The Boxing Canon is a ten chapter series that will review the Fights of the Year as defined by Ring Magazine from the year 2000 to 2009.
In this chapter, we revisit the FOY for 2001: "Irish" Micky Ward vs Emanuel Burton.
This fight took place on July 13, 2001 in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. A ten round affair in the Junior Welterweight (140 pounds) division, proved that boxing classics can emerge at any time, at any place, between any two fighters, even under serendipitous circumstances.
As I watched this fight, an analogy came to mind that likened fighters such as Ward and Burton to your favorite garage rock band. The perennial contenders, the continuous journeymen, not meant for the grandest of stages, never to be taken for virtuosos of their craft. And yet, they manage to draw the faithful, time and again, and capture their imaginations as they see their blood-and-guts legacy cemented by being discovered by future generations. Why?
Two reasons: they love what they do, and they know their audiences love to see them do it.
On that night Micky Ward and Emanuel Burton came to fight. Nothing more, nothing less.
Ward arrived with a record of 36-10 and Burton's was 24-17. No title on the line, no previous major titles held by either. The fight originally aired on ESPN 2 's Friday Night Fights. Micky was on the comeback trail, he had just scored an impressive round-one body-punch knockout of Steve Quinonez after having been defeated by Antonio Diaz by unanimous decision.
Emanuel Burton, on the other hand, came into the fight with only a two-week notice. He had lost two of his previous five fights, including one by TKO in 9 rounds to a guy called Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But none of this would matter as the opening bell rang.
Calling this bout blow-by-blow would be as futile as trying to count the shots fired on D-Day.
Talk of a clash of styles is pretty much unnecessary too, since both fighters spent almost the whole duration of the bout toe-to-toe. A large part of that ring was nothing but wasted realty space that night.
As round one began, it was Ward that came out swinging. His punches were definitely the ones that carried more power. Burton looked the part of the boxer only because he had the hand speed, but he wasn't interested in moving around and actually boxing too much. Maybe he was trying to show he was able to take Ward's punches, who was regarded and feared as a powerful body puncher.
As sizzling as the action was in the first few rounds, the fight actually got better as it moved into the final ones. In the beginning, it was Ward who dominated. His punches seemed harder, and he certainly threw more than Burton throughout the first half of the fight.
In round two, Burton shows off his hand speed, throwing quick, multi-punch combinations on the backfoot and also going forward. But Micky is like a Panzer, always going forward, hardly ever taking a step back, all the while throwing punches, and absorbing punishment.
Throughout the fight, Micky would go to Burton's body, again and again, with those hard hooks, with which he occasionally targeted Emanuel's head as well. But Burton showed tremendous conditioning, sporadically playing the boxer, and then deciding to try and beat Ward in his own game of inside fighting.
By round three, a little blood was already streaming down Ward's nose. This, combined with the relentless pace of the fight made him begin to breath through the mouth. Burton even showboated a little in round three. But the attitude displayed by each guy is very different, Ward's face shows serious determination, Burton's shows a smile, and genuine enjoyment.
As round three ends, a furious exchange marks a new high for the fight, and sets the pace for the rest of the night. Even the ref gets a little taste of it when he breaks the fighters up as the bell rings.
Burton steps it up in round four. His uppercut makes a much needed appearance. But Micky is unimpressed. It's business as usual for him, as he lands the harder punches. It is evident Micky believes defense in boxing is a waste of valuable time and energy, as he prefers to take punches as long as it lets him stay close enough to his opponent to keep dishing it. Burton probably wins the round as he continuously lands his right hooks on Micky's increasingly reddened face.
By round five, Micky begins to fade just a little, which increases Emanuel's confidence. The first minute of round five is an onslaught of punches on Ward that batter his head from right to left and back again over and over. But the second half of the round sees Micky put on the kind of comeback that puts Balboa to shame, with one wild punch after another landing on Burton. He makes Emanuel back off, driving him to the ropes as half a minute remains, and then Burton wobbles a bit, as he helplessly takes a hard right hand flush on the face.
Teddy Atlas sums it up nicely as round five, and the first half of the fight, ends: "We're not in Manila but this is the Thrilla in Hampton Beach. This is unbelievable!"
As the fighters take their much deserved one-minute break, the ESPN camera catches a glimpse of the lady who at the time was Ward's fiancée. Given her relation to a guy who just got punched 57 times in the last three minutes (114 times counting round four as well), you would expect her to show some serious concern. But the look on her face is more like mild expectation, the way most people look when they're in line at the movies about to buy a ticket to the new Martin Scorsese.
This fight was just too good to not be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, including fighers' fiancées.
Round six starts, and I can't say enough about Burton's endurance. Even as Micky connects all kinds of hard punches on his body and head, Emanuel remains in control. He looks in better shape at this point of the fight, he has the breath to move around a little bit, controlling the pace of the fight (as much as this fight can be controlled anyway), and timing Micky with sharp counter punches.
