The fight of his life: How an Ojibway man stepped into the boxing ring to overcome his past

Paul Machimity didn’t see the white towel.

Machimity, 49, was exchanging blows with Mike Kaupinen, from the House of Five boxing club in Niagara Falls, Ont., when Kaupinen’s coach threw in the towel, conceding the fight. It dropped near Machimity’s feet.

It was the last fight of the Friday afternoon card at Boxing Ontario’s Silver Gloves tournament in Toronto and Machimity’s first. He’d been training for over a year with the Leading Edge boxing club in Thunder Bay for this day. 

Machimity started boxing to heal the trauma of his childhood on the edges of the bush in northwestern Ontario. 

“I wanted to run and hide in a way, but I had nowhere to run to and you have to stand up and face up to your fears,” said Machimity, shortly after the fight.

“I had a lot of fears, a lot of mental putdowns throughout my life growing up.”

Paul Machimity faces off against his first opponent, Mike Kaupinen from the House of Five boxing club in Niagara Falls, during a boxing tournament in Toronto on Oct. 4. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Machimity was born on Jan. 3, 1970, in Sioux Lookout, Ont. His mother was from Osnaburgh, Ont., which is now known as Mishkeegogamang First Nation, and his father was from Lac Seul First Nation.

“Basically, the most I remember is being in Savant Lake, with my mother, and in Osnaburgh, when I was growing up… basically moving around in tents,” he said.

“If someone was coming, or if we heard a vehicle coming, we’d have to hide.”

Looking back now, he believes his mother was afraid he’d be taken to residential school. In his early childhood he was always on the move, even hopping freight trains with his mother to Sioux Lookout and Red Lake, said Machimity. 

“We were just running,” he said.

But he didn’t run in the boxing ring.

When the bell rang for his Friday afternoon fight, he fought back. Wearing blue, he bobbed and weaved, moving his feet, taking punches and responding in kind. 

By the second round, he took control, landing devastating blows that bloodied his opponent’s nose, until Kaupinen’s coach, in the red corner, threw in the towel.

“I didn’t know what was going on until I stepped on the towel. I didn’t really click in right away,” he said. 

He had won his first-ever fight, boxing in the heavyweight masters category.

Paul Machimity turns to boxing for healing 2:33

By the time Machimity was five, his father had built a small shack in Savant Lake, a small village off Hwy 599. 

It was here that Machimity witnessed one of the most traumatic moments of his life. He was home one day when a man, a relative, entered the shack and raped his mother, Clara Machimity.

Machimity said she told his father, Gilbert Machimity, who left the shack and came back, calling her a liar and then beat her. 

“I remember just sitting there, with her, just sitting with her, and she wasn’t moving,” he said.

Both his parents have died. But the relative is still alive, he said.

A turbulent life

Machimity never finished school. When he was about 16 he remembers driving with his mother on Hwy 599, which runs to Pickle Lake, when she stopped the car by a bridge, got out and stood at the edge staring at the water.

When she returned to the car after what seemed like an eternity, they started driving again and Clara told him she had thought about jumping.

Eventually, Machimity entered a mine training program but that came to an end one day after his father showed up drunk in the parking lot of a gold mine near Pickle Lake.

“They came and got me when I was underground and said my father was outside and they told me to get rid of him,” he said. 

Machimity said he couldn’t let his father drive away alone, but his boss told him that if he left, he’d be fired.

“They told me not to come back,” said Machimity. 

“So I drove my father and made sure he got to where he was going.”

Paul Machimity won his first fight against Kaupinen. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

He ended up sinking into the drug scene that ranged from Pickle Lake to Sioux Lookout, tracking down debtors and overseeing street-level dealing. 

However, things started to change when his first daughter was born premature in a Winnipeg hospital. 

“When I saw her in the incubator, for some reason, I knew everything had to change,” he said. 

He started working as a paid informant for the Ontario Provincial Police and his tips led to a couple of busts. 

He lost custody of his daughter but he continues to fight the decision and has a court hearing on the issue scheduled for December. 

Michimity then had a son who he is now raising. His son is now eight.

“A lot of my path, I don’t want for my son,” said Machimity. 

Boxing as therapy

Machimity took up boxing, at the suggestion of a counsellor in Thunder Bay, as part of his therapy to deal with his trauma and alcohol addiction. He said boxing helped him channel his anger and frustration, developing focus and discipline. 

“Boxing is teaching me to take a stand in my life, being able to push back,” said Machimity. 

“It’s helped me, instead of turning to the old ways, it was an outlet … to get my aggression and anger out over my traumatic history that I went through when I was younger.”

Matt Richer, who owns Leading Edge and coaches Machimity, said it’s not uncommon for someone to pick up boxing later in life. He said Machimity grew to embrace the “science” of boxing the more he came in to train. 

“I call him the iron man. He’s tough as nails, he’s made of rock. He hits really really hard. He’s technical, keeps his hands up and he likes to get right into his opponent’s face and let his hands go,” said Richer. 

“He has made some fantastic life changes. I am really proud of him and I want to support him as much as I can.”

Paul Machimity, left, trains with his coach Karl Dahl before his fight. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Yet, that path, and that past, lingers still, for Machimity. 

Shortly before his second fight, the next day, a Saturday, to determine who would win his category, a woman boxer from his club, who had just lost a fight, came over to his area crying. It was a trigger.

“I remembered seeing my mother crying when I was younger and this other stuff that happened to her, getting beat up,” said Machimity.

“I felt heavy-hearted when I went into the ring. I was already dragging my feet.”

Machimity took some heavy blows from his much larger opponent, Dan Eichner, from Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga, Ont. But Machimity hung on and made it to the end of the round.

Machimity said it took all his willpower to leave his corner for the second round, but he plunged ahead, across the canvas. 

Paul Machimity said the boxing tournament ushered in a new phase in his life. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Eichner’s blows kept coming, staggering Machimity into the corner at one point. 

Yet Machimity kept coming. Mid-round, he took three successive rights to the side of his head. 

“I guess it was that last hit that did it to me, it felt like my father hitting me, and I was like, not anymore,” he said. 

“I had that moment right then and there, I was able to stand a little taller.”

The referee jumped in to stop the fight because of the hits Machimity was taking.

“Even though I lost, I won,” said Machimity. 

The punches, the blood and the sweat of his two days of tournament fighting ushered in what Machiity said felt like a new phase in his life.

“When I got back here to Thunder Bay, nothing seemed the same, everything is clearer,” he said. 

“It’s like I took my past to Toronto and left it there.”

He is now training for his next bout at a tournament in January, likely in the Toronto area.