THEY DIDN'T COME ANY TOUGHER
THAN TONY GALENTO
by Bill Kelly
Throughout the history of sports,
there have been heroes of sorts handed down from generation to
generation. For example, Babe Ruth was Gargantura in human form.
Millions of people were influenced by Jack Dempsey and felt the
impact of his
individuality. In the littler world of golf Bobby Jones invoked
the same effect. Helen Wills was the Mardi Gras of Tennis. Knute
Rockne was football's high priest. As a kid growing up in Tom's
River and Orange, N. J., my hero was Domenick Anthony
"Two-Ton" Tony Galento. He was the local martyr.
Jersey was agog.
My mom never had to look for my dad in
those days. Just part the bat wings of Tony's bar and there he'd
be, sitting on a stool talking to Tony or Tony's "fight
doctor," Doc Max Stern, who was also a New Jersey Boxing
Commission doctor. Maybe it was because we kids were never
subjected to his gruff side that we all idolized him. We cheered
when he won and we cried when Joe Louis and Max Baer punished
him in a way only Hitler would enjoy.
"I was only twelve when I waited
with my dad and a large group of people for Tony to return to
Doc Stern's office at two in the morning to get patched up after
the Louis fight. My dad told him, "Tony, for two seconds
you were the Heavyweight Champion of the World." "Next
time I'll moider da bum," he smiled through swollen lips.
But the next time's were over for Tony. The bludgeon proved to
much for the fat man.
I went into the Marines and lost track
of Tony until many years later when I read in the papers he was
to referee an Ernie Dusik wrestling match in Lancaster, Pa. I
approached him at the bar and introduced myself. I was flattered
that he remembered me as a kid from the old block. He made them
give me back my general admission money and took me and my agog
girlfriend down to the front row. He and Dusik (of course) got
into a skirmish, and Dusik tore his shirt off. Tony reached over
the ropes and tossed the shirt into my enthralled girlfriend's
lap. It was still hanging on a wall in her bedroom along with
his autographed picture when she gave me the brush-off.
Tony and I talked about his career. We
talked about the fighters of the day -- the late '60s. He
boasted about how he would have "moidered da bums
today." A prototypical dock-brawler, he stood 5-foot-9 and
weighed 235-240, depending on how much beer and spaghetti he
wolfed down before he entered the ring. "Did you ever see a
beer barrel walking, well I did," wrote one reporter
covering an early fight.
No disrespect, but if Galento was
starting his career in the year 2000, he would rule over the
heavyweight division like Ben Hogan ruled golf. None of today's
top contenders, or the champ himself, could have stood up under
Two Ton's lambasting. The fat man was a bus accident. Geronimo
terrorizing one fort after another in old Arizona. The greatest
charge of the light brigade the ring has ever known.
Okay, so he was fat, vulgar and
uncouth. As far as insulting someone, he made Don Rickles look
like Pope John XXIII. Joe Louis told me Galento was the only man
alive he ever hated. He didn't hate Max Schmeling. He didn't
Joseph Stalin. He hated Tony Galento. Louis could chuckle about
it now that the bitterness between the two former combatants had
ended in a great friendship. In retrospect, Joe said he was hurt
because of the following conversation.
Reporter: Tony, what do you think your chances are
against Joe Louis?
Galento: Joe who?
Reporter: Joe Louis.
Galento: I never hoid of da bum.
It sold tickets, but Louis's pride was
hurt. The final insult came when Tony dropped Louis for the
count of 2 in the second round. Louis felt humiliated. People
couldn't believe it. Picture if you can, Fuzzy Knight saving the
fort. George Foreman met a hamburger he didn't like. Tony Tucker
showed up in shape to fight. It was that unbelievable.
Galento's pulverizing round-house left
hook and total disregard for the Marquess of Queensbury made him
one of the most feared heavyweights of the 1930s. Born on March
12, 1910 in Orange, N. J., he began fighting in 1928 and he
fought almost every month. He lost his fourth pro fight to a
club house fighter named James Jay Lawless by repeatedly fouling
him until the referee stopped it in the in the 5th round. From
June 25, 1930 to April 8, 1931 he mowed down ten opponents in a
row like grass before the sickle.
If Tony needed a friend in those days
he would have to buy a dog. Ray Arcel, who worked across the
ring from him in his fights with Max Baer, Lou Nova and Nathan
Mann, said "Nobody really like him except maybe the guys
who hung out in his saloon. "He was a crude guy, to put it
mildly, who would resort to all sorts of foul tactics to win a
Yeah, but in those days, it was the
survival of the fittest. There's no hospitalization benefits on
the bomb squad.
For dirty fighting, next to Galento,
Mike Tyson was a member of the House of Lords. Willie Pep an
alter boy. Fritzie Zivic sang in the choir at St. Anthony's.
During his 15 year career Galento got away with more heists than
Dillinger. He would butt. Use his elbows. Gouge eyes. Aim for
the gonads. Look out, he has a gun!
His fight with Lou Nova on September
15, 1939 in Filthydelphia was the dirtiest fight on record.
