Bryan Colwell is caught on the ropes when it comes to the politics of boxing.
The 24-year-old Victoria fighter, who trains at Island MMA, has been putting up the gloves in Combsport events (formerly the B.C. Combative Sports Association), which operates under the mantle of the World Boxing Council. Colwell beat 2013 B.C. and Canadian WBC cruiserweight champ Ben Huber in March in a non-title fight, and is having a rematch for the WBC B.C. title on May 31.
Boxing B.C., however, doesn’t sanction WBC events, and neither does Boxing Canada, or the International Boxing Association. Hoping to eventually work his way up the Olympic qualifying ladder, Colwell had expected to compete in the Boxing B.C. provincials in May, but he’s out of luck. If he was to register with Boxing B.C. now, the mandatory 30-day suspension period would KO his shot at provincials.
“It’s frustrating,” said Colwell, whose record is 6-1. “I’ve beaten the best guys, but can’t really progress.”
The problem for Colwell is Boxing B.C. doesn’t have nearly as many fights for cruiserweights — up to 200 pounds — as Combsport does in a year. Competing only in Boxing B.C. sanctioned events, Colwell doesn’t feel he would be able to gain the experience needed to compete at nationals.
“I dream of going to the Olympics, but I need more fights, and can’t get more fights,” Colwell said. “It’s just politics.”
A business administration student at Camosun College, Colwell hasn’t been in the fight game for that long. He moved from Fort St. John to attend the University of Victoria, with the aim of making the Vikes soccer team. Told he had the talent, but needed extra fitness, he decided to take a jiu-jitsu class.
“I knew by the end of the first class, I never wanted to play soccer again,” Colwell said. “It was really tough to sell my parents, but they let me do it, and supported me the whole way.”
With five boxing and two kickboxing fights under his belt, Colwell hasn’t wavered from being hooked by his newfound sport.
“He’s really dedicated, he’s intelligent, he’s tactical, he works really hard,” said Colwell’s coach Jason Heit, a former Canadian light-heavyweight champion who represented Canada at the ’95 Pan-Am Games and ’96 international Olympic qualification tournament. “He’s a talented guy, and he’s got potential.”
Colwell will flight Huber for the B.C. title, then likely step back from Combsport and WBC events to be eligible for Boxing B.C. fights next year. If his goal is the Olympics, it’s the only option, as the standoff between the conflicting groups isn’t about to end any time soon.
While the WBC has been reviving their amateur program, which now features Western Canadian and Canadian championships and a World Cup, they run according to their own set of rules. The main difference is WBC’s pro-like linear ranking system of title fights, compared with the AIBA structure of tournaments, such as those offered by Boxing B.C.
To qualify for Olympics, boxers must get to national championships, then do well at international tournaments. Canada has only managed to qualify one male boxer in each of the last two Olympics, said Combsport president Dave Allison.
“The AIBA has alienated a lot of people all over the world,” Allison said. “The hoops you have got to go through make going to the Olympics for Canada nearly impossible.”
The WBC is trying to get sanctioning for the 2016 Olympics, but Allison figured 2020 was more realistic.
Currently, Boxing B.C. and Boxing Canada are provincial and national sport organizations, and receive government funding to operate, while adhering to a certain set of rules.
“Boxing Canada belongs to AIBA, which of course is affiliated and supported by the IOC [International Olympic Committee],” Boxing Canada president Pat Fiacco said, in an email. “A Boxing Canada member cannot participate an any other combat sports competition that is not sanctioned by Boxing Canada.”
Boxing Canada and Boxing B.C. have stringent rules about medical checks and record-keeping. Along with insurance issues, that’s the crux of the 30-day suspension period, as they want to make sure a boxer has not suffered an injury fighting in a non-sanctioned event.
“They want to box, and I totally understand that, but it’s a safety thing,” Boxing B.C. registrar Heather Sims said. “Combsport is not a provincially recognized sport organization. I don’t know what rules they have.
“The suspension period is there for their own protection.”
Allison, a former vice-president of Boxing B.C., disputed the Sims’ assessment. Combsport uses the same rules of medical check-ups, passbooks, and suspensions. He said the only difference is the structure of the competition.
“The reality is, the [AIBA] hasn’t worked. People have flocked to the WBC.”