Steve (The Dragon) Claggett has been a trailblazer for boxing in Calgary, but a career in pro boxing has never been an easy road for him to pave. Claggett’s story has been defined by setbacks and obstacles, but now he is hot on the comeback trail and in the best position of his career.
Claggett was not a distinguished fighter when he first turned from amateur boxer to professional. Where most well-regarded young fighters have an Olympic pedigree or hundreds of amateur bouts, Claggett was forced into the professional ranks with fewer than 30 amateur bouts to his name.
“I had put myself in a bad spot,” Claggett says. “I had left my home. I was staying at friends’ places. I was getting in a lot of trouble, and I kind of had a moment of realization when I was like, if I keep getting in trouble like this, it’s going bad. Things were already going bad, and it was going even more that way.”
“I had a good friend of mine, and I remember talking, I was staying at his place on his couch, and I remember talking with him, and I was like, ‘Maybe I should put it all in the boxing.’”
Despite his lack of experience, Claggett had no trouble fully dedicating himself to the sport.
“It’s one of those things, the calling that you didn’t ask for it. Just kinda [dragged] me in.”
Michael Mastromatteo, a coach at Neutral Corner Boxing who worked with Claggett when he was still a teenager, was surprised when he first heard that Claggett was turning professional.
“You don’t think of it because the whole style is different. You know, you think that everybody’s goal is to go to the Olympics.”
Mastromatteo, who has been in the business of boxing for more than 50 years, suspected that financial complications stopped Claggett from continuing as an unpaid amateur.
“Every town is different. Montreal used to pay for their travelling, their hotels and everything. In Calgary, there was no support for that kind of thing. Everything has to come out of the gym, and as everybody knows, the gym is not a moneymaker,” Mastromatteo says.
The odds were not in Claggett’s favour as he drove himself —alone and scared —to his professional debut in Edmonton in 2008. Claggett won that fight, and for the next three years, he kept on winning, amassing a record of 11 wins and no losses.
It wasn’t until he was in the Philippines — Claggett’s first international fight — that he would experience his first professional loss.
“That was the worst time of my life. The Philippines fight absolutely crushed all of my dreams [and] broke my back. I heard this [noise], and I pinched nerves all up the right side of my spine… I couldn’t walk for a week. I couldn’t do anything. My girlfriend broke up with me. My friends think that I’m not a winner anymore,” Claggett says.
“But you know what? That’s what gives you the muscle. Then you know it’s there.”
Claggett would be forced to flex his comeback muscle through losses against rivals, conflicts with promoters and breakups with coaches throughout his career. Claggett quickly became comfortable as an underdog, regularly travelling to and fighting on his opponents’ home turf. His time as a perennial dark-horse led to his biggest victory, an upset of the heavy favourite Yves Ulysse Jr. to win the International Boxing Federation North American Title in 2017.
Claggett lost a controversial rematch to Ulysse in 2019 but has not lost a fight since and recently had one of the best performances of his career. The two rivals appear to be on a collision course to complete their potential trilogy, as both fighters are a part of Eye of the Tiger Management’s ‘Four Aces Tournament.’
“I mean, imagine this, in Montreal, full house, we’ll do the Bell Centre or something like that… the third and final, the trilogy for all the marbles. That’s what I’m training for. I train for it every day, man. I just really want that one.”
Bree Howling, a young boxer only two fights into her professional career, has become one of Claggett’s closest training partners over the past year. Despite the obstacles Claggett faced in his career, Howling believes some of Claggett’s biggest strengths are his friendly nature and positive attitude.
“You can tell that he loves to be there. He loves to train. He loves to help other people. So just seeing him come in, he’s always smiling no matter what, and he says hi to everybody.”
While Claggett does not coach, Howling sees him as a mentor figure for both herself and anybody in the gym environment around him.
“He’s in the middle of a training session, working super, super hard as he always does, and he just snapped out of it for a second and helps some random person not throwing the jab right, and he loves it. He comes back with an even bigger smile.”
Claggett was booked for a rematch with Mathieu Germain on April 17, however, the fight was postponed to an unknown date due to new COVID-19 restrictions. While Claggett is focused on this stage of his own career, he also believes it is important to help grow and develop the sport in Calgary. For him, that means giving advice to young fighters like Howling, even if he is not in an official coaching role.
“I gotta pass it on. So I’ll take those hard lessons. I don’t know which one was the hardest. They were all hard, but I’m gonna use those muscles that I have gained. I’m gonna pass it on, pay it forward.”