Four historians from the Philly area voted on the best Philly middleweight of all time. J Russell Peltz, Hall of Fame promoter, www.peltzboxing.com Chuck Hasson, assistant editor and John DiSanto, editor, of www.phillyboxinghistory.com and Ken Hissner of www.doghouseboxing.com. Only Peltz did not put his top ten in order.
There has always been something about Philly fighters that stand out. They could normally box with the best of them and if they had to they could brawl with the best of them. I guess that is why when the four of us put down whom we thought was the best from watching Philly fights back as far as our memory allows there was one from South Philly that became a champion during a time when boxing was still boxing.
The person I am writing about fought who was voted the second best middleweight in Philly history. Yes, in those days they fought each other for “territorial and bragging rights” which sometimes meant more than winning a world title! After the top pick lost to the number two guy in 1962 he came back in 1963 and beat the best fighter pound for pound that ever lived, named “Sugar” Ray Robinson!
In 1963 he had to defeat a “tiger” in order to gain the WBC/WBA middleweight title. That “tiger” was from Nigeria and he was called Dick Tiger. In 1964 he had to overcome a “hurricane” in order to hold onto that title. That hurricane was named Rubin “Hurricane” Carter from the tough area of Paterson, New Jersey. Carter scored first round knockouts over Emile Griffith and Cuban Florentino Fernandez.
Today they are putting together a statue for this all time great right in South Philly where it belongs. If you haven’t guessed who I am writing about by now he was born Carmine Tilelli in a tough part of New York called Brooklyn in 1930. He would later change the name to Joey Giardello! (*pictured above) In 1951 he lost a majority decision in Scranton, PA, where another tough Italian fighter lived south of in Wilkes-Barre. Little did they know that in 2008 they would both leave this earth within four days of one another.
The talk of Philly gym wars is legendary. Giardello had to beat some of the best from Philly to get the reputation he was the best in the city. In 1953 fighting in the light middleweight division he defeated Philly’s top welterweight Gil Turner. Remember the name because it will come up again. In 1954 he defeated the dreaded Willie Troy, 26-1, who no one wanted to fight. Troy was down twice in the first and once in the second before the fight was stopped in the seventh. This win made Giardello the No. 1 contender. He would have to wait five years to get a title bout. In 1956 after being out of boxing for a year he stopped top contender Bobby Boyd to re-enter the ratings. Boyd had just beaten Gene Fullmer and Eduardo Lausse of Argentina. When Giardello got in top shape he was hard to beat said his cornermen Adolph Ritacco and Joe Polino.
In 1959 Giardello traveled to Chicago in his first of four fights with Tiger losing by decision. Two months later in Cleveland Giardello would reverse that loss! In his very next fight he travels to Bozeman, Montana, to fight Gene Fullmer for the N.B.A. title. Fullmer would drive his head into the ribcage or in your face as much as his fists. It looked like Giardello would be champ of the world when the decision was announced 144-142 Giardello, 145-142 for Fullmer. The final vote was 145-145 a draw! Future Hall of Famer Fullmer would never give a rematch to Giardello.
In 1961 Giardello went into the lion’s den in Detroit to meet Henry Hank only to lose the decision. The rematch was set for Philly. The rematch with Hank in Philly was called a “bloodbath” because it was Giardello’s blood mostly. This time it went down to the wire with Giardello getting the majority decision by a point. The following month came a loss to Georgie Benton. It took four straight wins after that for Giardello to get his third match with Tiger taking the middleweight title from him in December of 1963. In May of 1963 Benton lost to Rubin Carter nullifying his chance at the title. In 1964 Giardello defeats Carter and loses the title back to Tiger in 1965. In 1966 he defeats Cash White for his 100th win! Giardello’s final record was 101-26-7 with thirty-three knockouts. Giardello won the best in Philly with 39 points! He was inducted into the IBHOF in 1993.
The boxer voted second with 36 points was none other than Georgie Benton, who though defeated Giardello, couldn’t match the accomplishments Giardello gathered in. Benton was 37-6-1, losing to Henry Hank in New Orleans. Two fights later he defeated future light middleweight champion Freddie Little in the same city. In 1960 he traveled to Scotland to lose to their former British and Empire champion John McCormack. Benton was one of the best defensive boxers I ever saw. He could move an inch to avoid a punch.
