All posts by Bobby Franklin

What Really Happened In The First Conn Vs Louis Fight

Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn

Polo Grounds June 18, 1941

What Really Happened?

By Bobby Franklin

(This article first appeared I the Boston Post Gazette and IBRO Journal In 2014)

Over my lifetime in boxing I
have heard the story of the first
Louis – Conn fight countless
times. Most followers of the Art
of Boxing are familiar with it.
Conn was boxing rings around
Joe Louis for twelve rounds and
leading on all the scorecards.
All he had to do was keep
dancing and jabbing and he
would win the fifteen round decision, but instead, the former light heavyweight champ got cocky in the thirteenth round and went for the knockout and ended up getting kayoed himself.

I recently noticed that ESPN Classic was going to show the fight and I began to realize, even though I was sure I knew just what happened during the match, that I had never seen more then some highlights from the bout. The memory I had of it was from what I had heard from boxing people throughout the years. I made some calls to a number of people well versed in the sport and asked each one how they believe the fight went, specifically, what punch did Conn rely on the most. With one exception, I was told that Conn had used his jab extensively and danced around Joe keeping himself at a safe distance from the champion’s power. It wasn’t until he decided to knock out Louis that he got close and Joe was able to end the fight. I also remembered a bit different version of the bout that was related to me by my trainer many years ago. I decided I was going to record the ESPN showing of the fight and see for myself how it went. They did show all the rounds, but many of them were not complete. Though I would like to see the fight in it’s entirety, I do believe I saw enough to understand Billy’s strategy against Louis.

It is also interesting to note that in his seven bouts against the big men [Conn] scored kayos in five of them.

A little background  first. Billy Conn was taken seriously as a challenger to Joe Louis. Conn had given up his light heavyweight title a year before in order to campaign full time as a heavyweight. He defeated a number of leading contenders including Bob Pastor (KO 13), Al McCoy (UD 10), Lee Savold (UD 12), and Gunnar Barland (TKO 8), so he had earned his chance at the championship. It is also interesting to note that in his seven bouts against the big men he scored kayos in five of them. That is almost half of the knockouts he scored in his entire career. Conn is not remembered as a big puncher, but he did show power against larger opponents. It was not because Conn had bulked up, as he did not. I would argue it was because the bigger opponents were slower and easier targets for his shots.

In the title fight Louis’ weight was announced as 199 1⁄2 (Joe worked hard to get below 200 for the weigh in as he didn’t want to seem to be a lot bigger then Billy). Conn came in officially at 174. It is believed by many that when they stepped into the ring their weights were 204 and 169 respectively. Giving Louis an advantage of over thirty pounds.

Now to the fight itself. Did Conn actually dance circles around Louis while sticking him with repeated jabs? No. Billy knew from the outset that it would be suicide to trade jabs with Joe, as the champion possessed the best left jab in heavyweight history. On top of this, Louis was also a genius at slipping and countering his opponent’s jab, and Joe had a great reach advantage over Conn. So, what was Conn to do?

Billy kept moving on his feet while feinting, but he didn’t stay that far away from the champion.Instead, he would move in and out. He would begin a jab, but then as Louis would start to counter it, Conn would turn it into a left hook, this is known as hooking off the jab. Billy would also get in close and throw left and right hooks to the body and head along with uppercuts, then he would tie up the champ. He was very fast and accurate, and he threw very few jabs throughout the fight.

Of course, during all of this Louis wasn’t just standing there. Joe was having a lot of trouble dealing with Billy, but he never lost his cool. The very hard punching champion was landing a lot of solid shots to Conn’s body. These punches began to take a toll in the later rounds as Billy’s legs began to weaken and he was losing strength. In the eighth round Conn shook Joe with a left hook. Billy had a very good round in the eleventh and shook his fist in the air after the bell rang as if to say, “The title will soon be mind”. Even though the eleventh round saw Conn landing solid blows on Joe, he was paying a price for it as Louis continued punishing him to the body.

Things became very interesting in the twelfth round. Conn came out on fire at the bell. His hands were still moving very fast, but his legs had slowed down just a bit. He continued mixing it up inside with Joe even staggering the champion a couple of times. On one of
these occasions as Joe was sent reeling, he threw his weight onto Billy. Billy pushed him off, but expended a lot of energy in doing so.

Billy’s knees buckled, and after the bell sounded he seemed disorientated and was confused as to where his corner was.

Now, and this is something you have to look very carefully to see because of the camera angle, just before the bell rang ending the round, Louis hit Conn with a very hard right hand. Billy’s knees buckled, and after the bell sounded he seemed disorientated and was confused as to where his corner was. His seconds seemed to notice this as they jumped into the ring and started splashing water on his face. This was the beginning of the end.

As the bell sounded for the fatal thirteenth round, Conn came out and tried to continue with his strategy of slipping inside and throwing hooks, but he was weaker now. He seemed to be going all out with what little he had left in him, but Joe could smell blood. Billy got off a couple of great combos, but then Joe went to work. He started connecting with uppercuts. Conn was hurt, and he was in with a guy who knew how to finish a fight. Louis ended the bout with a right uppercut and devastating left hook. Conn valiantly tried to get to his feet, but his legs would not respond. He had given it his all.

The narrative after the bout that has lived on is that Conn had the title and only had to dance around for the last three rounds in order to gain the decision. That instead, he got cocky and decided to slug with the champ. I believe Conn did not changed his tactics, that he had been worn down by Louis’ superior strength and body punches, and that he had no choice but to make a last stand and try to win by knockout.

It should also be noted that, while Conn was leading on the scorecards, he did not have the fight in the bag.

It should also be noted that, while Conn was leading on the scorecards, he did not have the fight in the bag. The scores through twelve were 5-7, 4-7-1 even, and 6-6. He had a good lead but Louis still could have won on points by taking the last three rounds.

None of this is meant to take anything away from Billy Conn. He fought a brilliant fight against a man considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. He showed guts, speed, power, and amazing skill, but Louis showed the patience that is the mark of a great champion and never lost his cool. This is a fight that should be studied by all boxing aficionados. It is one of the great fights of all time, and there is much to be learned by watching it.


Remembering Carlos Ortiz

Carlos Ortiz

One Of The Last Of The

Golden Age Champions 

Answers His Final Bell

By Bobby Franklin

Carlos Ortiz

Carlos Ortiz passed away on June 13th at the age of 85. Born in 1936 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Carlos began fighting professionally at the age of 18. Well schooled, he was a superb boxer/puncher who certainly rates up there with the best lightweights of all-time.

Ortiz turned pro in 1955 and Ortiz had a record of 28 wins suffering just one defeat over the first three years. That loss was to Johnny Busso in1958. He beat Busso in a rematch three months later. In 1959 he got a shot at the vacant Light Welterweight Title. In a bout against Kenny Lane Carlos won recognition as the new champion. 

