Who’s The Boss?
Laying eyes on Steve Bossé, you quickly deduce how the man makes a living. Though flattened, his deviated nose points to a single conclusion. He’s a fighter. Pounding the tar out of opponents is his trade. Ask him, and he’ll gladly tell you – it’s also a job he loves.
This Friday, he will headline the Instinct MMA event near Montreal against UFC veteran Houston ‘the Assassin’ Alexander. For Bossé, it’s a reunion of sorts with Stéphane Patry, the promoter who first brought him into the sport. As he gears up for war, the heavy-handed 8-1 Light-Heavyweight sounds a familiar note. “I’m anxious to test his chin.”
The comeback this weekend isn’t the only thing that’s got the 30 year-old feeling impatient though. After an accelerated start, his career has of late been stalling. A perfect storm of promotional failures, injury, and licensing issues have added up to only a single in-cage appearance over the past sixteen months, despite being in continual training camp mode. “It’s a huge disappointment,” he says.
Continually being ready for battle is something Bossé has been doing for a long time now. When he debuted in MMA at age 24, he was no stranger to knocking people out. “I signed a professional hockey contract when I turned 21,” he says. “That’s when I really started making my living as a fighter.”
As an enforcer for a Quebec minor league team, the ‘Boss’ averaged over seven penalty minutes a game over four seasons. The chance to see a muscular six-foot goon recklessly throwing down gloves once or twice a night quickly became a popular draw. Seeing this endless hunger to entertain through violence, a light bulb went off in a friend’s head – Bossé would be perfect for MMA. By chance, this same friend also knew Stéphane Patry, then president of the TKO organization.
When Patry dropped in to catch a game in early 2007, Bossé did not disappoint. “I scored one of the biggest knockouts of my hockey career that night,” he says. “Right after the game, Stéphane came in to my locker room and offered me a fight for that June.”
The event would be TKO 29, and Patry, sensing the potential for cross-over appeal from hockey, promoted Bossé directly to the main card. It was not something Bossé took too seriously. “I figured fighting at the Bell Centre would be an interesting experience I could tell my kids about some day.”
Lacking the full skill set of a real mixed martial artist, Bossé instead relied on what he already knew. “I’d dropped my gloves 224 times in hockey, so I had experience dealing with the pressure of showing up and delivering,” says Bossé. And deliver he did, earning a first round stoppage. His success changed his mind. He chose to dedicate himself to the new challenge, gradually leaving hockey, with its endless nasal and hand fractures, behind.
With his former popularity carrying over to MMA, Bossé quickly became one of TKO’s biggest draws – headlining in only his third fight. The rapid rise did not go unnoticed by other fighters. “Some of the guys had been training for years,” he says. “I came out of another sport, and I already had a ton of sponsors. It did create some tension.”
At TKO 31, the promotion’s best selling event to date, Bossé suffered his first loss when Icho Larenas finished him by ground-and-pound. “After that, I realized I had to train my ground game more seriously.”
He bounced back in 2008, winning at TKO 34 and 35. Things were going well for Bossé, with five stoppages in his first six fights. As the year came to an end, the TKO organization closed down. Soon, a new opportunity popped up.
“Patry told me he was starting something new,” Bossé says. Strikebox, a stand-up only promotion, booked him against his biggest name opponent yet. Gargantuan British Heavyweight James Thompson, last seen losing to Kimbo Slice in the most viewed MMA fight in history, was a chance for Bossé to increase his international profile.
But it wasn’t to be. Thompson took Bossé down to the ground in the first round, going against a backstage agreement to keep the fight standing. A near riot ensued in the crowd, resulting in a No Contest. Though Thompson pleaded ignorance, Bossé insists he was not being truthful. “We were all there for the rules meeting. I can guarantee he knew about it.” Strikebox quickly folded, leaving Bossé without a home promotion.
Moving back into the MMA market, Bossé saw the sport was losing ground in Quebec without TKO. “I landed in other promotions, fighting in smaller arenas in front of less people,” he recalls. “It was like going from pro to semi-pro, like a step down. With each fight, it got less exciting.”
A contract signed with Bellator for a planned Montreal card fell through when the event was cancelled. Bossé instead fought twice for the then new Ringside MMA promotion in 2009, pounding out stoppages both times. Displaying improved wrestling defence, he followed up with the first decision win of his career against UFC veteran Marvin Eastman in the MFL, another locally-based promotion.
Though his lack of visibility was slowing down his quest to make it to the UFC, things got worse when he applied to renew his fighter license in 2010. The Regie des Alcools, Courses, et Jeux took issue with some of his TKO-era sponsors, who had since been linked to organized crime.
The move caught Bossé by surprise and he denies having been aware of any nefarious connections. “Me and a lot of fighters had those companies as sponsors,” he explains. “One of them had sponsored a reality TV show in Quebec. Who would have thought they were owned by criminals?”
With his new manager Gary Chartrand, Bossé convinced the Regie that he would find new sponsors. His license was reinstated and he signed with Warrior-1 MMA, another promotion putting on shows in Quebec.
“W-1 was my biggest contract in terms of money and length,” says Bossé. In his last fight to date, he brutalized his way to another finish in June 2010. “I signed for three fights and never got put onto a second card. In September, they pushed it back to October, in October they went to Halifax instead. When they came back in December, they went bankrupt.”
Ringside MMA announced his return for Ringside 10 that April against Roger Hollet, but an injury to his ribs suffered six weeks out from the fight forced him off the card.
Bossé’s relationship with the organization fell apart soon after when he and his manager declined to take part in June’s Ringside 11 event in Quebec City, citing it as less profitable than a Montreal fight. Ringside brought in former Canadiens enforcer Donald Brashear to replace him.
Soon after, Chartrand attempted to promote a new show around Bossé, with Seth Petruzelli, another man who’d made his name off Kimbo Slice, as an opponent. The event was cancelled a week before it was set to take place, prompted by a collapsed fight card. By that point, a year had elapsed since Bossé’s last bout.
Despite his manager’s promotional failure, Bossé refuses to be critical. “We’re a team,” he says. “If he says turn left, we’ll go left. When it didn’t work out, we both failed. But we picked ourselves up.” Something needed to change. “Career-wise, I wasn’t moving forward.”
With dwindling options in Quebec, Bossé and his manager considered taking fights in Western Canada or the US, but something came up first. After clearing his mind with a short trip to Thailand, Bossé saw a familiar name had left him a message during his absence.
Patry was planning a comeback, and he wanted Bossé to headline his card. “I trust Stéphane and his promotional skills,” says Bossé. “Without hesitating, I said ‘if you’re back, then I’m there with you.’” He hopes it will be like old times. “Everyone I see on the street tells me their anxious to see me in the cage again. People are nostalgic for the TKO era.”
Finally having a concrete fight on the horizon, Bossé has continued to step up his training. Basing himself out of Tristar for the last two years, he now works with Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu coaches. He realizes the importance of continually improving his ground game as he faces what he hopes will be increasingly high-level opponents like Houston Alexander.
“I’m a complete fighter now, and I want to use all my weapons,” says Bossé, who insists punching power will not be his only advantage over Alexander on October 7th. Still, his desire to entertain means that may not be the case. “My priority is to put on a good fight. People like seeing me get spectacular KOs.”
“I’ve seen him during his peak performances, but if you look at my last fight, I’m already nothing like that,” he says. That’s not all. “On a mental level, the guy is at the end of his career. He’s fighting for money. Me? I’m hungry. I want to get to the UFC. With three good fights a year in Instinct, make no mistake, I’ll get my shot.”
** Eric Gaudreault photos courtesy of godro.biz