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LATER, GATOR: Bodzianowski Had One Leg, & One Big Heart

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Hey, did you hear the one about the one-legged fighter?

Craig “Gator” Bodzianowski, the former cruiserweight who, against all odds, actually did fight much of his professional career with an artificial limb, never really considered the accident that left him an amputee to be a joking matter. But he defused any and all criticism of his desire to continue his boxing career with self-deprecating humor, which was his standard defense against those who would have prevented him from chasing his dream of becoming a world champion.

Bodzianowski, who compiled a 31-4-1 record with 23 victories inside the distance (he was 13-0 with 11 knockouts after the 1984 motorcycle accident that resulted in the loss of his right leg below the knee) – was just 52 when he died in his sleep this past weekend at his suburban Chicago home. Asked in November 1988 why he never filed a lawsuit against the driver of the automobile that crashed into him and left his leg mangled beyond reasonable repair, Bodzianowsk replied, “I can’t go to court. I won’t have a leg to stand on.”

Drum roll, please.

Comments such as those, delivered with a smile and a wink that were noticeably absent when the power-punching brawler stepped inside the ropes, defused much of the controversy that involved a ring comeback that was unprecedented and surprisingly successful. Bodzianowski so overcame his handicap that he became a world-rated cruiserweight, eventually gaining a shot at WBA cruiserweight champion Robert Daniels on July 19, 1990. And although the fact Daniels broke one of Bodzianowski’s ribs in the second round of the bout staged in the Seattle Kingdome, and later closed the challenger’s right eye with a ripping shot that landed flush, it was the never-say-die “Gator” who seemed to be coming on in the later rounds. Daniels retained his title a clear unanimous decision, but Bodzianowski gained even more admirers with his typically gutty performance.

Not that everyone agreed that Bodzianowski, a handsome man who bore a facial resemblance to actor Michael Rooker, should have even been swapping big shots with so accomplished an opponent as Daniels – or with anyone, for that matter.

Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali’s onetime personal physician and later a boxing analyst for NBC Sports, went on television to rip the Illinois commission for granting a license to Bodzianowski to fight again in December 1985, just 19 months after the accident that took his leg.

“If this young man should be severely injured in this sport, where would the commission go hide to avoid the rain of censure falling on its head,” Pacheco told his audience. “The hue and cry, `Ban boxing,’ would be heard throughout the land, and I might be the guy to lead it.”

But the five-member Illinois Athletic Commission, with some reservations, reinstated Bodzianowski’s license after he was examined by what was termed “five or six” doctors who all agreed that he had regained sufficient mobility with his new prosthesis that he could box with no more risk than that involving any fighter. That opinion was seconded by Dr. Louis van de Beek, one of three Pennsylvania Athletic Commission physicians who examined Bodzianowski before he took on Dawud Shaw on Nov. 26, 1988, in Philadelphia.

“The young man’s adaptation to the artificial limb, in terms of agility, in terms of stability and in terms of being sensitive to feeling to the prosthesis, is quite remarkable,” van de Beek said at the time. “There should be no reason he shouldn’t be given medical clearance to fight in Pennsylvania.”

Bodzianowski himself said that, in terms of the way he fought, there wasn’t much difference between his pre- and post-accident self. He was always a straight-ahead, bop-’til-you-drop banger, not some fancy-stepping technician.

“Let’s face it, there’s a little notoriety there,” he said of the curiosity factor attendant to his infirmity. “I know some people come to see me because they regard me as some sort of a freak. But I’ve basically adopted the position that I don’t care what people say as long as they spell my name right. Hey, I was never that graceful when I had two good legs. I sort of shuffled side to side.”

Bodzianowski’s upbringing probably prepared him, better than most, for the monumental test that the accident imposed on his mind and spirit. He had been a commendable 62-5 as an amateur, which should not have come as a surprise when you consider that his father, Pat Bodzianowski, was a former fighter who taught his four sons (and two daughters) the virtues of toughness and self-reliance. How many kids grow up a stone’s throw from Chicago in a residence whose back yard housed a menagerie of baboons, pigeons, goats, chickens, snakes and, yes, even an alligator. Oh, yes, there also were piranhas in the family’s large aquarium in the den.