After the loss to McCormack, Benton won nine straight including Giardello along with Philly’s Jesse “Crazyhorse” Smith. Then the loss to Carter where Benton did not use enough offense while slipping the murderous punches of Carter in New York. In 1964 he defeated future heavyweight champ Jimmy Ellis. After a loss to Bennie Briscoe he won eight straight in Philly before having his final fight in New York having a win reversed to Juarez DeLima of Brazil. Benton ended up 62-13-1 with 37 knockouts. He was inducted into the IBHOF in 2001 as a trainer. Benton trained Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield, Meldrick Taylor, Rocky Lockridge, Johnny Bumphus and Pernell Whitaker just to name a few. In 1989 he received the “Trainer of the Year Award” by the Boxing Writers Association.
DiSanto has a yearly “Briscoe Awards” night. If anyone stands for the toughness of a Philly fighter it’s the third choice in “Bad” Bennie Briscoe! His amateur trainer Duke Dugent once told me “I had Joe Frazier, “Gypsy” Joe Harris and Bennie Briscoe. Briscoe was my killer,” said Dugent. He was 70-3 in the amateurs. Briscoe had a jab coming up from the floor. When you fought Briscoe it was not uncommon not to fight again for six months. Proof of that was in 1967 Briscoe traveled to Argentina to fight to a draw with future champion Carlos Monzon. It took five years to get a rematch and only after Briscoe was coming off a battle with hepatitis. Monzon took the decision in a title defense but didn’t fight again for eighteen months!
In 1969 Briscoe stopped future WBA light heavyweight champion Vicente Rondon reversing a previous loss. Also that year he reversed his first career loss after fifteen wins by stopping Philly’s Percy Manning. He reversed losses to Joe Shaw and Juarez DeLima by knockout. It was not good to give Briscoe a rematch for the most part. He posted ten straight knockouts before losing Luis Vinales and hepatitis. He returned to the ring stopping Vinales before the title bout with Monzon.
In 1973 Briscoe lost to future champion Rodrigo Valdez for the NABF title. The only time in his career he did not go the distance was the following year in 1974 to Valdez for the vacant WBC title. In 1975 he reversed a loss to Philly’s Kitten Hayward and defeated future WBA light heavyweight champion Eddie Gregory (Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) in his next fight. That same year he battled to a draw with Philly’s “Cyclone” Hart before over 11,000 at the Spectrum in Philly. This writer went to the rematch and saw Briscoe score a first round knockout. Briscoe would do roadwork with Willie “The Worm” Monroe who would sometimes run backwards. Monroe tried to get Briscoe to do it but he said “why should I since I never go backwards”.
In 1976 Briscoe tried to reverse a loss to former two division champion Emile Griffith and had to settle for a draw. In 1977 in the third fight with Valdez for the vacant WBA title he would once again lose by decision. In 1978 he chased future champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler all over the ring to lose a decision. Hagler’s corner told him to stop moving and fight. He laughed it off thinking they were nuts. In 1980 nearing the end of his career Briscoe reversed a loss to Richie “The Bandit” Bennett in back to back fights. He ended his career at 66-24-5 with an incredible fifty-three knockouts! If Briscoe had to slow you down it wasn’t anything unusual for him to go “south of the border”. He ended many a career doing it! Briscoe ended up third with 31 points.
In fourth place is the fighter who “never grows old” Bernard “Be Hop” Hopkins! He lost his first fight coming in “out of shape” as a light heavyweight only to come back as a middleweight and win twenty-two in a row! This earned him his first title bout for the vacant IBF title with Roy Jones, Jr. in 1993. This loss haunted Hopkins for years though losing 8-4 in rounds he put up a great effort against Jones. After Jones moved up in weight Hopkins fought for the vacant title drawing with Segundo Mercado in Ecuador. The rematch was four months later in the US and Hopkins won his first world title scoring a knockout! From winning the title in 1995 to 2005 Hopkins defended his title successfully twenty times!
People today may ask why Briscoe ahead of Hopkins. In Briscoe’s days you had three contenders from Philly in the top ten. You had to fight your way out of the city before you met the top contenders. Hopkins would not be able to fight Briscoe inside. He would have to box him to win or eventually get worn down by body shots.
In 2001 Hopkins defeated welterweight champion Felix “Tito” Trinidad, 40-0. This was one of his more impressive performances. In 2003 Hopkins had his only title defense in Philadelphia. He had to chase down European champion Morrade Hakker of France. This is one of the reasons he was not popular at home. Hopkins would mug you, not beat you. Too many times he was in a mauling match.