He defended the belt winning by a tenth round knockout over Battling Torres in 1960. Next, he took on  the Italian champ Duilio Loi. The fight took place in California. Loi came in to the fight with 102 wins against just 2 losses. In a close fight Ortiz won a majority decision. This was only Carlos’s 35th fight and he was in there with an extraordinary fighter. 

Ortiz was so confident he could improve on his performance that he agreed to a rematch in Italy just three months later. This fight also ended with a majority decision but in Loi’s favor this time. The two met once more  in 1961. Again fighting in Italy with Loi winning a unanimous decision.

Carlos Ortiz Winning The Lightweight Title From Joe Brown

After the second loss to Loi, Carlos began fighting as a lightweight. In 1962 he challenged the great Joe Brown for the title. Ortiz won convincingly and his reign as champion began.

In 1965 he lost the crown to Ismael Laguna but won it back the following year. He would continue as champion until 1968 when he was defeated by Carlos Teo Cruz. Despite having lost by a split decision, Ortiz did not fight for  the championship again. He went into semi-retirement and fought only once over the next three years. That fight being a win against Edmundo Leite in November of 1969.

Carlos Ortiz Defeating Ismael Laguna In 1967

Carlos retired after that fight, but then made a comeback in 1971. As with so many fighters, he had fallen on hard times. Now 35 years old he was long last his prime but still felt he could win back the lightweight crown. 

After winning nine straight fights he was matched against Lightweight Champion Roberto Duran in a non-title fight on the undercard of the second Patterson/Ali fight in New York. Duran came down with the flu and dropped out of the fight a week before it was scheduled to happen. Former Champ Ken Buchanan stepped in to take his place.

Maria And Carlos Ortiz

The match turned out to be one sided. Father time had caught up with the great champion. Ortiz, exhausted, retired after the 6th round. He gave it all he had but just could not turn the clock back. It was the only time he was stopped in 70 fights. When interviewed after the fight a candid Carlos said 

“This was definitely my last fight. I started tiring in the 4th round. And I realized after the 6th that I couldn’t go on and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I was in the best shape I could have been. Time just caught up with me.” 

Boxing historian and author of The Arc of Boxing, Mike Silver knew Carlos well. I reached out to him for his thoughts on Ortiz, the man and the boxer. Here’s what he had to say:

Mike Silver remembers Carlos Ortiz: Carlos Ortiz’s storied career represents so much in boxing that has been lost over the past two generations. He was among the last of the great “golden age” champions and contenders who turned professional in the decade after World War II and achieved a level of skill that evoked admiration from the old-time trainers who’d seen every great lightweight champion since the 1920s. He was a consummate boxer and ranks as one of the greatest lightweight champions of the 20th century, up there with Leonard, Canzoneri, Ross, McClarnin, Mandell, Ambers, Williams, Carter and, yes, Roberto Duran. How he would have done against those legends is pure speculation, but they would have been competitive contests. Taking nothing away from Duran, but Ortiz’s competition in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions had more depth. Duran held victories over Hector Thompson, Ken Buchanan, Esteban DeJesus, the Viruet brothers and Sugar Ray Leonard. Ortiz defeated Len Mathews, Paolo Rossi, Dave Charnley, Kenny Lane, Dulio Loi, Flash Elorde, Sugar Ramos, Ismael Laguna, and drew with Nicolino Loche in Argentina (Loche’s hometown). 

 When I am asked to recommend a fight to watch on YouTube that would demonstrate the art of boxing at its best my answer is the third match between Carlos Ortiz and Ismael Laguna. It is like watching a class in brilliant boxing technique, especially as relates to effective use of the left jab, timing, and counter punching skills. Laguna was a fine boxer with extraordinary speed, but Ortiz was a master technician with all the answers.    

I had the honor of interviewing Carlos Ortiz in 1998. (This interview is included in Mike’s latest book “The Night The Referee Hit Back: Memorable Moments From The World Of Boxing”).  I have met and interviewed dozens of former world champions and top contenders. What impressed me about Ortiz was his intelligence, and I’m not just talking about boxing intelligence. Carlos, I am positive had a very high IQ, and could have succeeded in any profession he chose. But, thankfully for us, he chose boxing (or more correctly boxing chose him) and we fans are all the richer for it.

In his 70 fights Ortiz won 61 times with just 7 losses, 1 draw, and 1 no-decision. He scored 30 kayos.

My condolences to the Ortiz family, and to Carlos’s lovely wife Maria. Carlos Ortiz will be missed but never forgotten.

Did Baer Throw The Braddock Fight? Yes!

Braddock vs Baer

Was It On The Level?

By Bobby Franklin

(This article originally appeared in the Boston Post Gazette in 2019)

Baer And Braddock At The Weigh In

On June 6, 1934 Max Baer won the Heavyweight Championship of the World by defeating Primo Carnera in the 11th round. He had floored the courageous champion 11 times on his way to winning the crown. Baer, who had preciously scored a brutal kayo over Max Schmeling, looked like a man who would be champion for quite some time. He was a brutal puncher in the ring while possessing the charm of a Hollywood leading man outside of it. in fact, he had made himself a bit of a reputation acting in movies. He was a man sitting on top of the world.

Just a few days over a year later that would all change when Max put the title on the line on against the lightly regarded James J. Braddock. Braddock had been a leading light heavyweight contender a few years earlier, but injuries and a number of loses had derailed his career. He had managed to string together a number of wins over heavyweights and position himself for a shot at Baer. Nobody gave him a chance, and many thought he was risking his life to step in the ring with the murderous punching Max. 

In fact, earlier in his career Baer had killed Frankie Campbell in the ring, and many also believed he was the one responsible for the death of Ernie Schaaf who collapsed and died in his fight with Primo Carnera after being hit with a left jab. In an earlier fight with Baer Schaaf had taken some terrible shots and was knocked unconscious as the final round ended. He was saved by the bell and lost a decision to Baer.  It is believed the blows from Max had caused an injury to Ernie from which he never recovered, resulting in his death in the Carnera fight. 

It seemed unbelievable Braddock would have any chance against Baer. While he was certainly a very capable boxer, he just would not have the strength to hold off the dynamite that was in Max’s two fists. He went into the fight a ten to one underdog. However, he did go on to win the title that night, and along with that win he became known as the Cinderella Man. 

Most people are now familiar with the Braddock story from the 2005 movie directed by Ron Howard. In the movie Braddock’s fight with Baer is depicted as a life and death struggle with Jimmy hanging on to win a close and exciting fight. Actual footage of the fight tells a different story.

When I was a kid my father and I watched an 8mm film of the Braddock/Baer match on a home movie projector. It was the only time I had seen the fight until I viewed it again the other day. I do remember when watching it with my father how surprised he was at what he saw. He was a teenager when the bout took place but had never seen it. He was a great admirer of Braddock, particularly because after winning the title James had repaid the money he had collected while on relief (welfare) when things were bad for him and his family. I admired that about him as well.

