The island of Sardinia greatly contributed to the history of Italian boxing by producing fighters good enough to win major titles. Between 1957 and 1969, Salvatore Burruni compiled a record of 99-9-1 (32 KOs), became European flyweight champion, won the WBA/WBC world flyweight titles, and came back on top getting the European bantamweight crown. Franco Udella was active from 1972 to 1979, won the European flyweight belt and defended it nine times. He also became the first WBC world light flyweight champion. Udella retired with a record of 37 wins (18 KOs), 5 losses and 1 no-contest. Franco Cherchi fought professionally between 1980 and 1987, built a record of 27-3 (5 KOs) and won the European flyweight title.

Right now, the best fighters to come out of Sardinia are Simone Maluddrottu and Andrea Sarritzu. They are also the only Italians on top of the European scene. Maluddrottu has been the bantamweight champion since September 18, 2004 and has made five successful defenses. His record stands at 23-1, with 9 KOs. Andrea Sarritzu won the flyweight belt last July 27, at the famed Velodromo Vigorelli in Milan, and improved his record at  25-3-3 (9 KOs).

Nobody would be surprised to see Andrea Sarritzu and Simone Maluddrottu become world champions, because they have both the skills and the respect of the boxing community. The difference between them is the attention they get from the media. Maluddrottu fights on RAI Sat, a network that can be seen only buying a decoder or a parabolic antenna. Besides, he is not often interviewed by the major newspapers. On the other hand, Sarritzu is closely followed by major television networks. Mediaset Premium broadcast his July 27 fight live on pay-per-view. Since it was very exciting, free channel Italia 1 replayed it on August 19. Sports and general newspapers wrote long articles about Andrea because he won the European belt in a spectacular way, TKOing tough Spaniard Ivan Pozo a few seconds after the beginning of the 12th round. Primo Carnera’s daughter Mrs.Giovanna Maria also gave Sarritzu the award of best fighter of the night and this added a lot of fascination to the Sardinian’s victory.

Born in Quartu Sant’Elena on April 9, 1976, Andrea Sarritzu can be considered a real-life version of Rocky Balboa. Just like Sylvester Stallone’s character, Andrea started from the bottom and had to work his way up facing many tough opponents. When he had 19 professional fights (17-1-1), he fought WBO world flyweight champion Omar Andres Narvaez. El Huracan had a record of 12-0-1, but had proved to be the best in the division. The match took place on December 14, 2002 in Quartu Sant’Elena. After 12 hard rounds, Narvaez got two scorecards in his favor (116-112 and 116-113), while one judge had it for Sarritzu (116-112). It’s almost unbelievable that a boxer cannot get a split decision in his own backyard. It seems partisan verdicts happen everywhere but in Italy. The rematch between the Argentinean and the Italian proves my statement. On August 9, 2003, in Cagliari, Sarritzu and Narvaez fought to a draw: 116-112 (Narvaez), 115-113 (Sarritzu) and 114-114. Rather than writing good things about Andrea’s capacity to fight at the same level with the champion of the world, many journalists wrote that Sarritzu was an eternal prospect who would never make it big. And what happened on July 8, 2005 in Vigo (Spain) didn’t help Andrea’s image: he got another big opportunity against Ivan Pozo for the vacant European flyweight crown. That night, Sarritzu underperformed and nobody raised an eyebrow when Pozo was declared the winner (117-111 and twice 117-112).

It has to be said that Narvaez and Pozo are first-class boxers. Like all Argentineans, Narvaez has a great killer instinct. Also, he is a southpaw and that makes him even more dangerous. After almost six years as a professional, he is still undefeated (22-0-2, 15 KOs) and has successfully defended the WBO belt eight times. Ivan Pozo has built a record of 24 wins (15 KOs) and 4 losses. He was European flyweight champion from July 8, 2005 to July 27, 2006. In a little more than a year, he defended the title three times.

After losing his first fight for the EBU title, Sarritzu won two easy bouts just to stay in shape while waiting for the rematch. In the days prior to the second war against Ivan Pozo, the Sardinian was very confident and gave me the impression that he would score an upset. He did it by coming from behind, a la Rocky Balboa,. Pozo knocked down Sarritzu in the first round and kept pressure on him in the following minutes. As the fight progressed, Sarritzu started to dictate the pace. Around the 10th stanza, it was clear that the Italian would come out the winner. In the 11th round, he punched Pozo around the ring he was a heavy bag; the referee could have stopped the massacre and saved the Spaniard from further punishment. Right after the beginning of the last three minutes, Sarritzu launched many consecutive and unanswered punches to Pozo forcing the referee to declare the TKO. Suprisingly, Ivan’s cornermen protested. They stopped when Pozo fell to the mat and had to be rescued by the doctors, put on a stretcher and carried to the hospital. Thankfully, Pozo recovered. After his big performance, Andrea told me that he was happy for more than a reason:

“Now they will stop writing that I never fully expressed my potential. I’m the European champion and they will treat me with the respect that I deserve. I don’t fight for the money, but for the pride to say that I’m the best in my own continent. I also want to be the best in the world. I cannot wait for another shot at WBO king Omar Narvaez.”

Money is another thing that Andrea has in common with Rocky Balboa: he works on the docks, boxing is just extra income. To train properly, Andrea had to get the OK from the company he works for in Sardinia; he got it and moved to Civitavecchia, in the Lazio region, where he trained with Franco Cherchi. Until the 1970s, a European champion didn’t have to work to make ends meet. I don’t know how much Sarritzu and Pozo were paid, but reading the interview to Paolo Vidoz published last January 23 on this website you will discover how much an European heavyweight champion makes: that’s a lot more than a North American champion, but not enough to become rich. It has to be said that while the NABF, NABA and NABO titles are considered minor belts in North America, the EBU crown is very important in Europe. A boxer can retire satisfied after becoming EBU champion because he knows that he will be included in the history books. In Sarritzu’s case, the EBU belt won’t be his final stop, like his manager Christian Cherchi confirms:

“He is the number one in the WBO rankings and he has the skills to defeat Omar Narvaez. That’s why we are working to get Andrea a title shot. Anyway, we are not in a hurry. Sarritzu can defend the European belt a few times and later fight for the world title.”