In 2005 Hopkins lost to Olympian Jermain Taylor by split decision. In the rematch he lost on all the judge’s scorecards by two points each. In 2006 he moved up to light heavyweight upsettinging Antonio Tarver who had vacated his WBA/WBC titles but the two titles at stake were the IBO and NBA. In 2008 Hopkins known for not mincing words took on former WBO super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe of Wales who was 44-0 at the time in Las Vegas. Hopkins stated “no white boy is going to beat me”! After having Calzaghe on the canvas in the first round Hopkins would go on to lose by split decision over 12 rounds. Like in the Taylor fights Hopkins may have depended on defense more than offense.
Six months later he upset unbeaten middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in a non-title bout winning almost every round to this writer’s amazement in Atlantic City. Top Rank’s Arum insisted on this fight while Pavlik asked for a unification bout and he was sent to school by Hopkins! Hopkins followed with his first fight in Philly in seven years and in April of 2010 returned to Las Vegas beating the one opponent he has asked for over sixteen years, Roy Jones, Jr.! It was a lopsided win for Hopkins! Still active at 45 there is no sign of retirement from Hopkins. He was in fourth place with 27 points.
In 1964 this writer went to his first live fight and watched Stanley “Kitten” Hayward edge out another Philly boxer in Dick Turner. The fight could have gone either way but it would be Turners last fight due to an eye injury. In Hayward’s next fight he stopped future welterweight champ Curtis Cokes. After defeating Briscoe in 1965 he lost in his next fight to Philly’s boxer of many tricks, “Gypsy” Joe Harris being stopped for the first time in his career. From 1967 to 1970 he had four fights in France going 1-1-2 and becoming very popular over there.
In late 1968 Hayward defeated former champ Emile Griffith to get a vacant WBC/WBA light middleweight match in his next fight in 1969 with Freddie Little, losing over 15 rounds in Las Vegas. In 1971 he lost to Hart, 1974 to Willie “The Worm” Monroe and in 1975 to Briscoe, all Philly fighters. He ended in fifth place with 21 points.
Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts got that nickname dancing from the dressing room to the ring! His biggest year was 1974 in Philly defeating Eugene “Cyclone” Hart in one round and decisioning Willie “The Worm” Monroe in the following fight. He would only fight once in 1975 and open up 1976 with his career biggest win defeating “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler by majority decision. Hagler would reverse that in 1980.
Watts could never get a bout with Hayward or Briscoe which he felt would make him the best in the city at the time. He defeated, drew and defeated by cut Ralph Palladin who was 22-1 in their first meeting. After going 10-0-1 Watts was stopped by Don Cobbs and stopped him in a rematch starting a thirteen bout winning streak until being stopped by California’s David Love who was raising havoc with Philly fighters.
In the Olympic trials in 1968 he lost to Armando Muniz and as a professional in 1970. He lost his last fight in 1983 in the UK to Mark Kaylor, British and Empire champion. Kaylor stopped Philly’s Buster Drayton a year later. He’s become one of the best trainers in Philly. His final record was 38-7-1, with twenty knockouts. He finished sixth with eighteen points.
Willie “The Worm” Monroe, was out of the same stable that “Smokin” Joe Frazier was out of. He was 20-0 with fifteen knockouts before losing in France to Max Cohen. In coming back he went to Louisiana losing to Alvin Phillips whom he had already defeated. He then won six straight before drawing in France with Fabio Bettini. Included in those wins was on the undercard of Frazier and Foreman in Jamaica. After the draw in France he decisioned “Cyclone” Hart and stopped Hayward. Then he defeated Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, who was using Philly as a second home. All those fights were in 1974 along with his final match that year losing to Watts.
Two wins after the Watts fight Monroe won a majority decision over Carlos Marks. Georgie Benton takes over as his trainer and six months later easily defeats Marks in a rematch. Benton has the running Monroe standing in front of his opponent slipping punches. In comes Marvin Hagler, 26-1-1, who may have had his nose broke in the first round. Monroe decisions Hagler who may have trained for a runner. This writer was there for that one in 1976. I would later see Monroe at a weigh-in with his arm wrapped up telling me he is giving Hagler a rematch in Boston. I asked if he was nuts and he told me he could beat him again easily. At the end of 1976 Monroe travels back to his hometown of Rochester, NY, and stops Cuban Angel Robinson Garcia, 133-78-21. In 1977 less than a year from his first meeting with Hagler he got stopped in the twelfth and final round for the vacant NABF title. Six months later back in Philly in a third meeting Monroe was stopped in two rounds by Hagler.
