Philly’s three uncrowned champions were middleweight George Benton, welterweight “Gypsy” Joe Harris and junior lightweight Tyrone Everett!
George Benton was the No. 1 contender for Dick Tiger the WBC/WBA champion’s title. Instead Joey Giardello got the shot thanks to Lou Duva and defeated Tiger for the title. “Yeah, I screwed George out of the title shot. I didn’t tell him about it until years later,” said Duva. Since both Benton and Giardello were from Philly and Benton had defeated Giardello it was a natural match-up after Giardello won the title but it wasn’t to be.
Giardello’s people figured let them fight each other and we will have one out of the way. Benton was forced to fight the hardest hitting puncher in the division Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in an elimination match and lost a split decision. After Carter won he got the title fight and lost to Giardello a year after Giardello beat Tiger. In the 2 years he held the title Giardello had 3 non-title bouts but none with Benton.
Benton was also one of the top trainers in the business and was inducted into the IBHOF in 2001. He trained Marvis Frazier as an amateur Golden Gloves champion before the father “Smokin” Joe Frazier took over in the pro’s and changed his son’s style to his own. As we know it didn’t work against Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson.
Benton trained under legendary Eddie Futch when Frazier lost to Muhammad Ali in the “Thrilla in Manila”. He would later train Leon Spinks when he defeated Ali for the title. Duva of all people asked Benton to train 2 of his fighters who became champions in Rocky Lockridge and Johnny Bumphus. When Shelly Finkel signed a group of the 1984 Olympians like Tyrell Biggs, Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland, Pernell Whitaker, and Meldrick Taylor he had Benton train them.
As a boxer Benton turned pro at 16 and fought from 1949 to 1970 and ended his career with a 62-13-1 (37), record. His career was ended when he was shot in the back. He was in and out of hospitals for 2 years. The bullet was never removed. He split in 2 fights with Holly Mims, defeated future light middle champ Freddy Little, and prior to the Carter fight was 9-0 (7) including wins over fellow Philly fighters Jesse “Crazy Horse” Smith and Giardello. After the loss to Carter he split in 2 fights with Johnny Morris and defeated future heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis.
Another Philly boxer “Gypsy” Joe Harris was called “a bag of tricks” by IBHOF promoter from Philly J Russell Peltz. WBA welterweight champion Curtis Cokes defeated Jean Josselin for his WBC title in France in November. In January he decided to go on a 3-fight monthly non-title tour drawing in January in Paris, France with Francios Pavilla. In February he stopped Ted Whitfield in Dallas and in New York’s Madison Square Garden in March of 1967 he lost to Harris. Cokes was 149 and Harris 151.
It was agreed Cokes would defend his title in Dallas against Harris. When Harris went to Dallas for the title fight there wasn’t a ring in the hotel as planned. He then discovered in the local paper a picture of Cokes in a row boat with a fishing pole and a caption “Cokes Went Fishing”. Just 2 month later in May in Dallas Cokes defeated Pavilla instead of fighting Harris. In the meantime also in May Harris defeated middleweights Ted Wright in Philly and 4 days later stopped Benny Bowser on the same card in Dallas that Cokes defended his title.
Harris then beat Miguel Barreto in Philly in August hoping for his shot at Coke’s titles. In October Cokes once again passed on Harris and defeated Charley Shipes while Harris defeated southpaw Bobby Cassidy in October in Philly. In December Harris defeated Barreto again in Philly. In attending the Cassidy fight I remember him having Harris in a corner holding his shoulder with the right hand and throwing a left at his head with Harris avoiding it. He was a master of defense. In February he defeated light middleweight Dick DiVeronica.
It wouldn’t be until April when Cokes defended his title after winning a pair of non-title bouts including one over Josselin in France who he won the WBC title from. He stopped Willie Ludick in Dallas in his April title defense.
In June Cokes again went on a 3 fight non-title tour this time in Africa and even gave Ludick another fight. It seemed everyone was getting return bouts but Harris. By this time in August Harris was up to 160 and met former WBC/WBA middleweight champion Emile Griffith in Philly.
A week before the fight Harris disappeared. Rumors had him marrying a bar maid in Atlantic City. His former amateur trainer Duke Dugent told me he got a hold of Harris and tried to get him in shape for Griffith in a matter of days. The same Dugent once told me of the 3 main boxers he had at the 23rd PAL were Joe Frazier his “most dedicated”, “Bad” Bennie Briscoe his “Killer” but Harris was his “best”.
“I think “Gypsy” Joe Harris was as good a natural fighter I have ever seen,” said Gil Clancy. He was Griffith’s trainer. Harris was 24-0 when he entered the ring while Griffith was 55-9. Griffith won the decision over 12 rounds at Philly’s Spectrum. He was to have a bout with Manny Gonsalez when he got thumbed in the eye sparring with C.L. Lewis. It was discovered when he got examined due to the redness of the eye by the commission physician that Harris was blind in that eye.
After losing his license I met Harris at the 23rd PAL after this and suggested he go to either Canada or Puerto Rico to fight since he was barred from the US. Dugent made him go with me to the doctor Harris had to obtain permission to get his medical records at the Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ, where Harris was originally from. The doctor was not in and I lost track of Harris after that going into bars and pool halls trying to locate him.
Harris ended his career at age 23 with a 24-1 (9) record. Unfortunately he ended his life at age 44 due to heart failure in 1990.
A third Philly boxer was southpaw Tyrone Everett who was the only one of the 3 to get a title fight. At age 70 I call it the “worst decision I have ever witnessed!” I was there in November of 1976! This writer had the bout scored 13-2 in rounds for Everett who lost by split decision to WBC junior lightweight champion Alfredo Escalera, 36-7-2, of Puerto Rico. The Mexican referee who also was a judge gave it to Harris. The Puerto Rican judge gave it to Escalera. The third judge Lou Tress of Pennsylvania gave the fight to Escalara and never judged another fight.
Everett was unbeaten in 16 fights his first 2 years. In his 20th fight he met his toughest opponent former Olympian Sammy Goss, 39-3, for the US Super Featherweight title dropping Goss once and winning over 12 rounds. His promoter was J. Russell Peltz.
In July of 1975 Everett stopped Hyun-Chi Kim, of South Korea, who in his previous fight lost a split decision to WBA champion Ben Villaflor. Everett was then 26-0. At the end of the year Everett traveled to the back yard of Ray Lunny III, 23-1-3, in San Francisco and took a split decision over 12 rounds. In August of 1976 he traveled to Caracas, Venezuela to beat Hugo Barraza, 48-7-3, stopping his 23 fight win streak over 12 rounds setting up the title fight with Escalera who was making his 7th title defense.
Everett would have 2 more fights scoring a pair of knockouts. In May of 1977 in Landover, MD, Escalera defeated Carlos Becrrill, 11-3 in a title defense! Can you believe it with a record like that? Everett appeared on the same card along with Muhammad Ali and Roberto Duran. It would be 10 days after this fight Everett was gun downed inside his apartment at age 24 being involved with the wrong people.