The Fights Are Back in Newfoundland

Photo courtesy of Arthur Inox

When boxing was removed from the Canada Winter Games for 2015, it was a huge blow to the sport, already struggling for a number of reasons. The Canada Games council found that boxing did poorly in terms of popularity in 2011 and would therefore not be included in the 2015 games held in Prince George, BC.

Council president Sue Hylland said at the time, “We have more sports vying to be on the program than we can possibly satisfy, and as a result we have to be as open and transparent and as objective as possible … in sports selection.” Each year, there is a vote on the priority of each sport being considered, and boxing did very poorly.

This was thanks largely to the dearth of talent at the time. Fans will remember the embarrassing 2008 Beijing Olympic boxing team from Canada that featured exactly one athlete. Adam Trupish, an uninvolved welterweight with limited access to resources like trainers and money, was blown out 1-20 by Kazakhstan’s Bakhyt Sarsekbayev in his only fight. Sarsekbayev would go on to win gold that year.

The days of Lennox Lewis and amateur success are long past, and while Canada still has a handful of prominent professional stars like David Lemieux, the amateur program is lacking. Part of this can be blamed on medical science discovering, much to my surprise, that getting punched in the head can be linked to long-term brain damage.

Mostly, however, it can be blamed on the improving quality of life in North America. AJ Liebling, the greatest writer the prizefight ring was ever subject to, wrote in his seminal book, The Sweet Science, “It is true there exist certain generalized conditions today, like full employment and a late school-leaving age, that militate against the development of first-rate professional boxers.” Boxing is a sport that requires a lifetime of commitment, and a trained eye can spot a fighter who has not spent his youth learning the basic maneuvers of the ring in moments. Canada has many of these fighters.

Photo courtesy of Arthur Inox

Cut to today, and boxing is back on the docket for the Winter Games in 2019. Thanks in part to a resurgent professional scene, boxing will be contested once more when the games move to Red Deer, Alberta. Newfoundland, in something of a surprise, will be sending a team for the first time since 2007.

I had occasion to speak with Mike Summers, a decorated official and former Winter Games athlete, and son of Hank Summers. Hank is the president of Boxing Newfoundland and Labrador and runs the TRC Boxing Club in St. John’s. I asked Mike how he felt the team was shaping up, and he told me that the team for 2019 is coming together quite well.

“We have a pool of athletes that have been attending training camps since early 2017 and have been participating in different competitions both here in St. John’s and on the mainland. We have some of the Canada Winter Games aged athletes attending our National Championships in Edmonton starting on March 27th, 2018.”

Mike spoke about the history Newfoundland has with boxing in the Winter Games, reminding me that up to 2011, boxing had accounted for more than half the medals won by the province. It is his expectation that Newfoundlanders can expect more fistic success this year, something the Association has come to expect.

Who are the athletes? Well, that’s unclear at this stage. There are several fighters who are in contention, but coaches Jason Hayward and Todd Rideout have not yet named the final members. What we can report is that Hayward and Rideout were both great amateurs in their own right and are among the most well-respected coaches in Canada.

Hayward coaches at TRC, and last year attended the AIBA (International Boxing Association, responsible for the governance of amateur boxing worldwide) coaching seminar. In his days as a fighter, he represented Canada on a number of occasions at the international level. Rideout boxed in a few national events in Canada before moving to full time training at the CBS Boxing Club.

It’s hard to know what to expect at this stage. Amateur boxing in Canada is under the radar, and information is extremely sparse. The sources I have in gyms are generally out of the loop on the amateurs. It is nearly impossible to keep tabs on guys when they have real jobs and families outside of the ring.

Still, this is news worth getting excited over. For the first time in more than a decade, boxing is being taken seriously in the province, and some quality boxing people are in charge. Stay tuned for the results of the National Championships at the end of this month, after which we should know much more about our local fighters.

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