Lee Groves

10: Notable July 4 fights

8. 1987 – Juan Martin Coggi KO 3 Patrizio Oliva, Palazzo Dello Sport, Ribera, Italy

Fighting an Italian champion in Italy is always a daunting prospect for a foreign challenger. But when said champion has a 48-0 record and is coming off an extremely impressive performance, the degree of difficulty rises that much more.

That was the challenge that faced Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi (31-1-2, 19) who traveled across the Atlantic to challenge Oliva. The champion was four months removed from a three-round blast-out of previously unbeaten Minnesotan Brian Brunette, who, admittedly, was a career welterweight who boiled down to a weakened 139¼. Oliva was a highly decorated amateur who captured gold at the 1980 Moscow games at junior welterweight and he parlayed that speedy stick-and-move style into a championship reign when he traveled to Monte Carlo and dethroned Ubaldo Sacco by split decision.

Coggi was a well-rounded southpaw whose snappy right jab inspired his nickname of “The Lash.” He also owned a powerful left cross capable of sudden destruction. The boxer-puncher pairing — and the presence of a native champion — inspired a sellout crowd of 7,000 to pack the town’s soccer stadium.

The opening round was a study in frustration for Coggi, whose left hand bombs continually fell short of the target. On the other hand, Oliva’s twitchy stand-up boxing and well-timed clinches enabled him to win the first two rounds on the cards of Venezuelan Carlos Sucre and Dane Knud Jensen while the third judge, American Patricia Morse-Jarman, saw it 19-19. But midway through round two Coggi began finding the range with his lefts, a development that would pay big dividends a few minutes later.

A monstrous left cross sent Oliva down and through the ropes with startling suddenness midway through round three and though he clamored his way back into the ring and onto his feet the effects of Coggi’s clout proved decisive. As Coggi gunned for the kill Oliva repeatedly slapped octopus-like clinches that only delayed the inevitable. A pair of smashing lefts sent Oliva spinning to the floor and flat on his back. The kaleidoscope spinning in his brain proved too formidable for Oliva, who could only get to his knees by the time referee Bernie Soto counted 10.

“I am the champion! I am the champion!” Coggi shouted as he was carried on his handlers’ shoulders. He later said, “I knew I could have won the title, but I didn’t expect such a quick outcome. I am crazy with joy.”

“I did not see his left coming,” Oliva said in the October 1987 issue of THE RING. “I hurt my shoulder when I went down the first time and I could not defend myself when I resumed fighting. I believe Coggi was lucky with that left, but this is boxing. I think this was my last fight.”

It wasn’t. Two years and one month later Oliva returned and rolled off nine straight wins before losing to then-WBA welterweight king James “Buddy” McGirt in June 1992. This time his retirement announcement stuck and he finished with a 57-2 (20) mark. Meanwhile, Coggi would become a three-time 140-pound king who accumulated 10 defenses and retired in 1999 with a 75-5-2 (44) record.

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