Justin Trudeau will exchange a figurative blood sport for a real one when he steps out of the political arena and into the boxing ring in a few weeks.
The Liberal princeling will face off against Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in the marquee bout of this year's Fight for the Cure, an annual Ottawa boxing tournament that pits local notables against each other to raise money for cancer research.
Better known for his movie-star good looks than his physical prowess, Mr. Trudeau has been training hard for the last six months in hopes he'll surprise a few people when the bell sounds on March 31.
“I'm tougher than people give me credit for,” he said after taking as many hits as he dished out in four rounds of sparring at the Final Round Boxing Gym.
He'll need as much toughness as he can muster. His father, long-serving Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, ensured his son had some boxing lessons. But his 37-year-old opponent is three years his junior, has a black belt in karate and served in the Canadian Forces.
Those stats made Mr. Brazeau a three-to-one favourite at online betting site Bodog.com.
The senator stepped up after Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Calgary MP Rob Anders turned down Trudeau's challenge.
Matt Whitteker, the trainer working with both fighters, says they're more evenly matched than it seems.
“Truthfully, there isn't much of a difference,” he said. “I think they both have a really good chance to win.”
When the starting bell rings, it will be a match-up between two very different fighters. Mr. Brazeau is shorter, but the trainers say his stocky frame packs real power. Mr. Trudeau is tall and lanky so his advantage will be his reach.
“Justin has a great jab and speed, whereas Brazeau, he's small, stocky and really strong,” said Rob Imbault, one of the organizers.
Mr. Imbault says the two have already done some verbal sparring.
“They have definitely been chirping each other,” he said.
But Mr. Brazeau shrugs off the mind games.
“I am more focused on my own training and what I need to do to make a point and make a statement and that's why I am training very hard to do just that.”
The fighters' trash-talking skills may be honed from their political fights, but when the gloves go on, those rhetorical skills will be of little use.
The fight will use Olympic rules. Each fighter will be outfitted with headgear, a mouth guard and 10-ounce gloves.
Despite all the media hoopla and politics, neither man has lost sight of the real reason they're fighting. Mr. Trudeau's father died of complications related to prostate cancer and Mr. Brazeau's mother died of lung cancer.
Ringside seats at the Hampton Convention Centre go for $250 apiece or $3,000 per table. Organizers hope to raise $200,000 this year, which would be a $50,000 increase over last year's take.
Mr. Trudeau is focused on putting on a good show whatever the outcome. But even if he winds up flat on his back, he plans to enjoy the fight.
“I've boxed for a long time, but never gotten into the ring for a serious fight,” he said. “So this is something for me to check off on my bucket list one way or another.”
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