Scenes for the 2013 movie A Fighting Man were shot at Sudbury’s Top Glove Boxing Academy. Club owner Gord Apolloni choreographed the fight scenes and had a speaking role as a referee in the film about a washed up boxer who re-enters the ring hoping to win enough money to take his dying mother to Ireland.
Written and directed by Damian Lee, A Fighting Man got one star from The Globe and Mail reviewer. A movie about the winner of the 2018 Community Builders Award for Sports & Recreation might make a better story and be a contender at the box office.
Apolloni is a fighting man who has experienced good times and challenging ones and has always rolled with the punches.
The four-time Canadian champion finished sixth at the world championships in Japan in 1979. It looked like Apolloni would represent Canada at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. But he was forced to stay home. Sixty-six countries including Canada boycotted the games after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
In 1996 he was a coach of the Canadian boxing team that competed at the Atlanta Olympics. He worked with the talented but troubled Phil Boudreault, a light welterweight and the only Olympian to become a member of the Hells Angels.
Apolloni built a successful state-of-the-art facility for training Canadian boxers in the Lionel Lalonde Centre in Azilda, only to get an eviction notice from the city when space was needed for its Emergency Services Training Centre.
Currently, Top Glove, a not-for-profit boxing centre, is located in the basement of the former Mine Mill union hall on Regent St., which has its own history of fighting men.
This son of Italian immigrants who grew up in Copper Cliff and started boxing at 10 had an impressive career in the ring but it is Apolloni’s devotion as a coach and role model to thousands of young athletes – some who take classes for fun and recreation and others who want to compete – that has given him the most satisfaction.
“Giving back to the community,” is how he would like to be remembered. “Getting kids off the street. Giving them a place where they can associate with each other in a positive environment where they gain confidence, have stability and structure in their lives.”
Apolloni has been a boxing coach at 12 World Championships, three Pan American Games and two Commonwealth Games. He is well known in boxing circles in Canada and around the world. He turned down an opportunity to coach in Italy because of family commitments. In 2016 he accompanied members of the Canadian women’s team to Kazakhstan for the world amateur championships.
“We have had a lot of successes at Top Glove. Two boxers who trained at the club went to the Olympics in 1996. Michael Stewart, Canada’s last world champion boxer, trains here. Amber Konikow, the champion Canadian female boxer who finished third at the Worlds in 2008, trains at the club,” the 56-year-old father of two daughters says.
Omer Gagnon, another accomplished boxer from Sudbury who is an international boxing referee, is one of many people who sings Apolloni’s praises.
“It is unbelievable what he has accomplished in 30 years as a trainer and a coach in the Canadian Boxing Association,” says Gagnon. “He has worked with both male and female athletes from across Canada. He was also instrumental in creating the first female Canadian Boxing Championships. He received an award for the Best Ever Training in Canada.
“He has a history of taking in adolescents who needed guidance. He trains and coaches these kids often at his own expense. Gordy has helped the countless young people to a better life through his kindness and charitable ways.”
Apolloni gets the last word. ”I was influenced by my coaches in baseball, Gerry Mills and Gerry Bertrand, in bowling, Josie Girolometto, Hen Creasy, Al Moxan and Bob Polano in hockey, as well as my teachers Bert McClelland, Bill McDonough, Jim Thibeault, Sandy Hatty, Lawrence Rowlandson and Jack Camilucci.
“These individuals were my mentors in many ways. Even today I wonder what and how some of these individuals would handle certain programs or situations. I share this award with these individuals and they are my motivators to give back to the community as they did.”