Sports  Fight for Haiti

Community champ makes good at Complexe Claude-Robillard

few weeks back, I admitted to not really being a boxing fan, but more a fan of boxers. I dug my own grave with that article because my vindictive editor then asked me to cover Friday night’s Fight for Haiti at the Complexe Claude-Robillard in Parc Ex. I thought I’d try my hand at a classic-style fight write-up, and lucky for me, the piece practically wrote itself. With opening fights featuring everything from women’s featherweight boxing to MMA, there was something to satisfy every fan. And with the proceeds going to Haitian relief efforts, most in attendance could have been pleased with themselves after simply buying a ticket.

Nonetheless, the fighters gave the crowd its money’s worth. The headline fight, a Canadian Professional Boxing Council super-middleweight title bout between Martin Desjardins and local hero Ali Nestor Charles, came curiously in the middle of the bill, befuddling those who thought the best would be kept for last.

Charles, the 41-year-old Montreal North gym owner of Haitian descent, was serenaded by the adoring crowd’s chants of “Ali bumaye!” – or “Ali kill him!” – a tip of the hat to the Ali-Foreman ’74 epic in Zaire so fantastically documented in When We Were Kings. The chants were well-intentioned but likely unnecessary; Charles never appeared anything less than sure that he would win the fight organized for victims of an earthquake that had taken the lives of his friends and family.

The southpaw swaggered around the ring while allowing Desjardins to control the first two rounds, shaking off a few well-placed rights by the younger Quebecker. Buoyed by emotional energy early on, Charles defiantly looked away from the referee who lectured him after some questionable behaviour in the clinch. Even getting knocked down at the first round bell didn’t seem to faze the driven Charles, who was given a three-count despite his vocal protests.

The crowd ate it up and the small pocket of chanting Desjardins supporters would consistently be drowned out by “Ali Bumaye!” as Charles began to fight smarter and swing the momentum his way. Charles opened a cut over Desjardins’s left eye midway through the third, which became a blood-red welt to which Charles would return again and again with his surgical lefts. Desjardins fought admirably in front of the hostile crowd, never backing down while becoming more and more desperate to land his booming rights as the rounds ticked off and the scores shifted more and more in Charles’s favor. Seeing more red from a new cut over his right eye made Desjardins bullish after the fifth, leading him to charge hard behind his right hand at the increasingly patient and elusive Charles.

Rounds eight and nine featured more close combat than the first seven, with the fighters trading turns on the ropes for body blows and clinches before foxtrotting around the ring from corner to corner. Charles would take an occasional uppercut at the end of a combination, but nearly each time he’d just shake his head before giving back better than he’d gotten.

A spent and bloodied Desjardins came out swinging in the tenth. The boxer tried in vain to pull off a knockout before an almost certainly detrimental decision, but Charles, who had been steadily improving throughout the fight, was simply too fast to catch. In the closing seconds, Charles bodied the tired Desjardins off his feet. The bell rang with Desjardins sprawled across the ropes, while Charles bounded around the ring with his fist in the air as the crowd roared in appreciation for the new champion by unanimous decision.

Thankfully, the night’s organizers had not completely forgotten the “save the best for last” mantra, as the night’s closing four rounder between up-and-comer Abdou Sow and Jean Charlemagne rewarded those who stuck around. Sow, a protege of Charles who combines speed and power in his long left, added another efficient victory to his unblemished record (3-0) by way of technical knock out at 2:40 of the third round.

With money raised for a good cause, an emotional victory for a community’s golden boy, and a tantalizing glimpse at a rising talent, it seems hard to believe that anyone could have left the Complexe Claude-Robillard disappointed.