Johnson: Former gold gloves winner finds old flame
Calgary boxer Kadian returns to the sport he loves, making waves in the U.S.
It felt, after nearly six years, like an arranged meeting with a longtime mistress. Someone you’d reluctantly broken up with despite a fierce, obsessive relationship. Saddled with all the pain and joy and baggage that entails.
Would she disappoint you? Would you disappoint her? Would those feelings, the particular dynamics that made it special in the first place, be the same?
“There was anxiety, sure,” says Matt Kadian, in a deserted Calgary Boxing Club. “Initially, anyway. But boxing is what I know. Boxing is what I love.”
That day, after nearly six years away from the fight game to sell real estate (imagine your friendly neighbourhood ReMax agent standing in against a monster straight out of Jurassic Park), at the famous Wild Card Gym in L.A., the Calgary-born, five time Canadian Golden Gloves heavyweight champ found himself in with Andrae “Will of Steel” Carthron, a journeyman heavyweight, sparring for $100.
The sights, the sounds, the sensations, so familiar, came flooding back with a blinding clarity.
At the end of the third and final round, Kadian caught Carthon — can’t even remember what punch he threw — and dropped him.
And the entire gym, one of the most famous in the whole of L.A., run by Freddie Roach and home to Manny Pacquiao, a bustling, vibrant ant hill of trainers and fighters, high rollers and low-lifes, stopped dead.
“And everybody,” recalls Kadian, smiling, “started counting. ‘One! Two! Three! Four! ...’
“It was my 30th birthday. March 7th. First day sparring. At the Wild Card. And last second, I knock the guy down.
“Not a bad birthday present.”
Six months ago, bankrolled by his manager Max Matheny and Earl Mills, a Taber businessman and boxing enthusiast, Kadian moved to Los Angeles along with his brother Bryce, and Matheny, changed his professional surname from Mychajliv to Kadian, and set up shop in Santa Clarita in search of a comeback.
They fought and trained, as Matheny says “in every dirty gym in L.A., from Compton to Sunset Boulevard”, hoping to turn the right heads, find a way in, get that big break.
“That first time in the ring (against Carthon) was really validating, I thought,” says Matheny now. “We’d spent $20,000 just to get to that point. So all of a sudden ‘Great. This makes sense. This is worthwhile.”
Since then, after four fights were cancelled at the last moment — one on the Santa Monica pier — Kadian fought twice, a rust-restricted four-round draw and then a victory. Home for the holidays, he has a bout lined up in February with Thompson Boxing Promotions back in L.A.
From there ... is anyone’s guess.
“Coming back,” concedes Kadian, “was tougher than I ever thought it would be. I thought I’d be right back. I was like: Training’s good, sparring’s good, run times are good, I’m hitting the bag harder. Then that first fight comes. Afterwards, I really looked at it hard. I figure now it’ll take me one fight for every year I had off to get where I should be. I figure I’ll get 20 per cent better every fight.
“I didn’t realize until then what ring rust really was until that first one. I thought I’d shaken it off in the gym, shaken it off in sparring. Uh uh. But then ... you just box.
“If felt like I’d been away but then the feeling of doing, of knowing, came back. You remember what it’s like to get hit. You get cracked in the head and it’s like ‘Oh, s---! Yeah. That’s it ...’
“It didn’t take too long to get used to punishment. And my technique is good. My hands are in the right place, my defence is good ... I credit that Kevin (McDermott). I’m in there with guys making money, that’s their living, and they didn’t take six years off.
“Thank God my foundation is good, otherwise I would’ve gotten my ass kicked.”
Six years away from anything is a lifetime. From boxing, split-seconds away from devastation at all times, it’s an eternity. During his days peddling houses, Kadian kept up a semblance of fitness, lifting weights a couple of times a week and working out. But he needed a full year of getting back into real shape, fighting shape, just to entertain thoughts of this comeback.
“The things I have going for me are: I’ve lived a clean life. I’ve never been injured in boxing. Just healthy living and I’m still young. I’m 30. As fighters go, it may not seem young, but my physical prime is between 32 and 36. I feel like a million bucks. And all the work I’ve done since I was young ... I’ve been fighting since the ’90s, sets me up in good shape, I think.”
The fight game is infamous for drawing people in and then spitting them out, discouraged, damaged or worse.
“I was in the ring so many times with so many good fighters in L.A.,” reasons Kadian. “Wherever we went, we did well. Against 36-0 pros, 22-0 pros, guys in the Top 10 in the world, Olympic gold medallists. I did some work with Audley Harrison for his comeback.
“I was able to kind of see where I was at with some of the best fighters in the world. What I saw was reassuring.”
There’s talk of maybe a January fight card in Calgary. Team Kadian is debating whether or not to relocate to Vegas, just a short jaunt into L.A. and far cheaper than the $3,000-a-month digs they were renting in Santa Clarita. Starting from scratch, funding such an expensive enterprise, requires a huge commitment, both personal and financial. No one can undertake it indefinitely without the right clout behind them.
But Matt Kadian has met his old, longtime mistress, the fight game, and the attraction is still there, still powerful.
“You’re asking if it’s worth it?” Kadian seems genuinely surprised you’d ask. “For sure it’s worth it. I’d be beating myself up later if I didn’t give this a real shot. I can sell real estate at any time in my life. I’m 30, not old, but the boxing window just gets smaller and smaller.
“What do I want? What does anybody want? A world title. Nothing less. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could go right to the top.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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