The Memory Bank: Part Twenty

By Ted Sares on January 25, 2013
The Memory Bank: Part Twenty
Micky Ward and John Rafuse locked horns in the middle of the ring like two billy goats.

The fight included a little bit of everything—boxing, punching and brawling; holding and hitting, elbows, thumbs, backhands and low blows…

“On that night Micky Ward and Emanuel Burton came to fight. Nothing more, nothing less.”—Rafael Garcia Quinones

“If Micky Ward wants to come to you, he will walk through a hailstorm of punishment to do it.”—Jim Lampley

If you throw a dart at the 51 fights in which Micky Ward has participated, more than likely you will hit one labeled a slugfest, war or closet classic. However, there are really two Micky Ward careers. One was when he fought from 1985 to 1991 and ended up with four straight decision losses and prompted a four-year layoff. The other was when he came back and fought between 1994 and 2003; this one ended up with the great Gatti trilogy. And it was during this second phase that Micky seemed to engage in one classic after another. Living in the Boston area at this time, I was aware of both stages of Ward’s career. In fact, I even followed him as he won three New England Golden Gloves championships which were usually held at the Lowell Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts, a once proud and robust town that had fallen on extremely hard times by the 1970s but maintained a rich boxing tradition.

John “Rapid” Rafuse was out of Malden (not far from Lowell) and fought between 1983 and 1991. In August 1986 he met Micky Ward in a televised undercard bout at the Lowell Auditorium (with Al Bernstein at the mike) and like the later Reggie Green and Emanuel Augustus slugfests in New Hampshire,  I was in attendance and near ringside. Micky’s encounter with Rafuse would signal what was coming, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself; let’s first examine this Lowell classic.

Rafuse vs. Ward: The First Classic (1986)

“If I win, I’ll know I should continue. Otherwise, you know, I’m a Teamster.”—John Rafuse

“They are both going for the home-run ball…They say Micky Ward is quite a prospect in the junior welterweight division, and if he is, he will look back on this one.”—Al Bernstein

Ward was 9-0 coming in and this was his first eight-rounder, while Rafuse was 12-2. Half-brother Dicky Eklund was in Micky’s corner. The referee was the colorful Tommy Collins. Tommy, a popular and powerful fighter in the 1950s, gained notoriety in 1953 when he was battered to the canvas 10 times by the lightweight champion, Jimmy Carter, in a bout at Boston Garden. The referee, Tommy Rawson, did not stop the fight, and the punishment continued until one of Collins’s cornermen leaped into the ring to stop the slaughter in the fourth round. Collins defended Rawson’s late stoppage. This one between two Irishmen had a distinct Boston flavor to it and promised to be a barnburner. It did not disappoint.

Now there are fights where the combatants immediately bolt from their stools and start throwing punches furiously and ferociously and don’t stop until the fight ends one way or the other. The 1978 classic between Monroe Brooks and Bruce Curry was like that. It’s as if a tacit agreement had been made beforehand to engage in a firefight. That’s what Rafuse-Ward turned out to be.

There was ebb and flow as first Ward would take control by throwing heavy stuff off a stiff jab, but then Rafuse would battle back with fast combinations to Micky‘s body. The fifth round was a classic Ward type round where he allowed John to dictate the action early with a blistering body assault generated by his great hand speed, but then, with about a minute to go, Ward came back storming back with his traditional array of hooks both up and downstairs to drive Rafuse back and holding on. Ward even displayed a right hook to the body which he seldom used later in his career.

The fighters would often lock horns in the middle of the ring like two billy goats and then begin drilling each other with one lethal hook after another until they battled free with a punishing flurry. The slugfest was fought at a tremendous work rate and each fighter was willing to take sweat-splattering punishment to return to sender.

