James Cermak will be fighting for more than a mere payday when the Edmonton cruiserweight returns to the ring one week from tonight to headline the six-bout Follow the Trail pro-am card at The Palace banquet hall.
"This one's for Tanya," Cermak said yesterday after a spirited sparring session at the Panther Gym. "She's such an inspiration, showing all of us what being a fighter really means. We're dedicating this card to her."
Cermak was referring to Tanya Craig, the wife of his friend and trainer, Sterling Craig. Battling cancer for the fourth time, Tanya has been undergoing daily radiation therapy for the past seven weeks.
But every time Sterling suggests skipping a gym session to be at her side, she won't hear of it.
"She's an incredible lady," said Sterling. "To see her strength gives me strength, and I know my fighters pick up on that. When I say, 'Honey, maybe I should stay home today,' she almost pushes me out the door to go work with James. Somehow she keeps a positive attitude and just keeps going. You can't help but be inspired by courage like that."
PICKED UP ON IT
Cermak (13-2, 9 KOs) has certainly picked up on it -- to the point where he's predicting a short night for Winnipeg's Kareem Chartrand (7-7-1, 4 KOs) in the eight-round main event.
"Like Sterling says, Tanya's courage and strength gives me strength, too. I've never trained harder or better for a fight. Right now I weigh 210, so getting down to 200 will be no problem at all. I'm getting great sparring and my timing is right where we want it to be.
"Chartrand is really a blown-up middleweight, but he went seven rounds with (ex-Canadian cruiserweight champ) Ryan Henney and five with (current champ) Frank White, so he knows how to run and how to box. But he won't last that long with me. I'm gonna touch him up early, upstairs and downstairs. We want to send a message with this fight."
Fighting for the first time in 18 months, Cermak returned to the ring in April and notched a spectacular fourth-round KO over Mexico's Ernesto Zamora. Considering he'd ballooned to 270 pounds during the layoff, it was an impressive performance. But he'll need to match that effort against Chartrand to remain on track for a crack at the Canadian title later this year.
Meanwhile, Ontario matchmaker Jeff Heywood will be closely monitoring what happens at The Palace because he wants to put Cermak in with world-ranked NABA champ Bobby Gunn (21-3-1, 18 KOs). Heywood has expressed a desire to match the two for the World Boxing Council's vacant Continental Americas crown in late summer, but it's contingent on Cermak not making any U-turns on what the Edmonton slugger calls his "road to glory."
"I'm a completely different fighter than I was before my layoff, and most of that is because of what Sterling's taught me and the faith that him and Tanya have shown in me," Cermak said.
QUICK JABS: The semi-main event on Follow the Trail will feature No. 1-ranked Canadian super featherweight contender Omar (The Mexicutioner) Valdez of Edmonton. Unbeaten local heavyweight Rob Nichols and flashy featherweight Arash Usmanee -- fresh off a 35-second KO in his April debut -- will be the other pros. The amateurs will be heavyweight Kevin Wong and middleweight Loretta Armstrong, both from the Panther Gym. Opponents for the undercard bouts will be announced next week.