Monday, November 23rd was a busy night in New Glasgow. Toy Tiger, the story of Stellartons Art Hafey during the 1970s West Coast Featherweight Wars, had its first showing at the Empire Studio 7 Theatre. With the parking lot packed to capacity and spilling over into the Central Supplies lot, one would think that Hollywoods latest, greatest blockbuster had just hit the town. As soon as you entered the parking area for Studio 7 it became obvious that the event was going to be a huge success. What was originally supposed to be one screen at the theatre quickly became two sold out screens as people from across Atlantic Canada, with an estimated 700 in attendance, turned out for the premier event. Over 400 lucky individuals had the opportunity to see Toy Tiger the first evening, but the demand was so great that people had to be turned away as the theatre filled to capacity. With 200+ who were turned away at the sold out screening the first night, Studio 7 courteously made special arrangements to have a showing the following evening in place of their regular scheduled movie. The second evening was as big a hit as the first, and it seems a third screening could be likely for December. Toy Tiger is the dream of Brad Little come to life. A long time boxing enthusiast, Brad began watching and filming any fights he could catch at around age 10. By the time he was 18 boxing had began to take a back seat to other interests in life, however it was to be a brief brake at best. In the mid 90s a friend of Brad contacted him about a chance discovery, a collection of old boxing matches on VHS tapes. One of the fighters was Danny Little Red Lopez, one of the great contenders during the West Coast Featherweight Wars. This was a very exciting time in boxing, with so many great fighters competing in the same weight class at the same time and drew Brads attention to the fighters of the era. Brad, who was born in Halifax, couldnt help but notice a fighter from Atlantic Canada was mentioned over and over. That fighter was Art Hafey.
As Brad continued his research into the Featherweight Wars, it soon became clear that the storey needed to be told. Arts storey in particular was of interest. What I slowly came to realize during my initial trip to Nova Scotia was that his storey was far richer and more complicated then a 30-minute piece could accommodateIt was at this point that I considered making the film that I had long desired. During the research for the film, it became very apparent that Art was truly loved by the fighters and fans in L.A. and Central America. He was known for his polite demeanour and his professional approach to his sport, working hard in and out of the ring. The Latin community especially, fans and fighters alike, took a liking to Art. The respect Art earned as a boxer still holds true to this day. Gyms literally stopped when Art and Brad visited during the creation of this documentary. One can clearly get a sense of this respect during the interviews given by fellow fighters from Arts era. In the time that followed I made four trips to California and one more trip to the East Coast for the purpose of archiving, researching and conducting interviewsLos Angeles Photographer Theo Ehret granted me exclusive access to one of the worlds greatest boxing image achieves. The access granted by Art and his peers allowed me to take a look at boxing from the inside, relying not on boxing historians, but on observations by fighters, trainers, managers, promoters and other people present during Arts brief, meteoric career. Art is without a doubt the best Canadian fighter of the last 70 years, look over his accomplishments. He knocked out the best fighter in Mexican history, ended the career of the #1 featherweight contender in the division, held #1 ranking in the world for over a year, fought the best of the era, and is considered one of the hardest punchers of all time. Art came home with very little money, and disappointed by a career ended by corruption. While he held the #1 ranking in the world for over a year, he was never given his chance to fight for the title. Numerous fighters who did hold the title lost to Art Hafey on their rise. Art paid a heavy price for his career, having suffered a brain haemorrhage in 75/76 and losing a significant portion of his eye sight. His return home was not met with celebration and fan-fare, as the Canadian media was more or less oblivious to Arts career in L.A. The premier in Northern Hollywood was like a reunion of old friends, with many of the fighters Art competed with present at the showing. The energy could be seen in the crowd as fighters shadow boxed when they appeared on the film and much teasing about the clothes and haircuts of the day. As for the showing here in New Glasgow, Art and Brad were very happy with the response from the community. It was amazing to see so many people come out for Arts screening here in New Glasgow. I was also very glad to see the local MLAs out in attendance at the premier, hopefully with all the attention Art is receiving he will be recognized as the great representative of Pictou County that he is. A role model like this only happens once in a generation. The showing also doubled as a benefit for former Canadian Lightweight Champion Barry Sponagle, who lost his home to fire last year. It was obvious to us that this event would be connected to Barry as well. Besides Barry, other famous boxers from Arts era such as Jackie Burke, Golden Boy of St John N.B. (Canadian Bantam Weight Champion for nine years) were in attendance at the premier. The box set of Toy Tiger, featuring the movie as well as a bonus disk with selected fights from Arts career, as well as interviews and fights from other famous east coast fighters, can be purchased online at www.toytigermovie.com [ http://www.toytigermovie.com/ ] or here locally at the Pictou County Sports Report office and the William M Sobey Sports Complex. Please contact Rob at 752-3793, or Sports Report at 755-4937, for details or to pick up your copy.