— Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram
Brandon Leaman has only been boxing for two years, but the 18-year-old has already set some lofty goals for himself inside the ring.
“I have a list of goals, but the main one is to be the HBO world boxing champion, ranked No. 1. I want people to say, ‘I want to be just like him’. But I also want to make the national team, fight at the worlds, the Pan Am games and the Olympics,” explains the ambitious amateur from St. John’s who fights out of the TRC Boxing Club.
“You can never aim too high with your dreams, if you do, you’ll never be successful.”
Professional boxing is likely years away for Leaman, but a chance to represent Canada on the international stage is very much within his reach now that he’s got the attention of Boxing Canada’s national team coach Daniel Trépanier.
At an event in Montreal earlier this year, with Trépanier joining coach Jason Hayward in his corner, Leaman picked up a win and a loss, both by split decision, against a pair of far more experienced fighters. His victory came against Fransisco Dimitr, a six-foot southpaw with over 40 bouts under his belt.
Hayward, a former national champ and professional boxer, says Trépanier was “very impressed” and came away with a good assessment of Leaman’s talents and future potential.
“He said a lot of good things, but the No. 1 thing we have to do is keep him busy, getting him lots of fights against top fighters, not just guys he’s going to beat up. You have to once you get to that level.”
Since his Montreal bouts, Leaman has had three fights, all of which he’s won by split decision, including a win over American boxer David Rivero in a 138-pound weight class tilt at a Casino show presented by the Sydney (Nova Scotia) Boxing Academy. Earlier this month, Leaman beat Nova Scotia’s Steve Lancette in two fights at a boxing show in Conception Bay South.
In two weeks time, he’ll accompany Trépanier and a team from Quebec to Dublin, Ireland for his first international boxing event.
Began in combat sports
There are a number of factors that have led Leaman from unknown amateur boxer to potential national team member over the past two years.
Chief among them is his background in combat sports. Leaman has trained in karate since for the last three years and currently holds a blue belt. At 15, he turned to kickboxing, and under the tutelage of his cousin Robbie Wiseman, Leaman claimed a national title in his weight divisions at the 2010 nationals and represented Canada at the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) world junior championships in Belgrade, Serbia, where he won a bronze medal.
“When I first started kickboxing, I was never a fan of kicking. I was good, but I never kicked much. Where I was using my hands so much, it was an easy transfer over,” says Leaman.
His martial arts background has also led to Leaman becoming a particularly elusive fighter in the ring, so much so that Hayward has taken to calling him ‘The Phantom’ due to his ability to avoid being hit.
“You have to see him in action,” says Hayward, “with his hand speed and his foot work, he’s so hard to hit.”
Leaman is proud of his evasive style of defense, one that he says comes from hours of point-fighting training in both karate and kickboxing that kept him on his toes and always moving.
“Defence wins fights. If you can’t get his, you’re going to win. Everybody thinks a good offence will always win out, and it might, but an even better defense will shut that offense down.”
“In my last couple of fights, not too many people have touched me. I’m always moving my head and moving after every burts of punches.”
His passion for the sport and continually improving is what sets him apart from most boxers, according to Hayward.
“When you’re an athlete, you have to be coachable and he listens. Some kids, you’ll tell them one or two things and they don’t get it, but he gets it right away.”
Will box without headgear in July
This year marks Leaman’s first fights outside the junior ranks and at the Golden Gloves event this July he’ll endure another first when he has his first bouts without protective headgear, following the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association’s decision to follow International Boxing Association’s mandate to eliminate the equipment from senior level competition.
“When I spar, sometimes I’ll get in the ring with some skilled guys who can hit me and I’ll take the headgear off. I’m kind of getting used to getting punched in the head, now,” Leaman explains with a smile.
In order to make Canada’s A-team next year, Leaman will have to win his 132-pound weight class — though he’s been fighting at 138 for his last couple of bouts as he struggles to keep the weight off his growing frame — at the national championships in Saskatchewan this fall.
Hayward says, “If he doesn’t win nationals this year, he’ll definitely be on at least the B-team, so he’ll still get some international exposure.”
Leaman will graduate from Bishops College in a couple of months, but he’s putting any future education plans on hold while he pursues his dreams.
“It’s my life now. It’s what I do.”