Mills Lane would have stopped it. Richard Steele would have
called the cops. It was like a walk through South Central L.A.
after midnight. You won't be around for breakfast.
Pugilism was at its highest point by
the time Galento mauled his way into a championship fight with
Joe Louis. They called it "The Bum of the Month" club,
but how many fighters today could have matched Galento's record
of 74-22-6 with 51 knockouts? And the numbers do not begin to
tell the story of his fabulous career. In 1931 he kayoed three
Detroit opponents in one night, stopping Frankie Kits and Joe
Brian in one round each and disposing of Paul Thierman in three.
In between rounds he quaffed his favorite brew.
In 1932 he won a $10 bet that he could
eat 50 hot dogs. 10 minutes later he climbed into the ring and
pulverized Arthur DeKuh in 4 rounds. That same year he was
disqualified in a fight with Jack Gagnon. It was like watching a
Galento even won on a disqualification
in 1934. Battling Bozo heard of Galento's reputation as a dirty
fighter and decided to foul him first. The referee stopped the
fight in the first round. Galento followed that one up with a 3
round KO over Italian Jack Herman. He lost twice on TKO's, once
to Marty Gallagher in 13 rounds, and once to a light-heavyweight
named Al Gainer in 4 rounds. From there he ran up a streak of
stoppages of leading contenders including Nathan Mann (KO 4), Al
Ettore ( TKO 8), Jorge Brescia ( KO 1), Abe Feldman (KO 3) and
Natie Brown ( KO 4).
His TKO of Harry Thomas in the 3rd
round in Filthydelphia on December 7, 1938, was highly booed by
fans who shouted "fake!" and tossed trash into the
ring. Said one old timer, "They threw everything but the
stature of William Penn from the top of the arena into the
ring." Well, if there was a joker in the deck, it wouldn't
be the first time Jackie Robinson got caught stealing bases. Or
Ma Barker dragged her sons off to a drugstore and treated them
to a bottle of pungent crabocide.
Two Ton went through managers like Elizabeth Taylor went
through bridesmaids. He trained on beer and Italian food. He
hated the country and refused to go into the mountains to a
training camp. He defended his queer-potato methods by saying
"They work for me." He did his roadwork after dark
because, he said, "I fight at night, don't I?"
This was the reason his list of
managers read like a chapter of Lamparski's "Whatever
Became Of...?" Elmer Flynn (1928) Harry Kinney (1928-1929),
Johnny Scavone (1929-1931) Max Waxman (1931-1932), Pete Dodd
(1932-1933), Jack Dempsey (1933-1934), Joe Jacobs and Harry
Mendel (1935-1941), Willie Gilzenberg (1943).
He was already one of the most
picturesque characters in American ring history when he got his
"Bum of the Month" shot at the title in Yankee Stadium
on June 28, 1939. More shocking than Tyson munching on
Holyfield's ear, Joe Jacobs and Tony Galento were at their
sleazy worst. In the days before the fight, Jacobs drummed up a
phony charge against Louis, accusing the Brown Bomber of having
concealed a metal bar in his right glove the night he
blitzkrieged Max Schmeling. Fight promoter Mike Jacobs and the
New York State Athletic Commission came unglued. Sparks flew
upward and they demanded a retraction, which they got.
Galento wouldn't give up. Louis, you
must consider, didn't go for clowning. He was as serious as a
heart attack. So Galento's customary, "I'll moider da
bum," annoyed him like sweats and jeans on Sunset Plaza
Drive. As the fight approached Galento's taunts became uglier.
He called Louis on the phone at all hours of the night,
belaboring his race and his family. During the pre-fight
introductions, Galento made sexual remarks about Louis' wife,
including some on-camera crotch-polishing. The usually clam
Louis lost his composure -- and it almost cost him his title.
"Tony berated me something
terrible before the fight," Louis whispered to me during
our interview. "He got to me, and I hated him for it. I
never hated anybody before. I decided to punish him before I
knocked him out. I wanted it to go into later rounds, but he
kept calling me dirty names during the fight. So I ended
Over 30,000 fans jammed the stadium on
the night of the fight. Galento was a 6-1 underdog with as much
of a chance of winning as a Wigwam has in a hurricane. It was
even money it would not last 5 rounds. Yet, a Gallop poll
published by the New York Times said 47% of the people were in
Galento's corner -- fight fans love an underdog. Ringside seats
went for $27.50. Cheap seats in the balcony sold for $2.50.
Here's a story that has never been
printed. Remember you heard it here first. It was told to me by
my departed father, and everyone knows an Irishman will never
tell a lie.
The night before the Louis fight,
Tony's brother walked into his bar and asked Tony for a couple
if free tickets for the fight. Tony told him to stand in line
like everybody else. His brother hit him over the head with a
beer bottle. Doc Stern quickly stitched up a three-inch gash in
Tony's head and the ordeal was hushed up, for fear the fight
would be cancelled. So Tony fought Louis with a raw gash in his
head. Today a fight is canceled on a sneeze.
