Former Great Middleweight Contender
Passes At The Age Of 87
By Bobby Franklin
To realize what a master boxer Joey Giambra was all you had to do was look at his face after he retired. Giambra, who passed away on March 2nd, didn’t have a mark on him and still retained his Hollywood leading man good looks. He had fought many of the top contenders of his day during his 77 bout career and was never knocked out. In fact, he only lost ten fights with five of those losses coming in his last eight fights as his career was winding down. His last fight took place in Boston where he lost a disputed ten round decision to local favorite Joe DeNucci. Giambra took the fight on 24 hour notice filling in for Joey Archer who had been injured.
Joey Giambra’s record reads like a who’s who of the middleweight division in the 1950s. He went undefeated in his first 17 fights before losing a decision to the very experienced Johnny Cesario in 1951.
Joey was right back the next month defeating Albert Adams and went on to score ten straight victories before dropping a decision to future champ Joey Giardello. Giambra would come back less than a month later to beat Giardello. The two would have to wait until 1958 to have a rubber match in which Giambra took the decision.
Joey Giambra was an artist in the ring. He was an excellent defensive boxer who could also mix it up in close. He had an accurate left hook that he could deliver to the head as well as the body. His right hand was like a laser. Hitting him with a clean shot was next to impossible.
In 1962 when Joey was past his prime he was nothing short of magnificent in taking the hard punching Florentino Fernadez apart, stopping him in the 7th round. If you want to see the bull vs the matador, watch that fight.
Giambra fought both at a distance and in close, beating Fernadez to the punch time after time, finally busting up Florentino so badly and breaking his nose, that the referee would not let him answer the bell for the 8th round.
Other names on Joey’s record were Carl Bobo Olson, Bobby Dykes, Yama Bahama, Rocky Castellani, Gil Turner, Chico Vejar, Rory Calhoun, and Ralph Jones.
With so many victories and possessing such talent the question to be asked is why did he never get a shot at the middleweight title? It turns out Joey was a straight shooter and he wouldn’t play ball with the mob. In an interview he gave to the L.A. Times in 1989 Giambra tells the story of what happened: “Jim Norris who ran the Garden then, liked me and wanted me to get rid of my manager, Mike Scanlon, and give me one of his guys as my manager. I said I wouldn’t do it. Norris looked at me and said, ‘You’re a nice kid, Joey, but you’re naive.’ I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what naive meant.” That pretty much sealed his fate when it came to ever fighting for the title.
Joey had movie star good looks and many thought he could have had a career in Hollywood. It turns out he did have an appearance in a major motion picture. He was fighting in Reno in 1960 and Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe were at ringside. Gable took notice of hm and the next day sent a guy to find Joey and had him play a small part in the movie “The Misfits”. Giambra got $1,000.00 for saying “Hey you”.
Giambra was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and later settled in Las Vegas where he worked as a blackjack dealer and later drove cab. He had a son and a daughter and after his wife ran off he raised both children himself, doing a fine job with them. Joey also worked with a foundation that helped keep elementary school kids off drugs. He stayed fit and active until he had a stroke at the age of 78. Joey was always a clean liver and a great example for how to live life the right way.
Joey Giambra was a man of integrity and great decency. He never sold out his principles and he never became bitter. He was also one of the most gifted boxers to ever lace on a pair of gloves.
Rest in Peace Joey, you were truly the Uncrowned Champ.