Ted Sares returns to Bad Left Hook's front page today to discuss Micky Ward before Augustus and Gatti.
* * * * * * * *
When Ward gets someone willing to fight in a phone booth, there is incredible, almost unimaginable action.
Salem, New Hampshire, is about an two hour South from where I live, and I wasn't about to miss the fight between Micky Ward and Reggie Green. I knew one of the fighter's well (having followed him since his amateur days in Lowell, Massachusetts) and smelled an action-packed brawl. Micky Ward is like the old Sara Lee Bakery advertisement to wit: "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee." Well, "nobody doesn't like Micky Ward."
It was high time "Irish" Micky got over the hurdle of beating a world-class contender. In this case, Reggie "Showtime" Green (30-4 coming in) fit the bill. The slick Green, ranked seventh, had whipped Ray Oliveira and lost a razor-thin majority decision to Sharmba Mitchell in a fight just prior to his fight with Ward. He was a crisp and sharp puncher who could hook with the best and wage serious war if it became necessary.
That's not to say Ward was incapable of an upset. After all, he beat promising Louis Veader twice for something called the WBU Intercontinental Light Welterweight Title. He also put Larry Merchant and the rest of the HBO team in shocked silence when he iced the then-undefeated bomber Alfonso Sanchez with his patented left hook to the liver in the seventh round. This was on the April 12, 1997, De La Hoya-Whittaker undercard and exposed Micky to a wider viewing audience, though he already was a big ESPN fan favorite. True, he had been having a bad night, but he did not warrant Merchant's vicious and pointed insults, which said more about Merchant, who clearly had done no research on Ward, than it did about the affable Ward. It is one thing to say Ward is not fighting well, but to imply that Micky Ward lacks courage is downright insane. Irish Micky Ward is all about courage and determination. I will never forgive Merchant for that.
In the end, only fighters know the taste of leather, and only those who have tasted too much know what the horrific results can feel like. All others speculate. Boxing is an activity that is concerned with an assault on the brain, but ironically, it is the only "sport" in which announcers and writers insult the participants on a regular basis.
But enough build up, suffice it to say Ward needed a career-resurrecting fight, and opportunity loomed in Salem. I had my trademark sixty-ring Corona stoked up and was ready for the bell. The referee was competent Norm Vel'ue. Most of the first two rounds were feeling-out ones, with Green taking the clear edge and Ward having trouble fighting from the outside. But then he landed one of his wicked hooks to Green's head, buzzing him, and the fight quickly went from "bout" to "brawl." Now we had begun to enter close quarters. The phone booth beckoned.
Landing an overhand right to Green's head to start round three, Ward, who was superbly conditioned, soon found himself confused by Green's speed and polish. Then it happened. After Ward missed with a right cross, he was hit flush by a perfectly timed left hook that Green seemed to take from Ward's own play book. Staggering back into the ropes, Ward was badly hurt, perhaps more so than at any time in his career up to that point. Not until Gatti parked Ward into the ropes in their second fight have I ever seen Ward in such danger. How he stayed on his feet was a miracle, but somehow he willed himself to stay upright, his rubbery legs all but gone. Going in for the anticipated kill, Green let both hands fly, but, to the amazement and delight of his fans, Ward stayed upright until the bell rang.
Letting Ward off the hook in the next stanza, Green foolishly waited for an opening for one big shot to end matters. In the meantime, Ward somehow got the cobwebs out and recuperated. Remarkably, he then pulled up his trunks and waved Green in and Green obliged. The crowd loved the show of machismo. Green soon found himself in a dog fight, as the pivotal round for Ward ended.
Green continued to hit Ward with punishing jabs, but Ward kept coming in until he could do some inside work with his short, vicious left hooks. But, again stealing a page out of Ward's book, the willing and surprisingly aggressive Green traded hooks and landed better ones, along with sharper counters.
By then, Wards's face was badly bleeding from multiple areas, and this continued through the seventh as he fell behind in the scoring. Showing his ability as an all-around fighter, "Showtime" moved his attack back to the outside, where he could continue to carve up Irish Micky like an Easter ham. It was not pretty to watch, and those of us rooting for Ward (most of the crowd) were stunned into silence by Green's punishing and ceaseless work as he widened his lead going down the stretch.
