For the better part of 14 years, it was either not feasible or not possible for Jonathan Guidry to chase his dreams. Not just his dream of becoming a heavyweight champion, but even becoming a full-time boxer.
Late last year, Guidry was without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Ida, running vital appliances on generators and taking cold baths with cases of bottled water. Running water in the town of Dulac, LA was off for nearly two months, and its main aid site ran on a generator for even longer. He was working on a shrimping boat by day and as a crab fisherman by night, on the waters from 4:30 AM to 1 PM and 6 PM to 11 PM. Sometimes he would take a job on a boat for 14 to 20 days at a time. He was still an active boxer, but only in the loosest sense. Boxing was more or less a hobby, something he could do when time allowed and money wasn’t tight, which was never often enough for a 32-year old father of four.
“At one point in time, I was like, I'm just doing this for fun. I wasn't really thinking that I'd have a big shot,” said Guidry. “I'm fighting these club fights, I'm like man, a couple hundred dollars, that ain't really cutting it. I'm making more in the daytime than what I'm getting paid, promoters didn't really want to pay me.”
Then a call came from a promoter who said he wanted to pay him: Don King. Guidry was offered a spot on the Trevor Bryan-Manuel Charr undercard against Alonzo Butler. It was enough to convince Guidry that there were indeed potential prospects for his fighting career, and enough to compel him to lose 25 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not quite enough to make him leave his day (and night) job behind. The pay wasn’t big enough, but also, Butler, who frequently fights around or above 300 pounds, was the kind of opponent Guidry had a formula for defeating without having to leverage stable employment to do so.
“I would train two, three weeks. I'm only fighting a six-round fight, so I would kind of pace myself through those fights. Not pace myself, but I'd kinda look at who I was fighting, and if they had five, six losses, I knew they would quit, but I'd never quit. So, I knew with two or three weeks training I could beat these guys. So that's pretty much how my career was going,” said Guidry.
Behind the scenes, Guidry’s co-manager Les Bonano was working on something. Back in 2003, he’d landed his then-client Clifford Etienne a shot at Mike Tyson, and had a friendly relationship with Don King. If Charr was unable to secure a visa in order to face Bryan on January 29 in Warren, OH, then Guidry could step in and fight for the WBA’s regular heavyweight title.
On January 4, it was announced that would indeed be the case.
“I never thought I'd have an opportunity like this, this quick. We had to work out a little harder. We were fighting Alonzo Butler, and he's good, but ahh,” Guidry said dismissively. “I was training, but I'm a commercial fisherman, so it's hard with my schedule, you know? But after we got the opportunity for the big fight, I just quit working and started training twice a day and went to Texas with Bobby Benton.”
The announcement of Bryan-Guidry was met with a mixture of outrage and mockery from the boxing public. Most had never heard of Guidry, nor would they have had any reason to unless they obsessively scoured BoxRec’s heavyweight rankings or were fans of the Louisiana club circuit and attended fights in places like the Evangeline Downs Casino in Opelousas or the Cypress Bayou Casino in Charenton. Guidry’s boxing world was so small that either Keith Thibodeaux, Kevin Babineaux or both either judged or refereed all but one of his 19 pro fights.
The WBA as an organization has been under increased scrutiny over the last six months. The blatant robbery of Mykal Fox against Gabriel Maestre in August of 2021 and the subsequent discovery of both open racism by one of its most visible judges, Gloria Martinez Rizzo, and alleged improprieties by other people of influence connected to the organization set off a wave of mainstream attention seldom paid to boxing’s shadier activities. In response, the organization has tried to please the boxing public by amalgamating or eliminating many of its off-brand world titles--another one of the common criticisms levied towards it and its fellow sanctioning bodies.
One of the titles that has thus far been spared in the editing process is Bryan’s WBA regular title, which still exists in conjunction with the WBA title held by Oleksandr Usyk. It’s a title Bryan won by first defeating BJ Flores with the interim version of it, then Bermane Stiverne for a vacant version. And the issue of murky sanctioning body operations hasn’t quite been eradicated either. In Guidry’s case, that came in handy, as he was installed as the No. 13 contender in the WBA and title bout eligible almost overnight. In November of 2021 he was unranked, and by December 31 he was ranked ahead of Joseph Parker and Tony Yoka. Guidry didn’t fight in that time period, and until now, has never been scheduled for a bout longer than eight rounds.
In essence, there are two different pipelines within the WBA. One leads to Oleksandr Usyk, the Super titleholder, and the other is a secondary circuit leading towards Bryan where most of the funny business tends to happen—often involving Don King, as well.
