By Bill Beacon
Lennox Lewis wants to revive pro boxing in Canada.
The former undisputed world heavyweight champion is the frontman and one of a group of promoters that hopes to take a sport that has faded everywhere in the country except Quebec and put it back in the national consciousness.
“Montreal has carried the flag for the rest of Canada,” Lewis said Thursday. “Now I’m coming on board because I want the rest of Canada to come on board.
“I want to give an opportunity to young kids to box as professionals.”
It will start with a fight card Sept. 11 at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto featuring Adonis Stevenson’s sixth defence of his World Boxing Council light heavyweight title against unheralded American Tommy Karpency. The card is tagged “KO in TO.”
Montreal’s top promoter Yvon Michel will team up with Global Legacy Boxing, headed by Lewis and Toronto businessman Les Woods, and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to put on the show. It will be part of fight manager Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series on U.S. television.
It is the first world title fight in Toronto since Aaron Pryor defended his light welterweight belt against Nick Furlano in June 1984.
If all goes well, there are plans for more fight cards in Toronto, perhaps at the Air Canada Centre, as well as shows in other Canadian cities including Vancouver and Calgary.
“It’s important that the rest of Canada realizes that boxing is available to them, that they don’t have to take a plane to Vegas, that they can be in driving distance of a great fight,” said Lewis.
The 49-year-old Lewis left for Britain to turn pro after winning gold for Canada at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul because there were few opportunities to make a boxing career in this country. Lewis was born in London but moved to Kitchener, Ont., when he was 12 and fought as an amateur for Canada.
The six-foot-five Lewis went on to become a three-time heavyweight champ before he retired in 2004 with a 41-2-1 record.
Canadian boxing was in the doldrums in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Even Montreal’s Arturo Gatti headed to the United States to turn pro in 1991.
Michel said it takes committed promoters with the right financial backing to build up fighters in each market. He started in the 1990s with a pair of promising middleweights, Stephane Ouellet and Eric Lucas.
“It took me seven years before bringing a world championship here,” said Michel. “Since then we’ve done more than 30 world championship fights.
“Eleven fighters from Quebec won a world title since then. It takes someone dedicated and it takes finding the resources.”
He said it should be easier to build in Toronto, where a powerful sports company like Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is involved in the promotion and where they have an ideal ambassador for the sport in Lewis.
“I think we have the right match, the right television series and the right people,” said Michel. “I’ll be very surprised if it’s not a success.”
Stevenson (26-1, 21 knockouts), a devastating knockout puncher, will be the clear favourite over fellow southpaw Karpency (25-4-1), although it will draw criticism for defending his title against B-level opponents.