Fighters whose professional journey began the way Steve Claggett’s did typically don’t win up headlining a card on an ESPN platform. 

For many years, Claggett bounced between short-term promotional deals and self-promotion, and was starting to become thought of and treated by the industry as a high-level opponent, a fighter who was good on the Canadian scene but not quite good enough to thrive outside of it. 

But lo and behold, the 34-year old from Calgary, Alberta, Canada faces Miguel Madueno in a super lightweight battle in Montreal, Quebec on ESPN+ this Tuesday. Claggett, who is promoted by Eye of the Tiger and now ranked inside the Top 15 by a pair of sanctioning bodies has been one of the sport’s most compelling turnaround stories over the last year. 

Nothing illustrates Claggett’s hard luck circumstances as a fledgling Canadian fighter and his perseverance better than an ill-fated fight in 2013. At the time, Claggett was 16-2-1, having fought only twice outside of his home province. He had a fight scheduled at Cowboys Casino,  but Mother Nature had other ideas. Over 100,000 people were displaced in what was, at the time, the costliest disaster in Canadian history. 

"I remember I was in an Epsom salt bath just hearing the rain pour, and I was like, it hasn't stopped raining in two days,” said Claggett. “Me being a fighter, I was still trying to get my workout in. We were up in high ground, where we were training at the time was at high altitude I guess, it was up on a hill, so I was still training, I was still doing it."

Like many venues and homes across the province, Cowboys was flooded, and with it, another much-needed payday for Claggett washed away too, even while he was trudging through over 18 inches of rainfall in 48 hours trying to shed the final few pounds for his bout. Instead, he watched as the Canadian Armed Forces helped repair the city of Calgary, and waited another three months until he could take a fight in Edmonton. 

That level of dedication can only form in—and is necessary for—someone who has given themselves no Plan B. While Claggett’s career revival is an outlier, his origin story that bred this level of dogged commitment feels quite familiar. As it has for many fighters, boxing provided a refuge from trouble in the streets. In 2007, Claggett encountered the binary proposition many fighters have described over the years, the moment when he could either commit to the sport or continue racing down an increasingly perilous path. 

At the age of 18, Claggett was sleeping on a friend’s couch, in the midst of a rowdy week of street fighting and petty crime during Calgary’s notorious Stampede week. The city is at its liveliest, tourists descend upon the city, but opportunities for misbehaviour in any capacity are also at their most abundant, and Claggett and his friends were there to take part. 

"I was at my friend's place, I was 18, about to turn 19, it was June. I had been a problem child, I had left my parents' house because my Dad told me 'if you continue to get in this trouble, leave and don't come back.' I think I got arrested for fighting a couple times...that week. It wasn't good," said Claggett. "I remember sitting on the balcony with my friend, and I was like, I got arrested last night. I looked at my friend and I said, maybe I should put everything into my boxing. I was like, if I keep going down this path, life is going to shut me down. I don't know what's coming, but something's coming. My friend was having a smoke, took a drag and was like, 'you should go pro."

Those four words, delivered mid-exhale of smoke, were the affirmation Claggett needed. As a successful amateur in the Alberta provincial system and the most recent winner of his weight classes’ Golden Gloves, he’d already had an inquiry from local promoter Milan Lubovac, who’d told him if he was interested, he would give him a place on an upcoming card in Edmonton. Still in need of a stable place to live, Claggett moved into the back room of the Teofista Boxing Stables, literally living in the gym. When he would wake up in the morning, while he was still yawning and picking crust out of his eyes, he was already in the gym shadowboxing, alone.

"It was silent. I spent a lot of time in complete silence, working on the craft because it was something I loved to do. It was just me in there a lot of the time in the gyms. I worked on it and I worked on it, and I think that my obsessive mind combined with the fact that there was nobody else in there is just how I did things, I just reviewed it again and again, and I found the intellectual approach that works for me,” said Claggett. "It's a lonely game, as they say, and I can attest to that. I had some years where things got really lonely. But I'm happy now, because I went through the details so much. I found a way to make it work for me."

That DIY attitude propelled Claggett throughout his career, often out of necessity. He bounced between gyms, trainers, and brief stints with different promoters. Claggett leaned into his affinity for reading and writing, his shelves at home lined with books, his drawers filled with journals. Presently, Claggett is re-reading Relentless by Tim Grover and The Magic Ladder To Success by Napoleon Hill. At times earlier in his career, when the Calgary boxing scene wasn’t quite as fruitful as it is now, Claggett’s hometown sparring partners were primarily the personal training clients he taught the sport to, working them up to a level at which they were capable of lightly sparring him. 

But even Claggett, a self-described “loner” understood that the solo mission could only carry him so far. His breaking point came after a 2021 split decision loss to Mathieu Germain, whom he’d fought to a draw with in 2019 as well. Claggett, who primarily trained for the second bout without a coach at all, couldn’t understand how, despite being in peak physical condition and enjoying an advantage athletically that he couldn’t quite beat Germain. So, he went directly to the source, Germain’s trainer Mike Moffa. 

Rather than retreat to the solitude he’d become accustomed to, Claggett admits he decided it was time to be vulnerable as a man and as an athlete. Moffa had offered to train him, or, if their partnership didn’t work out, would help him find a trainer in Montreal who would work with him. Claggett packed his bags and headed to a province where he didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the geography of the city, and didn’t know what weaknesses he would find out about himself. 

"It was a really really, hard pill to swallow. He beat me with strategy, because I felt like I was in great shape, but in the fight, he was clinching, he was turning me a certain way. He didn't beat me with muscle, he beat me with strategy. I was like, Mike, show me what you did, show me how you beat me. I wanted to improve. It's not about your ego, it's about the journey. I had to put my ego aside to learn and to take a step up,” said Claggett. "If they knew how to beat me, they knew what I had to work on. So that was really my deciding factor of why to come out here, and now that I have, it turns out we're a better team than we were enemies, because we're creating magic in the boxing ring. I'm glad I swallowed my pride and finally did it."

With Moffa, Claggett has rattled off seven consecutive victories, six of them by knockout. Back home in Calgary, the talent at his home Olympus Boxing Gym has multiplied, and in Montreal where he now holds camp, Claggett is surrounded by a bevy of world-class talent on a regular basis. 

Now, when he opens his journal at night, Claggett has an entirely different ending to his story to write, one he couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.