Justin Trudeau in the ring

John Geddes on boxing night in Ottawa: Brazeau came out swinging for a knockout. Trudeau was patient.

Liberal Member of Parliament Justin Trudeau (R) and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau fight during their charity boxing match in Ottawa March 31, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CANADA - Tags: SPORT BOXING POLITICS)

Liberal Member of Parliament Justin Trudeau (R) and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau fight during their charity boxing match in Ottawa March 31, 2012. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Many years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Morley Callaghan. After I asked him about the famous account in his memoir That Summer in Paris of the day he boxed Ernest Hemingway, with F. Scott Fitzgerald as referee, Callaghan said he thought boxing was pretty much drained of juice as far as storytelling went. “The up-and-coming pug, the washed-up pug,” the old literary pro told me wearily. “They’ve all been done.”

With the greatest of respect to Callaghan’s memory, not quite. How about this outline for novelty? The son of a prime minister agrees to fight a senator. The kid’s not so brawny, but this senator is a beefy aboriginal guy. The kid grew up in comfort, but the senator has a kind of hard-knocks aura about him. Many figure that given the kid’s pampered upbringing and penchant for publicity, it wouldn’t be so bad to see him beat up a bit. But then this senator yaps crudely about how much he wants to hurt his opponent, and you can feel the sentiment begin to shift.

By the time we assembled in the ballroom of the Hampton Inn, out near Ottawa’s train station and minor-league baseball stadium, Justin Trudeau, Montréal MP and son of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had a respectable slice of the crowd behind him. Still, Senator Patrick Brazeau, from the sounds of the cheers when their faces appeared on the big screens, remained the audience favourite. Brazeau came out swinging for a knockout in the first round. Trudeau looked scared. He clung to his composure, however, and settled in to win the second, by general assent, on points. In the third and final round, Trudeau took control, and his fans, both the resolute and the grudging, went wild. Brazeau  lost when the referee declared a technical knock out.

The real emotion generated by a novelty charity bout ($230,00 raised for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation) was something to behold and to experience. Brazeau was expected to win because he has a military background and martial arts training and big biceps. Trudeau had only his unusual upbringing to recommend him. Here’s what he told me in February when I asked him about it for a Maclean’s interview (part of this was published in the magazine, but I figure it’s of enough interest to give you the full quote now):

“We actually weigh pretty much the same. My reach is significantly larger than his. The way things have been set up is everybody is convinced that this black belt in karate with massive arms is going to clean up the pretty boy, because he grew up in the mean streets of Maniwaki and I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, you know? That’s what everyone says, right? So as it stands I can’t lose. Even if I do actually lose I know I will have gone in and people said, ‘Well, there wasn’t a chance anyway.’

“Neither of us have ever actually been in a boxing match before. I’ve trained in boxing all my life, my dad taught me how to box early, and through my twenties I trained at various sorts of rough gyms in Montreal, mostly as just a way of keeping in shape. I even boxed out in Vancouver for a while. But I never stepped it up to full-on sparring, or even a real bout. Pat’s been talking quite openly about the fact that he plans on taking me down early. I expect him to come in very hard, very fast. I plan on allowing him to, because I can take a lot, and use my jab to try and keep him at a distance, and out-think him.”

So Trudeau had it figured from every angle. He accurately predicted that Brazeau would come out trying to flatten him, and that’s sure how it transpired. He plotted out using his jab and reach advantage, and that’s what kept him in it after the early rough going. He didn’t predict that he would rally late and rock the patronage appointee to the point where the bout would have to be stopped early. More tellingly, though, Trudeau shrewdly read the psychology of the fight perfectly, seeing how his “pretty boy” rep and “silver spoon” upbringing actually worked to his advantage. It took the pressure off: all he had to do was survive.

All Ottawa is talking about the fight. Journalists were only half joking when they spoke of Trudeau’s path to the Liberal leadership beginning at the Hampton Inn. This is of course absurd. But then Morley Callaghan’s story about sparring with Hemingway teaches how boxing, especially between amateurs, is absurd at its core, and yet no less dramatic for that. Two skilled wordsmiths punch it out, a third acting as ref. Ridiculous. Then Hemingway, the self-styled tough guy, is so mad at being cut by Callaghan, the technically superior boxer, that he spits blood in his face. “And in spite of the fact that Ernest had spat blood on my face, I felt closer to him than ever,” Callaghan wrote.

That’s a crazy reaction, obviously. Boxing has an enduring way of making people think and talk nonsense. (I’m a bit susceptible: I blame it on listening, as a 9-year-old and after bedtime, to Muhammed Ali beat Jerry Quarry in three rounds on a radio my brother and I turned on low in our darkened room so our parents wouldn’t hear that we were still up.)

I started out suggesting Callaghan was wrong to suppose there were no new boxing stories, that the Trudeau-Brazeau fight proved a fight yarn can still feel fresh. Now that I think about it, I have to revise that. It wasn’t any new element that made it resonate. The underdog triumphed, as in countless variations. The boxer beat the puncher, as the old maxim teaches. Out of the dumbest sort of contest ever devised, a lesson about character, improbably and absurdly, once more shone through.


Justin Trudeau in the ring

  1. A great story needs a strong narrative that builds, and a good over-arching metaphor to deliver the message.  That the priveleged man was the underdog is part of the brilliance: winning his cred in the one arena, and against such a compellingly different sort of man as his opponent, may one day be seen as a stroke of genius.  I see Bob Rae on Twitter jokes that he said he’d fight the winner, so he’s busy training. 

