Boxing Sports

Tammara Thibeault: From Concordia to the Olympics

The Canadian boxer has been undefeated since 2021 and is now eyeing the gold medal in Paris.

Concordia alumna Tammara Thibeault recently won the women’s boxing middleweight gold medal at the 2023 Santiago Pan American Games. 

Today, all her attention is geared towards the only competition she has yet to win at the amateur level: the Olympic Games.

Her beginnings

Growing up, Tammara Thibeault’s father was a wide receiver for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. During the offseason, he boxed to stay in shape. Thibeault’s passion for the sport started at nine years old when visiting the boxing gym with her father. “On Fridays, we would go together, my three siblings and I, and then eventually I just got hooked on to the sport,” she recalled. 

In 2012, women’s boxing became an Olympic sport. By then, Thibeault had already been boxing for a few years. She remembers looking up to Mary Spencer at the time, the first Canadian woman to box at the Olympics in her weight class. 

Seeing Spencer, a young Canadian woman at the Olympics, inspired Thibault to chase her own dream of becoming an Olympic champion.

Balancing school and boxing

Following her 2017 Canadian Championship win, Thibeault joined the Canadian national team. From there, success quickly followed, with multiple medals at international competitions.

Around the same time, she started attending Concordia University, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in urban studies in 2023. 

Being a university student and an elite international athlete simultaneously was not easy. There was “a lot of running around, a lot of tiresome days, but I managed to make it work,” Thibeault said.

After next year’s Olympics, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in urban studies, a field she wants to work in after her career in boxing.

First Olympic experience and gold medal galore

Tammara Thibeault with her gold medal from the 2023 Pan American Games.
Courtesy Photo by Sweet Science Management

Thibeault qualified for what was originally the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. However, the yearlong postponement of the event was a stressful experience for her. “The fact that the Olympics got postponed for a year was kind of crazy,” she said. Since her loss in the quarter-finals in Tokyo, the southpaw fighter is undefeated, a streak of over two years. 

In 2022, she won her first world title at the International Boxing Association Women’s World Boxing Championships. Since the Olympics, she has also won the 2022 Commonwealth Games and two continental championships. 

Thibeault then headed into the 2023 Pan American Games this October with two goals: qualifying for the Olympics and winning the gold medal. She did both, winning every fight by either the referee stopping the contest or by unanimous decision.

What’s next?

After taking some time off to relax and attend graduation, Thibeault will start her preparation for the Olympics next summer in Paris. Although she is ranked number one in the world in her weight category and is arguably the favourite to win the gold medal, she tries not to put too much pressure on her shoulders regarding expectations.

“I’m definitely on top of the game right now, but I try not to think about [being ranked number one in the world] because I don’t want it to impact my performances. I try to take everything one step at a time and just, like, really focus on what I can control,” Thibeault expressed.

After the Olympics, Thibeault plans to turn professional. The two main differences between the amateur and professional levels are that amateur boxing is competed in a knockout tournament format, while professional boxing consists of longer single fights. 

“I think women’s boxing is growing and the level of opposition is growing, which is really interesting because you have women like me who have big amateur backgrounds that jump into the professional sport,” she said. “I think people are starting to appreciate women’s boxing more, which is really nice.” 


Otis Grant: Boxing world champion, ex-student and athlete

How did Concordia alumnus Otis “Magic” Grant perform at the highest level while still in school?

Who would’ve known that Concordia University harboured sporting greatness, and not even under the Stingers name? For Concordians who aren’t boxing fanatics or old enough to have sat with him in class, chances are you weren’t aware that the middleweight champion was a full-time student on this campus.

Otis “Magic” Grant grew up as a multi-sport athlete in Ville Saint-Laurent. He played on Vanier College’s basketball team, while fighting professionally to pay for his tuition. He figured he should obtain a higher level of education “to secure [his] future outside the boxing ring”, in case his career took a dive. “You can’t always put your eggs in one basket, especially in professional sport, because your career can be over in one night,” Grant said. 

Grant enrolled at Concordia in the fall of 1989, majoring in recreation and leisure. A month into his first semester, he was being broadcasted on ESPN, beating his opponent Art McCloud by technical knockout.

Although a boxing career was his ultimate life goal at the time, it wasn’t his priority—graduating came first. That being said, you can’t be great without practice and dedication. He would be at school from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., get to the gym by 5:30 p.m. and be showered off at home doing homework by eight. If he had no class in the mornings and had a project to get done in the evening, he would go for a run and work on cardio before school.

