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Clayton to headline revival of boxing series that produced a string of champions

MONTREAL — Custio Clayton will fight in the main event for the first time as a pro at a venue that was the launching pad for several of Canada's top boxers.

Clayton (5-0), of Dartmouth, N.S., will headline a card on Jan. 21 at the Montreal Casino to start a new series aimed at developing young fighters.

"I feel very good about it and I look forward to putting on a great show," Clayton said amid the jingling of slot machines at a news conference Thursday. "The people behind me believe in me.

"I'm ready to step up to the challenge."

The 28-year-old Clayton, who came within a point of winning a medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, is being fast-tracked to title contention as a pro. Promoter Groupe Yvon Michel (GYM) plans to use the casino series to help get him there.

So far there are three cards scheduled — Jan. 21, March 17 and May 12 — all on Thursday nights. The plan is for Clayton to fight on each of them, facing tougher opposition each time. GYM hopes to hold cards every other month at the venue.

Clayton wants to be in position to win "some kind of minor title" by the end of 2016 and then go for bigger titles from there. His opponent for the casino bout has yet to be determined.

The light middleweight is coming off an impressive second-round knockout of former contender Ivan Pereyra of Mexico on Saturday at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City. The bout was on the undercard of Romanian-Canadian Lucian Bute's loss to IBF super-middleweight champion James DeGale.

GYM ran 45 shows, including 269 bouts, at the casino cabaret from 2004 through 2010, when the cabaret was shut down for three years for renovations. As soon as it reopened, talks began on bringing boxing back.

The venue holds between 600 and 700 spectators and was usually packed for the former series, where fights were on Saturday afternoons.

"It was an intimate setting and the ambience was really good," said former WBO middleweight champion Otis Grant, whose last fight was a loss to Librado Andrade at the casino in 2006. "It was a great venue for television.

"To bring that series back is good for local guys. There were a lot of great guys who came up and got their start in that series. A lot went on to fight for or win world titles, so if they can bring that back and develop local talent and showcase the future, it's good for the sport."

Adonis Stevenson of Montreal, the reigning WBC light heavyweight champion, made his pro debut at the casino in 2006. Former world champions Leonard Dorin and Joachim Alcine also fought there.

But the real regulars were Jean Pascal, a former WBC light heavyweight champ, and David Lemieux, who held the IBF middleweight belt briefly this year before losing a unification bout with Gennady Golovkin. Pascal fought nine times at the casino, while Lemieux was there for 14 bouts.

"For starting, it's the best place," said Bute, who also performed there early in his career.

GYM announced it signed one of Bute's sparring partners for the DeGale fight, 20-year-old Erik Bazinyan (10-0) of Laval, Que., who will fight in the co-feature. Bazinyan is trained by Howard and Otis Grant.

The card also has a Canadian heavyweight title bout between Dillon Carman (9-2-0) of Mississauga, Ont., and Eric Barrak (8-3-0) of Longueuil, Que.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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