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The Underdog

04/06/2018

Thirty-year-old Brandon “The Cannon” Berry of The Forks is Looking for One More Big Win

By Scott Sell

The Underdog first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Spring 2018. 

In Maine’s northwest corner, where the Kennebec and Dead Rivers converge, is West Forks. Fifty people year-round and fifty miles from the nearest McDonald’s, there are no schools, churches, or shopping centers. Instead, Berry’s General Store is the de facto community center in an area of northern Somerset County that is known for its natural beauty, but few amenities. 

Three generations and counting, the store serves the greater Forks community and plenty of outdoorsy tourists; it’s one of the more popular whitewater rafting and snowmobiling spots in the state. It has gasoline pumps out front, breakfast sandwiches and cold beer to grab on the way to the river, and a tagging station for hunters. There’s also a glass case in the middle of the store that proudly displays the trophies belonging to thirty-year-old Brandon “The Cannon” Berry, the family’s youngest son and one of the top boxers in Maine. 

Berry’s boxing career—or, at the very least, his fascination with it—began when his older brother, Gordon, started watching Rocky movies and punching a duffel bag full of clothes. Gordon had natural boxing talent and, as a family, they would travel two and a half hours each way for him to train at Joey Gamache’s famed boxing gym in Lewiston. After endless sparring matches at home with Gordon and studying his technique, it wasn’t long before Berry started going down to Lewiston to train himself. At eighteen, he lost miserably in his first amateur fight, in Vermont, with the referee stopping it in the second round.  

“At that point, most guys would say, ‘Well, this isn’t for me,’” Berry says. “I don’t know if it was being in front of a big crowd or the thrill of fighting in a real ring, but I just fell in love with it.” 

He stuck with it and trained hard, often logging several hundreds of miles a week to spar in gyms around New England. He had his first pro fight in the spring of 2013, beginning an eight fight winning streak over the course of a year. 

“Boxing is an obsession more than it is a sport and Brandon is definitely obsessed,” says Portland Boxing Club’s Bob Russo, who has known Berry since his amateur days and has supported him in promoting several shows. “Portland used to be the boxing capital of the world and it’s fighters like him who are helping to bring in the crowds again.”  

A short and compact welterweight, Berry is very fast. In the ring, he comes out of his corner as if spring-loaded and is always bouncing on the balls of his feet.       

“I don’t have a crazy amount of power so I’m really not a huge puncher,” Berry says. “But I still like to be the guy coming forward and I’ll take a few punches to land my own. I like to get out of it knowing I was in a fight, to be able to say, ‘That was great, my body held up to that, the training was worth it.’ I like an action fight.” 

Berry’s current record is eleven wins, two losses, and two draws. 

“That’s a pretty good record, but it’s ups and downs,” Berry says. “Right now, I’m definitely on the down side, trying to get back up.”

His “downs” in the past few years have been staggering. He suffered a labrum tear in his left shoulder during a 2014 fight that healed after surgery, but was reinjured during a later fight and a fall on the ice. 

And on October 1, 2017, just a few hours after celebrating his marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Jillian, he got the news that his best friend, fellow boxer, and co-best man, Joel Bishop, had been killed in a single-car accident on his way home from the wedding.  

“We did everything together,” Berry says. “Starting when we were ten years old, we would talk four or five times a day on the phone. And then as we both got into boxing, we sparred hundreds of rounds together. He was my other half.” 

A few weeks later, Berry fought Eric Palmer of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in memory of his friend. He sold hundreds of tickets and packed the Portland Civic Center, an impassioned crowd shouting “Baby Bull”—Bishop’s nickname—when Berry came out in the fifth round. The fight ended in a draw but, Berry says, Bishop was with him in the ring. 

As big of a blow as his friend’s death was to Berry, it also continues to push him, to inspire him, to want to be a better boxer. But he also considers himself a realist and, at thirty years old, he knows that his career can’t last much longer.

“This is a worn-out expression, but this is sort of my last shot at this,” he says. “I want to win a fight I’m not supposed to. It would be nice to say, ‘There. All those miles, all the gas money, all the cuts and stitches and surgeries, all the meals I missed, this right here is why.’ Who doesn’t love an underdog story?”

And whatever happens with boxing, he can still depend on Berry’s General Store. He’s been working there since he could stand on milk crates to reach the cash register. And if he’s not driving all over New England to train, he puts in a full day with his father, Gordon Sr., stocking shelves, placing orders, and chatting with the regulars. His commute isn’t far: his apartment is right above the store. 

“That’s been my longest dream and goal I ever had, aside from boxing, to own the store,” he says. “As long as the economy allows it to stay open, that’s where I’ll be.” 

Berry has made it a tradition to use John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” as his walk-out song. He says it makes him feel even more connected to Bishop and his family and where he comes from. “A lot of fighters would look at being from the middle of nowhere as a huge disadvantage,” Berry says. “But between having the family store and these communities that come behind you, it’s made it possible for me to have a boxing career.”

 

Scott Sell is a writer and filmmaker living in Rockland. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Island Journal.