“If I had a bad day at school, get a bad grade or fail an exam, it’s the best way to get rid of stress. Physical activity is the best way to counteract the stress that life might bring you. Physical activity has always been my stress reliever,” Grant said.

The champ debuted on Canada’s senior national team at the young age of 17. To maintain status on the team, a fighter must represent the team in at least one international tournament yearly. This had Magic flying around the world, usually to Europe, while he kept up with his academics by regularly checking course syllabi. Outside of training, fighting, and press conferences, he would study in his hotel room while the rest of the team was sight-seeing.

“The guys on the senior team normally were 19+. So I was a young kid travelling with some grown men of 25, 26, 28 years old. But you know, they had no issue. I did my work, I stayed in my room,” he explained.

For Grant, the discipline required in the sport of boxing had intertwined with that required to get higher education. “You’re the only one in the ring, you have no teammates, you can’t call a timeout. To have to be in shape, you have to put the work in. Doing any sport like this will teach you life lessons. You learn that if you put the work in, hard work will pay off,” he said.

The athlete had friends take notes for him in instances when he missed a class during a trip. Grant had become skilled at finding solutions around academic disadvantages. For example, as a self-proclaimed “terrible typer.” He would get his buddy Steve and his girlfriend Betty, now his wife, to type out his hand-written assignments.

Otis Grant vs Librado Andrade 2006
Photo Credit: Herby Whyne

Of his 42 professional career fights, 15 were fought during his time at Concordia—and he won all of them, including  nine by knockouts. His most important fights involved title contention, such as his WBC intercontinental super middleweight title against Jaime Ollenberger, Canadian middleweight title against Dan Sherry that earned him a top-six ranking in North America, and a North American Boxing Federation (NABF) title win against Gilbert Baptist. The latter performance earned him a top-10 world ranking.

Before graduating from Concordia, Grant was offered multiple world title shots, but he turned them down in sacrifice for a diploma. “I waited until I was a little bit older,” he said. The professional boxer only seized the opportunity when the WBO middleweight title was vacated in ’97, as he beat Ryan Rhodes for the belt in his home town of Sheffield.

Grant was named Concordia Alumnus of the Year in 2007 for his community work through the Otis Grant & Friends Foundation, a fundraising foundation for food and clothes to be distributed to people in need, and his work as a teaching assistant and counsellor in Montreal’s secondary school system.

Grant was two accounting classes away from graduating with a business minor. His business success is apparent through his long-time boxing gym started with his brother, Howard, called “Grant Brothers Boxing” in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux. The brothers frequently plan events through BoxKO Promotions. Their latest amateur, BOXCITY 6, was held on Oct. 14.

Otis “Magic” Grant’s story is an inspiration for any student athlete, whatever the size of the goal. “If you have your priorities in order, it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s been done. Nobody can tell you you can’t do it, because I’ve done it,” Grant said.


Champion hits the stage at Opera de Montreal

Jazz meets romance and controversy in Canadian Premiere of Champion

“I kill a man and the world forgives me. I love a man, and they want to kill me.”

While many know the opera to be the platform for musical renditions of traditional works such as The Phantom of the Opera and The Barber of Seville, Champion delves into more modern themes, such as sexuality and immigration.

In its Canadian Premiere, Champion, which is based on a true story, recounts the life of prizefighting welterweight champion Emile Griffith. Griffith was born in St. Thomas, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s as a teen in search of a better life. He had a deep desire to reconnect with his estranged mother, who left for America on her own. As well, Griffith dreamed of becoming a singer, baseball player, and hat designer hooked in by the American dream. Griffith worked in a hat factory before being introduced to the world of boxing after the factory manager noticed his physical potential.

Griffith saw major success in the sport, though the fame and money did not come without its troubles. As his popularity grew , Griffith was was ushered into a new world. The newfound attention and stardom he faced brought him to terms with the feelings he attempted to suppress—even from himself. Though, after accidentally killing an opponent in the ring—one who taunted his presumed sexuality pre-fight—Griffith’s inner demons began to reveal themselves.

“It isn’t the opponent you wanted to kill, it’s yourself,” said Griffith during a flashback scene to his younger self.

