CLOVERDALE — For the 200-plus fans who jammed into the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #6 in Cloverdale, last Saturday afternoon was Boxing Day. Not the pacifistic holiday that follows Christmas, but the real boxing day – a day to celebrate the sweet science with a three-hour, 11-fight card designed to showcase all ages and both sexes.
But for Tyler Chambers, it was Groundhog Day all over again.
It was one year ago, at the very same venue and the very same annual tournament, that heavyweight Chambers was readying to partake in one of the biggest fights of his career. He’d be one half of the main event, the last bout on the card, battling Washington State tough guy Zico Tzolo.
And then, just hours before stepping into the ring, Chambers got the word: Tzolo couldn’t get through the border – an apparent issue with his passport. And the main event quickly became a non-event.
Fast-forward one year. Chambers, a local guy “born and raised in Langley,” and who trains out of Surrey’s own Port Kells Boxing Club, was once again earmarked for the main event. He was, to put it mildly, pumped.
Yet once again, his opponent was a no-show. This time it was a car accident.
Talk about deja vu.
Later, Chambers would take to the ring in an exhibition main-event match, arranged at the last minute with a fighter who just happened to be in the crowd. A good fighter, too – a guy by the name of Thomas Kippes, from Abbotsford.
But more on that in a moment.
The real story Saturday was the tournament itself – its longevity and its success, but mostly its reason for being.
It’s called the Jim Gallagher Memorial Amateur Boxing Tournament, and its roots run deep in the Surrey/Cloverdale boxing community.
Its namesake was never a boxer – not of any note, anyway. But he was a fan. A huge fan. Indeed, Jim Gallagher was such a fan of the sport, at least the amateur side of the sport, that he ultimately became intrinsically involved.
His relationship with amateur boxing began mid-life, when he took his kids to see bouts at the Cloverdale Boxing Club. Soon, he was assisting in any way he could. He’d help with road trips, turning them into large, family-oriented caravans. He raised money, he gave money, he increased public perception. He eventually became a judge and a referee, and president of the club he loved so much.
Today, there isn’t a boxer in the area who doesn’t know the name, and the passion, of Jim Gallagher.
And his friends and associates are determined to keep it that way. Last Saturday was the fifth consecutive annual iteration of the tournament bearing his name.
As usual, Ralph Robson was there. Robson, a quiet guy who helps run the show and keep it in the public eye, said last year’s tourney raised $1,400. It all goes to help alleviate travel expenses for young boxers.
Robson says it’s a much-needed boost.
“We’ve had (local) boxers go to the Canadian championships, win at the Canadian championships, be tentatively picked for the Canadian team, and then be told they have to fly back out there (Quebec) at their own expense to get their medical.
“One of our fighters, from Surrey, just went back and it cost him $1,050, plus loss of wages at work, to take a physical and a medical, after he’d done the same thing two weeks earlier to fight for the championship.
“Boxing is a terribly hard sport. It’s a tough sport. There’s nothing tougher than boxing training. And to see these guys having to do that, when I’m certain there’s someone in B.C. who could supply that same medical…”
Robson, a veteran coach at Cloverdale Boxing Club who retired several years ago, says that’s why he got involved again in the sport.
“Last year was when I started to hear about this, it was heartbreaking for me. So all the proceeds from these fight cards go to travel expenses for junior B.C. boxers.”
Despite three no-shows, Saturday’s card was devilishly entertaining. There was Jordyn Conrad of Salmon Arm and Seattleite Brooke Devereau proving once more why the tourney never forgets to invite women. There were four boxers weighing less than a hundred pounds each in two Novice bouts.
And there were two fights that just plain kicked arse. Officially, the “Best Bout” of the day award went to the 136-pound Elite Novice Division contest pairing Niall Roberts of Maple Ridge and Jordan Ross, of Burnaby’s Beyond Boxing. The crowd was on its feet for much of the time, and for good reason. It was a war.
But some, this writer included, favoured the 165-pound Elite Novice geographical tilt between Westside Boxing’s Mike Fraser and Eastside Boxing’s Manu Sahota. A lot of muscles displayed in this one, and a ton of speed, too. It was one of those moments when you just sit there stunned, marveling at the sheer physicality.
And then there was the main event. Now an exhibition, it nevertheless featured two really big lads who rarely backed away. Every now and then, a big punch would land, and the joint erupted.
Local guy Chambers is not your typical boxing story. At 33 years of age, he’s clearly not fighting for an eventual career. So why does he do it?
“Honestly, it was a bucket-list thing for me to do. I really wanted to try it out, and I’ve stuck with it, and I like it.
“For me, I personally think the competition level in boxing is one of the best. Even just getting in the ring with someone who’s the same height as you, the same size as you, both with the same rules – it’s you and you only. It’s very organic, very true.”
But although he’s been boxing competitively for just three years, the guy has a history steeped in athleticism. Indeed, his dad was a fighter, coached by the very same Ralph Robson who now spearheads the tourney.
But Chambers grew up with a preference for hockey. The game took him places – places like the B.C. Junior Hockey League with Chilliwack Chiefs, the WHL with Vancouver Giants, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Quebec Ramparts, under the tutelage of one Patrick Roy.
He was, for the most part, an enforcer.
“I looked after the guys,” he said, smiling, adding that the jump to boxing was easier because, “I was already used to getting hit.”
“It’s one of those things. Everyone tells you to stay calm, but it’s hard to be relaxed when someone is trying to take your head off.”
Today, and for the past decade, Chambers runs a hockey training facility, Impact Hockey Development, at Langley Twin Rinks. But his passion is boxing, even though he’s had just three fights – and no fewer than seven cancellations – in the past three years.
“I think people back out because it’s me,” he said with a laugh.