    He won by his wits and ability to take a hard punch, only to seemingly come from behind to rally and win.  While being mocked openly by two arses on microphones who really wanted to see him lose (some call them “journalists.”)  Their two improbably (or predictably) beautiful children at home,  Justin’s shining wife embraces him, as she would have win or lose; his famous mother cheers him on despite all odds.  Seems like a winning story to me.

     I think the prime minister should let Katimavik stand just in respect for Justin.

    • He lost his maternal grandmother the day before the fight, Mrs.Sinclair was the wife of a Cabinet Minister decades ago. The pre-fight filth by Sun Media people were almost ground for hate crime charges……..

    • ” I think the prime minister should let Katimavik stand just in respect for Justin”

      As if Stephen Harper would do anything that classy.  I suspect some of the furniture at 24 Sussex was subjected to some rough treatment when it became apparent that the son of their object of eternal hatred won the bout.

      All that’s left now is to see what the CPC will come up with for member’s statements when parliament reconvenes after the weekend.  

      • Spending decisions aren’t made because of boxing matches, who likes or doesn’t like a program, or whether anyone has class.

        They’re made with the bottom line and best interest of Canadians in mind.

        Are you really suggesting that the PM of the day intervene in a spending decision because he likes a guy who has a family connection to the program ??

        • Meh. That line of reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to gazebos in Muskoka, does it?

        •  “Spending decisions aren’t made because of boxing matches, who likes or doesn’t like a program, or whether anyone has class.”

          April Fools!

          Disproportionately cut Elections Canada.
          Disproportionately cut CBC.
          Eliminate Katimavik

          Maintain record advertising spending.
          Maintain PMO spending.
          Maintain Privy Council spending.

          • F-35’s so we can help the Americans drop freedom bombs, prisons we don’t need (crime is dropping), the list goes on and on. 

        • Are you really suggesting that the PM of the day intervene in a spending decision because he likes a guy who has a family connection to the program ??

          We’re suggesting that the PM of the day intervened in a spending decision because he doesn’t like a guy who has family connections to the program.

        •  No, a change of decision would be about recognizing the value of Katimavik regardless of personal feelings.  However, you’re both ignoring the sad fact that if the current PM’s anything, it’s vindictive.

        • Did you even read the post I was responding to?

          It was an observation of the likelihood of PM Harper rising above the level of pettiness for which he has earned a reputation.  Of course spending decisions aren’t (and shouldn’t be) made on the basis of boxing matches, but they are very often made on the basis of ideology (and some have already pointed out examples in this thread), with no relationship all to fiscal responsibility.

        • Spending decisions are made with the best interests of Canadians in mind? LOL 

          Have you ever been to Ottawa?  

          Maybe in WWII or something…

  2. Ahhh the art and science of boxing, where you have to out-think your opponent.

  3. In a fair fight, a progressive will win every time!

  4. There is one “m” in Hemingway! 

  5. Comment about his fight has been grudging. You couldn’t mention the standing 8 in the second? Trudeau survived the first round because he knows how to box. Brazeau was done after that. The TKO was declared because Brazeau could do nothing but hold his gloves in front of his face. I’m not a fan of Trudeau’s, either, but he won good. I imagine he was also smart enough to know that even if he lost he’d come out looking good for having got in the ring with a much more muscular opponent.

  6. John Laird could take this kid! … In a hot dog eating contest. Sorry Baird, not Laird. Natural mistake. That’s a contest, I’d pay a dollar to see.

    • You’re kidding right? If it was a mouth fight, maybe Baird would win.!!!

      • Yes. Baird would fight dirty though. It’s in his nature.

  7. The Harper Tories hates anything Trudeau… Katimavik will be gone in no time.

    Justin Trudeau didn’t need to be rude or crude when he stands in the House, James Moore needs to learn to answer the question poised to him in the House…not do the Tory Two Step and avoid a direct question. 
    Oh wait, Tory MPs are not allowed to speak without permission from the Grand  Poobah.

    • You carry on at length in that you could have stopped with “The Harper Tories hate”………

  8. Brazeau is 4 inches shorter, has less boxing experience, and is roughly the same weight as Trudeau. I kind of feel like an idiot for going with the crowd in believing that Trudeau would lose (I figured he would have a glass jaw). 

    •  I can see what you’re saying and on its face it makes sense, but if it had been that obvious why were the oddsmakers so wrong?

      • Brazeau has martial arts, military, and (according to him) street-fighting experience. His strategy seemed to be just to hit Trudeau as hard as he could as much as he could, but his cardio fitness wasn’t good enough to keep it up for very long.  Maybe if he was in better cardio shape, he might have won.  Brazeau thinks if he could have kept it up another 30 seconds, he would have knocked Trudeau out.  

        • Three years in the Senate can really tire a guy out.

          •  Best comment on the story!

        • Yes, and if Hitler had not invaded Russia…

          “If”, the biggest little word in the English language.

      • Justin played them.
        Look at every photo of them where this match is talked about.
        Justin is doing is level-headed best to look as weak as possible.

      • What I’d like to see is a winner take all cage match between Stephen ‘Hannibal’ Harper, Bob ‘Bad Boy’ Rae, and Thomas ‘The Mauler’ Mulcair. No that’s a spectacle I would’nt hesitate to buy a ticket for.

  9. The rumble in the jungle…not quite Ali vs. Foreman, but good to see that “big is big but brains are better” hold true…

    Maybe also something there about slovenly appointees versus people who earn their stripes…

  10. As was evident half way through the first round, Brazeau was unfit, lacked the skills for the task that he had undertaken and performed poorly for those that support him.
    Bit like the Senate really. 

  11. Great job Justin and all for a good cause too! You showed not only intelligence but tons of courage and apparent strength. You have leadership qualities that I admire.