Throughout Champion, Griffith is portrayed by three different actors, each of whom are present in different scenes of the opera’s non-linear plot. Griffith as a child, adult, and senior, illustrate the protagonist at different integral stages of his life. Young Griffith demonstrates the molding of the prizefighter as a child in St. Thomas; Griffith as an adult     highlights his battles with his sexuality and fame; Griffith as an old man represents the consequences of his profession, as his dementia begins to set in.

Griffith with his wins—though he is lost. Photo by Yves Renaud

As the opera unfolds, Griffith as an old man appears in various scenes, speaking to his younger selves in a one-way manner: he can hear them, but they cannot hear him. This creative way of carrying out flashback scenes demonstrated Champion’s thoroughly well-thought-out plot.

The opera’s music was composed by the Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter, Terence Blanchard. With a smooth blend of jazz and blues, the production’s musical aspect embodies all the events that unravel and the emotions that go along with them.

The production’s cast expertly brought Griffith’s trials and tribulations to life, both musically and theatrically. Their unwavering vocal performances and hypnotically realistic acting transformed the 2h25min show into what felt more like an explanation of Griffith’s life than a musical dramatization.

Aside from the actual performance by the cast, a theatrical production’s technical aspects share equal importance in making the show. Though, Champion’s technical expertise clearly shined through in its execution. Two jumbo vertical screens on either side of the stage displayed different images and designs throughout, adding to the precise, yet creative, props and set design.

Together, they set the ambience for each of the opera’s scenes, whether it was a boxing fight or at the nightclub Griffith frequented. Paired with crisp set changes, the combination of the digital and traditional aspects of the set transformed Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier into Griffith’s world.

With the themes of immigration and sexuality arguably more relevant today than ever before, Champion is an opera that, aside from its great execution musically, technically, and theatrically, is a contemporary representation of the future of opera.

Champion has three more showings with the Opera de Montreal on Jan. 29, 31, and Feb. 2. Tickets are available for purchase on the Opera de Montreal website.


With this Ring smashes stereotypes with a one-two punch

 Concordia alumnae shine light on female Indian boxing champions in new documentary

MC Mary Kom, who was born in Manipur, India,  financed her early boxing career by squirreling away whatever money she could until she had enough to buy her first pair of cheap boxing gloves. Despite winning match after match in the ring and slowly climbing in the rankings, Kom kept her involvement in the sport a secret from her family.

After she won the boxing state championship, her story was featured in a newspaper–her parents found out she was a boxer.

Kom’s story is one of many told in With this Ring. The documentary, directed by Concordia alumnae Anna Sarkissian and Ameesha Joshi, examines the reality of female boxers in India. Despite earning numerous titles and medals, the athletes reside in a country where old traditions and societal pressures discourage  women from participating in sports such as boxing.

The documentary follows several female boxers over a period of six years as they train to become the next world champion, competing on the global stage. In addition to showing the grueling training schedule, the film also highlights the challenges these women face outside the ring, such as the huge pressure for young Indian women to marry.

For many athletes in the film, boxing is more than just a sport. It’s a source of income, or an escape from poverty, or a means to get a job. Yet, for all the successes of India’s female boxing team, the top-ranked in the world, recognition is hard to come by.

“Our ultimate goal was to share the boxers’ stories with Indian society and hopefully the rest of the world too, so that they can be recognized for everything they’ve sacrificed and achieved. We wanted them to be known,” Sarkissian said.

The film draws its strength from the way it is structured. Rather than telling the viewer what exactly is happening, it opts to show it instead. There is no narration, and the only intrusion on behalf of the directors is intermittent text insertions to give context or explain a concept. This allows the boxers to tell their own stories—to explain their own hardships, their own accomplishments and their own pains. In addition to the athletes’ points of view, the film also includes short segments in which regular citizens are asked their opinions on women in sport. Most times, the answers are very traditional: the boxing ring is no place for a woman, as her face might get scarred, which would prevent her from finding a husband.

When Joshi and Sarkissian decided to commit to producing this film, the original plan was to go in for two months, embed themselves in the boxers’ lives, then head back home. Instead, producing the documentary has been a decade-long adventure. The filming section of their project took six years and included four trips to India.

“People may think that being a filmmaker is quite glamorous, but it often involves having a day job and spending evenings and weekends on a project you’re really passionate about,” Sarkissian said. “There are lots of highs and lows in this type of work.”

With this Ring will be screened as part of Cinema Politica’s program on April 3 at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation. The screening will take place in H-110.

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