Monroe then travels to Italy posting a win and eleven months later loses in Ghana. He comes back to Philly and beats Keith Broom, 12-1, and loses to Philly’s Curtis Parker. He ends his career losing in Detroit. He ends up 40-10-1, with twenty knockouts. He finished seventh with fourteen points.
Eugene “Cyclone” Hart won his first nineteen fights by knockout! Philly promoter J Russell Peltz called Hart the hardest puncher he ever saw in person. He then ran into iron jawed Don Fullmer who had never been knocked out in seventy fights. This would stop Hart’s knockout streak but still register his twentieth straight win. In September of 1971 in his twenty-second bout he took on another veteran in Denny Moyer, 80-22-4, both fighters fell out of the ring in the sixth round. Moyer injured his ankle and Hart was knocked unconscious. Many feel Hart was never the same after this bout. It was ruled a no-contest.
It would be five months before Hart fought again scored a knockout. In his next fight with Nate Collins he scored a second round knockdown but couldn’t finish him off. By the end of the eighth round Hart couldn’t come out of his corner due to swelling of both eyes. He was stopped again in his next fight. In 1974 after scoring a pair of knockouts he lost three in a row to Monroe, Watts and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. He rebounded knocking out Radames Cabrera, 16-1
In 1975 Hart decisioned Olympic Gold medalist “Sugar” Ray Seales, 26-1-1, in Atlantic City. Next he fought to a draw with Briscoe. This would be the last major effort by Hart who in a rematch with Briscoe in his next fight was stopped in the first round. This writer was there. After a knockout win he would lose his last three fights. Hart ended with a 30-9-1 record, with twenty-eight knockouts. Hart is tied for eighth with nine points.
Gil Turner fought between welterweight and middleweight and was one of Philly’s most exciting fighters. He won his first sixteen fights by knockout. In his nineteenth and twenty-first fights he decisioned and stopped Beau Jack, 87-21-4, in 1951. He was 14-0 that year also stopping Charley Fusari, 64-10-1, in the eleventh round. Several fights later he stopped former lightweight champ Ike Williams, 118-18-4. He stopped his next opponent Bernard Docusen, 72-7-5.
In 1952 Turner won back to back fights over Del Flanagan, 53-3-2, and Don Williams, 56-9-2 to earn a title bout with the welterweight champ Kid Gavilan, 82-12-4, in Philly before over 39,000 people at Municipal Stadium. The bout was even on two cards and Gavilan ahead 6-4 on the other when Turner was stopped in the eleventh round. This would be his only title bout.
Turner fought some of the best contenders in the world. He lost to Bobby Dykes, 92-12-7, in his next fight but reversed that loss several fights later. In 1953 he lost to Giardello, 47-10-5, and then won six straight including Johnny Saxton, 39-0-1, who the following year would win the welterweight title. He defeated two of the top Philly boxers in Charley Scott and Garnett “Sugar” Hart. In 1958 he defeated Virgil Akins who would win the title the following year. In 1955 he defeated future middleweight champ Gene Fullmer, 29-0, only to lose to him twice later on. That’s the way his career seemed to go, up and down. His final record was 57-19-2 with thirty-six knockouts. He tied Hart for eighth with nine points.
James “Black Gold” Shuler was the 1979 and 1980 National Golden Gloves champ. He was a member of the 1980 Olympic team that did not participate due to a boycott. He won his first twelve fights with eleven by knockout before he stepped up to defeat 1972 Olympic Gold medalists “Sugar” Ray Seales, 55-7-3, for the NABF title in 1982.
In a 1984 NABF title defense Shuler defeated 1976 Olympian Clint Jackson, 23-3, in Philly. In 1985 he defended that title again defeating James “The Heat” Kinchen, 34-0-2, by split decision in Atlantic City. In the next thirteen months Shuler only had one fight before meeting the former welter and current light middleweight champ Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, 40-2, in a non-title bout in a defense of the NABF title in Las Vegas on March 10th. Shuler was stopped in 1:13 of the first round to the shock of many. One week later Shuler died in a motorcycle accident. His final record was 26-1 with sixteen knockouts. He finished tenth with seven points.
Other boxers receiving points and tied for eleventh were USBA champ Curtis Parker, 21-9, with twenty-one knockouts and title challenger Joe Borrell, 36-12 with twenty-eight knockouts. Al Trainor, 56-12-8 with thirteen knockouts finished thirteenth.
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