As his many fans and admirers know, “Irish” Micky Ward had some truly stunning moments during his thrilling, up and down, blood and guts career. Ward will, of course, always be best known for his three epic slugfests/fights for survival with the one and only Arturo Gatti, yet the warrior from Massachusetts gave his sport a number of other memorable slices of ring action; these spread generously throughout his 18-year professional career.
One of Ward’s most impressive, indeed, most jaw-dropping moments came on this day in April back in 1997. What Ward did in his losing fight with unbeaten Mexican 140 pounder Alfonso Sanchez could, in fact, be pointed to as an epic mouth-shutting moment.
31-year-old Ward was the heavy underdog going in with the unbeaten Sanchez, who was both big for the weight and a big puncher, with 16 pro wins, all but one of them coming via the short route. The fight opened the Oscar De La Hoya-Pernell Whitaker card and went out on HBO.
Ward, having picked up seven losses since going pro (at one point, Ward lost four on the spin), had amassed eight straight wins since returning from a spell away from the ring; Ward working road construction (as depicted in the great movie of his life, “The Fighter.”)
Still, Sanchez, a good deal younger at 25, was looking to add a good name to his record, and he was widely expected to defeat Ward, perhaps by KO. How little so many knew about the toughness and grit of Ward back then. Ward, who had seen a big fight with Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez fall through due to a Chavez injury, didn’t begin the Sanchez fight by fighting with his customary aggressive approach.
And, boy, did HBO’s finest, Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley, lay into him for this.
Watching the fight now, via YouTube, the sheer disrespect two experienced commentators who should have known better were guilty of really is quite something. Ward was boxing smart. Yes, he was losing – in fact, every completed round went Sanchez’ way, and Micky went down from an uppercut in the 5th – but did Ward really deserve this:
“Isn’t the Boston Marathon coming up soon? As I watch Ward, I keep thinking of running and stuff.”
“If Chavez is watching, he might be wondering why in the world he backed out of a fight with Micky Ward because of an injury. He could have beaten him with only one hand.”
“If anything interesting happens, we’ll let you know.”
And, perhaps worst of all, “Ward is urging him [Sanchez] on as if to say, ‘Please, please put me out of my misery.”
Ward was, according to Merchant and Lampley, fighting one of the worst, most inept fights any world-class fighter could fight. Thankfully, adding more accurate insight into the fight, Roy Jones Jr was also calling the fight; Jones noting some of the success Ward was having. Not that Ward was doing well in the fight, far from it. He was behind, and fans watching might have been led to believe Ward really was ready to call it a career. Instead, Ward was just getting going.
In the seventh round, it happened.
Ward, knowing full well he was behind, scored with a little shot to the head before he planted himself and threw a savage shot to Sanchez’s liver. Sanchez fell as if shot, to be counted out. Ward has scored one of the most amazing turnarounds in recent boxing history; his out of the fire KO win all the more impressive as it silenced his two vocal critics.
Ward, a fighting man who was blessed with a truly special chin and was as adept at landing a crippling body shot as any fighter you could care to mention (Chavez, if he had indeed been watching the Ward-Sanchez fight, would have approved of Ward’s body shot fight ender), had turned both the fight and his career around.
Sanchez’s career never recovered. Ward’s never to be forgotten classics with Gatti were still five years away.