They Were Just Dancing

What surprised my father while watching the film was how the two men were fighting. He had always believed Braddock had won in the manner depicted in the Ron Howard movie. After viewing the film for a short while my father exclaimed “Max threw the fight!” He was disappointed to see that, as it took the glow off of Braddock’s win. My father also liked Baer very much so that added to his disappointment. He justified it all by saying Max probably did it because he liked and felt sorry for Braddock and his family. 

I decided to take another look at the fight to see what I would think after all of these years. After viewing highlights from each of the 15 rounds, I have no doubt at all that Baer threw the fight. I even think it is possible Braddock was in on it as well. For most of the fight it looks like two guys trying not to hurt each other. It is nothing like the all out battle seen in the Howard movie. 

Let’s Talk

The fight, which took place on June 13, 1935 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl on Long Island, was one of the most boring in history. With the exception of one round, the 7th, Baer didn’t through any serious punches, and in that round he only opened up because the crowd was booing and he felt he had to look like he wasn’t dogging it. When he did land a decent right hand he hurt Braddock but immediately backed off. 

At the opening bell you would think it was Jimmy who had the tremendous power in his hands as Baer began the fight by backpedaling. As the fight progressed Baer did some clowning that brought laughter from the crowd and which was more exciting than fight itself. He also was talking to Braddock quite a bit, and if you watch closely it appears the two men are speaking to each other in the clinches. It would be interesting to know what they said to one another. 

They seemed to be afraid of hurting one another.

Going into the fifteenth round Braddock appeared ahead in the scoring. Max had to know this, yet he did nothing to try and save the title. In fact, the two men spent most of the round at close quarters exchanging light punches. They seemed to be afraid of hurting one another. The fact that Braddock was also not throwing hard punches gives me reason to believe he was aware of the fix. 


In the end James J. Braddock was award the decision. The scoring on one judge’s card and the referee’s was pretty one sided. The other judge had it scored evenly by rounds at 7-7 with 1 even. However, he gave the fight to Braddock based on points which is the rule in New York when a judge’s card comes up even. 

Neither fighter made a particularly good payday out of this fight as it didn’t draw big money. Ironically, both would make the biggest purses of their careers in their next fight against the same opponent. They both took on Joe Louis.

I have not gotten into the reasons Max Baer would have thrown this fight, but after watching it closely I have no doubt that my father was correct when he said “Max threw the fight!

George Foreman Not An All Time Great

Weak Opposition And Fatal

Flaw Keeps Him From Elite Status

By Bobby Franklin

George Foreman

Big George Foreman is remembered as a powerful man and a devastating puncher. His brutal destruction of Joe Frazier in 1973 is etched in every fight fan’s memory. It is mainly off of this performance that George made it onto many people’s lists of all time greats. That January night in Jamaica he looked fearsome. In taking Frazier apart so one sidedly, he took on an almost superhuman status. But on closer examination of his record and boxing technique, the all time great designation doesn’t hold up.

Going into the title fight with Frazier, George had an impressive undefeated record of 37 and 0. Only three opponents had gone the distance with him. Yet, even with those impressive numbers, Frazier was made a 3 1/2 to 1 favorite to retain the title. Joe was also undefeated at the time and had defeated Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century less than two years earlier.

While Foreman’s record looks good on paper, when taking a closer look at his opposition the numbers give a clearer picture of why he was the underdog. Out of those 37 opponents there were very few that could be considered serious competition. In fact, in his last bout before facing Joe, George fought Terry Sorrell, who at the time had had a total of 19 fights winning only 4. Sorrell would close out his career with a record of 29 fights with only 6 wins (3 by KO), 22 losses (10 by KO), and 1 draw. 

Some might argue this was just a warmup bout for George before stepping in with the Champ. Well, a warmup bout usually involves having a warm body for opposition. I’m not sure it was ever verified Sorrell had a pulse when he stepped into the ring. 

Three fights earlier George had faced the immortal Clarence Boone. Boone had a record of 30 fights, winning only 3 with 26 losses and 2 draws. Of those 26 losses he had been stopped 14 times. I think the promoters used the same undertaker that provided Terry Sorrell for George.

George Foreman’s vs Gregorio Peralta. February 16, 1970.

Go back one more fight and you will see where an opponent was dug up who made Boone and Sorrell look like Louis and Dempsey. On January 29, 1972, George faced the immortal Joe Murphy Gordwin of Houston, Texas. This would be the final fight of Gordwin’s career and he would bring his remarkable record of 1 win, 1 draw, and an astounding 15 losses (13 by KO) into the ring with him that night. George surely had to be terrified; terrified he might kill Joe Murphy. 

Go back a little further in George’s career and you will find such immortals as Vic Scott (1 win 2 losses), Bob Hazelton (3 wins, 6 losses), Leo Peterson (3 wins, 4 losses), and Fred Askew (2 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw).

Of course, when a young fighter is being brought along, it is not unusual for him to be given “opponents” to face. But usually those “opponents” are fighters who, while not posing much of a threat, do have beating hearts and the ability to provide some opposition so the prospect will have a chance to learn his trade and improve.

Looking back at the rest of George’s opposition in those 37 fights, you will not find a lot of strong opposition. While many are better than those I have just mentioned, most aren’t too far ahead of the Boones and Sorrells. 

George did face a few solid “opponents” during those years. Levi Forte (20 wins, 21 losses 12 by KO, and 2 draws) and Roberto Davila (21 wins, 14 losses 3 by KO) both were the type of boxer an up and coming prospect would be expected to face, and both extended George the full ten round limit.

The most notable names on Foreman’s record at the time were Boone Kirkman, Gregorio Peralta (twice), and George Chuvalo. His wins over Kirkman and Chuvalo were impressive, he struggled with Peralta.

Kirkman was another up and comer who had faced a series of “opponents” and had not been tested. George simply overpowered him.

Chuvalo was known as incredibly tough. He had never been knocked off his feet, and a number of years earlier had given Muhammad Ali a tough go of it. But with the exception of a very odd win over Jerry Quarry, the Canadian never beat a top rated contender. His slow moving style made him an easy target for Foreman’s heavy but wide swings. Big George did look impressive in stopping Chuvalo.

I have written about Foreman’s fights with Peralta. George won their first fight by decision, and stopped Peralta in their rematch. In both fights, George’s flaws were exposed. It was these flaws Ali exploited a few years later to regain the crown.

Looking at the accumulated record of Foreman’s opposition at the time of the Frazier fight you see that combined they had a total of 289 wins, 376 losses, and 58 draws. if you remove the three fighters who had a pulse from that group, Peralta, Chuvalo, and Kirkman you end up with a group that had a total of only 100 wins with 355 losses, and 48 draws. 