Going into the eighth, Ward found himself beaten and trailing on all scorecards. His mouth, nose, and eye were now bleeding, and his face was a hideous and bloody mess. He badly needed to pick up the pace and intensity if he was to have a chance and that's just what he did. Simultaneously, Green made a terrible tactical mistake by inexplicitly going back inside with Micky. Hey, the phone booth belongs to Irish Micky Ward, and Green had no business in there with him. While Green had seemingly held his own in the ninth, Ward's inside work had taken a lot out of him, and he was tiring badly. Ward now had the opportunity he was looking for. His fans sensed it as they rose to their feet and began the roaring that accompanies every Ward fight in the Boston area.
The tenth was one for the ages, as a visibly tired but still dangerous Green was stalked by Ward. It was stalk, stun and close time. The beginning of the end came when Green got caught with a jackhammer left hook upstairs. Badly hurt, he staggered into his corner, where Ward literally ran after him and savaged him with a series of left hooks. Somehow, Green escaped from the ropes but was wobbly. Ward again went after him with a furious assault, this time from both hands, including gut-wrenching shots to the body. As the referee moved in to save Green from further injury, and with only twenty seconds remaining in the final round, Ward punctuated matters by nailing Green with a final left hook. The gritty Green hit the canvas. He was finished.
Coming from behind and pulling off a critical win, a bloody Irish Mickey Ward took out the WBA's seventh-ranked junior welterweight contender in the last round of a rousing slugfest in which both fighters could hold their heads high.
Later I was told that Teddy Atlas had said on ESPN that this was what boxing was all about: two warriors giving their all and willing to pay the price to give the fans their money's worth. He went on to pay both quite a tribute for their gusty performances. Writer Ron Borges would also pay both fighters a tribute in a poignant piece he did for the Boston Globe.
Atlas and Borges were there and knew what had transpired that night. Luckily, so was I. We had seen something very special in Salem on October 1, 1999. This was before the Augustus fight and the Gatti trilogy, but I think it may even have been more special.
Here is what Teddy Atlas had to say, as quoted from the 1999 Borges article:
"That truly was fighting,'' Atlas said after Ward stopped Green at 2:40 of the tenth round to keep alive faint hopes of a last title shot. "That was not entertainment. That was not business. That was fighting.
"This is a barbaric thing at the core of it. It ain't always pretty but it's real. Like the mobsters say, that was a real guy up there. When it came down to what a fighter is about, Micky Ward was it. That is what a fight is and you don't see it too often no more.
"It was like the first time your parents took you to the zoo and they said, ‘That there is a lion,' and you look and he roars and you think, ‘Yeah, that's a lion.' Tonight, if you never been there before, that was a fighter.''
Borges closed his remarkable article with these words:
"The Fighter had won. His career was alive. But the pain was there, too, and it would not go away as fast as the small money he'd earned enduring it.
"You're remarkable!'' screamed Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee, who had worked another fighter's corner earlier in the evening. "That was magnificent!
"A few minutes later, Dundee left for an Italian restaurant to dine with friends. Ward left for a hospital with his brother.
"Eventually, even the Fighter has to leave the arena and go to a hospital. Pain waits for him there just as it was waiting for Green when he got back to his hotel room.
"The pain would be there long after the fans and most of the money had disappeared, but they can live with that. It was a choice they made long ago, the first time they chose to do what few people can. To be lions for an evening."
In his next fight, another barnstormer, Ward destroyed game Shea Neary in England for the WBU Light Welterweight Title and finally rid himself of contender status, positioning himself for the thrilling series of fights with Gatti that would mark the end of his remarkable career. All in all, he earned Fight of the Year honors three times, putting him in rarified company.
Among boxing fans throughout the world, his name would become synonymous with old school and throwback. But before he became famous, I knew all about him. I had seen him fight a number of armature bouts in Lowell, MA. Just as much as what happened to Dave Tiberi made me feel ashamed about boxing, Irish Micky Ward's work in the ring and behavior outside of it restored my faith.
1. Borges, Ron, "WARD A WARRIOR IN WIN." Boston Globe, October 3, 1999.