Troy Ross is not a world boxing champion, but he has played one on TV.
Four years ago, the Brampton boxer took on the role of former world light heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis in the Ron Howard-directed Cinderella Man, a major Hollywood film about ex-heavyweight champion Jim Braddock. He also had recently finished filming Resurrecting the Champ, starring Samuel L. Jackson.
And while Ross enjoys working in the film industry and would like to possibly pursue that line of work in the future, the two-time Canadian Olympic team fighter takes on his biggest role tonight in a different type of on-screen event.
Ross will face Nigerian boxer Ehinomen (Hino) Ehikhamenor (15-3 7 KOs) in the final of the reality TV show The Contender. The cruiserweight bout will take place at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut and will broadcast live on the Versus network in the U.S., and in Canada on a later date.
A win will mean a six-figure payday and, according to Ross' co-promoter Yvon Michel, a world title bout sometime this year. And even more important for Ross, the chance to stage a high-profile bout in his home province.
Ross, whose quiet, unassuming nature masks an implacable ferocity inside the ring, has forged a 20-1 (14 KOs) record since turning pro in 2001, but only two of those fights were in Ontario, and both were held fairly early in his career -- yet another example of a good, homegrown fighter who has had to venture elsewhere to make a name for himself. And because of that, despite his solid pro record and an excellent amateur resume, the 33-year-old Ross is virtually unknown on home ground. But Michel vowed yesterday that will change.
"I believe Troy can be a big star in Toronto," said Michel, who will co-promote Ross along with The Contender organization after tonight's fight. "Because of his popularity in the States, as a result of his being in The Contender, we can exploit two different markets, the U.S. and in Canada."
Ross has developed a following in the U.S. because of his appearance on the tv show, and not just for his skills in the ring (he won all three of his preliminary bouts in the series, including two by knockout). His thoughtful personality (the show takes viewers inside a house where the boxers lived for two months) earned him a legion of fans on the Versus network. Unfortunately, few Canadians have seen the series this season (the show started on NBC, moved to ESPN for two seasons before switching to Versus), so it will be the job of Michel and Ross' trainer Dewith Frazer to turn Ross into a star in Canada and, more importantly, in Ontario.
But that will be a tough go, as it's extremely difficult to hold boxing events in Ontario as a result of the prohibitive upfront costs involved and the notoriously stringent Ontario Athletics Commission.
Still, as former world super bantamweight champion Steve Molitor demonstrated the past couple of years at Casino Rama near Orillia, with shrewd marketing, it can be done.
Also earning a significant part in Cinderella Man was Ross's Olympic teammate Mark Simmons. The two met at the old Toronto Newsboys Gym when they both were tykes and boxed on numerous national teams together, becoming lifelong friends in the process.
"In terms of training, Troy was the hardest worker, he ran the fastest, he trained the hardest," Simmons said. "In terms as a person, he is the nicest guy there is ... and everybody who knows him, knows that. It's good to see him finally get the recognition he deserves."
Sixteen talented cruiserweights gathered in Singapore last summer for the fourth season of The Contender. There, they trained, fought, and lived in the same house, getting to know one another.
Ross said it was a lot like being at an Olympics. But now there are just two standing.
"It's different," Ross said. "Usually you don't know your opponent too well, but we spent nearly two months together and that makes a better fight, because you don't want to lose to your friend."
But when the bell rings tonight, Ross won't be thinking of Ehikhamenor as a friend anymore, because a victory will bring him that much closer to a world title.
And perhaps, finally, some recognition at home.