Foreman Staggered By Jimmy Young

After defeating Frazier, Foreman defended the title twice in impressive fashion knocking out Joe Roman in one round and Ken Norton in two. Roman would have been considered an opponent if he had fought Foreman earlier, and was far from having an impressive record. Norton was never able to stand up to a big puncher as was seen when he went on to be kayoed in one round by both Earnie Shavers and Gerry Cooney.

After those two defenses George lost the title to Ali who used many of the tactics the over the hill Peralta had employed a few years earlier. After the loss to Ali, George still did not score any major wins with the exception of his victory in a slugfest with Ron Lyle, which was a battle of attrition, not skill.

He closed out his career with a loss to the light punching Jimmy Young, who also used technique to neutralize George’s power. Without that power Foreman had no boxing skill to fall back on to win a fight.

Foreman’s Flaw On Display

His major flaw was extending his arms when trying to parry punches. If you watch him in action, it appears he is trying to emulate Jack Johnson’s strategy of catching punches with an open glove. Only with Johnson, he would grab the punch just before it was about to land on him. With George, he would reach out and try to stop it just as it was being thrown. As a fight moved along he would begin pawing with both his hands and leave himself open. Ali, Young, Peralta, and Lyle were all able to land on him because of this fatal flaw. Any one off the great, and even not so great heavyweights of the past would have spotted this flaw and taken advantage of it. 

George certainly had amazing raw power, but that only takes a fighter so far. He did not develop the skills to make him a great fighter. Sure, he would always have a puncher’s chance against anyone. But hoping for a lucky punch is not the stuff of greatness. George simply never showed the skills to be considered an all-time great heavyweight champion.

I have not discussed Foreman’s second career because it really is not relevant to this discussion. Foreman 1.0 was the prime George and the one to look at when judging him as an all time great.  

Boston Lyric Opera Presents “Champion: An Opera In Jazz”



From the Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oscar-nominated team of composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Michael Cristofer.

Boston Lyric Opera returns to first full staging in a theater since 2019

May 18, 20 and 22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre


The true story of six-time world champion prizefighter Emile Griffith is told in Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) new production of Champion: An Opera in Jazz by Grammy Award-winning composer Terence Blanchard (Fire Shut Up in My Bones), with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer. The contemporary opera is brought to the stage by acclaimed theater director Timothy Douglas and award-winning conductor Kwamé Ryan, and will be presented for three performances on May 18, 20 and 22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater. Tickets are available now.

Champion chronicles Griffith’s sweeping life story, from his beginnings in the Virgin Islands to his athletic success in America, through passionate love affairs and a tragedy that changed his life. The story is told as memories from an older Emile with dementia who is on a journey to redeem himself from the fight that left his opponent Benny “Kid” Paret dead.

Brian Major

Champion’s story alternates between the story of the physically strong yet gentle Young Emile, who finds success in St. Thomas as a women’s hatmaker with a raucous social life before being recruited by an American boxing promoter, and an older Emile whose post-boxing life includes a long-time male companion who helps him navigate mental and physical decline, and a search for redemption.

Griffith’s rise as a champion athlete ran parallel with his complex personal life; he married a woman, had sexual relationships with men, and openly frequented gay bars in 1960s New York. Whispers about Griffith became public when his opponent Benny “Kid” Paret taunted him in front of the media at a pre-match weigh-in. Enraged, Griffith dominated Paret in a brutal fight, landing a rapid series of 17 blows that ended the match and put Paret in a coma. Paret died of a brain injury soon after.

Markel Reed

“The story of Champion is one of a desire to find a sense of belonging,” says Acting Stanford Calderwood General & Artistic Director Bradley Vernatter. “The details may be unique to Emile Griffith, but it is the story of many.  Terence Blanchard’s score is a mix of styles, one that is uniquely American, and reveals the warmth of Emile’s story, and the complexities of his life.”

The cast of Champion: An Opera in Jazz includes returning artists and company debuts:

  • Brian Major (playing Emile Griffith) who makes his BLO debut;
  • Markel Reed (Young Emile) who makes his BLO debut;
  • Tichina Vaughn (Emelda Griffith, Emile’s mother) who makes her BLO debut;
  • Chabrelle L. Williams (Cousin Blanche/Sadie Griffith) who sang the lead role, Milica, in BLO’s Svadba and originated this role in the World Premiere cast of Champion at Opera Theater of Saint Louis;
  • Jesus Garcia (Luis Rodrigo Griffith) who starred in BLO’s most recent productions of The Barber of Seville and La Bohème;
  • Todd Thomas (promoter Howie Albert), who makes his BLO debut;
  • Stephanie Blythe (Kathy Hagen), who makes her BLO debut with this performance and was recently cast in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2023 production of Champion;
  • Neal Ferreira (Ring Announcer) a BLO Emerging Artist alumnus and veteran of many BLO productions, including the 2018 production of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti; and
  • Nicholas LaGesse (Man in the Bar/Young Man), a BLO Emerging Artist.
Chabrelle Williams

Boston Lyric Opera’s Champion: An Opera in Jazz will be performed Wed., May. 18 @ 7:30PM, Friday May 20 @ 7:30PM and Sun., May 22 @ 3PM  at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater, 219 Tremont Street, Boston. Individual tickets start at $25 (plus fees) and are available now at



Frank Dell’Apa Remembers Mike Marley

Mike Marley

Remembered By His Friend 

Frank Dell’Apa

By Bobby Franklin

Michael Marley

The Harvard and Commonwealth Avenue Section of the Allston neighborhood of Boston was a very interesting place back in the 1950s and early 60s. Comprised mostly of apartment buildings along with some two family homes, it had a very New York feel to it. With a combination of nice restaurants and dive bars it attracted all types. The variety of immigrants that had settled there differentiated it from other parts of the city which tended to be defined by one group or another.

 Among the people who lived there over the years were Wrestler Maurice Tillet; also known as the French Angel, Killer Kowalski, and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor. Add the name of Michael Marley to that eclectic crowd.

From an early age Mike was a natural in front of a camera. He was quick on his feet, had a great sense of humor, and was never afraid to speak his mind. He grew up in Boston, but in many ways he was an old time New York City guy. He easily fit in with the crowd at Jimmy Glenn’s Corner Bar on West 44th Street while also being welcomed by a redneck crowd in Reno. Mike was comfortable in almost any setting.

LeRoy Neiman Sketch Of Mike During Exhibition Bout With Tommy Hearns

Mike Marley passed away on March 2 at his home in Falmouth, MA. The cause of death was Parkinson’s Disease. He was 71.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike’s longtime friend, Boston Globe journalist Frank Dell’Apa. The two attended the University of Nevada at Reno and it was Mike who encouraged Frank in becoming a newspaper writer. I already knew quite a bit about Mike, but in talking with Frank I really have gotten to know what a truly remarkable guy he was. 