The fight included a little bit of everything—boxing, technique, punching, and brawling; it also included holding and hitting, elbows, a cut caused by a thumb, backhands, and low blows. In the third round, Rafuse grabbed Ward from behind and started pummeling his head and neck until referee Tommy Collins literally wrestled him off Micky and threw him into the ropes. Neither fighter blinked; neither fighter complained. After Collins admonished Rafuse, the fighters resumed going after one another with astounding ferocity as the crowd stayed on its feet and roared its approval. This one had become a spine tingler and I knew I was witnessing something special, but what I couldn’t possibly know was that this would be one of many such spine tinglers in which the Lowell native would participate.

At the end, the scorecards read as follows: Tommy Collins had 75-79, John Costello 76-80, and Don O’Neill scored it 76-80, indicating that while Ward clearly won, there had been a number of rounds scored even. I always felt a draw might have been a mutually satisfying possibility.

John Rafuse would close out his career with a 23-13 mark. His opponents were notable and included Jake “The Snake” Rodriquez, “Dangerous” Courtney Hooper, Harold Brazier (who had wins over both Ward and Rafuse), Vinnie Burgese, Edwin Curet (who beat both Ward and Rafuse in 1987), Pat “The Black Flash” Barrett (in London), Tony “Pound for Pound” Martin (who also held wins over both Micky and John), and the legendary Jose Louis Ramirez (whom he fought in Paris in 1987). The last time I saw John fight was in June 1991 at the IBEW Hall in Waltham, just down the road from my house in Boston when he stopped Springfield’s Irish Pat Ireland in the fifth round in front of a sparse crowd. It would be the second to last fight of his career. At the time, John held the USA New England light welterweight title.

Micky Ward, of course, would then go on to a number of more visible fights including the following:

Alfonso Sanchez (1997)

“It was my worst performance but probably one of my best wins, if that makes sense…that fight started this whole thing off in terms of the run I made.”—Micky Ward

After beating Manny Castillo in a close bout in Reno in 1996 and then defeating uneaten slickster Louis “The Viper” Veader twice, Micky exposed another highly touted fighter. He waxed Alfonso Sanchez on April 12, 1997 with a frightening and lightning-like left hook to the body that came out of nowhere and saved Micky from an embarrassing defeat on national television, as this was on the undercard of De La Hoya vs. Whitaker. After this remarkable turnabout win that had the HBO team of Jones, Lampley and Merchant (no easy feat) shocked into silence, the classics began in earnest.

Reggie Green (1999)

“I had the will…He’s a hell of a fighter, but I could feel I was getting to him to the body. I was hitting him on the elbows and to the sides and that takes a lot out of a guy. I knew I had to do it.”—Ward

In 1999, Ward fought an amazing back and forth brawl with Reggie Green at the Ice Center in Salem, New Hampshire that somehow flew under the radar. Micky pulled this one out in the 10th round with 20 seconds remaining. Green had gotten the best of it until Micky’s increasingly malefic body shots positioned him for the numbing close. This featured phone booth warfare disguised as boxing and at the end, Micky was declared owner of the booth. To this day, I firmly believe this was Irish Micky Ward’s most exciting fight.

“That truly was fighting,’’ Teddy Atlas said. “That was not entertainment. That was not business. That was fighting.”

“You’re remarkable!’’ screamed Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee, who had worked another fighter’s corner earlier in the evening. “That was magnificent!”

Wrote Ron Borges in a great article: “…with only 20 seconds left before the final bell would have tolled defeat for Ward, he landed the last of those body shots, followed by a mind-numbing right hand to the face, and Green…was defenseless and on his way to unconsciousness or worse when referee Norm Veillieux stepped between them and saved Ward’s career and Green’s mind.”—Special to ESPN.com, October 24, 2007

Shea Neary (2000)

In his next fight in London, England in March 2000, Ward (with Eklund in his corner) had his hands full in the early going with undefeated and Ward-like Shea Neary but then Micky found his stride with hooks and uppercuts and destroyed “The Shamrock Express” to win the WBU light welterweight title and finally shake himself free of contender status. Neary had never been knocked down, but this time he visited he canvas twice and was put away savagely in the eighth. British fight fans now knew all about “Irish” Micky Ward.

