A boxing match almost KO’d Canadian politics

I am reminded that tomorrow will mark the seventh anniversary of that famous boxing match between Patrick Brazeau and Justin Trudeau. Looking back, it is clear that this event had great significance. It marked a turning point – a turn for the worse – in Canadian politics.

I started writing this piece over a year ago. This is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. I’m pretty sure it won’t earn me any new friends. If past experience is any guide, I’ll most likely get some pretty nasty abuse from the people I criticize, I think in part because they’re angry anyone would dare leave their movement. I could be wrong, of course. I’d welcome it this time, at any rate.

Few people remember how it got started, but you probably know how it ended. With a TKO in the third round. The brawny, tough-looking trash-talking martial artist easily defeated by the effete substitute drama teacher. Ezra Levant was there, as a master of ceremonies. Most of the Sun News crew was on site, too – some ladies dressed up in boxing match fashion, the guys wearing tuxedoes, it was supposed to be a big to-do. We were going to watch Pierre Trudeau’s son get what he deserved. A humiliating thumping he’d have trouble recovering from.

My reaction after the fight was, “well, I guess we’ll have another Trudeau prime minister.”

It’s quite possible conservative supporters realized that, too. Or maybe they just felt cheated or embarrassed – or a combination thereof. They got angry, and dumped Brazeau pretty hard. He was supposed to win the fight! Instead he got his butt handed to him by this… this… this TRUDEAU.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. And now the man they hated most in Canadian politics, the son of the other man they hated most in Canadian politics, was going to win an election, too.

I don’t remember who first came up with the idea of the boxing match, but it was an excellent one. Or so everyone in the conservative circles I moved in thought. The fact that it was for charity gave them good cover. It was for a good cause!

But come on. You think the fundraiser was the main idea? Nobody does. The idea was to provide an arena in which to show the country that Trudeau the Younger (“Shiny Pony” we called him at the time, remember that?) was not a real man. He was unfit for elected office. Only good for teaching drama part time.

It was extremely newsworthy, and boy did Sun News go all out on it. We had ads, special segments, more ads, we talked about it on news programs, then ran some ads, the talk-show guys talked about it some more, in-between rounds of ads.

The two came to the studio at least once when I was there, trash talking each other while sitting side by each, which was actually a fair bit of fun. I think both men went into this with the right kind of attitude. Possibly they were the only ones, seeing as everyone else was only thinking of scoring political points. But the two men played it very nicely against one another. You could see they each respected the other.

Me, I had a few concerns.

The main one was the blind faith everyone in the office, in the network, and – as far as I could tell – in the conservative movement had that Brazeau was obviously going to trounce Trudeau. By KO right in the first round, too. I mean, this was going to be a massacre.

Yes, Brazeau had a second-degree black belt in karate. At the time I had one too (I earned a third-degree black belt in 2016, and went on to become WKC world champion in fighting in 2017 and 2018; I know something about fighting). I knew the black belt by itself wouldn’t be enough. Unless Brazeau was training hard, and training at boxing, he’d be in trouble. Karate is awesome for self-defence in real situations, and sure the point sparring we do is effective. But it’s not boxing. To win in boxing, you need to train – hard – in boxing. There was not much evidence that Brazeau took that very seriously.

Yes, too, Brazeau is both younger and bigger than Trudeau, with a lot more muscle. On the other hand he’s not as tall. Trudeau is long and lean. “Effete” the guys in the office said, when they weren’t saying “effeminate”. But size isn’t everything. Trudeau’s reach would be longer, I guessed, and he looked like he would be faster on his feet than Brazeau, too.

Then there’s endurance. Fighting is tiring. If your cardio isn’t up there, you get winded real quick, which slows down your reflexes, and next thing you know you got punched hard in the nose because you didn’t notice your guard was down.

Trudeau trained seriously for the match. In boxing, which is a sport he’s practiced for ever. I didn’t know how good he was at it, but I certainly knew had mastered the basics. Especially the bit about keeping your hands up.

In the days leading up to the fight we talked about it a lot on the network. More than once I was asked for my prediction. Everyone assumed I’d pick Brazeau because obviously. I knew I’d be crucified for picking Trudeau so I didn’t. I chose instead to waffle, insisting that it would be a mistake to bet against Trudeau in a boxing match.