I’d like to share some what Frank Dell’Apa told me about Mike:

Friendship With Ali

15 Year Old Mike Marley Upstages Muhammad Ali

 “It was the Ali relationship that defined Mike’s life. He was 12-year-old when Herb Ralby gave him a ticket to B’Nai B’rith Sports Lodge dinner at Sheraton – Mike was there to get Stan Musial’s autograph, he was a baseball fan at the time. But 20-year-old Cassius Clay stole the show, according to Ralby’s story in the Globe. That was it, Mike became an Ali fan and he started the Cassius Clay Fan Club, which became the Muhammad Ali Fan Club – Mike got business cards that billed him as “The World’s Youngest Boxing Writer” (also Ted Whitfield Fan Club) and became a Ring Magazine correspondent.

“Two years later, Ali came to Boston for the Liston fight and Mike called him at his hotel: Mike fired off an Ali-like rhyme and Ali recognized him as “you’re that kid that’s following me …” and asked Mike if he was “a black boy or white boy,” and Mike replied: “I’m a white boy, should I hang up?” Ali said no and invited him up to his room.

“Then Ali had the hernia operation and the fight was postponed; Mike went to the press conference at Boston City Hospital and Ali put him on the dais as “this little boy from Boston, My No. 1 fan”/ that’s when Mike praised Ali for his boxing prowess, etc. … and also his “humility,” which brought a smile to Ali’s face and also was Ali’s cue to get Mike off the podium since he was starting to actually take the limelight somewhat … they stayed in touch.

“Mike went to Lewiston and almost every Ali fight after that … he got to the training camp in Chicopee,  met everyone, including Diamond Jim Riley, Rudolph Valentino “Rahman” (Ali’s Brother). Angelo Dundee didn’t want to be responsible for Mike and prevented him from boarding the bus to Lewiston. (Mike ended up getting a ride with Diamond Jim Riley). Malcolm X had been assassinated Feb. 21, 1965; Ali-Liston 1 Feb. 25, 1965; Ali-Liston II May 25, 1965 – some thought Ali could be a target of assassins, etc.

“At that time, Mike met another Bostonian — Louis X, who became Farrakhan, they made a connection and met a couple times later – both went to Boston English. … Drew “Bundini” Brown, Wali Muhammad … Mike got on the bus with all of them post-fight (he was only white person on bus) and was part of the family from then on.  Mike’s mother, Dorothy, raised him and he loved her (a photo of her greeted you at his Falmouth home) and his brother Joe (Chip), but father figures/male role models were the boxing guys.”

As  Journalist

Mike With Kris Kristofferson

“Mike’s roots were in journalism and newspaper writing, old school Boston –  totally influenced by the sports writers of the Globe, Herald, Traveler, Post, Record-American, etc. he grew up with. … it was a competitive business and they were clever writers, wise cracking, sense of humor – Bud Collins took a liking to Mike when Mike was abut 12 – Mike always talked about Col. Dave Egan, John Gillooly, etc

“Then came the sports talk shows, they were naturals. Mike was a Glick Nick, he was up late with Larry Glick. To the end, he went to sleep listening to late-night radio talk, now on an Alexa. 

“Also, not many fight writers actually ever got into the ring, at least the modern generation – you guys that did get in there bring an unequaled understanding of the sport to your writing. Bobby Townsend in Brockton was another, he went on to modest pro career. Mike decisioned Townsend in the amateurs. Mike got his start in boxing at New Garden gym where he was trained by Al Clemente and Johnny Dunn. He fought at Arena Annex, the Fargo Building, and in Lowell. He received a boxing scholarship to University of Nevada-Reno, which is where I met him – first time I saw him he was in the ring and he won by TKO against an opponent from Chico State – he was basically all footwork, jab and move. (Crazy having a collegiate boxing team; those were the most passionate college sporting events I’ve seen to this day – forget Final 4s, Beanpots, football Bowl Games – when your classmates are in the ring, it’s not just school pride on the line, it’s something else, as well). [btw – just happened we both went to UNR, lucky for me]

“He told me it was after he fought Johnny Coiley that he realized he wasn’t going to be a pro. Later when at NY Post Mike sparred with Tommy Hearns in Atlantic City.

“We worked together in Reno, Mike got me hired on the school newspaper, then part-time at the Nevada State Journal. I went to Las Vegas before Mike, because Mike actually had been fired three times (and hired back twice) in Reno; minor things, and he would’ve gotten hired back had he stayed – but he decided to come back to Boston and was driving for Ambassador Taxi in Cambridge. Las Vegas Sun hired him and two years later he was hired by sports editor Jerry Lisker at the  NY Post – he covered the Yankees for a couple years, then boxing. I’d say Mike was destined for NY – he loved coming back to Boston and North End was a must (Limoncello, Mare; coffee at Café Dello Sport, Paradiso) … but Boston couldn’t hold him, he needed to be in NY.

 “It was a competitive scene covering boxing in NY; NYT/Daily News/Post/Newsday, also SI and AP/UPI – regulars, experts – Phil Berger, Michael Katz, Marley, Wallace Matthews, Pat Putnam, Ed Schuyler, Dave Raffo – ringside seats and up front at press conferences. Mike was ahead of everybody in “scoops,” and sheer New York-brashness even though Bostonian. He  found Roberto Duran’s father working in a kitchen, I think; also found Tyson’s father; wrote about Tyson getting into a street fight, etc. Mike was close with Tyson, and of course Ali. He also knew Larry Holmes well. As much as Mike admired Ali, he thought Holmes would’ve defeated Ali.

With Lifelong Friend Ali

 “Mike is the only person I know who worked for both Cosell and Don King … he passed the NY bar and could go toe to toe with Harvard Law grad Bob Arum and did so in press conferences. Won  6 Emmys (producer for SportsBeat / Cosell). He was in the room when Arum got involved in boxing for first time, Chuvalo v. Ali in Toronto – as Mike said, Arum had never seen a fight or been in one.”

Mike’s Character

“Mike had a heart of gold – he was a criminal defense lawyer, picked up a law degree from Fordham in his “spare time” while working for NY Post. He basically raised a young kid from Harlem via Big Brother, also sponsored young kids in Ghana. The essence of Mike was he never went after anyone that couldn’t defend themselves; he challenged the guys with the money and the frauds. He was a muckraking journalist and he defended those who needed help, whether in print or courtroom – and the rest of the time he just enjoyed life to the max.”

Thank you to Frank Dell’Apa for sharing his memories of Mike Marley. Mike will be sorely missed. I smiled when I learned Mike’s slogan for his law practice was “Reasonable doubt for a reasonable price.” It is tempting to call Mike a character, but that term isn’t fair. He was a truly interesting person who lived life to the fullest and did his best to help others. 

