CHICAGO (AP) _ Craig Bodzianowski isn’t just a boxer, he’s a fighter. And he doesn’t do anything halfway.
When Izod shirts were his passion, he had an alligator tattooed on his chest and cut holes in his shirt to show it off.
And when he lost his right foot and part of his leg in a motorcycle accident 18 months ago, he was fitted with a prosthesis and went on with his boxing career.
″Quitting is easy, anybody can do that,″ said Bodzianowski, a 24-year-old cruiserweight. ″It suprises people when they hear about it, but people who know me are anything but surprised.″
But he managed to startle even his staunchest supporters by scheduling rugged journeyman Francis Sargent as his first step on the comeback trail. Sargent provided Bodzianowski with the toughest opposition in his 13 earlier professional fights, all of them victories. That was a month before the accident.
″We didn’t want somebody who would just fall down,″ said Jerry Lenza, Bodzianowski’s manager. ″That wouldn’t have proved anything. We don’t want to fool Craig or anyone else.″
The two fight Saturday in an eight-round bout fully sanctioned by the Illinois Boxing Commission.
Fight historian Hub Goldman of Ring Magazine said it will be the first professional boxing match in the United States involving a man with a missing limb.
″I’ve heard of guys without toes or fingers. But missing a leg, arm, foot - it’s unheard of,″ Goldman said.
After the accident, Bodzianowki, who is part-owner of a suburban health club, could have given up boxing and settled into a comfortable life as a businessman.
But Mike Quigley, the prosthetist who fitted Bodzianowski with a rubberized ″Seattle″ foot after several similar devices failed to withstand the rigors of training, said he never doubted the fighter would return to the ring.
″The ones who look at it as a challenge like Craig did often are able to do remarkable things,″ Quigley said.
″Here was a kid who, before this, everything came easy to. A good physique, lots of girlfriends, whatever he tried came easy. Life was a whim,″ he said.
″Now he had to work, and he really buckled down.″
Bodzianowski was on his personal road to recovery even as doctors prepared to amputate his leg three inches above the right ankle. When a psychologist dropped by to discuss the surgery and offer help, Bodzianowksi asked him to arrange for a speed bag in the hospital room.
″It’s been a head game at times, but mentally, I was always ready to return,″ the fighter said.
″Physically, I wasn’t ready to return until six weeks ago,″ he said.
″That was my first nearly perfect day of training. I ran my fastest mile, sparred 16 rounds and everything came together. My timing was the best its been, my combinations were falling in place,″ Bodzianowski said.
To make sure his training was complete, he spent the last month in New Jersey sparring against heavyweight Kip Kane. He told Kane to use his weight advantage to lean on him, push him, make every effort to manhandle him during their practice bouts.
″I’ve got a clear conscience going into this fight. If I lose, I lose. Everybody loses sometime,″ Bodzianowski said. ″But whatever sympathy and whatever publicity goes with this is only to my advantage. More interest means more money.
″What people usually say when they hear about me is that it was a misfortune,″ he said. ″But this guy is going to turn that misfortune into a fortune.″