Towards the last minute of the round, Micky is back on Panzer mode, and may have discouraged Burton somewhat. The guy just keeps on coming, Ward lands hooks with both hands on Burton's head. As the round ends, it's a slugfest once more. Very close round.
As round seven begins, Teddy remarks on how Ward's corner did pretty much nothing but "try to keep Micky Ward fresh". During the first minute of the round though, it's Emanuel who lands clearly and decisively. Both commentator's scorecards show a draw up to this point. Burton's experience is definitely carrying him through, as Micky has to keep relying on volume punching to keep up.
At one point, Burton lands close to ten punches in a row on Micky. But Micky seems to have an innate timer in him, since he turns it up in the final moments of each round.
"Bombs away!" the commentator screams as the bell rings. Another highlight reel exchange takes place at the end of the round.
In round eight Ward starts stronger. He is more tired, but he doesn't know how to behave in a ring besides going forward throwing punches. He's the little Irish engine that could punch. He lost the last round, but he's doing a great job of competing in this one. Burton's smile has not appeared in this round. The last minute of the round takes place in the imaginary phone booth. Burton lands a lot on Ward, but Micky is relentless. A right hand by Micky lands, then he slips as he misses a punch he expected to do some serious damage with. What a fight.
The numbers thru round eight tell us Ward has landed 223 out of 815 total punches (27%), while Burton has landed 290 out of 608 (47%).
So they're doing their best to try and match the number of shots fired on D-Day after all.
In round nine Burton is finally slowing down some. The volume of punching from both guys is more even, and as the bout approaches its climax, the drama rises. They exchange uppercuts about a minute into the round, and then the hooks. Micky seems to have given up on the body and focuses on landing upstairs. But Burton lands his right hand flush as well. Micky has landed more in the round. Burton backs up for a moment, takes a good look at Micky and wonders what is Ward made of. Micky sees it as a sign of weakness and keeps going after him.
Burton is tired, so his hands are down. He gets hit flush with a one-two combo from Micky. Emanuel fires back to Micky's body, then a right hand upstairs. Ward fires a couple of shots to the ribs, two punches upstairs, and then he gets a pay off: he doubles the left hook, one to the head, and one to the body of Burton. Emanuel bends down in pain and takes a knee.
That body shot scores a knockdown for Micky.
As the ref counts, Emanuel takes big breaths, hoping to make it back up. He does get up, with over 40 seconds left. Micky rips him with urgency on the body again. But Burton stays up, he won't go down again, he keeps firing back as well. Micky manages to throw about ten more left hooks to the body before the round ends. About half land. But Burton is standing as the round ends.
As the tenth and final round gets going, both fighters quickly embrace, and then get it going for the last time. Both land big shots in the first minute, Burton's back to the ropes. Then, they move to the center of the ring. Micky is wobbly for a second, then throws a four punch combo that makes Emanuel back up. It's a merciless barrage of punches from both sides.
Tenth roud of this fight is why we love boxing.
With thirty seconds to go, Micky steps back as he gets tagged with a right upstairs and a left to the body. In the center of the ring, Burton sees his chance to tip the final round in his favor. He needs to make a statement to try and make up for the knockdown he suffered in round nine. As Atlas implores boxing promoters to give all their money to "real fighters" like Micky and Emanuel, Burton scores with a savage one-two combo on Micky's head. Ward fires back a left that lands on Emanuel. They keep trading shots. The final ten seconds are wild.
As the final bell rings, the ref doesn't break them up as much as hug them. He knows that, like everyone else that night in Hampton Beach, he has just first-hand witnessed something special.
One can only speculate as to what exactly he says to the fighters as he keeps hugging them, but it's probably something along the lines of "thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you...".
Like most boxing media "experts", Atlas is known for making predictions. Some he gets right, many he gets wrong. But his cry of "Fight of the Year! Fight of the Year!" at the end of this bout would certainly not fail to become true.
"Somebody give these guys a big payday! They've earned it!", he goes on. We have to agree with him on this.
The final numbers read 1182 total punches thrown for Ward, 320 (27%) landed. 918 thrown for Burton, 421 (46%) landed. That's 210 average combined punches thrown and over 74 average combined punches landed per round.
Who says you need Nazis to have a war?
The final scorecards would give the win to Micky Ward by unanimous decision: 96-94, 96-91 and 98-90. What's a fight of the year without a little controversy?
Micky would go on to lose to Jesse James Leija, and then, as if he had not given enough to boxing fans, would go on to star in one of boxing's most beloved trilogies against Arturo Gatti. Yes, the guy fought in a total three fights of the year during the 2000s. He would retire after the rubbermatch against Gatti.
Emanuel Burton would continue fighting even into 2009. His record when he fought Micky was 24-17. As of January 2010, it stands at 38-31 at the ripe age of 35. Regardless of what he has done since, that night in July 2001 made sure the name of Emanuel Burton, aka Emanuel Augustus, would be remembered and respected by boxing fans for years to come.
This was the fight of the year for 2001.
The next episode of The Boxing Canon will review the Fight of the Year for 2002: Micky Ward - Arturo Gatti I.