From Spanish Town to BTOWN
Olympian and undefeated heavyweight pro boxer Ricardo Brown gives BTOWN the blow-by-blow.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, January 16, 2023 // Brantford, Ontario The undefeated heavyweight boxer, Ricardo "Big 12" Brown. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Ricardo Brown was in his early-20’s, when a man pulled up at his house looking for him. This was never a good sign in Spanish Town, the violent part of Jamaica Ricardo grew up in.
Although the now-32-year-old heavyweight boxer is an intimidating 6’7” (he earned the nickname “Big 12,” as an already-tall twelve-year-old dancehall dancer,) he is soft-spoken, and radiates gentleness.
Known simply as “Uncle,” the stranger said, “‘You can box?’ and I'm like, ‘Yeah,’” Ricardo remembers. Truthfully, Ricardo says he, “Didn’t know anything about boxing,” although he had been a spectator at a fight tournament, where he told his friend, “Yo, I can do that, that's not hard.”
“‘You sure?’” the man known as Uncle asked, “And I said, ‘Yeah, I can box.’ So he said: ‘Show me a fighting stance.’” Ricardo did his best stance and Uncle replied, “‘You can't box.’ I say, ‘What do you mean? I can hit hard.’ And he's like, ‘Okay, throw a punch.’ And I throw a punch.”
Ricardo wasn’t entirely bluffing – he was training, the best he could on his own. After seeing the tournament, he went home and constructed his own punching bag by filling a crocus bag – a burlap sack – with sand, and spent hours in his backyard, throwing punches. He also took up distance running – making the hour run to and from his job as a chef every day, ramping up to hour-and-a-half and two-hour runs.
Ricardo putting in the work. Photo credit Paul Smith.
What he needed though, was someone with experience to help him. After seeing his jab, Uncle announced Ricardo was “Still not ready,” but agreed to take him under his wing – on the proviso that Ricardo find him.
The day of a big event Ricardo knew Uncle would be at, he left work early. “When I reached him, he's like, ‘You showed up, man.’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, I want to box,’” Ricardo says. When Ricardo explained he ran for four hours to get there, Uncle replied, “Damn, you’re ready.”
From that day, Uncle trained Ricardo until he decided the boxer was ready to take on his first match. “He was a champion of Jamaica, everybody's scared of him, and then my coach said, ‘You know what? I'm gonna make you fight,’” Ricardo says, “And I was so nervous. But I was like, ‘You know what, I'm going to do it, I can do it.’ And I step in the ring, and in the first round, knocked him out cold.”
Ricardo’s mother, who was in the crowd, fainted, terrified that Ricardo was going to jail for murder (the opponent was okay), and Ricardo, never having seen a knockout, momentarily had the same fear. “But I was still happy, because I just beat a champion,” Ricardo says with a boyish laugh.
After that, Ricardo says that his country got behind him, and they had him sparring with army recruits (he always won), and travelling to numerous countries to compete, where Ricardo admits, “I didn't have skill. I was just fighting.” When opponents made it past the first round with him, he realized the sport was more challenging than he initially thought, and took incredible stamina. “My hands are tired,” he remembers thinking, “This is hard.”
Big 12 brings the passion to Blackeye Boxing Club in Brantford. Photo credit Paul Smith.
When he moved to Canada eight years ago, and began training in Mississauga, with coach and fellow Jamaican boxer Dewith Frazer, Ricardo says, “That's where I really picked up training life, and got to know what boxing is like.”
Dewith helped Ricardo prepare for amateur career highlights, such as competing in the 2019 PanAm games in Lima, Peru (where he took home the bronze medal), and representing Jamaica at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In April 2022, Ricardo made his professional debut, signing with Tyler Buxton of United Boxing Promotions.
Two years ago, initially drawn, like many others, to Brantford’s affordability, Ricardo made the move from Scarborough with his son and wife Nicole, and they quickly embraced their new city, enjoying exploring the trails as a family, and discovering favourite local restaurants like The Irie Grill.
With Nicole as his manager, (“I realized we can't leave things to other people to handle that are very important,” she says,) and Dewith remaining his primary coach in Mississauga, Tyler also brought Jackie Armour of Brantford Blackeye Boxing Club onto Ricardo’s team, as a supplemental coach.
Jackie, who has coached other Brantford-area pro boxers, including Winston Matthews, Craig Hudson and Karlton Hess, heard that a new heavyweight boxer was living in Brantford. “And then it turned out that we got the formal invitation to get together,” he says.
Ricardo with his wife/manager Nicole, and their son. Photo credit Paul Smith.
At their first meeting, Jackie says he could tell right away that Ricardo was, “A very respectful man,” and knew he wanted to work with him. “We’re having lots of fun,” says Jackie. In his Brantford coach, Ricardo found a dependable ally, “No matter what, he’s always there, just like [Dewith],” he says.
As Ricardo prepares to defend his 5-0 pro winning streak in his first match of 2023, the challenge has been finding other heavyweights to get some good rounds in with, but he’s been working a lot with the amateurs at Blackeye.
“He's a gentle giant, he knows to turn it down,” says Jackie, which lets Ricardo focus on the cardio aspect – using his footwork and moving around, “And what he's doing, is helping some of these youngsters become better boxers,” says Jackie.
For Ricardo, perhaps it’s a way to give back to the community that welcomed him with open arms. “I'm not gonna lie,” Ricardo says, “I love Brantford. I love all the people here, because they’ve shown me love.”
To follow Ricardo on Instagram, click HERE.
Ricardo’s next match on January 28 at Pickering Casino Resort is sold out – but for information about other upcoming matches, visit the United Boxing Promotions website HERE.
For Dewith’s Boxing Studio website, click HERE.
To follow Jackie Armour on Instagram, click HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professionally for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.