Antonio Diaz (2000)

The wars continued and on August 19, 2000, Irish Micky lost an extremely close and controversial 10-rounder to Antonio Diaz (34-2) at Foxwoods in another give-and-take action-filled fight. By this time, boxing fans had become well aware of Micky Ward and the uncommon excitement he brought with him.

After an eight-month rest to get his body back together, Ward took on tough Steve “The Mongoose” Quinonez in May 2001 in what promised to be still another brutal encounter; but this one didn’t go beyond the first round. When Micky connected with his signature laser-like left hook to Steve’s right side, the Mongoose turned around and dropped to the canvas in pain, and that was that. It was another body shot KO and this time Quinonez was not even able to land a punch.

Emanuel Augustus (2001)

“Give this guy (Ward) a money fight, give this guy a money fight.”—Teddy Atlas

Micky’s health and body were in top shape when he met Emanuel Augustus (then known as Emanuel Burton) at the Hampton Beach Casino in New Hampshire on July 13, 2001, and like the Reggie Green fight, this one was just as good as any of the Gatti classics except the stakes were not as high. In fact, it was voted The Ring’s 2001 Fight of the Year.

After this incredible ebb and flow battle in which most combatants would have suffered career-altering punishment (but these were not “most combatants”), referee Steve Smoger hugged both warriors knowing like everyone else that night that he had just seen something very special. (But then so did referee Norm Vellieux when he finally halted the action in the Green-Ward battle at the Ice Center in Salem, New Hampshire.”

Jesse James Leija (2002)

Micky would then get jobbed in plain sight when he “lost” to Jesse James Leija in San Antonio, Texas in January 2002. He had cut Leija’s eye with a slashing right cross but referee Laurence Cole ruled it a head butt. Everyone in San Antonio and everyone who saw this despicable dry gulch on TV knew precisely what this was all about because everyone except Cole and his father, Commissioner Dickie Cole, knew there had been no head butt.

Ironically, however, the Leija fight positioned Irish Mickey for the thrilling series of fights with Arturo Gatti between May 2002 and July 2003 that would mark the end of his remarkable career. The Gatti team may have underestimated Ward as easy pickings.

Back to John “Rapid” Rafuse
As for Rafuse, he now lives happily in aptly named Savage, Minnesota, where he has become a successful MMA and boxing coach with a large following. He also is a proud union carpenter and has been one for 25 years.”I got all the respect in the world for the kid,” Rafuse says of Ward. “I really like Micky, and he stuck around long enough to make some money, and God bless him.”

All in all, Irish Micky Ward earned Fight of the Year honors three times, putting him in rarefied company. The story of his life has been well-documented in words, song, and film. The only thing I can add is that I followed Micky Ward from the get-go and maybe that gives me a slight historical edge on what he was like back in the day.

Rafuse, along with Ward, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Vinny Curto, Steve Collins, Freddie Roach, Robbie Sims, Danny Long, Dick Eklund, Dino Denis, James Lucas, Edwin Curet, Louis Veader, David Rivello, David Ramalho, Sean Mannion,  Kenny Butler and many others, was a part of the exciting boxing landscape in the Greater Boston area during the decade of the ‘80s and was once rated in the top ten in the world.

John Rafuse was and is a class act.

