Highlights from the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Toronto’s George Chuvalo flicker across a wall-mounted flat screen TV as Drake’s Hotline Bling plays over the stereo at Global Legacy Boxing’s downtown headquarters.
Company president Les Woods settles into a chair at the front of the crowded room, joining Canadian heavyweight legends Lennox Lewis and George Chuvalo at a news conference announcing a four-event boxing series slated to run from April to September. First up is an April 22 event titled The Tribute, an homage to the 50th anniversary of Chuvalo’s historic showdown with Ali at Maple Leaf Gardens.
The promotional push for this latest attempt to bring boxing to downtown Toronto is steeped in history. Chuvalo was the first fighter to survive 15 rounds with Ali, while Lewis won Olympic gold for Canada before becoming a three-time world champion. In trying to lure mainstream fans to boxing, the presence of Chuvalo and Lewis is both a selling point and a dilemma.
Nostalgia for the past can’t sell tickets in the present.
“The historical events that happened with Lennox and George can only take us so far,” Woods said. “As we move forward, this is the turning point.”
While suburban boxing shows have happened at regular intervals for several years, the last 18 months have seen more than one promoter attempt to re-establish pro boxing in downtown Toronto.
Promoter Lee Baxter hosted a six-bout card at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in December, while Global Legacy, which first hit the local scene in October 2014, had its biggest event came last September, partnering with Montreal’s GYM promotions and Las Vegas-based Premier Boxing Champions to stage a world title fight at the Ricoh Coliseum.
But Global Legacy plans to downsize for their upcoming shows, hosting two events at the St. Lawrence Centre’s Bluma Appel Theatre (capacity 876), and two more at the Sony Centre for Performing Arts (capacity 3,191
Woods says boutique shows with upscale crowds will help attract sponsors, which in turn will build the buzz necessary to move to larger venues. He plans to stage an event at the Air Canada Centre in 2017 and hopes to bring a world heavyweight title fight to Toronto within 18 months.
“This is a movement we’re taking responsibility for,” Woods said. “It’s going to take an entire country and city coming together to put boxing back at the top of the food chain.”
Providing compelling matchups remains a challenge.
While Lewis and Chuvalo attract mainstream attention, they’re also all-time greats who represent unfair standard of comparison for the fighters likely to populate the upcoming four-fight series.
April’s event will feature female featherweight Sandy Tsagouris, whose only two losses have come in world title attempts, and cruiserweight contender Denton Daley, who is currently 14 / 1 in his pro career.
The main event will involve Canadian heavyweight champ Dillon Carman, Dragon’s Den who appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den and persuaded investors to front him $50,000 against a percentage of his future earnings.
After winning the Canadian heavyweight title last September, Carman’s goals include Commonwealth and world championships.
“He’s trying to create his own history,” Lewis said. “We’re here to help him do that.”