One of Bodzianowski’s brothers, Billy, died when he accidentally was shot. But the Bodzianowskis banded together even tighter after that tragedy, which helped prepare Craig for the ordeal that defined his remarkable life.

“Courage is a man and a woman,” he said on Jan. 30, 1989, the night he received the Most Courageous Award at the 85th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Awards Dinner. “It’s a marriage, six children, four grandchildren, the death of one son, the loss of a leg to another. To survive that is courage. So I accept this on behalf of my definition of courage. To my mom and dad, Gloria and Pat Bodzianowski.”

The Bodzianowskis were a unique bunch, without question. Although it might be assumed that Craig took his nickname, “Gator,” from the family reptile, the real explanation was even more intriguing. Those Lacoste polo shirts so in favor at the time, the ones with the little alligator (all right, so it actually is supposed to be a crocodile) embroidered on the left side, were too expensive for Pat and Gloria to buy in multiple colors for four sons. So Pat – who became a tattoo artist and taxidermist after he hung up his gloves – inked the iconic symbol on Craig’s chest. Gloria then cut little rectangles out of cheaper Ban-Lon shirts, exposing the tat that became her boxing son’s most singular mark of identification, at least until he was fitted with his prosthesis.

But it wasn’t a nickname or a tattoo that set Craig Bodzianowski apart. It was his steely determination to prove everyone wrong when they said he couldn’t possibly fight again after being so horribly injured.

Only 12 days earlier, Bodzianowski had scored a 10-round, unanimous decision over Francis Sargent. He was operating his Kawasaki 440 at a reasonable speed, 15 mph, when a parked car sudden pulled ahead of him and attempted a U-turn and smashed into him.

What is ironic is that Bodzianowski had intended to sell the motorcycle, because he knew that riding it could be dangerous. In the ring, both fighters have something akin to an even chance, but motorcycle vs. car is akin to Mike Tyson vs. Don Knotts. The guy on the chopper always loses.

“I knew it was bad,” Bodzianowski recalled before his 1988 matchup with Shaw. “I just didn’t know how bad it was.”

It was this bad: four compound fractures below the right knee and numerous broken bones, cuts, scrapes and abrasions. Bodzianowski’s companion, Elizabeth Anderson, walked away with nothing more than a few minor bruises.

Rushed to Olympia Fields (Ill.) Osteopathic Medical Center, Bodzianowski underwent nine hours of surgery in a futile attempt to save his leg.

“I was told by the doctors that if they did save it, and it was by no means a certainty, I’d have to undergo many operations and that I’d have to walk with a cane the rest of my life,” he recalled. “They also said that the leg could be amputated right away and I could be fitted with a prosthesis. In either case, they said I never would be able to box again.”

Bodzianowski elected amputation, even though he was advised that, with an artificial limb, he could expect to regain no more than 70 percent of his previous mobility. He figured that if he worked hard enough during the rehabilitation process, he could get back to 90 or 95 percent of what he had been. And he did just that, in part because of his refusal to quit on himself and in part because of an advance in prosthesis technology that led to something called the “Seattle Foot.”

“Somebody once said, `Anything the mind can conceive and believe, man can achieve,’” Bodzianowski said. “And it’s true. The mind is an amazing thing.

“I never, ever say, `Darn, if I had my real (leg), I could have been on top a long time ago.’ I may have. But I don’t look back on that, ever. Not one time. Because I kick ass the way I am now.”

He kicked enough of it not only to get that Most Courageous Award from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association – an honor which also has been conferred upon, among others, golfer Ben Hogan, former Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rocky Bleier and baseball’s Mickey Mantle and Tommy John – that he became the subject of a book, “Tale of the Gator: The Story of Craig Bodzianowski,” by author Mike Fitzgerald, and a documentary, “On the Ropes.”

There are other inspiring tales of athletes who have physically overcome as much, or nearly so, as Bodzianowski. South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was just 11 months old, yet he went on to compete, on artificial limbs, in the 400 meters and 4×400 meters relay at the 2012 London Olympics. But Pistorius’ feel-good story took an ugly turn when, on Feb. 14 of this year, he was charged with the murder of his girlfriend.

