PORTLAND, ME — Think of today’s boxing scene in Maine like a small tree with strong roots. There isn’t much new growth for rural fans to pick fruit from. Two-time WBA champion Joey Gamache hasn’t fought since 2000. The state’s boxing commission only recently reformed in 2012.
Positioned atop that organic food chain is popular ticket seller Brandon “The Cannon” Berry (pictured on the right). His 2013 professional debut marked the first sanctioned prizefight in Maine since 2005. A brawler in the ring, Brandon wears his heavy heart on his sleeve. And in his style. His favorite boxer was Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. “He fought hard even when he knew he was gonna lose,” says Brandon.
Berry is a small town fighter.
He boxes in faraway New England places most Americans have never visited like Skowhegan, Lewiston, and North Anson. Driving far to train and fight and spar is a way of life for Brandon.
When Berry took his wedding vows last month in upstate Maine, his brother Gordon Berry presided over the outdoor ceremony while fellow boxer Joel Bishop (pictured on the left) stood by “The Cannon” as his best man. By new dawn’s light, Bishop was dead and the Berrys were crushed.
Maine police discovered Bishop’s mortal remains Sunday morning inside his totaled Toyota in The Forks plantation on U.S. Route 201. Bishop, 31, wasn’t wearing a seat belt when he crashed into a utility pole in the wee hours after Berry’s fall wedding.
Almost immediately after the funeral for his fallen friend, Berry announced on social media his return would be devoted to Bishop.
“In honor of my guy,” wrote Berry on FB.
“Now I know what I’m fighting for,” he says.
An emotional wreck, now inactive for 16 months, Brandon is on the comeback trail for Bishop while some people close to the 30-year-old welterweight are understandably concerned for his own safety and well being. It’s not that folks don’t comprehend boxing to be a dangerous enough endeavor but competing just weeks after losing your best friend and training travel partner?
That’s a lot to expect from anybody.
Still, that’s what Berry plans to do when the now medically cleared “Cannon” makes his return to boxing at Bobby Russo’s next EXPO show in less than a month.
Scheduled for November 11, Russo’s 34-year-old “Haitian Sensation” Russell Lamour 15-2 (7) is slated to appear opposite Newark, New Jersey’s 17-3 (6) John “Apollo Kidd” Thompson in the Saturday night middleweight main event. Thompson is coming off a 2016 UD loss to Willie Monroe Jr.
Berry and Lamour are presently Maine’s top draws with 7-0 (5) middleweight firefighter Jason Quirk — in the EXPO co-feature — coming up quickly behind them. Lamour trains out of Russo’s Portland Boxing Club (PBC) while Berry is now cornered by Boston Boxing’s Ed LaVache.
“Back in Maine, I’d spar maybe one night a week,” Berry told me. “I wasn’t allowed to train anywhere else. Now I drive down from Maine. In Boston, I get much better training sessions. I get a new sparring partner every week. Coach Ed is such a good person. He cares so much and pushes me so hard. He works his whole schedule around me and won’t take a dime.”
With no opponent officially set yet, Berry is hoping for a rematch with Uniontown, Pennsylvania journeyman Eric Palmer on Veterans Day. “I don’t want an easy fight,” Berry says. “I feel he would be a tough fight right now for me given the circumstances.”
Berry defeated Palmer in Lewiston by hard fought decision in 2014 but while Berry has only fought six times since with stretches of inactivity, Palmer has been busier with fourteen bouts in that three year span.
And if he loses in November or re-injures his surgically repaired left shoulder? Would he stop fighting? “Losing won’t stop me,” Berry proudly tells me. “But if my shoulder goes out again, I’d have to swallow my pride and realize this isn’t going to happen,” he says realistically.
Working his 104th event at the Portland EXPO since 1992, USA Boxing’s Bobby Russo is bringing in former WBO world heavyweight champion “Merciless” Ray Mercer to meet and greet with autograph seeking fans. Past special guests at the EXPO have included Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield, Michael “The Jinx” Spinks, “Boom Boom” Mancini, and “Big Daddy” Bowe.
As an amateur, Mercer won a Gold Medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. “I owe a lot to USA boxing,” Mercer, a United States Army Veteran, told Russo in accepting his offer to appear at the 2017 Veterans Day fight card. In 2009, Mercer infamously knocked out former UFC heavyweight champion Tim “The Maine-iac” Sylvia in ten seconds with a single punch.
Tommy Morrison was treated far less mercifully.
For Berry, it’s do-or-die time in Portland.
It was there in 2014 that Berry’s inspirational boxing dreams began to unravel, turning into a “living nightmare.” The then undefeated up-and-coming Berry was bloodied and beaten down by Worcester, Mass spoiler Freddy Sanchez. To add injury to insult, the West Forks, Maine native tore the labrum in his left shoulder in the TKO loss and was immediately sidelined for surgery.
Berry was back less than a year later but with mixed results. Three wins were followed by a pair of unsatisfactory results against 10-10 opponent James Lester up in Lewiston. The outta-towner drew with Berry in April of 2016 before decisioning him that June.
Now 11-2-1 (7) as a pro, Berry went back under the blade for more shoulder work after the painful loss to Lester. In 2015, Berry was charged with excessive speed for operating his Saab at 128 miles-per-hour on the same Route 201 where Bishop’s Camry lost control in the fog.
“Joel,” says Brandon, “was my other half.”
With that tragedy and other career slip-and-falls now in his proverbial rearview mirror, Berry sets out on a long and dangerous road in memory of a friend whose life was lost behind the wheel. Berry’s new bride now passes the exact spot where Joel died every day on her way to work.
For Berry, the memories of Bishop will be everywhere he looks and goes in the great northern outdoors. While there should be no rush to get there, Berry knows that at 30, his fighting clock is ticking fast and that there are many miles to go, and promises to keep, before he can sleep.
The sport of boxing doesn’t come standard with a seat belt but even if it did, I doubt Brandon Berry would wear his.
It might hold him back.
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