‘Tis the season to see The Fighter. Mark Wahlberg’s remake of fellow Massachusetts native “Irish” Micky Ward’s boxing story—sadly sans his epic trilogy of brawls with Arturo Gatti—was the ultimate feel good boxing story since Rocky, if you can get past the family dysfunction. Then again, Rocky had the Adrian v. Paulie squabbles.
As I watched and thought back to Ward’s actual fights, my thoughts turned to MMA and UFC middleweight Chris Leben, who ironically burst onto the scene via UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter.
Leben and Ward have similar fearless brawling styles, coupled with iron chins. Both fighters can withstand a brutal beating, seemingly out on their feet, only to persevere and hang in.
Leben has been one of the UFC’s more active fighters since debuting, and has been finished only three times. Ward has been even more difficult to knock out, as most of his losses have gone to the judges scorecards.
Two fights that helped make the connection:
Leben v. Terry Martin, UFC Fight Night, September 2007. Leben took heavy damage throughout the fight, as both men stood and traded without caution. Martin has professional boxing credentials and was one of the more punishing strikers that The Crippler has faced.
Would a Leben / Silva fight live up to Ward / Gatti acclaim?
Now I can’t speak for Chris, but the distinction of top striker he’s faced must go to Anderson Silva. In Silva’s UFC debut, the then relatively unknown fighter (to UFC fans) won by devastating knockout, using this fight as a springboard to a championship contest with Rich Franklin, which he would also win in brutal fashion.
In the final round of the Martin fight, a punch drunk Leben was absorbing what seemed like countless knock-out punches. As he appeared just about finished, he sprung off the cage and uncoiled a viscous knockout blow that put Martin down and out.
The parallel fight to Ward:
Ward v. Alfonso Sanchez, undercard of the Oscar De La Hoya v. Pernell Whitaker fight, April 1997 (this fight was also part of the The Fighter). Ward was riding an impressive win streak heading into the bout, and Sanchez was undefeated with a title fight in sight. Ward was viewed as a bigger-named stepping stone for Sanchez.
Micky was getting picked apart through the first six rounds and appeared to be completely outclassed. The commentators said as much and no one, even Ward, could argue.
Comments from Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Roy Jones Jr. were incorporated into the movie and phrases like “Ward should retire” and “fans should ask for their money back” were peppered in.
Speaking of retiring, Larry Merchant should buy himself the traditional gold watch and seek greener pastures.
Suddenly in the seventh round, Ward gained some momentum and was able to land a vicious body shot that floored Sanchez, securing one of the more unconventional knockout victories ever.
Merchant chalked this up to an illegal kidney punch, words he would later eat and wash down with a gallon-sized gin and tonic (presumably).
Bas Rutten’s famous “ohhh the liver” quote comes to mind. Granted, he didn’t say it regarding Micky Ward, but what more can you say about a body shot that knocks someone out?
Besides fighting styles, both men have won multiple fight of the year and fight/knockout of the night awards (given to Ward and Leben respectively), which speaks to the respect they’ve earned.
Ward’s back-and-forth brawls with Gatti and Leben’s last-minute submission of Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama (a fight he took on several days rest) are bouts that reflect their all-out brawling and never-say-die fighting styles.
Ward called it a career in 2003 and the movie was a fitting tribute to his legacy. Leben is a fight or two away from being in the thick of things at middleweight.
Playing fantasy fight-booker, Leben v. Wanderlei Silva would have Ward v. Gatti potential. Both love to get inside and launch bombs until someone is horizontal. Leben called Silva out after the Akiyama fight and it makes too much sense to not happen.
As a belated holiday gift, Joe Silva and Dana White would spoil UFC fans by making this fight happen sometime in 2011.