"The first good punch I hit him
with will put him on the floor," Galento told his
listener's at the bar. He was almost right. At 233-3/4 pounds,
Galento bullied the 33-pound lighter Louis around the ring in
the first round, and nearly flattened him with a stunning left
hook that glazed the eyes of the champ. Louis returned to his
corner on wobbly legs. Galento staggered Louis again in the
second, but near the bell Galento was knocked down for the first
time in his pugilistic career. His face looked like slumgullion,
but his finest moment was yet to come.
Louis was picking him apart with jabs,
when suddenly, Galento's dreaded left hook appeared like Haley's
Comet out of nowhere. An embarrassed and mortified Louis went
down. The rafters shook with excitement. Louis jumped up at the
count to two, but his legs were Jello. In his effort to finish
Louis off, Galento's punches fanned the air and Louis weathered
In the fourth round Louis began
running Galento's face through a thrashing machine. He battered
Tony so badly that referee Arthur Donovan stopped the slaughter
at 2:29 of the round with only the ropes keeping the blimp-like
The following morning's newspaper
quoted Galento as saying, "He's not as good as they rate
him. He can't take a punch. I would have won. He pushed me and I
went down. They shouldn't have stopped the fight."
He didn't speak about the 23 stitches
needed to close his wounds. He failed to mention that he was
hanging on the ropes like a jumble of sausages in the window of
Mario's delicatessen when referee Donovan pulled Louis off him.
From there, everything went Chinese
for Galento. Although he gave Lou Nova the licking of his life
before stopping him in the 14th round, Galento, himself took the
worst beating he ever took in his next two fights with the Baer
brothers, Max and Buddy. Max always said he got more pleasure
out of beating up Galento than he did winning the heavyweight
title from Primo Carnera in 1934.
Ray Arcel said Max Baer was a
good-natured clown who never disliked anyone, "..but he
hated Galento with a vengeance. He really wanted to kill him. In
the ring, the two of them were cursing so much, people in the
cheap seats could hear the most vile obscenities."
Tony's face looked like a bag of plums
when Max stopped him in the 8th round in Jersey City on July 2,
1940. Brother Buddy stopped Galento in the 7th round on April 8,
1941 in Washington. The fight was as one-sided as an airliner
crash. Small, dumpy, Tony was no match for the towering 6-foot-6
Throughout 1942 Galento scrambled for
a living, refereeing wrestling matches and slugging it out with
the wrestlers to the delight of the crowd.
In 1943 he returned to the ring and
knocked out Herbie Katz in one round, then in 1944 he kayoed
Jack Suzek in Wichita. Finally, after a 15-career and a 82-26-6
with 59 knockouts record, he quit.
He tried acting; he appeared as a thug
along with fellow Bum of the Month club members, Abe Simon and
Tami Mauriello in the Academy Award Winner, On the Waterfront.
And, like Jake LaMotta, he did stand-up comedy. He even became
friends with Joe Louis and they appeared on TV together watching
the film of their age-old fight and commenting on the ballyhoo
with light-hearted good humor.
Louis told me, "Really, I got to
like the son-of-a-bitch. He had something these guys lack today
-- charisma. He could have taken most of these fighters today
and would have been a millionaire ten times over. He was either
born too soon or too late. He was a throw back to John L.
Sullivan. He would have been a great bare-knuckle fighter. The
man was absolutely fearless."
Two Ton Tony Galento died on July 22,
1979 after a three-year battle against diabetes that cost him
the amputation of a foot, then later both legs. We kids who knew
him better than anybody else while growing up in Orange. We
never got to know the gruff Tony. We only saw the gentle,
good-hearted and happy-go-lucky side of the man.
Tony Galento is still my hero. I can
still see him rising from the rosin canvas, eager to absorb more
punishment. I can still hear him saying, "Next time I'll
moider da bum."
They didn't come any tougher than Tony
A Bit About Bill Kelly
From 1965 to present Bill Kelly has written for dozens of
magazines and newspapers either as a staff writer or
free-lancer. His 15,000 published articles include modern crime
and gangsters, celebrity interviews, old West gambling stories,
treasure stories, tales of the old West, and boxing. His most
memorable interviews were conducted with John Wayne (Wayne's
last interview), Henry Fonda, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe
Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ike Williams.
His California tabloid experience includes The Los Angeles
Herald Examiner, Orange County Register, Valley Tribune, and
Valley Star, where he doubled as Managing Editor and feature
Kelly's magazine experience includes Gambling Scene Magazine,
Poker Digest, Treasure Search, Oklahoma State Trooper,
California State Trooper, Virginia State Trooper, Boxing Digest,
Boxing Illustrated, KO Magazine, Hollywood Studio, Country
Review, Sports Illustrated, and too many true crime magazines to
Kelly's book of true crime
stories is called Homicidal Mania.
His stories on New Mexico History are currently running in
the Bill is currently looking for a publisher for his manuscript,
Empty Saddles. This book contains interviews with 50 of
the 1940 B-cowboy movie stars including Gene Autry, Roy Rogers,
Bob Steele, Sunset Carson, and many more. This book is the
result of 25 years research and writing, and Kelly considers
this his finest work to date.
Bill Kelly is a writer for hire. His Kelly's Korner
was at one time syndicated and well received. He is especially
interested in reviving this column for an interested tabloid.