Montreal·Absolutely Quebec

Clay vs. Clay: One boxer's toughest opponent is himself

This documentary tells the story of Clay Peters, a 33-year-old addict struggling to regain sobriety as he pursues his dream of winning a world heavyweight boxing title.

First-time filmmaker captures boxing hopeful's epic journey

Clay "Big Thunder" Peters was a 300-pound homeless drug addict when he crossed paths with filmmaker Elias Varoutsos. (Courtesy Redhead Productions)

Personal redemption motivates many, that inner voice pushing us to take the next difficult step in life. But rarely does it make as much noise or create as much mayhem as it does with Clay "Big Thunder" Peters, the charismatic subject of Montreal filmmaker Elias Varoutsos' debut documentary, Clay vs. Clay.

Filmmaker Elias Varoutsos followed Peters' journey over a span of eight years. (Courtesy Redhead Productions)

The film follows 33-year old Peters, who hitchhikes from Vancouver to Montreal with the goal of becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion.

While Peters started out as an amateur boxing contender at the age of 17, the documentary begins by showing him as a 136-kilogram (300-pound) homeless man addicted to cocaine and alcohol.

He nonetheless persuades world-renowned boxing coach Russ Anber to train him.

He also persuades Varoutsos — then a young Montreal filmmaker — to follow his journey.

Canadian Boxer David Lemieux was still a promising young boxer when he trained alongside Clay Peters. (Seth Wenig/The Canadian Press/AP)

That scary-looking guy

That journey took eight years.

"He was in the stairwell of my apartment building, and I just thought, 'Who is this scary-looking guy?''' Varoutsos said of his first encounter with Peters.

Peters told Varoutsos about his boxing aspirations. He then uttered the five most intriguing words one can say to a young film student: "Maybe you'll be my videographer someday."

At that point Varoutsos realized he had more than an intriguing character in front of him; he had an archetypal comeback story on his hands. 

A still from Clay vs. Clay, which airs Saturday. (Courtesy Redhead Productions)

Cathartic storytelling 

During the early days of shooting, Varoutsos noticed that Peters could be inspirational to those around him. Peters' big-brotherly support of a young hopeful by the name of David Lemieux, now a world-boxing champion, reveals his generous and sensitive nature.

While the story changed dramatically throughout the long filming process, Varoutsos and Peters developed a bond. 

"He became my friend," said Varoutsos, adding that it was "cathartic" to be able to tell his friend's story. 

Clay vs. Clay airs Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. as part of the Absolutely Quebec series.

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