My deepest condolences to Mike’s brother and former grammar school classmate Joe Shadyac. 

Rest In Peace Mike Marley.

Remembering Ron Stander

Rest In Peace Ron Stander

Trained In Boston For His

Shot At The Heavyweight Title 

Against Frazier

By Bobby Franklin

Ron At The New Garden Gym In 1972

Ron Stander is best remembered for the courage he showed when he challenged Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title in 1972. The fight was stopped after the fourth round with Stander suffering multiple facial lacerations; however, he was never off his feet and had rocked Frazier in the first round. 

Stander, who was known as The Council Bluffs Butcher after one of two places he called home; Council Bluffs, Iowa. He also lived not far away in Omaha, Nebraska where the fight with Frazier took place.

Tom Lovgren was a boxing promoter in Omaha and he arranged for the fight to take place there. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of Stander who believed his local hero had a real chance at upsetting Frazier. Tom decided to bring Ron to Boston to train under the guidance of local fight guy Johnny Dunn. Mighty Joe Young a talented heavyweight from Brooklyn, NY was brought in as a sparring partner.

Young was managed by Frank Gioseffi who had been a heavyweight boxer himself in the 1950s. Frank fought on the undercard of the Marciano/Moore fight. Gioseffi later changed his name to Frank Gio and became a successful actor playing in movies and television. He was in Moonstruck, Once Upon In America, King Of New York, and Analyze That among many others.

Frank wasn’t able to make it to Boston with his fighter so I was asked to handle Joe for the training sessions. That was quite an exciting assignment for a teenage kid; working in the camp for a boxer training to fight for the heavyweight championship. 

His quietness could be taken as brooding, but in reality he was a very nice guy; very easy going.

I got to know Ron Stander while he was in Boston during that time. At first he was a bit scary and intimidating. His quietness could be taken as brooding, but in reality he was a very nice guy; very easy going. 

The ring at the New Garden Gym was quite small, so the sparring sessions turned into spirited affairs. Joe Young was no soft touch and the two of them went at it pretty hard. In an early session Young caught Ron with a left hook that cracked his nose. Not wanting to postpone the bout and risk losing their title chance altogether, Stander and Lovgren opted to use a full face headgear for the rest of the sparring sessions. This protected his nose but limited Stander’s vision while boxing.

After the workouts Dunn and Stander would head downstairs to the Ninety-Nine Club for dinner and pitchers of beer. While a hard worker in the gym, Stander wouldn’t give up his beer.

Ron Defeating Earnie Shavers

Tom Lovgren told me he was convinced Stander had a great shot at winning against Frazier based on the time Ron kayoed Earnie Shavers. It was early in both men’s careers with Shavers having a record of 12 wins and 1 loss with 12 knockouts, and Stander being undefeated in 9 fights with 7 knockouts. 

Shavers gave Stander a real going over in the first two rounds but Ron withstood the battering. Lovgren told me Ron actually broke his arm during the exchanges. Stander came on in the next two rounds and put Earnie down for the count in round four. Lovgren figured Stander could have a similar performance against Frazier. He even put his money where his mouth was by betting $10,000 on Stander at ten to one odds.

The fight took place on May 25, 1972 in at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha. As expected, Ron came out swinging. In the first round he caught Joe with a right hand that shook the champion. Stander held his own and many gave him that round. The crowd was pumped.

Trading With Frazier

Frazier went to work in the second round and by the third was starting to bust Stander up. By the end of the fourth round the referee intervened and put an end to the fight. Ron ended up with 32 stitches in his face, but he never went down and was swinging until the very end. 

For his efforts, Stander’s purse was $100,000 of which he took home about $40,000, the biggest payday of his career. Lovgren lost his bet but not his respect for Stander. He was proud of his fighter as were the fans at the Civic Center who turned out to cheer him on. Ron Stander had nothing to be ashamed of. 

Ron Stander passed away on March 8th from complications related to diabetes. He was 77.

Ron’s son Frank told Peter Huguenin of the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, “As a father, he was probably one of the greatest guys in the world. He never would spank me. He was very, very gentle and loving to me and my sister. He was kind of a gentle giant. He was a different person when he was in the ring obviously, but he was very loving and caring and just always wanted me to keep it real with my deal and make sure I didn’t ever do anybody wrong and he never did anybody wrong and just be a good, genuine person.” 

That’s the Ron Stander I remember from back in Boston in 1972. 

Joe Frazier And Ron Stander

Stander would continue fighting after the loss to Frazier. He stepped in with the likes of Ken Norton, Scott LeDoux, James Tillis, Jeff Merritt, and Gerrie Coetzee. He was never able to pull out the big win, but always gave it his all. 

He retired in 1982 with a career record of 37 wins (28 by knockout), 21 losses, and 3 draws. After leaving the ring he worked as a machine operator at Vickers Inc. He made a decent living and was a good father and grandfather, well loved by his family and in his community of Council Bluffs where he lived until his death.

Ron Stander may not have been the most talented of fighters, but he was among the toughest. More importantly, he is remembered as a good man, something much more important than being a champion.


Cassius Vs Sonny: Banks That Is 

Cassius Tickles The Ivories While Sonny Dreams Of Victory

Clay Hits the Canvas for the First Time, Banks’ Life Ends In Tragedy

By Bobby Franklin

Cassius Clay was making quite the name for himself by the time 1962 had rolled around. He had a stellar amateur career behind him culminating in an Olympic Gold medal, and was undefeated in ten professional fights when he signed to fight Sonny Banks in Madison Square Garden on February 10 of the year.

Clay had already defeated some very respectable heavyweights, and this, coupled along with his self-promotion had drawn a lot of attention to the young man from Louisville, Kentucky. He had wins over the likes of Willi Besmanoff, Alex Miteff, LaMar Clark, and Alonzo Johnson. All were decent opponents.

Sonny Banks had a different career arc. He had not had any amateur bouts, and in his 12 fights leading up to his match with Cassius, he had won 12 and lost 2. He had been kayoed by Joe Shelton and lost a decision to Chuck Garett. He avenged the loss to Shelton with a knockout victory. His level of opposition was nowhere near the level of Clay’s, but he was known for having a solid punch. They had one common opponent, Tunney Hunsaker, whom Clay had beaten by decision in his first pro fight. Banks stopped him in two rounds. Hunsaker was the best Sonny had fought.

On fight night Clay was a five to one favorite. The bout didn’t attract a very big crowd but was on national television. It was a replacement fight for a match between Eddie Machen and Cleveland Williams, which had been postponed.

Clay was not expected to have any problem defeating Banks. He had much more experience, was faster, and was riding high at this early stage of his career. Banks was still getting his footing in the game. However, this was boxing and anything can happen in a fight. Cassius Clay was briefly tested in the early moments of the fight, and how he reacted gave some great insight into what he was made of.

