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“On The Ropes” The Movie about Craig “Gator” Bodzianowski

On The Ropes” – The Movie
by Steve Wilburn – producer / screenwriter

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The true story of Polish American Craig “Gator” Bodzianowski, the “up-and-coming” cruiser-weight boxer who, after losing part of one leg in a motorcycle accident, is told his boxing career is over.  In true hero fashion, Gator makes one of the greatest professional sports comebacks ever, culminating in a WBA World Championship Fight.  (“On The Ropes” is currently in pre-production and provides an attractive vehicle for interested investors.  Once complete financing is achieved, filming will begin.)

For more details contact Steve Wilburn at: steve@windycityimages.com. Also, be sure to watch the news reel highlights about Gator, “Still Standing,”: http://windycityimages.com/popmovie.php?itemfileid=513

By now, most people have watched at least one of the Rocky movies, the fairy-tale story of a club fighter who gets a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship.  Gator’s story bears some resemblance, but his challenges are far greater.  Rocky’s biggest challenge is in overcoming his bad attitude; while Gator overcomes what everyone considers a “career-ending” injury.

In the late seventies and early eighties, Gator compiles an enviable amateur boxing record of 62 wins and 5 losses.  His only losses are to champions and soon-to-be champions. Gator then takes the professional boxing world by storm.  By early 1984, he is undefeated with 13 wins, 11 by knockout. He is determined to become the counterweight champion of the world.  He trains hard, always keeping his championship dream in sight.

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Unfortunately, as his winning record grows, so does his ego.  His training sessions become fewer and further apart, while he develops a reckless lifestyle.

LOSING A LEG

On a fateful night in May 1984, a tragic motorcycle accident mangles Gator’s lower right leg.  Doctors attempted to save his foot during a 9.5 hour surgery.  One week later, Gator is faced with the most important decision of his life. Doctors advise that multiple painful surgeries over the next year may save his leg; however, he will be dependent on a cane to walk, and will never be able to run. Alternatively, if his leg is amputated below the knee and he is fitted with a prosthetic leg, he may, in time, be able to jog again.  Regardless, his doctors are adamant that his boxing days are over.

Recalling the words of his father, “never quit,” and remembering his passion to train hard in order to compete in the world championship, Gator has faith that if he can jog, he can run; and if he can run, he will box again.   He opts for amputation.  He’s 23 years old.

BRAWLER BEGINNINGS

Raised in the south Chicago suburb of Tinley Park with 5 siblings, Gator’s “salt of the earth” parents, Pat and Gloria, instilled life’s most important rules:  always do the right thing, and “don’t take no crap from no one.” His father Pat, 6’3”, 300 lbs and adorned with multiple tattoos, supported the family as a tattoo artist and taxidermist.  A former boxer himself, Pat taught his sons to hunt wildlife, defend their honor, and meet all challenges head-on as they grew to manhood.

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In the family home, taxidermieds animal carcasses covered the walls. Locked gun cases were filled with often used guns. A multitude of dogs were housed in pens in the back yard, while well-fed piranhas lived in an over-sized fish tank in the den.  Throughout the years, the Bodzianowskis also raised pigeons, goats, chickens, various snakes, an alligator, and even baboons.  It was a virtual Wild Kingdom in the suburbs!  All the animals at the Bodzianowski residence thrived; except the hamster, who suffered from insomnia!

Even before high school, Gator was known in his neighborhood as a formidable opponent in any fight.  Once in high school he never quite fit in with the fashionable rich kids, nor did he care to. Gator made his own fashion statement by asking his father to tattoo an Izod alligator tattoo on his left pectoral, in approximately the same place as the symbol appeared on the popular shirts.  His mother, Gloria, then strategically cut holes in his shirts to expose his new tattoo; thus, he earned his nickname “Gator.”   None of the rich kids dared to make fun of Gator’s “poor man’s” fashion statement. Becoming a boxer was a logical step for the kid with the reputation as a “brawler.”

Prior to his accident, Gator’s “never say die” attitude was forged by two important occurrences. Days before his most important fight to date, a Championship bout, his dearest brother Billy, is accidentally shot and dies.  Devastated, Gator considers canceling the fight.  His coach and mentor, Bill O’Connor, encourages Gator to enter the ring in remembrance of his brother. Gator fights and wins his first Championship. Four years later, just one week before Gator’s 13th professional fight, O’Connor commits suicide. This time, Gator doesn’t hesitate.  Fighting in O’Connor’s memory, he wins a 10-round decision match.