The Memory Bank: Part One
The Memory Bank: Part Two
The Memory Bank: Part Three
The Memory Bank: Part Four
The Memory Bank: Part Five
The Memory Bank: Part Six
The Memory Bank: Part Seven
The Memory Bank: Part Eight
The Memory Bank: Part Nine
The Memory Bank: Part Ten
The Memory Bank: Part Eleven
The Memory Bank: Part Twelve
The Memory Bank: Part Thirteen
The Memory Bank: Part Fourteen
The Memory Bank: Part Fifteen
The Memory Bank: Part Sixteen
The Memory Bank: Part Seventeen
The Memory Bank: Part Eighteen
The Memory Bank: Part Nineteen
The Memory Bank: Part Twenty

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

BOXING Micky Ward VS Alfonso Sanchez Round 7



Micky Ward vs Reggie Green



Micky Ward vs Shea Neary



Micky Ward vs Antonio Diaz pt 1



Micky Ward vs Antonio Diaz pt 2



Micky Ward vs Antonio Diaz pt 3



Micky Ward vs Emanuel Augustus [Full Fight]



Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles

Comments

This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. the thresher 12:32pm, 02/01/2013

    Yes. I am a friend of John’s. Better than being his enemy.

  2. dollarbond 10:50am, 02/01/2013

    Those two guys went after each other like there was no tomorrow.  Are you a friend of John Rafuse, Ted?  Did you know something about him back then?  Great fight.  Thanks for the link despite the slowness.

  3. the thresher 08:14am, 01/30/2013

    For those interested, here is a link to the Rafuse-Ward bout, but you need to be patient and stay with it and keep trying until the fight pops on. Eventually, it will

    http://sosoboxing.com/boxing-video-watch-online/micky-ward-vs-john-rafuse/

  4. David Ball 05:55am, 01/28/2013

    Thanks Bull, hope the bank stays open forever.

  5. Tex Hassler 11:48am, 01/27/2013

    If you are a new boxing fan and want to know the meaning of “He came to fight!” just watch a Micky Ward fight, any of them, because Micky always came to fight, up close and personal. A lot of fighters would have become champs if they had tried as hard as Ward. My hat is off to Micky Ward. He is well liked among boxing fans here in Texas and I am sure the rest of the U. S. A. Great write up Mr. Sares.

  6. the thresher 08:37am, 01/27/2013

    Thanks Bob and Mike.

  7. Bob 08:30am, 01/27/2013

    The beauty of this story is that it is as much a testament to Micky Ward, who we all know, as it is to John Rafuse, a crowd pleasing ESPN staple who many fans and writers deem as an “insignificant” player in the game. The success of the ESPN boxing franchise was built on the backs of fighters like Rafuse, Tony Thornton, Ricky Meyers and so many others who gave their heart and soul and blood and guts week after week. Thank you, Ted, for giving Rafuse, Reggie Green and others who who historically viewed as “opponents” their just due in this fine article.

  8. Mike Casey 04:09am, 01/27/2013

    Nice article, Ted. I liked Micky a lot - a true pro who fought his heart out.

  9. the thresher 02:08pm, 01/26/2013

    Yes I have Pug, but not so many these days. Maybe 6 or 7 live venues a year at ringside. Foxwoods, Boston, or Rhode Island. Or Las Vegas if there is a fight while I am in town.

  10. pugknows 11:31am, 01/26/2013

    Ted, you sure did attend a lot of fights in your time.

  11. john coiley 10:47am, 01/26/2013

    I, too, look forward to the hindsight perspective on this former pugilist. It’s been so long, wish I could say I don’t remember, but I do, except for how I got to the locker room in Seattle Arena 1975 after Iron Mike Lancaster laid me out in round 7…or maybe it was 6…8???

