Andy Gardiner has been a professional boxer for barely five months, but there’s little confusion about where he hopes to take his career.
"I want a world title," said the 24-year-old from St. Norbert. "I’m not going to stop until I get there."
After a successful amateur career that saw him win two national championships and compete in countless international events, Gardiner decided in May to take off the amateurs’ helmet and start cashing cheques.
The light heavyweight had hoped to represent Canada at the London Olympics, but when bad luck, questionable judging decisions and an elbow surgery conspired to keep him off the team, Gardiner knew it was time to turn pro.
"That was the only reason I stayed amateur," he said. "I wasn’t going to stick around for another four years. There was nothing in amateur for me anymore."
As a new pro, there wasn’t anything for Gardiner in Winnipeg, either. With no one to spar against locally, he joined Final Round Boxing in Ottawa, where he usually spends six weeks leading up to a fight.
So far, so good. Gardiner improved to 6-0 with a first-round TKO on Sept. 22 in Montreal. In his second pro fight, he was part of a card at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens.
"It was definitely the biggest crowd I’ve ever fought in front of," Gardiner said.
"To look up and see your face on the big screen was pretty amazing. The thought of fighting one day at the MGM Grand or Madison Square Garden went through my mind for sure."
Stuart Sutherland, who coached Gardiner at the Crescentwood Boxing Club from the time he took up the sport as a teenager until Gardiner turned pro, isn’t at all surprised by his protégé’s success.
"He was pretty raw when he came in," said Sutherland, a St. Vital resident. "The thing I liked was his aggression and his toughness."
Those two attributes are important for any type of boxing, but especially the professional game, Sutherland said.
"He was always destined for the pros," Sutherland said. "That’s just the type of boxer that he is."
The transition has in some ways felt like learning an entirely new sport, but Gardiner agrees that his skills are more suited for the professional ranks.
As a newcomer to the scene — even with his perfect record — Gardiner isn’t getting rich, and knows he has some dues to pay.
"It’s a struggle," he said. "I’m not making much money at all. I get a little support from my family that helps out a lot. I’m trying to get a part-time job, but it’s tough because all I’m doing is training."
From 6 a.m. runs to afternoon and evening workouts, the life of a pro boxer demands total commitment.
Gardiner’s lofty goals are certainly achievable in his former coach’s mind. Sutherland’s brother, Murray, became the IBF super middleweight champion in 1984.
"I always said to Andy that if anyone told me my brother in Scotland was going to be the champion of the world one day, I would not have believed him," Sutherland said. "If he could do it, I don’t see any reason Andy can’t."