Even in death Bodzianowski continues to be an inspiration to others who face challenges that probably seem insurmountable. He didn’t set out to be a role model in that way, but then we all are faced to play the hand that life deals us.

“When I see other people with problems, I just thank God that I have what I have, that I was so lucky and fortunate,” Bodzianowski, a devout Catholic who had an audience with Pope John Paul II (the boxer and the Pontiff, pictured above) in 1986, said at the Pennsylvania Sports Writers Association Awards Dinner where he was recognized for his courage in overcoming adversity. “There are people with the same injuries as me who can’t really move around all that well. So I’m one of the lucky ones. I look at what I have to work with, and try to put it together the best I can.”

Rest in peace, Gator. Here’s hoping that part of you that was taken here on Earth can be restored on the other side of eternity’s divide.

 

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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Rising Contenders Gor Yeritsyan and Cain Sandoval Stay Unbeaten at Chumash

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Two Southern California-based fighters cracked the top 10 list on Friday in Central California on the 360 Promotions card.

Armenia’s Gor Yeritsyan (18-0, 14 KOs) captured the WBC Continental Americas welterweight title with a steady and persistent attack against defensive-minded Quinton Randall (13-2-1, 3 KOs) of Texas at Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, California.

“This is my first step,” said Yeritsyan (pictured with promoter Tom Loeffler). “Remember my name.”

Yeritsyan was always on attack but had prior knowledge and preparation under trainer Freddie Roach for the counter-punching style of Randall. He pounded away while rarely unleashing more than three-punch combinations. It was effective.

Randall was never over-run by the strong Armenian fighter but he rarely stepped into an offensive mode. That cost him over the 10 rounds and all three judges scored for Yeritsyan who captured the WBC title and will now be ranked in the top 10.

“My opponent was a very good boxer,” Yeritsyan said of Randall.

In a super lightweight match, young firebrand Cain Sandoval (12-0, 11 KOs) met former contender Javier Molina (22-6, 9 KOs) and had his knockout streak snapped, but still won by unanimous decision. The Sacramento fighter now has the WBC Continental Americas super lightweight title.

Molina has never been stopped and showed why over the 10 rounds. In his 15-year career despite facing knockout punchers such as Jesus Ramos Jr., Amir Imam, and Artemio Reyes, none of his losses were via knockout.

Despite a consistent Sandoval battering from the third round on, nothing seemed to penetrate Molina’s defense. But when Sandoval directed his blows to the body it opened up more opportunities and the Sacramento fighter maintained control.

After 10 rounds all three judges scored in favor of Sandoval by unanimous decision, but his knockout streak was stopped. Molina’s streak pf never being knocked out continues.

“I thought I would stop him,” said Sandoval. “I just want to win.”

Other Bouts

Central California’s Jorge Maravillo (9-0, 8 KOs) out-fought Santa Ana’s Jesus Gonzalez (7-2-1) in a six-round super welterweight fight. Maravillo, who is trained by Max Garcia in Salinas, used crisp rights to batter the gritty Gonzalez especially inside.

Maravillo was sharp throughout the fight and though his knockout streak was snapped it took a determined Gonzalez to gut out the fight after being dominated in the fifth round. All three judges scored it 60-54 for Maravillo.

Upland, California’s Daniel “Chuckie” Barrera (5-0-1) floored veteran Jonathan Almacen (7-10-3) twice in the second round with lefts. The end came at 2:35 of the round when Barrera knocked out the Filipino fighter with a left hook in a super flyweight match.

Cuba’s Osvel Caballero (5-0, 4 KOs) was too sharp and too strong for Jason Buenaobra (10-10-3) and won by stoppage at 2:22 of the fourth round in a featherweight fight.

A super bantamweight clash saw Mexico’s Alfredo Castro (10-0, 7 KOs) and Riverside, California’s Ezekiel Flores (4-3) engage in a back-and-forth battle for six rounds. Castro could not miss with the right cross and Flores could not miss with uppercuts. But two knockdowns by Castro proved the difference and he won by unanimous decision after six exciting rounds.