As far as I remember, though obviously I could be wrong about that, I was the only one in the entire conservative movement taking that position. And guess who wasn’t invited to the event? That’s right. Me.

I was annoyed. This was organized, hosted and televised by my employer and just about everyone else was ringside. Why not me?

Maybe they forgot. Or maybe I wasn’t a team player. Sure, I had fighting experience and more than a decade of hard martial arts training under my (black) belt, but what was that expertise compared to blind partisan faith that the guy in the blue underwear would trounce the flimsy fellow in the red trunks?

Nothing. My expertise was worth nothing.

Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant, who are experts at politics and maybe watching some fights on TV, ran the show. They hosted and provided commentary, which was short on fighting analysis and very long on why we should all despise Shiny Pony. I watched from home and cringed more than a few times. I was embarrassed for Brian; he’s not a bad guy but that night he sounded like one, and not a particularly well-informed one at that. I mean, they compared the tattoos on both fighters. Like that has anything to do with anything. Ezra, well, he was being Ezra as usual.

My female colleagues, the ones who were knowledgeable enough to agree with the boss that Brazeau would obviously win, were on hand, dressed for a gala and tasked with providing a bit of “colour” commentary. Which made me feel better about not being invited; I’m not especially keen on being paraded in a gown and not invited to speak about stuff I like, like step-away sidekicks. Maybe the boss didn’t want me to be the kid pissing in the punch bowl. I totally would have.

Anyway, at some point the pre-game show mercifully ended and the bell rang. There would be some boxing at this political match after all.

Brazeau started the match extremely strong, landing some very hard and heavy punches. It was immediately obvious what his strategy was: a quick KO. That certainly was what most blue supporters wanted. Squish that bug. Make Shiny Pony see stars.

Let’s pause for a moment on the nastiness of wishing to knock out an opponent in amateur boxing during a charity match. Concussions are a serious issue, you know. Maybe the guys in the conservative movement hadn’t heard of that yet.

I’m not sure Trudeau didn’t see stars. The punches Brazeau landed were the kind to leave a fellow dizzy. I mean, the guy has power. I’ve taken a lot of hard punches myself – not on the head so much, because that’s stupid, but hundreds of very hard kicks and punches to the body with at least a dozen serious head shots. I’ve taken those hits from men. Men hitting hard. I know exactly what it does to you: it knocks the wind right out of you. Your legs start to wobble, your hands drop, you slow down, you can’t see straight. That’s when the killer punch comes. When your hands are down. It’s such a classic you can write it up before the match starts.

Brazeau’s punches were harder than anything I’ve ever taken. I knew Trudeau was a decent boxer, but those first moments made me realize he was a tough one, too. The hits he took would have flattened a lot of men, very much including any of the tough-talking conservatives in the audience. But Trudeau took them and stayed up.

Break.

Second round changed the entire game. When Trudeau got back up, you could tell the effect it had on Brazeau. Not only did the Shiny Pony take it all, but he was up quickly again and ready to go. Brazeau was out of breath and ammo. Plus he’d failed to win by KO in the first round. He was shaken and upset.

I’ve done that too, mess with my opponent’s head by getting back up before the timer rang or just laughing and joking with my opponent in the middle of a fight. It can destabilize a lot of people to see someone like me waltz around them like that, cracking jokes and teasing the refs as I kick their ribs in (my opponent’s ribs, not the refs’). It is extraordinarily efficient against overly confident and sub-optimally trained opponents. It shatters their confidence. Then you win easy and at the end you hug them and say “good job”, which drives them bonkers. I’ll bet you didn’t know I could be mean like that. Haha.

Trudeau didn’t pull a Brigitte on Brazeau. He didn’t goof around and act superior. But he got up quick and fast after catching his breath like a guy who’s actually fit, and that was enough to kill Brazeau’s spirit though the latter, brave man that he is, didn’t let it show.

Brazeau didn’t have a Plan B. Any fighter worth his (or, ahem, her) salt knows when it’s time to switch gears and is usually capable of doing so. Brazeau, it was blindingly obvious to me at that point, was not a fighter worth his salt. He’s a good man who’s had more than his share of bad choices and difficult challenges, yet he’s a man worthy of respect. He’s just not a fighter.