None of this is anything Guidry would dispute, nor is any of it his fault.
“I've seen what they're saying, like 'who is Jonathan Guidry?', but it didn't hit me yet, because we never really fought on that big stage. It's kinda crazy. But it's just how things work. We have nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose. I'm a nobody. But yesterday's nobody is tomorrow's somebody,” said Guidry. “Trevor Bryan, he's a real fighter, he's the champion. I never got to fight no one on that level. But I'm glad we get a chance to. I don't think Trevor Bryan is a top five or number one heavyweight. He's not Tyson Fury. He's good, but he's not one of those elite fighters. I have a better chance of fighting him than one of those other guys.”
Chances haven’t been easy to come by for Guidry. People don’t all line up at the same start line in life, and in Guidry’s case, not only were his starting blocks way behind most of the pack, but they also continued to literally get washed away.
As a teenager, Guidry was a good amateur fighter, even facing off with fighters like Trevor Bryan at the National Golden Gloves. He was also a gifted football player, playing fullback for Ellender Memorial High School in his hometown of Houma, LA. After football practice, he would head to the boxing gym with his older brothers, most often his oldest brother Martin Verdin. Verdin helped teach him and his brothers the sport, and to this day, Verdin, 45, remains his trainer, which he balances with his own pro career as a 23-20-2 heavyweight.
Guidry’s grades prevented him from playing football his senior year, but team sports were about to take a backseat anyway. In 2008, Guidry’s family home was destroyed by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. As he described to his hometown paper The Times of Houma in 2009, “Gustav blew the roof down and the walls collapsed; then Ike finished it off when the water came in.”
Needing to sustain himself financially, he dropped out of school and joined his father Paul in the shrimping and crabbing world with the contingency plan that a boxing career could be “a way to make it big.”
“We lost a lot of stuff. We got flooded out. From then on, like, school wasn't really nothing no more. I had to work to provide, because we never really had anything, we were poor, you know what I'm saying? I had to work every day, and I'm still working,” said Guidry.
Except now his work can just be in the gym. According to nola.com, Guidry will receive $70,000 for this bout, and has received an additional $10,000 for training expenses. The median household income in Dulac, LA is $35,977 according to the 2019 census. The funds gave him the cushion to train in Houston for the Bryan fight, and the opportunity itself gave him the confidence that focusing on boxing can actually be worthwhile.
“Pretty much, to me, I'm looking at this like the beginning of my career. No matter what happens. If we win, we've got a fight, if we lose, somebody's gonna call us to try to get their (fighter's) rating up. But I think we're gonna shock a lot of people,” said Guidry, who says he still wishes he had even more time to prepare for this bout. “The 12 rounds, I'm not worried about those 12 rounds. It's just that big stage, I hope I just don't get a little nervous. But I shouldn't get nervous, I'm ready, I'm getting pumped up just thinking about it.”
Guidry’s plight highlights something that the boxing community can sometimes struggle to remember: Criticizing sanctioning bodies and the belts and bouts they create, and respecting the fighters who participate in them and perhaps benefit from them, shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Particularly when the fighters, like Guidry, aren’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Almost all fighters do not have the leverage to reject sanctioning bodies. Particularly not ones like Guidry who barely had the pull to make “a couple hundred bucks” in a fight until now and had to personally sell tickets in order to get a slot on a card. Fighters, even the richer ones, are still the working class, an ununionized workforce without the means to overthrow a system that while designed to siphon money from them in order to make monthly rankings PDFs and construct belts, is also part of the agreed upon structure of the sport and the path to future labor and payment.
Moreover, it’s possible to be happy for the fighters who win titles like the one Bryan holds in context. Guidry is no different from an employee of any number of crooked companies who happens to get an unexpected promotion and can escape the grips of economic anxiety because of it. A shrimper from Dulac winning any semblance of a world title would be the biggest moment of his life, a proud moment for his community, and already, a life-altering opportunity even before the bell has rung.
It’s a turn of fortune Guidry can barely comprehend. The closest he’s come to widespread exposure was a walkout bout following the Regis Prograis-Juan Jose Velasco bout after ESPN cameras had stopped filming. He’s so used to the self-promotional grind but also the interpersonal element of the club circuit that he and his partner Ashley have been selling Team Guidry t-shirts on Facebook using their personal email and phone number. In all, Guidry estimates roughly 50 people will be making the trip from Houma to Warren for the fight.
“I'm surprised. Like I said, I'm still a nobody. It's amazing. A lot of people believe in me,” said Guidry.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON. Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman