Sept. 25, 2010: Boxers duke it out for North American title — and small-town bragging rights

Orangeville is a small town with a big love for boxing, and on a Saturday in September natives Buzz Grant and Logan McGuinness squared off for their hometown’s unofficial crown.

Sept. 25, 2010

Morgan Campbell

Sports Reporter

After 18 months of trash talk, the big rivals from the small town stood nose to nose at centre ring at Mississauga’s Hershey Centre.

At 23, Logan Cotton McGuinness was an undefeated lightweight contender trying to fight his way from Orangeville to a world title. To the promotional team backing him, the fight was a test he must pass along the way.

If McGuinness couldn’t beat 32-year-old David “Buzz” Grant, he wouldn’t be world-class. He needed this win.

Grant, another Orangeville native, had no big money behind him, just a day job as a GO train conductor and a journeyman boxing career that had never seen a stage this big and likely never will again.

He, too, needed this win.

And he’d been looking forward to it since the day last winter when McGuinness’ promoters served notice via a news release that Orangeville, a boxing-mad town of 27,000, wasn’t big enough for both of them.

Grant has known McGuinness since the younger fighter’s novice days at Big Tyme Boxing in Orangeville. He has worked his corner as an amateur. On Saturday night, he met him for the first time with a North American championship at stake, and also an unofficial crown: Baddest man in Orangeville.

Grant (left) and McGuinness trade punches. Photo by the Star's Tara Walton

In their world, that title matters.

“That’s what makes this a big fight for me,” McGuinness said last week. “When you do something in Orangeville, everybody knows about it.”

*     *     *     *

If you believe boxing is a dying sport, then you’ve never been to Orangeville, where the local amateur club has produced at least one national champ every year for the past decade, and where Saturday’s Grant-McGuinness showdown was beyond important.

It was Red Sox-Yankees crucial, Maple Leafs-Senators intense.

A month ahead of the fight, when McGuinness’ promoters held a news conference at a Boston Pizza in Orangeville only a handful of reporters showed up. But more than 400 fans crammed the place.

Based on advanced ticket sales, organizers expected 2,000 Orangeville residents to make the 40-minute drive to Mississauga Saturday for the North American Boxing Association lightweight title bout.

That’s about half the capacity of the Hershey Centre — and 7.3 per cent of Orangeville’s population.

Would 7.3 per cent of Toronto’s population — roughly 182,000 people — show up to watch the Argos in the Grey Cup? The Jays in the World Series?

The Leafs in the Stanley Cup?

Maybe for game 7.

But that intense level of fan support is normal in Orangeville, says Bryon Mackie, godfather of the town’s boxing scene and mentor to both McGuinness and Grant.

In his 14-year pro career, Mackie won three Canadian titles and flirted with greater fame, dropping a 10-round decision in his lone appearance on ESPN in 2003. Even though he fought just once in Orangeville, he could always count on passionate fans.

On Feb. 2, 2005, a pug named Brock Stodden committed nearly every foul conceivable before Mackie flattened him for good in the fifth round. A few hours later a crew of Mackie supporters converged on Stodden as he sipped a post-fight pint at an Orangeville pub, hoping to repay him for every low blow and head-butt.

Stodden pleaded that he had already fought for his life once that night. Rather than bruise him even further, why not raise a glass with him instead?

Mackie’s fans agreed. A brawl was averted and, for Mackie, a lesson reinforced: Orangeville had his back.

The hometown passion for both Grant and McGuinness runs just as deep.

“Small towns get behind their athletes. We’re big fish in small pond,” says Mackie. “That’s what Logan and Buzz are. It’s bigger than a boxing match. It’s huge for both.”

*     *     *     *

When the bell rings, Grant tries to expand the ring with lateral movement. McGuinness looks to shrink it with footwork and angles. As the crowd chants Grant’s name, McGuinness bullies him to the ropes, snaps his head back with a right uppercut and buckles his knees with a left hook.

As the first round ends, McGuinness traps Grant in a corner. He thuds with lefts and rights, counterpunches like rainwater and the crowd takes up a new chant: “Logan.”

*     *     *     *

Saturday’s fight was huge for both men, for reasons different and achingly similar.

Grant has ground out his 9-3 record on undercards and small-time main events, his career unfolding well outside the spotlight. At 32, he’s not likely to blossom from journeyman to cable TV headliner, let alone a pay-per-view superstar.

“I’ve got to pay bills and I don’t have people paying my way,” Grant said.

This fight would be his career.

McGuinness has a promoter and a trainer who hope to guide him to a world title. Along the way he’s simply supposed to beat older, smaller, less pedigreed fighters like Grant

“This is not a roadblock,” Johnson said before the match. “This is just a little pebble in the road you gotta kick to the side.”

A victory over Grant won’t make McGuinness world-class; but it means his world title dreams live on for one more fight.

But a defeat? “Then what am I doing? Right?” he pondered.

This fight would be his career, too.

Thank the Star's Tara Walton for this pic of a victorious McGuinness

Midway through round two, Grant sneaks in a straight right that catches McGuinness flush on the forehead.

McGuinness doesn’t even pause. He muscles Grant to a corner, lands a one-two to the head and hooks hard to the body.

Moments after round two, the referee ends the fight after a short chat with Grant, the halt officially due to an injured right hand.

Grant’s fans boo the stoppage. McGuinness’ supporters cheer the new winner, who stands at centre ring with the title belt that makes him North American champ — and the toughest man in Orangeville.

Copyright ©2010 Toronto Star

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