Jul 22, 2021 Sports
Kaieteur News – On a chilly winter’s morning in the southern Sydney suburb of Gymea, Gairy St. Clair sends his Saturday morning boxing cardio class on their way amid an exhausted, but upbeat, flurry of fist pumps and high fives. As he gathers up the fitness equipment and prepares to close Gairy St. Clair’s Boxing Gym for the weekend, the former IBO and IBF world champion is feeling excited and content after the success of his Harper’s Superhero Fight Night and witnessing the achievements of his gym members and friends. However, his homeland of Guyana is never far from his mind.
Not a day goes by where Gairy St. Clair doesn’t think about how fortunate he is, and how he is living a life beyond his wildest dreams. As a young boy in Georgetown, he was aware that his future was uncertain and that every day was a blessing. It wasn’t until he first saw the sport of boxing on his uncle’s television at the age of nine that he allowed himself to dream of one-day becoming world champion.
It is these humble beginnings that are the drive behind St. Clair’s mission is to make sure that every boy and girl in Guyana believes that they can do whatever they want, and be whoever they want in life, regardless of where they come from.
“I want to give all these young kids a chance and I want to show them that if I can do it, they can do it,” St. Clair says. “I was world champion, and I want to show these kids that as long as you put your head down and do the right thing, you can also become world champion. Not even a world champion in boxing, you can be whatever you want to be. As long as you work hard and have the discipline, you can do it.”
St. Clair, who will receive the honour of being inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame later this year, is currently hard at work organising an international fight night in Guyana that he believes will put his country back on boxing’s world map. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 in the past year, nothing will deter him from giving back to the country that he loves.
“I want to bring world titles to Guyana,” he says. “It goes back to the saying of ‘If you build it, they will come. If we have these events in Guyana, it will bring the world there. Everyone will be watching. It will do amazing things for the sport and for the country.”
Born on February 2, 1975, in Georgetown Public Hospital, Gairy St. Clair is used to fighting for the things he wants, and not just in the boxing ring. Growing up as one of nine children with an absent father, he found his calling when legendary Guyanese fighter, Cliff Anderson saw promise in the young St. Clair and took him under his wing. Anderson became his first trainer and his (Anderson) wife welcomed the young boxer into their home after every training session with a meal of bread and butter, cheese and milk; A meal which was a treat for St. Clair.
He represented Guyana on the world’s stage at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in British Columbia, Canada, and turned professional the same year. Even though he had travelled to the United States to further his career, it was a call from Australia that sealed his destiny. Sydney-based boxer, Kostya Tszyu was in need of a sparring partner and St. Clair was ready to answer the call.
“I knew nothing about Australia,” he says with a laugh. “The only thing I knew about Australia then was that they played the West Indies in cricket!”
As he played an instrumental role in the Russian-Australian becoming world champion, St. Clair’s natural talent and skill caught the eye of Tszyu’s trainer, Johnny Lewis. Lewis believed that St. Clair had what it took to become a world champion himself and became his trainer.
“My journey to becoming world champion was very hard, and I worked harder than I ever had on anything in my whole life,” he said of his road to the top. “The way I became world champion was the hard way, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
He achieved the greatest achievement in boxing in 2006 when he challenged and prevailed against Cassius Baloyi for the IBF Super Featherweight title. The time following his win and new world title was a time of jubilation among him and his team but was then followed by a time of uncertainty.
After achieving his dream, St. Clair was unsure about what to do next in his life. He had achieved the highest honour in his sport and, like many athletes in the same position, struggled to find a new purpose in his life. It was a chance meeting in a Sydney club that changed his life.
“I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, and was wandering around getting in trouble until I met a wonderful, wonderful woman by the name of Alishar Tuhetoka,” he says with a smile, as he mentions the name of his partner and the mother of three of his children. “She told me that I had to put the same effort and dedication as I put into becoming world champion, into my life. It was then that everything started to turn around for me.”
St. Clair became a trainer himself at a corporate gym in Sydney City, following in the footsteps of those who had helped him along the way. With his knowledge, skills, and upbeat personality, he was instantly popular with aspiring young fighters and gym members. It was inevitable that he would open his own boxing fitness gym, Gairy St. Clair Boxing Gym. Today, the gym is a southern Sydney breeding ground for some of boxing’s brightest rising stars and has seen such names as George Kambosos Jr train on site.
The next step for St. Clair was to promote his own fight nights, which have grown to be a major calendar event. The fights have been used to not only elevate the careers of promising fighters, but also to raise money for a cause that is very close to St. Clair’s heart.
At the beginning of 2019, Gairy and Alishar lost their young niece, Harper Wright to brain cancer. The first fight night of each year is now held in her memory, with proceeds going to the Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick. The most recent Harper’s Superhero Fight Night was held on June 4, 2021, with $7,200 being donated to the children’s hospital. The next Gairy St. Clair Superhero Fight Night is scheduled to be held in Sydney in October.
Gairy St. Clair is a busy man, but his focus still remains on putting boxing on the map for Guyana.
Despite the obstacles caused by COVID-19, St. Clair and his team are looking towards holding an international fight night in Georgetown in December of this year.
There have not been any boxing promotions in Guyana in over two years due to financial constraints. For Guyanese fighters, this is a major problem, as boxing is a professional sport and they are losing their fighters to the United States as there is no money in the country for boxing.
St. Clair has been in talks with the Guyana Minister for Sport, Charles Ramson, who has said he will do everything he can to support the fight and bringing the sport back to the country.
“I love my country, and there are a lot of great kids there- a lot of great young boxers,” he says. “I want to bring two world titles to Guyana and by doing that it will do so much good for the country. It will bring money into the country, but it will also help bring the sport back there and make it a place that is known for quality boxing.”
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