Amateur boxing was once — and not that many years ago — one of the most positively recognized and applauded sports in the province.
That high standing has diminished somewhat over time.
Insiders offer plenty of varying reasons why amateur boxing has been passed by other sports in prominence and in producing national- and international-calibre athletes.
One popular explanation is that today’s young athletes, surrounded by so many distractions, including various forms of social media, often don’t have the dedication required to succeed in a sport as demanding as amateur boxing.
Another is that the heavily volunteer-based sport has problems finding enough affordable facilities and qualified personnel to meet its various needs.
And there’s always the constant challenge of gaining proper funding, essential at the level necessary to allow the athletes to travel and develop their talents. It puts them at a disadvantage compared with larger provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, where they have much busier fight schedules because there are more clubs in close proximity to one another.
A proven answer to battling these hurdles is for local clubs to put on their own boxing shows. Some of these cards feature elite fighters, others are heavy on emerging young talent.
Both types of cards serve a purpose.
For example, Warriors Boxing, based in Dartmouth and operated by veteran head coach Kelsey Fraser, will host a 15-bout amateur show March 31 at the Halifax Forum’s Multi-Purpose Centre.
This show, one of three the club plans to host this year, will feature mostly Nova Scotia boxers against New Brunswick boxers.
And it will meet a couple of the crucial goals — giving younger Nova Scotia boxers an opportunity to compete before large crowds and raising much-needed funds.
Fraser’s goal is to include as many Nova Scotia clubs as possible. He said he already has boxers from nine Nova Scotia clubs on this show.
“We have a decent following now,” Fraser said about the Warrior club shows. “I’ve probably done 10 or more. In the past, we’ve brought in teams from Quebec and Ontario. We’ve developed a decent fan base and sponsors.”
The second Warriors show is planned for July. It will be a more elite card, showcasing the best of local boxers against an American team. And a third one is planned for November, with Nova Scotia boxers against Newfoundland’s best.
The hope is that the best known of the Nova Scotia talent, including Olympic prospects such as Kennetcook’s Wyatt Sanford, and Spryfield’s Bianca Paquin, will appear on the larger shows against top competition and help build the gate.
Fraser said the goal is to continue increasing the shows in stature, making them high-profile enough to attract sponsors who can help pay the cost of bringing in quality opponents from the United States and Central Canada. That means top-notch competition for the most prominent of Nova Scotia fighters, which helps to excite boxing fans.
“I want to make it bigger,” said Fraser, who generally attracts a few hundred fans to his cards. “I remember when I was coming up, the Gordons’ shows were packed. I’d like to get my shows in that range.”
That’s an ambitious goal.
The Gordons to whom Fraser refers are the late Taylor Gordon and his son Wayne. The younger Gordon, who has headed Citadel ABC in recent years, is now looking for a new home for his storied club while currently operating out of a facility that he concedes “is an inadequately small space.”
“I have such a passion for the sport that I want to see it come back,” said Gordon, who also serves as provincial coach. “It starts with the amateurs.”
When he lists the impressive emerging talent around the province, he doesn’t include the handful of amateur boxers already on the national radar. His view is that the local future rests with the youngest boxers and he heaps praise on plenty of those he’s scouted from North Sydney to the Annapolis Valley.
Gordon insists the province will continue to develop national-calibre, thanks in large part to the increased co-operation between the Nova Scotia clubs in recent years. He said that sense of working together helps, especially when this region of the country is too often overlooked by the national amateur body — a point he’s made many times in the past.
With Fraser already planning to host three upcoming shows, Gordon feels a responsibility to have Citadel host at least a couple, no doubt built around the availability of his star boxer Sanford whenever possible.
“We have the talent,” said Gordon. “We’re doing things on our own to prepare our boxers, even if Boxing Canada won’t. Our province has a lot of good volunteers; that is what’s keeping the sport together.”
Can amateur boxing here return to the days when it was one of Canada’s hottest markets?
“We’ll get there working together,” said Gordon. “There are tremendous opportunities for our kids.”
Fraser said “the talent is here.”