  12. Ted Sares 10:33am, 01/26/2013

    A number of years ago when Lou DiBella was buying the fights for HBO, a close friend of mine used to watch the fights (not the HBO fights) on the Spanish station every saturday night, in Spanish. He didn’t understand a word, but they were good fights, so he watched them. Well one day he saw Lou DiBella, and he started telling him about this real good looking young fighter who would come in the ring with a big sombrero on his head, a fancy robe and would score a sensational knockout every time out. Interestingly enough, the promoter of these fights from Mexico was Top Rank. Lou DiBella calls up Bob Arum and says, “who is this kid in Mexico named Alfonso “Poncho” Sanchez that my friend was raving about?” Arum says, “I have no idea”. Anyway, Arum gets a tape, sends it to DiBella, and Lou loves the guy. Lou gives Top Rank a date, and puts Sanchez on HBO, and Trampler matches him with Mickey Ward, all on my friend’s'say so. Well, you know what happened. He was looking like a million dollars for about six rounds or so. Sanchez was winning every second of every round, chasing Mickey all over the place, until Mickey landed that famous left hook to the liver and Sanchez didn’t have enough air in his system to get up. My friend’s short career as a matchmaker for HBO was as deflated as Poncho’s liver. His creditability was totally shot. He felt just terrible, and never recovered because of Mickey Wards left hook. As for DiBella, he never ever chased my friend around the HBO offices looking for recommendations about which fight to buy. End of story.”

    Great stuff. Only in boxing.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 10:33am, 01/26/2013

    Ted Sares-Looking forward to your article on John Coiley!

  14. Your Name 10:08am, 01/26/2013

    A great and close friend of mine tells this story:” A number of years ago when Lou DiBella was buying the fights for HBO, I used to watch the fights (not the HBO fights) on the Spanish station every saturday night, in Spanish. I didn’t understand a word, but they were good fights, so I watched them. Well one day I saw Lou DiBella, and I started telling him about this real good looking young fighter who would come in the ring with a big sombrero on his head, a fancy robe and would score a sensational knockout every time out. Interestingly enough, the promoter of these fights from Mexico was Top Rank. Lou DiBella calls up Bob Arum and says, “who is this kid in Mexico named Alfonso “Poncho” Sanchez that my friend is raving about?” Arum says, “I have no idea”. Anyway, Arum gets a tape, sends it to DiBella, and Lou loves the guy. Lou gives Top Rank a date, and puts Sanchez on HBO, and Trampler matches him with Mickey Ward, all on my say so. Well, you know what happened. I was looking like a million dollars for about six rounds or so. Sanchez was winning every second of every round, chasing Mickey all over the place, until Mickey landed that famous left hook to the liver and Sanchez didn’t have enough air in his system to get up. My career as a matchmaker for HBO was as deflated as Poncho’s liver. My creditability was totally shot. I felt just terrible, and never recovered because of Mickey Wards left hook. As for DiBella, he never ever chased me around the HBO offices looking for recommendations about which fight to buy. End of story.”

    Great tounge in cheek story by a great racontour.

  15. the thresher 09:39am, 01/26/2013

    Charlie, lots of these Boston sagas are like the NY/NJ ones.

  16. the thresher 09:38am, 01/26/2013

    Irish, SS didn’t do Ward any favors in that one. In fact, Ward had gotten stiffed in any numebr of fights but he never complained. The Leija robbery was one of the worse I have ever witnessed and put new meaning n the term “hometown decision.” I like Cole, but he mucked up that one to save the local’s rear end.

    BTW, I have a number of great background stories on the Sanchez-Ward fight but I can’t discuss them based on confidentiality. Let’s just say that a lot of people came out of that one embarassed.

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 09:30am, 01/26/2013

    Ted Sares-Great memories to be sure….Diaz can thank Smoger’s sudden impulse to call time to do housekeeping in the ninth after Micky finally got to Diaz with overhand rights and really had hurt him.

  18. the thresher 08:51am, 01/26/2013

    John. I’ll be writing about you soon

  19. CharlesN 07:55am, 01/26/2013

    Good story line Ted. Blue collar local hero from Boston area. Loved it. Keep ‘em coming. Mickey Ward—a fighter’s fighter.

  20. john coiley 06:27am, 01/26/2013

    Ward was a toughie for sure, ran in the family; I tangled with his cousin, Mike O’Keefe in the finals of 1967 Golden Gloves. Yes, the hometowner got the win…

Leave a comment