UNSTOPPABLE

After Gator’s accident, his doctors soon learn why his opponents consider him “unstoppable.”  Fitting Gator with a prosthetic leg, Dr. Mike Quigley instructs him to practice walking with a cane for 30 minutes.  Gator immediately walks across the room and quickly discovers he doesn’t need the cane.  After walking successfully for a few minutes, he goes home and engages in a 45 minute racquetball game!  Excited to once again be able to play sports, Gator ignores the pain.  Checking back with Dr. Quigley later that day, he discovers he is bleeding profusely and has pushed the bone through his callused stump.  After the wound heals, his doctors have to start over to build up the callus.  Gator’s doctors later recalled never before witnessing any patient with Gator’s high tolerance for pain, and willingness to endure.

Regaining passion and focus, Gator trains ardently.  He is a changed man; his reckless ways a thing of the past.

Getting back into the ring unearths yet another challenge for Gator.  No local boxer is willing to spar with an amputee; let alone fight him professionally.  Resorting to desperate measures, Gator’s manager, Jerry Lenza, arranges a match with an out-of-state heavyweight contender, outweighing Gator by at least 15 lbs.  Neither his opponent nor his opponent’s camp are aware that Gator is wearing a prosthetic leg.  The first round is rough and Gator is knocked around the ring.  With each round, he regains confidence, and by the 4th round, Gator is clearly leading the fight.  Suddenly, a loud snapping sound is heard, and Gator falls.  His coach, Nate Bolden, rushes into the ring.  His opponent and camp are both astounded and terrified when Gator’s foot comes off in Nate’s hand.   Nate is relieved to discover a broken bolt on his prosthetic leg and that Gator is not injured.   His opponent’s coach, however, is infuriated at being duped into fighting an amputee. sports-illustrated-2-2

Over the next year, Gator continues to improve and more sparring partners emerge willing to fight him.  He seeks to regain his boxing license to fight professionally, but the Boxing Commission refuses, even when threatened with litigation.  Jerry garners sympathy for Gator from the media, and under duress, the Boxing Commission finally relents issuing a provisional license.  At last, Gator can fight professionally again.

Just a year and a half after Gator’s accident, it becomes an international news story that an amputee is making a professional boxing comeback. Gator knocks his opponent out in the 2nd round. Rumors that the fight was staged follow and bring Gator’s comeback into question.  As Gator knocks out more opponents, controversy ensues and his critics increase in number, refusing to believe a “cripple” could knock out able-bodied fighters.

In 1986, Gator wins the Illinois Heavyweight Championship, allowing him to take on high ranked challengers.  Gator loses only 3 out of 27 fights on points scored; but he is never knocked out.  In 1989, he wins the WBA Intercontinental America’s Cruiser-weight Championship, finally silencing and putting to shame his critics once and for all.

CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT

By 1990, Gator’s record is a respectable 24 wins, 3 loss, and 1 draw.  He has been ranked in the top 10 in his class for more than a year.  Finally, his dream of fighting for a world championship is realized when he gets a shot at the WBA World Cruiser-weight belt. Odds are overwhelmingly stacked in favor of the title holder, Robert Daniels.

During the first round of the fight, Gator comes out swinging and handily pounds on the champion.  In the 2nd round, a right side uppercut from the champion breaks Gator’s rib, curtailing his right punch.  Less than a month before the fight, Gator had broken the same rib and it had not fully healed.  This re-injury allows Daniels to score multiple points.  In Gator’s corner, his coaches, Pat and Primo LaCassa, encourage him to throw in the towel.  Gator refuses and informs them they will have to carry him out because he will never quit.  Back in the ring, Daniels closes Gator’s right eye with one punch, and gains more points.  Going the distance, Gator persists, giving Daniels a memorable fight.  Against all odds, Gator appears to strengthen as the fight progresses.  In the final rounds, some say Gator is beginning to overpower Daniels.  The unstoppable Gator finishes the fight with one leg, one arm, and one eye functioning properly.  Despite grueling pain, he never allows Daniels to knock him down.  Unfortunately, when the points are tallied, Daniels retains his championship. gator-with-pope-2-e

CONCLUSION

In all of Gator’s amateur and professional fights, he was never stopped.  He lost only a few fights, and those losses were on points scored, never a knockout.  Gator’s professional record is 31 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw, and he won two championship belts.  While he lost his battle for the world championship fight, he won his fight to prove to the world that being physically challenged doesn’t make you handicapped. Gator’s attitude and accomplishments opened the door for physically challenged athletes to compete in professional sports, and continue to serve as an inspiration to all.

GATOR, A TRUE TRAGIC HERO

One Definition of Tragic Hero: When a great hero is brought down by what made him great. What made Gator unstoppable was his relentless drive and never give in spirit even through the most harrowing pain.

In the last week of July 2013 Gator’s family noticed he wasn’t himself and seemed to be slowing down. They tried to get him to see a doctor. In usual Gator fashion, he ignored the physical signs and refused attention or assistance.

On July 26th 2013, Gator passed in his sleep. He died of a clogged choroid artery which led to a blood clot to his brain and his death.

Please take Gator’s never quit spirit to heart but not his refusal to seek medical attention when necessary.