QUEBEC CITY – George Chuvalo stood near ringside at the Pepsi Colisee, soaking in the sound of 16,000 cheering boxing fans at the raucous boxing event that had the provincial capital sitting at the centre of the boxing world.
The sport Chuvalo loves is thriving in Canada – or at least in Quebec.
“That enthusiasm speaks volumes,” said Chuvalo, Canada’s greatest heavyweight champion.
“The future here (in Quebec) looks bountiful. It looks like a kid could live out their dreams in the province of Quebec.”
But while he was excited about the successful event, he couldn’t help but lament what Ontario, and his Toronto hometown in particular, was missing.
Quebec City beat out Toronto and Ottawa to host the Jean Pascal-Bernard Hopkins main event and its millions in economic spinoffs. Chuvalo lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Ontario Athletic Commission and its commissioner, Ken Hayashi.
Chuvalo says Hayashi, whose organization sanctions fighting events in the province, blew a chance to reach a deal with promoter Yvon Michel.
“This fight here was supposed to be in Toronto but the commissioner said ‘I’m on holidays that week,’” said Chuvalo, echoing rumours that have made the rounds in boxing circles.
“Think of the money they would have brought in. Can you imagine something so stupid? If that happened here (in Quebec), they would hang the commissioner.”
Michel denies Hayashi stymied his plans for a Toronto event, but other promoters have said the commissioner is killing the growth of boxing and mixed martial arts in Ontario by imposing excessive red tape and regulations.
Chuvalo says his province could learn a lot from Quebec when it comes to clearing the way for big fights. The Quebec political class, media and business community were all on board for Pascal-Hopkins and at least two events of similar magnitude are in the works for 2011.
Chuvalo says Quebec’s boxing scene also thrives because it’s fan driven.
“In the middle of an English speaking North America, they can identify with somebody else who speaks their language,” he said of the support for local fighters.
“In some other parts of the country, guys go somewhere else to fight but Montreal guys and Quebec guys, they stay here.”
Until Toronto and the rest of Ontario gets its boxing act together, George Chuvalo will continue to live vicariously through his French-speaking neighbours to the east.