Molitor returns to Rama

Steve Molitor is raising the boxing bar in Ontario. (Sun File/Morris Lamont)

Steve Molitor is raising the boxing bar in Ontario. (Sun File/Morris Lamont)

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

Once upon a time, boxing and casinos went together like a fighter and a crooked nose.

The legends of Duran, Leonard and Hagler are as much a part of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas as extravagant floor shows, gambling and long-lost paycheques.

Now Casino Rama and Steve Molitor are hoping they become as synonymous with each other as the time Caesar's Palace met Larry Holmes and a guy named Ali.

Molitor made the first defence of his IBF world junior featherweight crown at the casino July 14 to a near-sellout crowd of just under 5,000 fans.

Some people would be surprised that this part of Canada still had 5,000 people who didn't disdain boxing as merely a higher form of dog-fighting. "We had people wanting to know when the next bout was going to be that night. It was fabulous," Casino Rama spokeswoman Jenna Hunter said yesterday. "Boxing and casinos almost go hand in glove. It's almost a natural fit to see a boxing match at a casino."

So, the entertainment centre, noted more for its Broadway shows and bringing in singers such as Sheryl Crow, announced yesterday it will feature Molitor in another title defence Oct. 27. "Sports just seemed to be our next evolution. They're exciting. It appeals to our demographic," Hunter said. The casino and Molitor's agent, Allan Tremblay of Orion Sports Management, are painting it as the start of a beautiful new horizon for themselves -- not to mention the sport of boxing in this province.

Boxing has been so dormant in Ontario that when Molitor beat Takalani Ndlovu of South Africa in July, it was the first bout with a world title on the line in the province since Nicky Furlano went 15 rounds with Aaron Pryor 23 years ago. The game's adherents are perceived as having a fine tradition of blarney, counterfeit champions and dubious characters who range from lovable to ludicrous and downright indictable.

Nothing, says Hunter, that Molitor giving Thailand's Fushang 3K Battery (58-8-1, 35 KOs) a bloody nose can't fix. "I'm not a boxing fan, but to see something like that live is something else," Hunter said of seeing Molitor beat Ndlovu. "It was the first time I'd ever seen a match live and when Steve knocked the other gentleman down for the third time I'm not sure who jumped higher, him or me."

Tremblay, Casino Rama -- and TSN, which will televise the fight -- are hoping to build Molitor into a national hero, the likes of which has not been seen in these parts since the shades went down on the dreams of Shawn O'Sullivan.

"That's the intent. They've bought into the business plan and I think we can revive the sport with Molitor at the head of it," Tremblay said yesterday. "Actually, I thought we'd be further ahead by now."

He blames himself. Four years ago he came down with prostate cancer. "I was doing shows in Niagara Falls and we were putting Steve on undercards as we built him up. I had to send him on the road."

Molitor built a 24-0 record, with 10 knockouts, in front of mostly hostile crowds that culminated Nov. 10, 2006 when he beat Michael Hunter in Hartlepool, England for the championship. "I felt sorry for him, having to go on the road and chase down the title to win it. The common thread of boxers in Canadian history is that there's no place here for them to fight. So, he had to do it as a road warrior," Tremblay said, "but now with him champion and myself healthy again ..."

He lets the thought drift into sweet surmise.

Last winter he took Molitor on the celebrity dinner tour. Financial stability for his fighter, Tremblay said, remains just a few knockouts and handshakes away.

Finding a home at Casino Rama can only help. "It's a big advantage when you come out and the place goes bananas. Any athlete who tells you they don't hear the crowd isn't telling you the truth."

Fights have been won and lost with the roar of a crowd. "A home crowd quite naturally would influence any judge. Punches that miss," Tremblay said laughing, "they make the crowd roar and it influences people. It's all a huge advantage."

Fair? Maybe not. But then, we are talking about boxing -- and some things just aren't synonymous.


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