As I trudged and stumbled around a frozen section of Lake Ontario, I pondered to myself, ‘Who could live in a place like this?’ The cold sliced my face, carving its disjointed pattern on my skin. It was -17; in March; in Ajax, Ontario.
Known for its music, its baseball and its ice hockey, Toronto was a forgotten corner of Canadian boxing. I hadn’t travelled to the sleepy town of Ajax to meet Brandon Cook (20-1, 13 KO’s), but the brawler was based there, around sixteen miles from the CN Tower and merely a stone’s throw from my fiancée’s family.
“I didn’t move out to Ajax until I was eighteen, because I was getting in a lot of trouble!” Cook explained.
“I was fighting all the time. I was getting into street fights way too much, hanging around the wrong crowd, doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. I was living with my Mom in Scarborough and I came out to Ajax, went to High School here for my last year.”
Dubbed ‘Scarberia’, due to a lack of attractions or opportunities, the region outside of Old Toronto held no promise for the thirty-two-year-old. However, he’d barely closed the door on that troubled chapter, before reverting to type.
“I got in a huge fight, knocked one of the biggest-named guys here out cold. I broke his jaw and they wired it shut. Then, I had to go back to Scarborough to finish high school!”
Old habits die hard.
Next week, it is Las Vegas and a chance for World title glory in the year’s biggest show: Canelo-Golovkin II.
Acting as chief support, Cook faces WBO World super welterweight champion and Mexican prodigy, Jaime Munguia (30-0, 25 KO’s) – unbeaten and dangerous.
Although the story of youth misspent wasn’t unfamiliar, it was only when Brandon opened up that I could truly gauge his character. Picked on for body image issues, the young Canadian defended himself, using sticks and stones to fend off the names that hurt him.
“I was a little chubby when I was a kid!” he told me, candidly. “I was getting bullied a lot and I think that’s what started it. I ended up just defending myself and anytime I defended myself, I knocked anyone out that tried to fight with me.”
“My boxing coach today is the guy that seen me fight in a bunch of street fights, he brought me to the boxing club. I ended up sparring the coach. He beat the living piss out of me. It was real bad, I’ve got it on tape at home. It’s the worst beating you’ll see – but he couldn’t drop me.”
A brief stint in the amateurs spanning over thirty fights resulted in a hunger for the professional game. Cook was working at the time, installing windows and doors on long, arduous days across the enormous province.
It was a necessity to self-fund in the country’s blindspot, with focus in boxing being dragged to Montreal or Quebec. However, the ‘Bad Boy’ had taken the plunge in order to chase the ultimate prize.
“I quit my job almost eleven months ago now. I put so much time into boxing, I got myself to a good point and it was just too hard to work a full-time job and then try to train two or three times.
I can train now, but before I wasn’t sure what time I would get off work, so whenever the job was done, then I was done.
It was getting really hard on my body, I couldn’t handle it anymore so I ended up breaking up with my girlfriend, I sold my house and made a good amount of money. Now I just pay myself a little bit to stay off work and train full-time.”
Toronto, Ontario hasn’t had a World champion for a decade, struggling to attract any attention at local shows in the Hershey Centre. I remember speaking to Brandon when he was in London for his ill-fated clash with Kell Brook (and latterly Sam Eggington) – he was amazed. The number of reporters, the invites for interviews and the relentless passion of the British boxing fanbase had left him mesmerised.
“That Dillian Whyte fight was by far the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. You know, [Eddie] Hearn was supposed to get us a fight, but then this opportunity came up and we took this over fighting Sam because this is a World title shot.”
He’d waited for this opportunity, after proving himself willing to challenge at locations worldwide. Other than London, Cook had fought in Astana, Kazakhstan, losing to the avoided division-dangerman Kanat Islam.
I’d first become familiar with Brandon after his fight with Steven Butler in Montreal, 2017. An enormous underdog, he stopped the hometown favourite in the seventh round, bludgeoning the much-fancied Butler into a staggering submission.
The fight was exciting, but was tainted by an infamous incident that followed during celebrations in the ring.
“I hurt him bad in the sixth and then, in the seventh, I finished him with a big overhand right. He couldn’t even stand. They called off the fight and all of a sudden he was out on his feet, and he pushes me and I got smoked with a bucket at the same time!”
The Ajax man embodied the ‘win-or-learn’ mantra, determined to snatch the title from ‘Golden Boy Promotions‘ newest starlet. Munguia had decimated reigning champion Sadam Ali, before entertaining in a primary defence against Liverpool’s Liam Smith. He was big, strong and aggressive. His style seemingly matched Brandon’s, but the contest held no fear for the challenger.
“MUN-GEE-AH [is the pronounciation!]” he over-enunciated, for my benefit I suspected. “Some people have helped me out, I’ve mis-pronounced it so many times, but that’s the right way, supposedly. Munguia! I don’t care, man. For me, a fight is a fight.
I don’t care how many people are there, all that matters is that once that bell rings, I am ready to go. Like I said, this is the biggest opportunity of my life and this could change everything. I’m gonna go out there and give it my best and see what happens, right?
This kid’s strong, he’s only twenty-one-years-old, but Liam Smith showed he had a couple of weaknesses. I’m just gonna have to capitalise on a couple of things, go in there and fight!”
In the throws of summer, the very same Lake Ontario that rendered me glacial looked completely different. Without its carpet of snow and without my hastily assembled balaclava, its natural beauty was far clearer.
Brandon Cook was frozen out of boxing’s top table, yet through patience and hard work, he’ll soon board his plane to Vegas. The task that awaits him is massive: but nothing worth having came easy.
“This is gonna be the most amazing week of my life. It doesn’t matter what happens now, but just to be there, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted. All these years, training for fights, this is what it all comes down to. I’m gonna do everything I can.”
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209