavyweight Champion, Adonis “Superman” Stevenson, defended his belt against fringe contender Tommy Karpency. Teaming up with controversial American boxing league PBC, Global Legacy’s card was gloriously advertised as the return of championship boxing to Toronto. And not surprisingly, it came with all the bells and whistles a slick prizefight should. From a glitzy entrance ramp to buxomy ring card girls to mainstream American television coverage, the event certainly looked the part.
But what promoters conveniently failed to highlight was the fact that Karpency entered the ring as the #9 ranked challenger and a 100-1 underdog. Or that undercard combatant Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, a 51-year old former Mike Tyson victim (way back in 1991!), was coming off a 14-year layoff and long past his best days. Furthermore, for all the talk of developing a serious boxing trade in Toronto, scores of complimentary tickets were being given away on fight night, which has become a PBC calling card.
Sure, the evening featured some spectacular knockouts. Stevenson annihilated Karpency in the third and the hapless Ruddock got blasted back into retirement. But what long-term good can come from seeing protected champions in easy blowouts? Or aging warhorses violently put out to stud? And how does handing out freebies off the bat do anything to legitimately grow a prospective market?
Big events like the one hosted on September 11th are necessary, but for Toronto to stamp itself out as a boxing destination, it doesn’t deserve combatants matched soft in ill-conceived showcase fights. Nor does it benefit from papering the crowd. What it requires instead is competitive, high stakes matchmaking; elite versus elite. After all, Ali didn’t arrive here 50 years ago to tangle with Joe Schmo, did he?
We have the infrastructure in Toronto. We have the commitment. And we have the spectators. Now all we need are the world-class fights to go with the big-time hype.