He stuck with his Plan A, trying to land the killer blow. Which of course got him from winded to thoroughly exhausted before the end of the second round. At some point Ezra commented that it was normal for Brazeau to be the more tired of the two fighters. “He’s got more muscles, he needs more oxygen,” he said, before encouraging Trudeau to use his ballet moves. I burst out laughing and decided I was no longer mad not to be on site. Brazeau could no longer fight though he kept on trying.

Do you know how fighters train? They start by getting themselves exhausted through conditioning and cardio routines that are designed to get you clutching your chest or swear a blue streak (or both). Then and only then do we start sparring. We spar exhausted on purpose. To get us used to fighting while exhausted. Finding energy somewhere to keep going, grunting and cussing but not giving up. Train hard, win easy – that’s what the guys who are used to winning say. There’s a good reason for it.

It was very clear to me Brazeau hadn’t done any of this sort of training in a while, but that Trudeau visibly had. And that made all the difference.

Sometime in that second round, Brazeau gassed out, and gassed out hard. He was done.

Second break.

By this point our network hosts are worried. Will the break be enough for Brazeau to recuperate and come back? I knew there was no chance. He was beyond recuperation. Trudeau could see it too. And made use of it.

The third round was the last one. The ref stopped the fight when the blood started gushing out of Brazeau’s nose.

Apparently bookies had given a 3–1 chance for Brazeau to win. They all lost.

Me, of course I’d been right.

My colleagues and the conservatives that I knew of got mad. They felt let down by their fighter and dropped him like a sack of rotten potatoes. Which was most unfair to him.

Patrick Brazeau’s life took a turn for the dark and the much worse after this fight. He got himself in all kinds of trouble with the law, lost his job, and wound up in hospital after a suicide attempt. It took him years to get back on track. It wasn’t until 2018 that he resurfaced, telling the public about his brand new baby and being grateful for his life.

I’m happy for him now. He’s a good man, with a brave heart. He just needed some guidance all those years ago, instead of being used then tossed like a Kleenex full of snot.

Before that boxing match between Trudeau and Brazeau seven years ago, the Conservatives were in power and pleased to be there. They assumed they were better and stronger than their opponents, but they didn’t bother training or preparing for the upcoming match in the voting booth. They trash-talked and did very little else.

The conservative movement also took a turn for the dark and the much worse in the years that followed this embarrassing defeat. But unlike Brazeau, they haven’t recovered yet.

The 2015 federal election was a nasty one. It was also incredibly childish, starting the day after Justin Trudeau won the leadership of the Liberal party to the surprise of no one.

I was on Sun News that morning in early April 2013 when the first anti-Trudeau ad from the then-ruling Conservative party of Stephen Harper came out. I remember joking on-air that I didn’t know what had taken them so long to release it. Almost 12 hours! An eternity, for people in short pants.

The ad was not so much critical as puerile. It featured an old video of a partial striptease Trudeau had done years earlier for a charity. He removed his dress shirt, somewhat suggestively, and paraded in his undershirt. It also featured glitter and sparkles, and said the new Liberal leader was in way over his head. If it hadn’t been for the high production values (hey, those online donations had to go somewhere), you could have sworn this ad had been put together by teenagers drunk on their parents’ crème de menthe.

The tone was set, and the Tories kept it up all the way to Election Day. Whenever the Liberals said or did anything, Conservatives jeered that their leader wasn’t ready, or smart enough, or old enough, to win anything. With Stephen Harper very much leading that charge.

Unfortunately for conservative supporters, the more they jeered, the more popular Justin Trudeau became. And that made them very frustrated and angry. But instead of changing tactics – debating policies or ideas – they doubled down. It was nothing but personal insults.

(Oh, in case anyone needs to hear this: I don’t mean to imply that Liberals and their supporters were spectacularly more mature in their criticism of Harper. But it didn’t hurt them as much because Sunny Ways! Yes, sure, it’s unfair. It’s not my fault. NDPers under Thomas Mulcair were kind of like the mirror image of the Conservatives when it comes to anger, and the electorate rewarded them accordingly.)

The problem with anger for conservatives is that their opponents, and a lot of middle-of-the-road Canadians, assume (for reasons that aren’t always very clear) that they’re heartless and mean. Any ad agency worth its billing rate will tell you that it doesn’t matter whether the perception the public has of you is justified or not. If folks out there who aren’t already voting for you don’t want to vote for you because they think you’re heartless and juvenile, you have to address that. You may never be able to convince people that you have a heart, but it shouldn’t be too hard to show maturity.

