Tag Archives: Boston Boxing

How To Ruin A Fighter And A Life

Management Of Johnny Coiley

Is A Textbook Case

By Bobby Franklin

John Coiley

For anyone following the Boston boxing scene in the late 1960s and 1970s the name Johnny Coiley will certainly ring a bell. John was an outstanding amateur fighter who turned pro in 1969. He was a slick boxer with a decent punch who went on to win the New England Middleweight Championship.

John was never in a dull fight, using his rapier like left jab to keep his opponents at bay and also as a way to set up his solid right hand. Sixteen of his 24 wins came via stoppage. 

Fighting most often at the Boston Arena he also made stops in Taunton, MA; Portland, Maine; and the Boston Garden. His biggest win was over veteran Mike Pusateri for the New England title. The two had fought to a draw in their first encounter, and Johnny pulled out the win in their rematch. Things were looking good for the Cambridge middleweight as he had developed a loyal following of fans.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans another young prospect was making a career for himself. Tony Licata, trained by the legendary Bill Gore and managed by Lou Viscusi, was also compiling an impressive record. Licata was a smart boxer/puncher whose lightening fast combinations earned him the moniker “Machine Gun Tony.” He began his pro career a little ahead of Coiley and was facing stiffer competition than the New England Champ. 

Tony Licata

In 1971 John Coiley’s manager agreed to have his young prospect travel to New Orleans, Licata’s hometown, to face Machine Gun Tony. The wisdom of taking this fight could be questioned. While both fighters had identical records when it came to the numbers, with Licata undefeated in  24 fights with 1 ending in a draw, and Coiley with 24 fights, no losses, and one draw, their level of competition was vastly different.

Out of the opponents Coiley faced only two had winning records. By far his biggest and most impressive win was over Mike Pusateri, and that was a major victory for him. Licata had also defeated Pusateri. 

Out of Licata’s 29 opponents, only five had losing records and these were fighters he faced early in his career. By the time he was signed to fight Coiley he had wins over such solid fighters as Gene Wells, Walter Opshinsky, Danny McAloon, Luis Vinales, Dave Adkins, and a knockout victory over Lowell’s very tough Larry Carney. 

Despite this vast difference in the quality of their opposition, Johnny’s manager still agreed to the fight with Licata, and on October 27, 1971 they fought over ten rounds with Tony winning a one sided decision. John was cut under his left eye in the fight. 

Machine Gun Tony Licata And John Coiley Before Their Rematch

Soon after returning to Boston, Coiley’s manager was offered a return fight with Licata by promoter Sam Silverman.  The Coiley team immediately accepted the fight, despite the fact that Johnny was still cut under his eye. The fight would take place just six weeks after the New Orleans battle, hardly enough time for the cut to fully heal so that he could train in earnest for the fight. The wound prevented Coiley from sparring in preparation for the fight for fear it might worsen the injury. The only ring work he got was 3 rounds with a heavyweight a week before the contest. In contrast, Licata put in 70 rounds and was injury free.

John Coiley With His Manager in 1970

Why on earth would Johnny’s manager agree to the rematch so soon after their first bout and under these conditions? The answer is he shouldn’t have. This was gross mismanagement, the kind that results in bad things happening to young fighters. It is boxing malpractice. John was clearly out of his league when he fought Licata the first time. He was given a boxing lesson in New Orleans where Machine Gun Tony’s superior experience showed. There was no shame in losing to a fighter of Licata’s talent in his hometown, Coiley needed to reset and work his way up facing the type of opponents Licata did with his career. Instead, he was back in on short notice with the man who was his better.

At the time, I spoke with people who were close with Licata’s management team. They told me Tony had actually carried Coiley for the ten rounds in their first match. Their strategy was to get a rematch in Boston where they felt Licata would get more exposure and be able to advance his career. His trainer Bill Gore had trained Willie Pep and had connections in the Northeast. It was a smart move on their part abetted by the horrible decision by Coiley’s manager. 

As for the rematch, it was sad to watch. It was held at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston. Tony gave it his all this time. That, combined with the fact that Johnny was poorly trained for the fight and still injured from the first fight, led to a blowout. Tony gave Coiley a beating for seven rounds. In the eighth he dropped him with a left hook.  The knockdown was so forceful it caused a bone separation in John’s lower back. In the ninth John would once again hit the canvas. In serious trouble he would now be saved by referee Jimmy McCaron who stopped the fight.

John Coiley Squares Off With Old Rival Mike Pusateri

Coiley was shattered by the loss both physically and emotionally. He was back in the ring less than four months later stopping Danny Perez in Boston. That would be the last time his hand would be raised in victory. He had six more bouts after that, being kayoed five times with one fight ending in a draw. I saw him kayoed in Waltham, MA by Stan Johnson. It was an even more brutal beating than the one he got from Licata. This punishment took a severe toll on him that would last for the rest of his life.

Think about it, in less than four years John Coiley was knocked out five times. That’s like having been in five auto accidents resulting in brain trauma. The difference here is the fact that these injuries were not the result of accidents but of a manager who never put the health and safety of his fighter first. 

The rematch with Licata was tragic enough, and perhaps it could be chalked up to stupidity, but to continue throwing John in the ring when he was no longer able to properly defend himself was criminal. And for what, a few bucks? 

Boxing is different than other sports. Mismanagement in baseball or golf results in losing and embarrassment. In boxing it results in brain injuries and even death. Put a baseball player in over his head and he will look bad and then be sent back to the minor leagues. In boxing fighters get thrown in again for another beating. 