Banks Drops Clay

In the first round of the fight, Clay came out dancing and self-assured. He was taking control early and moving on his feet a lot. Banks was following after him. At one point Cassius backed Sonny into a corner and appeared to have him trapped when suddenly, Banks unleashed a vicious left hook that caught Clay flush on the jaw. The former Olympian went down hard. I have seen this referred to as a flash knockdown, and Clay did get up fast, but make no mistake about it; he was tagged hard and appeared to have lost consciousness right after being hit.

As hard as he was hit, Clay regained his feet very fast. He was sent to a neutral corner by referee Ruby Goldstein while receiving an eight count. Another sign he was hurt was the fact that he put both hands on the ropes while in the neutral corner. Goldstein pulled his arms off the strands and sent him back into action.

Cassius recovered very quickly and was almost immediately on the attack. It was the first time he had been decked as a professional and he was not happy it happened.

Clay now stopped moving as much on his feet and focused on laser focused shots to the head. His hand speed was phenomenal, and he had precision accuracy. Banks began taking a frightful beating. This was quite a first round.

Clay Opens Up On Banks

In round two, Clay came out ready to end it. He battered Banks around the ring and dropped him near the end of the round. In the third round, the attack continued, and while Clay was not able to drop Banks again, he gave him a terrible going over. It was getting so bad that the referee called the doctor in to examine Sonny between rounds. The doctor told Ruby to keep a careful eye on the fighter and not hesitate to stop the fight.

As the fourth round opened, Clay continued his relentless assault. Referee Goldstein mercifully stopped the carnage after just 26 seconds. Other than the knockdown scored by Banks, this fight was as one sided as they come. However, it did tell us quite a bit about the potential of a young Cassius Clay. It also was the beginning of another tragedy in boxing. This one involving Banks.

Clay showed he could take a really hard punch, could be on the verge of being knocked out, and come roaring back. The fact that he rose from such a serious punch so quickly showed he was made of championship material. Cassius also displayed a killer instinct.
Once he perceived Banks to be a threat, he went to work, taking him apart mercilessly. He didn’t waste any motion, a fault he had throughout his career, and made every move count. He could be a brutal puncher when he put his mind to it. He had power, but more importantly, he had accuracy.

Banks Hits The Canvass

Poor Sonny Banks would end up one of boxing’s victims after the fight. He should never have been in with Clay to begin with. Even though they had similar professional records, Sonny had nowhere near the experience. He had no amateur career behind him and had not been in with the same caliber of opposition. I believe he was called in late to the fight as the promoters were looking to fill in the spot left open when the Machen/Williams bout fell through. Because of this, Banks gained notoriety by ending up on television and also because he had decked Clay. It was the worse thing that could have happened to him.

He was definitely seriously hurt by Clay, and worse, he was now a salable commodity. He would now be elevated to a level that was beyond where he would have been had he not fought Clay and had been brought along at a normal pace for a young prospect. In his very next fight he was matched with Young Jack Johnson. Johnson was a top ten heavyweight and vastly more experience than Banks, having stopped Zora Folley and beaten Willi Besmanoff, Ezzard Charles, and Marty Marshall. He had fought 41 times when he faced Banks. Johnson kayoed Sonny in the fifth round.

Referee Stops The Fight

After the Johnson loss, Banks went back to facing opposition more on his level and put together a number of wins over the next year and a half. He had not shown much improvement but still was a known name. In 1964 he was put in with Cleveland Williams. Williams had over 60 wins at the time with most coming via knockout. He gave Sonny a terrible beating stopping him in the 6th round.

This should have been it for Sonny Banks, but it wasn’t. Eleven months later he was put in with top prospect Leotis Martin. At this point Sonny had already taken at least three serious beatings. Boxing was not a profession he should have been pursuing, but he had a name because of the Clay fight.

It is said Sonny Banks died from injuries incurred in the Martin fight, but the circumstances leading up to his death began three years earlier in Madison Square Garden when he had his moment of glory against Cassius Clay.

Unfortunately, that notoriety cost him his life. In the Martin fight, Sonny was knocked out in the ninth round and died three days later. It is said Sonny Banks died from injuries incurred in the Martin fight, but the circumstances leading up to his death began three years earlier in Madison Square Garden when he had his moment of glory against Cassius Clay. His fame made him marketable for promoters, but he never made anything himself and was killed at the age of 24. A story not unusual in the fight game.

Rest In Peace Marion Conner

Former New England Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight

page1image19644608Champion Passes at the Age of 81

By Bobby Franklin

Marion Conner had a magical smile. When you would see him flash it, it was hard to believe this man had a career in the most violent sport there is. Yet, there was a kindness to his face that belied his career as a professional prizefighter. On January 12, 2022 Marion Conner passed away. He had been suffering for a number of years from dementia brought on from his years in the ring.


Marion was born in 1940 in Canton, Ohio. From an early age he was athletically gifted and participated in swimming, basketball, track, and football, but it was boxing that captured his imagination. I first met Marion Conner in 1965. I was a ten-year-old boy, and my father had taken me to some sort of sporting show.

At the time, I was a very shy kid, but for some reason loved to watch boxing on TV. When my father asked me if I would like to meet a real boxer in person, though a bit nervous, I jumped at the chance. He brought me over to this very handsome fellow with the friendliest smile. It was such a thrill for me to meet Marion Conner, and he made me feel like his friend. We squared off for a photo, and I never forgot that moment and the nice person who made me feel so important.


About two years later, I would attend my first professional boxing card. It was on December 18, 1967. My father brought me to the Boston Garden where we were seated a couple of rows behind former Governor Foster Furcolo. As I sat there, I saw my friend Marion Conner step into the ring with the number one heavyweight contender, Joe Frazier. I now had a personal connection right into that ring, and I was so proud of how my friend handled himself. Outweighed by thirty pounds and in with one of the all-time greats, Marion did not give an inch. He was not an opponent. He was in there to win and go on to become world champion.

Unfortunately, he had run into one of boxing’s greatest fighting machines. Not only had Marion been decked, but the referee went down as well. When you look at a picture taken right after the fight, you can see the disappointment etched in Marion’s face. He had come to win and felt he had let everyone down. Well, he hadn’t let me down. He showed this now 12- year-old what courage and determination was all about. To me, he was a winner and a champion, and I was proud of him.


Forty-five years later I would meet Marion Conner once again when he came to Boston to receive an award. We got to have another picture taken, and you can still see that wonderful smile on his face. We talked about his boxing career and how it still pains him that he never became a world champion. How thrilled he was to have met such greats as Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, and Jersey Joe Walcott. His time living in Roxbury and training at the New Garden Gym, a gym I would later work out at as I tried my hand at a boxing career. His friendship with New England Boxing Champ Larry Carney and how much he respected Larry.