Alas for conservatives, they went the other way. And lost big.

Electoral defeat didn’t help conservatives feel better. But instead of trying to heed the message of actual Canadians, who overwhelmingly chose the more positive-sounding leader and party, they chose to crawl back into dark spaces and spit nails among themselves.

Oh sure, plenty of good people in the party tried to address this. But they were shouted down by the shrill wing. And you can’t reason with these folks. They are convinced their positions are superior, as only idiots would deny. When they lose, they sulk. Hard.

That’s not doing a lot of good to the outreach efforts.

I get snarky when I talk about this, because for years I’ve said, to anyone who’d listen and to a few who wouldn’t, that the only way to attract new people into the conservative sphere of influence was to look less dour, frustrated and angry. If you’re convinced your ideas are superior, you should feel and look happy. Happy people smile, they don’t sulk.

You should welcome debate, I told them, instead of demanding ideological purity. Don’t sit in a corner bitching about the “lamestream media”, instead seek interview opportunities and run to every chat show. So what if the interviewers aren’t friendly to your ideas? You’re not there to convince TV hosts. You’re there to make sure the audience outside the TV studio sees you, listens to you, and ideally thinks some of what you say makes some kind of sense.

Remember before the boxing match how much trash-talking there was? How obvious it was that Brazeau the Conservative would win over Effete Shiny Pony the Liberal? How it wasn’t allowed to think otherwise? The smack-talk was unparalleled. Every conservative supporter I heard about was so excited for the match they could hardly wait. It was going to be so awesome.

Ah yes.

So many conservative politicians behave this way. They talk a great deal, making all the right red-meat noises and promises in exchange for donations and electoral support. Then they sit on their arses in the HoC cracking one joke after another while bitching that elites in the media are hopelessly stacked against them.

About the only thing they don’t do is prepare a plan that is at least semi-realistic of how they are going to turn those promises into reality if and when they should win an election. It’s like Brazeau’s training; not needed since it’s obvious we’re going to win.

If you don’t bother doing the work, you don’t win. I know this is painfully obvious, but some people still have trouble assimilating it: When you don’t win, you’re not successful. You’re covered in loser dust. Which makes you a lot less attractive than you’d imagine.

Griping some more and bitching that the media gives the Liberals a free pass is not – you may be shocked to hear this – designed to help either. And by the way, unless you hadn’t noticed, the media is still feasting on the, er, Liberals and their handling of the SNC-Lavalin business and other juicy stuff.

Newsflash: Journalists are assholes who distrust everyone. I know this because I am one.

What the Conservative bunch fails to realize is that many Canadians like Justin Trudeau (or used to, anyway) because he’s nice. I agree that’s infuriatingly fluffy. But if that’s what the electorate wants, you might consider endeavouring to give it to them, too. Be principled about your policies. Keep criticizing the government, because that’s your job. But stop with the snark and the hate because that clearly doesn’t work outside your own echo chamber.

When the Liberals face-plant and the Conservatives look like they might be ahead in voter intentions, the conservative base gets impatient and – like Brazeau desperately throwing what he hoped would be the killer punch when he should have worried about his footwork – want the KO right now.

They rail against anything that’s not cis-normative, globalism, the U.N., refugees, and who knows what else the Yellow Vests have on their must-hate list, and how we should take the country back from those heathens bent on destroying it. Which of course alienates just about everyone except angry social conservatives, who refuse to see how small a minority they actually are. Which leads them to accuse unknown powers of fomenting a conspiracy to keep them away from power for the benefit of liberal elites, when it’s in fact their own policies and especially their tone and attitude doing them in.

This in turn makes them lose the next round, until there’s no hope but to support Trumpian candidates endorsed by The Rebel. It’s anyone’s right to do so, obviously. But it’s not going to help win general elections.

What you need for that is hard, dedicated work. Lots of strenuous training, excellent coaching, and the willingness to switch gears when that’s what’s called for. That’s how you win fights, and elections.

I’m glad Patrick Brazeau is now on the road to a healthier and happier life. I wish I could say the same for the conservative movement.

Writer | Ottawa. Books include Épître aux tartempions, Le national-syndicalisme, Down the Road Never Travelled, Not Just for Kicks, Le livre Uber (upcoming).

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