There is no excuse for what was done to a handsome and intelligent twenty-one year old middleweight from Cambridge, MA in 1971. Unfortunately, since it is boxing this scene has been and will continue to be repeated over and over again. 

Tony Shucco One Of Boston’s Greatest: He Should Never Be Forgotten

North End Native Defeated Five World Champions

by Bobby Franklin

Tony In His Prime

I remember getting to know Tony Shucco when I was a young amateur boxer training at the New Garden Gym in Boston. He would climb the stairs to the fourth floor of the legendary gym many a day to watch the fighters work out. He was usually quiet, but it was obvious he enjoyed being there. Boxing had been and still was his life.

It is sad that such a great fighter, a man who defeated five world champions including two heavyweight champs, is not better remembered. Tony was among the best boxers to fight out of Boston and deserves to be recognized for that.

Not long ago I spoke with his daughter Angela and she allowed me to look at a box filled with letters, photographs, and news clippings of her father’s career. She is very proud of her father and hopes more people will learn about his career.

Tony Shucco was born June 13, 1911 and grew up in Boston’s North End where he lived most of his life. His original name was Anthony Sciucco, but he changed it to the more easily pronounced Shucco when he began boxing.

The Man About Town

After an outstanding amateur career that consisted of nearly a hundred bouts and numerous championships, Tony moved onto the professional stage with his first bout taking place in 1928. He would remain undefeated for 18 fights before dropping a decision to the great Johnny Indrisano at the Boston Arena. At this time Tony was campaigning as a welterweight but would begin moving up through the weight classes. And, like so many great boxers who start off at lower weights, he retained the speed and skills that are rarely seen in the heavier fellows.

Tony was a brilliant boxer who possessed one of the best left jabs in the business. Though he rarely weighed over 180 pounds he fought many of the leading heavyweights of his day. He defeated Natie Brown, Lee Ramage, Tuffy Griffiths, and two heavyweight champions, Jack Sharkey and James J. Braddock. He also scored wins over champions Maxie Rosenbloom, Bob Olin, and Lou Brouillard.

Tony Shucco was a solid top contender for years and it is unfortunate he never got a shot at a title. He certainly had the credentials for it, but back in those days there were so many outstanding fighters competing you really needed to be connected to get a shot.

Packing For A Fight In Germany

In 1938 Tony traveled to Europe where he had an English representative by the name of Tom Hurst. He was a making a name for himself across the Atlantic with fights in England, Ireland, and Germany. In letters he wrote home he began signing his name “English” Tony Shucco. While there he became close friends with American Flyweight Champion Jackie Jurich who was also represented by Hurst. The clouds of war were starting to gather and it was difficult being separated form his wife Etta and young son Anthony, so Tony returned home. He was immensely popular with the European fans and surely could have built a great reputation on the Continent had he continued fighting there.

Tony Missing His Family

When he returned to the States he dropped a close decision to top rated heavyweight Bob Pastor and then went on a winning streak. It is at this point in Tony’s career where he just couldn’t catch a break. In 1940 Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis agreed to defend his title in Boston. The logical opponent for Joe would have been Tony Shucco who was on a six fight winning streak. Tony was back from Europe, in good shape, and full of confidence. Unfortunately, the title shot was given to Al McCoy who had lost three of his last six fights including two consecutive losses leading up to the Louis fight. I am not sure why McCoy was chosen over Tony, but it should have been Shucco in the ring on that December night.

Jackie Jurich with Tony Shucco

I am not arguing Tony would have beaten Louis as there wasn’t a man on the planet who could have taken Joe back then. But, I will make the case Shucco had the style to give the Brown Bomber some trouble. It is also highly possible Tony could have lasted the distance. It is a shame he did not get the opportunity to fight for boxing’s biggest prize against its greatest champion. I can guarantee you he would have been remembered for that and would have made Boston proud.

It is interesting to note that after the loss to Pastor, Tony continued without a loss until he retired in 1942. In spite of this great record he would never get that elusive shot at the title.

In 1944 Tony embarked on a comeback. He had seven bouts winning three, losing two, with one ending in a draw. He retired for good in 1944.

Boxing’s Elder Statesman

When I got to know Tony he was showing the effects of the punches he took later in his career. I remember being told at the time that his managers, one of whom was a relative that I shall not name, kept him fighting to cash in on his reputation. At this point Tony’s legs were not what they used to be and he was taking punches he easily would have avoided as a younger man. Once again, that dark side of boxing reared its ugly head.

I spent many an afternoon talking with Tony in the New Garden Gym. He aways stressed the importance of the left jab to me. He would say “Kid, keep hitting ‘em with the left, and every once in a while toss in a right so they don’t get bored.” He also stressed to me to always fight fair. He told me “Even if the other guy pulls stuff on you never sink to his level.”

There is a sign at the corner of Bowdoin and Cambridge Streets in Boston that names it “Anthony Sciucco Square”. There are two things wrong with this sign. One, it is a Gold Star sign that is meant to remember a fallen soldier. Two, it should read Anthony “Tony Shucco” Sciucco Square, and have a pair of boxing gloves on it. Maybe some politician will read this and correct that oversight.

Tony Shucco passed away February 26, 1983. It was an honor to know this great man. I know his family is very proud of him. It is time Boston rediscovers him. He was one of its greatest athletes, and a man who always fought fair even though he wasn’t treated that way.

Video: Shucco vs Lydon: