In 1963 Philly’s Joey Giardello, 100-27-8 (32), won the WBC and WBA middleweight titles. What followed in the 70’s were a group of good Philly middleweights though none would win a world title they filled the rankings.
Philly is known for their gym wars in the 60‘s and 70’s in both the amateur and professional ranks. The 23rd PAL in 1969 had some of the best amateurs turning professional like Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, 38-7-1 (6), Willie “The Worm” Monroe, 39-10-1 (26), and Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, 30-9-1 (28). “Watts was the best boxer of the three,” said J Russell Peltz.
These three Philly boxers would join the likes of “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, 66-24-5 (53) and Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, 32-12-4 (18) who were already professionals. “Briscoe was one of the most feared fighters of his time,” said Peltz. In 1968 “Gypsy Joe” Harris, 24-1 (9), was forced into retirement when it was discovered he was blind in one eye. Harris had a win over Hayward and won a non-title fight over Curtis Cokes but was never able to get a title fight finalized. Even a trip to Dallas the hometown of Cokes proved fruitless when the local paper showed Cokes in a row boat with a fishing pole and the caption “Cokes out fishing!”
Philly’s Percy Manning, 17-7-1 (11) lost by knockout to Briscoe in their third meeting in May of 1969 and passed away in October at the age of 37. Briscoe had stopped him in 8 and Manning won the re-match by decision. Former top middleweight contender George Benton was defeating Juarez de Lima in 1969 but in 1970 after another pair of wins ended his career losing to de Lima in a re-match. Benton had lost to Briscoe in 1966 and would start training Briscoe after retiring in 1970.
A new promoter named J Russell Peltz was making his debut in 1969 at the now legendary Blue Horizon which he helped build back up. He began promoting these Philly boxers in the 70’s. I remember going into the 23rd PAL in 1968 when Duke Dugent was running the gym. Boxers like Al Massey, 13-5-2 (8), who still holds the Philly record for the quickest knockout in 11 seconds, and Lloyd Nelson, 11-4-1 (8) were still there. Dugent was helping me try to get the license of Harris back with the possibilities if he didn’t to fight in Canada or Puerto Rico. After an initial meeting with Harris in that gym he was never to be seen boxing in a gym or every fighting again. In 1970 Nelson would split in a pair of fights with Philly’s Perry “Lil’ Abner” Abney, 24-13-1 (20), in another rivalry.
As you can see most of the Philly fighters had nicknames like “Lil’ Abner”, “Boogaloo”, “Bad”, “The Worm”, “Cyclone, “Kitten” and “Gypsy”. Dugent had trained future world heavyweight champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier, Harris and Briscoe in the amateurs. He called Frazier “my most dedicated”, Briscoe “my killer”, and Harris “my best!”
Massey had left the 39th PAL under Bear Connelly in the Huntingdon section of Philly to join the 23rd PAL where they were more known for having fighters than boxers. Speaking of gym wars, “Massey was the first person to drop me in the gym,” said Watts.
Watts had a cousin name Jimmy Young training at the 23rd PAL who would give Frazier and Larry Holmes fits in sparring and defeat the likes of “Big” George Foreman and Ron Lyle (twice) while losing a controversial decision to none other than Muhammad Ali in Landover, MD. Writer Aaron Tallent of DC witnessed this fight and is now in the process of writing a book on Young.
Both Watts and Monroe defeated a boxer from Brockton, Massachusetts, when he came to Philly to gain a reputation named “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. Both made the mistake of giving him re-matches in his home area losing by stoppage. I remember at a weigh-in seeing Monroe with a cast on his hand and asking him “why would you give Hagler a rematch let alone up there?” He replied “why not, I beat him once.” Once is right, and I was there the night in the Philly Spectrum when in his second fight under trainer Benton it looked like he may have broken the nose of Hagler since it was so red and didn’t run like usual but stayed in front of him like Benton would fight.
Hagler would return to Philly for the third time and stop Hart, and decision Briscoe. After stopping Watts in Maine in a return he stopped Monroe twice, first in Boston and then back in Philly. It’s where Hagler made his reputation of being a future champion.
Another boxer named Eddie ”The Flame” Gregory later changed to Eddie Mustapha Muhammad earned his reputation of a future world champion in Philly winning four fights there along with defeating Hart in New York. In his fifth appearance in the city of “Brotherly Love” he lost to Briscoe. He would return taking a pair of wins with the second one over future Philly world champion Matthew Saad Muhammad.
After defeating Saad Mustapha would win and then defend his WBA light heavyweight title over another Philly fighter Jerry “The Bull” Martin, 25-7 (17). Even after losing his title to Michael Spinks who did his share of training in Philly, he would return in 1982 putting an end to the career of Cleveland’s Pablo Paul Ramos at the Spectrum. Martin’s biggest win was when he traveled to Rahway Prison and defeated unbeaten James “Great” Scott, an inmate who won 8 straight bouts previously with wins over Richie Kates, Mustapha, Yaqui Lopez, Jerry Celestine and Bunny Johnson.