When I asked him about his fighting style, he told me he was an aggressive body puncher with a very strong left hook to the head and wore his opponents down. As an amateur, he had competed as a southpaw and was turned around when he became a pro. In his first fight with Tom McNeeley, Marion credits a part of that win to switching to lefty midway through the bout. Boxing scribe Mike Marley remembers the bout that way as well.

When our discussion turned to his fight with Joe Frazier I was surprised to learn from Marion that his handlers told him to trade left hooks with Joe Frazier. That wasn’t very wise advice. I believe Marion’s best chance would have been to use his speed and a sneak right hand.

’On November 16, 1966, tragedy struck when Marion met rugged Greatest Crawford of Brooklyn, NY at the Canton Memorial Auditorium. Marion had an outstanding record of 30 fights, 23 wins, six losses, and one draw going into this fight. Crawford, who was 26 years old, was knocked out in the ninth round and was taken to a hospital after efforts to revive him failed. He underwent surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain but succumbed to the injury on November 17, 1966. The tragedy of that night took the fire out of Marion.

Marion’s wife, Emma, told me he was never the same after that fight. He would now let up when he had an opponent hurt. In his rematch with Herschel Jacobs, Marion had Jacobs cut but then backed off out of fear of hurting him. His post-Crawford record of 7-17-1 shows just what an effect the sad outcome of that fight had on him.


During his career, Marion Conner fought many of the top names in an era when boxing was still a sport with many great fighters. Look at his record, and along with Joe Frazier, you will see many familiar names. Henry Hank, Herschel Jacobs,

Tom McNeeley, Jimmy Dupree, Levan Roundtree, Mark Tessman, Billy Tisdale, Billy Douglas, and Ronnie Harris, to name just a few. It is also something to note that Joe Frazier had 37 bouts against 30 different opponents. Only two of them were light heavyweights, one being Bob Foster and the other Marion Conner. Quite an exclusive club to be in. It has been a long time since that ten year old boy first met the boxer with the warm smile, but he was still the man I remember so well from that day. When heard he had died I felt very sad. I know he is still smiling. There was something very special about him.


Marion and his lovely wife Emma had just celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary in November. Emma was his strength, and their’s was a wonderful love story. In his later years Marion devoted much time at the Food Ministry at the Community Life Church Of God In Christ. He was a good man.

So long Champ, you will be missed.




Mauriello Vs Louis

Tami Mauriello 


Joe Louis

Short But Exciting

By Bobby Franklin

Tami Mauriello

Tami Mauriello began his boxing career in 1939 fighting as a welterweight. He went undefeated in his first 24 fights before losing to the great Billy Soose by a split decision. He then went on an eight fight winning streak while moving up to the light heavyweight ranks where he earned a title shot in a bout with Gus Lesnevich. In only his second loss, Tami was robbed of the title coming out in the short end of a very unpopular decision.

Three months later the two would fight again and this time Lesnevich won a unanimous decision over Mauriello. After this loss Tami began his move into the heavyweight ranks. In his debut fight at the new weight he demolished Jay D Turner in the first round. Turner had nearly forty pounds on Tami but was no match for him.

Mauriello continued successfully campaigning at the heavier weight in hopes of landing a shot at champion Joe Louis. WWII put things on hold for Joe who was serving in the Army. Meanwhile, having scored wins over Gunnar Barland, Tony Musto, Red Burman, and a draw with Bob Pastor, In 1942 Tami was matched against Jimmy Bivins for the Interim Heavyweight Title. The fight with Bivins was a spirited affair with Jimmy gaining a 10 round split decision and the Interim Title.

Tami was back in the ring soon after scoring four wins including victories over Lou Nova and Lee Savold, he got another shot at Bivins. This time Jimmy won by a majority decision.

Tami On The Attack Against Lesnivich

Mauriello would have to wait a few years before getting another crack at a title, but he stayed busy. He fought 26 times before finally getting his shot at Joe Louis. Out of those 26 fights Tami won 24, losing only to Joe Baski and Lee Oma. He avenged the Oma defeat. He also beat Gunnar Barland, Lee Savold, and Lou Nova again, as well as knocking out British Champ Bruce Woodcock. He now was signed to fight Joe Louis.

Most observers felt that even an older Joe Louis who had recently returned from the Army and had won a long awaited but disappointing rematch over Billy Conn, would have no trouble with Tami. Yet, they also knew Mauriello possessed dynamite in his right hand, and there were distant memories of what Max Schmeling had done to Joe back in 1936, kayoing the Brown Bomber with overhand rights. Joe had learned from that loss, but could the fact that he had slowed down over the past ten years coupled with his inactivity because of the war make him vulnerable once again? That, coupled with the fact that Tami was a legitimate contender, was enough to make the match interesting to fans. 

On September 18, 1946 the two stepped into the ring at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 38,494 fans. The fight would last just a little over 2 minutes but there were fireworks. 

Tami came to win and he went right after Joe. Many believe what happened in the opening seconds of the first round was just a lucky punch by Mauriello, but if you watch the film closely you will see Tami had a plan, though one he was able to follow through to completion. 

Mauriello Lands The Right On Louis

At the bell the two came out of their corners with Joe stalking the challenger and Tami circling to his left. After just a few seconds Mauriello threw a wide left hook with caught Joe’s attention. While Louis was distracted by that punch, Tami let go with solid straight right hand catching the Champion flush on the jaw. Louis shaken by the punch and  appeared briefly to be hurt. The crowd went wild sensing a massive upset was in the works. However, Joe quickly regained his composure and tore into Mauriello who desperately tried to land a follow up right hand. 

Joe then settled down and started landing short hard shots on Tami who went down twice, but all the time he fought back ferociously. At the 2:02 mark of the round the fight was over. The crowd felt they got their money’s worth, and Tami would always be remembered for his booming right hand shot that connected.

Joe Lands A Left Hook That Lifts Tami Off His Feet

It has to be noted that this was not a lucky punch. Tami’s use of the decoy left hook was a strategy that nearly worked. He drew Joe’s attention with the move which set up the opening for the right hand he threw. Mauriello was a very, very good fighter, and he knew what he was doing. He just couldn’t follow up against the great Joe Louis.

Tami continued fighting until 1949 when he retired with a record of 82-13-1 including 60 wins by knockout. He was only stopped on 4 occasions. Movie fans will remember seeing him in the classic movie On The Waterfront alongside Marlon Brando and Lee J. Cobb.

Tami Mauriello passed away on December 3, 1999 suffering from dementia  caused by boxing, the fate that most fighters end up dealing with. He will always be remembered for his match with Louis, but should also get the respect he deserves for the stellar boxing career he had. Tami’s right hand would tear up today’s so-called heavyweight boxing division.