Photo credit: Lina Baker

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Yeritsyan vs Randall at Chumash Casino, Japan and More

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Violence of an organized nature begins in the rustic and peaceful surroundings of Santa Inez, California as welterweights Gor Yeritsyan and Quinton Randall headline a 360 Boxing Promotions card at Chumash Casino on Friday.

Hours later, three world championship fights erupt in Japan. And hours after that, super middleweights tangle in Florida.

All will be streamed.

Undefeated Yeritsyan (17-0, 14 KOs) meets Randall (13-1-1, 3 KOs) for the WBC Continental Americas title on Friday, Feb. 23, at Chumash Casino. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Others on the card include undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval (11-0, 11 KOs) meeting Javier Molina (22-5, 9 KOs) in a battle set for 10 rounds. It’s a stronger test for Sandoval who has blasted out every opponent. Molina is one of the fighting twin brothers who both were Olympians.

Javier was an Olympian in 2008 for the USA and Oscar Molina an Olympian for Mexico in 2012.

“I’ve been hearing about Cain for a while, but I know my skills and experience will give me the victory,” said Molina who fights out of Los Angeles.

Sandoval, 21, last November won by knockout in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Javier is a very good veteran who has had many more fights than me, but he’s never felt my power before,” said Sandoval who fights out of Sacramento.

Chumash Casino is located near one of the old California missions and built by the Spaniards in 1804. You can see open land for miles with the next nearest town of Solvang a short driving distance away.

Over the decades I’ve seen some memorable fights including Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley’s wild victory over Manuel Garnica in 2007 and Seniesa “Super Bad’ Estrada’s pro debut win in 2011 against Maria Ruiz.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Tokyo Hosts Three World Title Fights

It’s a triple-header in Tokyo for real fight lovers.

Early Saturday morning at 1 a.m. (Pacific Time) three world title matches headed by WBC bantamweight titlist Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) of Mexico defending against Japan’s Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) take place.

Santiago defeated legendary champion Nonito Donaire last July in Las Vegas in an upset. He also fought to a draw against Filipino slugger Jerwin Ancajas who is also on this card.

Nakatani is a big hitter and two-division world champion. He is very familiar with Mexican fighters and often trains in Southern California. I saw him in Maywood, California a year ago. He’s quite a fighter.

In the other co-main event WBA bantamweight titlist Takuma Inoue (18-1, 4 KOs) defends against former super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (34-3-2, 23 KOs) of the Philippines. Its speed against power.

A third co-main features WBO super flyweight titlist Kosei Tanaka (19-1, 11 KOs) defending against Mexico’s Christian Bacasegua (22-4-2, 9 KOs).

ESPN+ will stream the card live on Saturday.

Matchroom in Orlando

It’s a showcase for contenders.

Brooklyn native Edgar Berlanga (21-0, 16 KOs) “the Chosen One” meets United Kingdom’s Padraig “the Hammer” McCrory (18-0, 9 KOs) in the super middleweight main event on Saturday, Feb. 24. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card from Orlando, Florida.

Berlanga, of Puerto Rican descent, burst on the pro boxing scene by knocking out 16 consecutive foes. But ever since 2021 he has been unable to win by knockout. Five consecutive opponents went the distance.

Can Berlanga still punch?

Facing the Boricua slugger will be McCrory a 35-year-old from Northern Ireland who remains undefeated. To put it into perspective, the United Kingdom is filled with very good super middleweights and none have beaten McCrory so far.

Also on the card is Cuban Olympic gold medalist Andy Cruz (2-0) defending a regional lightweight title against Mexican southpaw Brayan Zamarripa (14-2, 9 KOs). Cruz has blistering speed and an aggressive style as a pro.

Other interesting fights feature bantamweight prospects Antonio Vargas (17-1) and Jonathan Rodriguez (17-1-1). Both can punch but each lost via knockout. Whose chin will prove sturdier in this clash?

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Gor Yeritsyan (17-0) vs Quinton Randall (13-1-1)

Sat. ESPN+ 1 a.m. Alexandro Santiago (28-3-5) vs Junto Nakatani (26-0).

Sat. DAZN 4 p.m. Edgar Berlanga (21-0) vs Padraig McCrory (18-0).

Photo: Tom Loeffler is flanked by Javier Molina and Cain Sandoval. Photo credit: Lina Baker

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