CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER (AND SOMETIME BOXER) JUSTIN TRUDEAU RECOUNTS THE TIME HE BATTLED A RIVAL IN THE RING. LITERALLY
The night Canadian PM Justin Trudeau knocked out a rival.
Sometimes you have to go with your gut, even when everyone around you thinks you’re wrong. My charity boxing match with Senator Patrick Brazeau was one of those moments. Not a single one of my friends or colleagues thought it was a good idea.
The route to the ring began in June 2011, when someone told me about an Ottawa-based white-collar amateur boxing event called Fight For The Cure. Proceeds would benefit the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. Now there, I thought, was an opportunity.
The concept behind the fight is to take fit executives who are more used to squash or spinning, train them as amateur boxers for six months, and then pit them against each other in front of their neighbours, friends and clients, to whom they’ve sold tickets for charity.
I had been training as an amateur boxer since my early twenties, and I had always liked the idea of stepping into the ring for just one real fight. The bonus was I might be able to find a hardcore Conservative to be my opponent.
The fight almost didn’t take place. For all the tough talk from Conservatives, I had trouble finding a Tory willing to step into the ring. As I joked at the time, “Who knew I’d have such a hard time finding a Conservative who wants to punch me in the face!”
Finally, Patrick Brazeau took up the challenge. As anyone who knows Mr Brazeau can attest, he is big and brawny and full of swagger. I had a few inches of height on him and a longer reach, but he was much thicker around the chest and biceps. He had been trained in the Canadian Forces and held a seconddegree black belt in karate. He was so physically menacing that, when the fight was announced, the question quickly became not, “Who will win?” but, “How many seconds will it take for Trudeau to land face down on the canvas?”
The fight date was set for March 31, 2012, at Ottawa’s Hampton Inn, and over the next six months, I trained hard. Really hard.
There is something about the purity of old-school boxing. It teaches you more than a set of technical skills. It teaches you how to remain focused despite exhaustion, and to stick with a game plan even while getting battered. Most of all, it teaches you the value of discipline and hard work. I beat Patrick Brazeau in that ring because I had a better team
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be Canada’s only famous politician – ever. He’s a liberal feminist who can explain quantum computing to a bunch of sceptical journalists, and a bona fide hottie at whom women, including world leaders (Angela Merkel), royalty (Kate Middleton) and actors (Emma Watson), are regularly photographed gazing dreamily. Dreamiest of all, perhaps, is the public perception of him as a principled leader who battles opposing politicians with gusto – to the extent that he even took that fight to the boxing ring, as he remembers here.
behind me, I had a better plan, and I had trained harder to make that plan a reality.
A week before the fight, my trainer, Matt Whitteker, asked about my fight plan. I told him how I thought it would go: Brazeau would throw everything he had at me early. I’d spend the first round keeping him away with my jab and reach, and let him tire himself out. By the second round I’d have more gas than him and take the initiative, and perhaps in the third round I’d go for the knockout. Matt smiled at my confidence and teased, “Oh, you’ll wait till the third round to knock him out, will you?” We both knew full well that KOS rarely happen in Olympic-style amateur boxing, and if there was one, the smart money was on Brazeau delivering it.
But as it turned out, that’s pretty much what happened. Brazeau came out in a frenzy from the start, and in the first half of the first round he landed a number of huge overhand rights that had me reeling and wondering if I’d made a terrible miscalculation. But just as I was beginning to wonder how much more I could take, he stopped landing those big punches.
I could hear him huffing and puffing, and suddenly I was connecting my punches and swatting away his. I ended that first round with a smile on my face, as I knew it was already over. He’d given me his all, and I could take it, and now I was going to win. By the third round Brazeau had had enough. When I scored a third standing eight-count in that final round, the referee ended it. It was a TKO, or technical knockout, not a true knockout perhaps, but under Olympic rules it was the best I could expect.
Only then did I look out and begin to absorb everything around me. The hall was filled with Conservative MPS and ministers looking forward to seeing their guy knock a Trudeau down. They had clearly expected a different ending. As I had hoped, the event was a morale booster for fellow Liberals.
I knew full well that a boxing match is a far cry from the real business of politics. No constituencies were won and no policies were made that night in suburban Ottawa. But political parties are teams. They are groups of like-minded, competitive human beings. They need victories to build and maintain their spirits, especially after a string of losses.
That boxing match was the first clear victory we Liberals had enjoyed over the Conservatives in a long, long time. It felt pretty good. This is an edited extract from Justin Trudeau’s memoir, Common Ground (Oneworld, $24.99), out now.
“Who knew I’d have a hard time finding a Conservative who wants to punch me!”
FIGHTING FIT (from left) Justin Trudeau on the 2012 match poster; in day job mode; (opposite) and in boxing mode.