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

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Ryan Garcia, Canelo’s Protege, Announces Fight With Manny Pacquiao

Kelsey McCarson

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Ryan Garcia has just about everything he needs to become the next Canelo Alvarez, even the champ’s terrific training team led by Mexico’s Eddy Reynoso.

“It’s great, man. They support me. They stay by my side. They believe in me. They know what they see, even Canelo,” Garcia told me before his last fight.

So, it should come to no surprise that the 22-year-old lightweight contender would be attempting to pull off the same kind of trick that led to Alvarez’s first and only loss in the professional ranks, but the same one that probably helped the Mexican more than any other as a learning experience inside a boxing ring.

Just as Alvarez did in securing his 12-round dance with boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. back in 2013, Garcia wants to sign up for the same kind of tango with boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.

“I’ve been boxing my whole life, and I’ve been ready for the biggest fights,” Garcia said.

Lots of fighters say things like that, but almost nobody actually attempts to do it.

Alvarez does.

Now, Garcia does, too.

“Canelo brings me to the side at times out of nowhere and says ‘you’re one of the most talented fighters I’ve ever seen in my life. I just want you to work as hard as I do and you’re going to have the world’,” Garcia said.

On Sunday, Garcia posted via Instagram that his dream fight vs. Pacquiao was a done deal, though it’s important to note no other confirmations of any kind have followed that post.

Additionally, the promotional poster used by the social media superstar in his announcement didn’t look official, and Pacquiao has remained eerily silent about the matter publicly.

Still, Garcia seems to believe his next fight will be against Pacquiao, and it must be a near-enough reality that everyone else involved with the matter has decided to remain silent until everything is sorted out.

“I want to leave a true legacy when I’m done with the game,” Garcia said.

That Garcia even wants to face Pacquiao right now testifies to that truth, and it’s absolutely something worth celebrating.

The undefeated Instagram idol might have over 8.3 million followers for many reasons, but the most notable claim Garcia has to the mantle of being boxing’s next big thing is less about those attributes and more about the talent, skill, and ability he possesses inside a boxing ring.

To put it another way, it’s one thing to be as handsome as Oscar De La Hoya. It’s quite another to actually fight like him.

Case in point, Garcia is coming off the most important win of his career.

Making good on his pre-fight promise to stop Olympic gold medalist and world title challenger Luke Campbell on January 2 was an important rung to take on the ladder to success, and that became especially true after Campbell dumped the prodigy to the canvas in the second round of the fight.

But Garcia weathered that early storm and eventually came back to pull the stoppage win over Campbell five rounds later.

Nobody had done that before. Campbell went 12 full rounds with both Vasyl Lomachenko and Jorge Linares in previous losing efforts against world-class lightweights, so Garcia’s stoppage win was more evidence that he’s legitimately special where it matters most.

After his viral knockout, Garcia was lauded by some of the most notable sports celebrities on the planet. The kid can barely purchase alcohol in all 50 states and his massive fanbase already includes the likes LeBron James, Damian Lillard, and Carlos Correa.

In some ways, that puts Garcia way ahead of Alvarez’s early all-star pace, at least at the level of notoriety.

Say what you want about Garcia’s social media-centric fanbase, the incredible level of fame the American has already achieved was previously only reserved for the likes of specific Olympic gold medal winners with a perfect mix of qualities.

De La Hoya comes to mind again, and that type of talent only comes around once a generation in our sport.

Look, Garcia isn’t ready for Pacquiao.

In fact, one can easily argue that the 23-year-old Alvarez that lost to Mayweather eight years ago was way more prepared for that fight than Garcia is right now for Pacquiao.

And we all know how that one went.

But Garcia’s daring attempt at making such a huge splash at such a young age is a wonder to behold.

A rising superstar like Garcia choosing to go against the conventional wisdom that would otherwise tell him to steer clear of fights he’ll probably lose is a breath of fresh air.

The reason he wants to do things like that is just as great.

“I have a gift. I’m a true talent. I can’t let all that go to waste,” Garcia said.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Fulton Wins Inside War to Win WBO Title and Other Results from Connecticut

David A. Avila

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This time Stephen Fulton passed the Covid-19 test and then out-worked Angelo Leo in a brutal inside war to take the WBO super bantamweight world title by unanimous decision on Saturday.

Philadelphia’s Fulton (19-0, 8 KOs) was supposed to box and move against the body puncher Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas but instead banged his way to victory with an artful display of inside fighting at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

When Leo won the world title during this past summer, he was supposed to fight Fulton, but Fulton showed positive on a Covid-19 test and was forced out of the fight. Not this time. Instead, the Philly fighter would not be denied.

Fulton planted his feet and banged to the body against body shot artist Leo and kept it going toe-to-toe for most of the 12 rounds.

Leo had his moments and was able to start slightly quicker, but by the sixth round it seemed Fulton was the stronger fighter down the stretch.

“He started breathing a little harder,” said Fulton. “I pushed myself to the limit in training.”

It showed.

Fulton took control for the last four rounds and just seemed fresher and more active to win by unanimous decision. Despite fighting primarily inside, the Philly fighter seemed comfortable.

“The game plan was to box at first. But I had to get a little dirty,” Fulton said. “I made it a dog fight.”

All three judges scored it for Fulton: 118-110 and 119-109 twice. TheSweetscience.com scored it 115-113 for Fulton who now holds the WBO super bantamweight world title.

“I’m the only champion Philadelphia has,” said Fulton.

Aleem KOs Pasillas

A battle between undefeated power-hitting super bantamweights saw Ra’eese Aleem (18-0, 12 KOs) knock down East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas (16-1, 9 KOs) multiple times before ending the fight in the 11th round.

“I believe I put an exclamation point in my victory,” said Aleem who trains in Las Vegas but is a native of Michigan.

Aleem showed off his quickness and power in both hands that resulted in knock downs of Pasillas in the second, sixth, ninth and 11th rounds. It seemed that Pasillas never could figure out how to combat the awkward looping blows and quickness of Aleem.

Pasillas had a few moments with his ability to score with counter lefts and right hooks from his southpaw stance. But every time he scored big Aleem would rally back with even more explosive blows.

As Aleem mounted a large lead, Pasillas looked to set up a needed knockout blow but was instead caught with an overhand right to the chin and a finishing left that forced the referee to stop the fight at 1:00 of the 11th round.

Aleem picks up the interim WBA super bantamweight title. It’s basically a title that signifies he is the number one contender.

Lightweights

Rolando Romero (13-0, 11 KOs) floored Avery Sparrow (10-3, 3 KOs) in the first round and then exhibited his boxing skills to win by technical knockout.

It looked like the fight was going to end early when Romero caught Sparrow with a left hook. But Philadelphia’s Sparrow survived the first round and the next few rounds to slow down the attacking Romero. Things settled down but Romero kept winning the rounds.

Sparrow dropped to the floor during an exchange of blows in the sixth round which the referee quickly ruled “no knockdown.” Noticeably in pain Sparrow was under full assault from Romero and resorted to firing low blows. The referee deducted two points from Sparrow for the infraction.

The Philadelphia fighter limped out with a still gimpy knee to compete in the seventh round but within a minute Sparrow’s corner signaled to the referee to stop the fight. The stoppage gave Romero the win by technical knockout at 43 seconds into the round.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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