Getting back to the Philly middleweights, Monroe who was in the Cloverlay Inc. stable with Frazier had wins over Hart, Hayward, Billy “Dynamite” Douglas but losses to Philly’s Curtis Parker, 29-9, and Watts. “The Worm” and I happened to be on the same running track one day when we had words after I had already beaten him. He talked about a re-match and I told him we could have it right there,” said Watts. Monroe now lives in New Jersey and is not one for interviews.
Hayward in the early 60’s had a winning streak that included Manning, Philly’s Dick Turner, 19-1-1 and future champion Cokes. The Turner bout was the first fight I attended in person and it ended Turners career. The decision I thought was questionable but Turner had a detached retina ending his career the same way it ended for Philly’s Leotis Martin when he defeated Sonny Liston in the tournament to decide who would take Ali’s vacated title.
Manager Pinny Schafer had both Martin and Briscoe and refused to allow Martin to fight “Smokin” Joe Frazier who was trained by Yank Durham. Seems when Durham was working the corner of Briscoe he told him to box and when Hayward got tired then went after him. Briscoe gave away the first 5 rounds and never did catch Hayward so Schafer fired Durham. He wouldn’t let Briscoe fight Harris either. “I was there at the 23rd PAL when both Bennie and Gypsy Joe got in the ring to spar. It was a war for about half a round before Duke Dugent jumped in and stopped it,” said Al Massey.
Hayward defeated Briscoe in 1965 but would lose to Harris in his next fight. In 1969 he would lose in a vacant WBC and WBA super welterweight title bout to Freddy Little. He would later lose to Hart, defeat Abney and lose to Monroe and Briscoe. He even had a win over Emile Griffith. “His 1964 knockout of future world welterweight champion Curtis Cokes, of which he got off the deck in round two to stop Cokes two rounds later on the old Friday Night Fights, is regarded as the greatest fight ever at the Blue Horizon,” said Peltz.
Hart would start his career off with 19 knockouts with Hayward being the nineteenth. “I took him out in 60 seconds,” said Hart. Then defeat contender Don Fullmer by decision. He had back to back losses to Monroe, Watts and Eddie Mustapha Muhammad. Then win four straight including over 1972 Olympic Gold medalist “Sugar” Ray Seales. “He couldn’t get past my left hook or lead right,” said Hart. He would draw and lose to Briscoe and then lose to Hagler.
“Benny Briscoe was the toughest fighter I ever fought. They still talk about our draw back in 1975,” said Hart. Peltz had a high compliment on Hart. “The best one-punch knockout artist I ever saw in person.” Bob Stewart said he was there when Briscoe and Hart were talking about the rematch when Briscoe scored a first round knockout over Hart. “I hit you with everything I had and figured if I couldn’t take you out fighting one round or ten I still get paid the same,” said Hart. Briscoe who is usually even tempered said “Bitch, I could see the fear in your eyes when I took you out.” That may have been out of character for Briscoe but he was no one to mess with.
Watts defeated Hart, Monroe and Hagler. “They would never let me work with Briscoe even in the gym. Bennie had problems with boxers,” said Watts. Briscoe had a reputation of going “south of the border” with some of his punches and an opponent usually wouldn’t fight again for six months after a match with him.
Briscoe after losing to Hayward came back to beat Benton, lose to Hall of Fame world champion Louis Manuel Rodriguez and in 1967 take a trip to Bueno Aires, Argentina, and take on Carlos Monzon, 40-3-6. A standing room only crowd of 9,900 saw them fight to a draw.
Argentina is probably known for more draws than any other country. The ruling ahead of time in the fight was if neither fighter was ahead by three points in the scoring it would be ruled a draw. Scorecards were not released after the fight. It would take five years and Monzon winning the middleweight title before Briscoe would return to Argentina. Briscoe had hepatitis and came back to score a win before getting his long awaited re-match losing by decision.
One of the problem’s this writer has is too many of these Philly fighters were so busy fighting one another few ever got world title fights. Watts, Monroe, Hart, Harris, Manning and Benton never fought for the title. Only Briscoe who would get three unsuccessful chances at middleweight and Hayward at super welterweight did that his promoter Lou Lucchese arranged.
The bottom line is Philly may never be the same like it was in the 60’s and 70’s but you can still see “Boogaloo”, “Kitten” and “Cyclone” at the fights in Philly but only as spectators! By the way “Cyclone” has a son named Jesse “Hard Work” Hart who happens to be 17-0 (14), and holds the USBA super middleweight title being promoted by Top Rank and scored a knockout winning that title on the May 2nd undercard for the Mayweather and Pacquaio main event!
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com