Philly’s “Joltin” Jeff Chandler, WBA Champion and IHOF Inductee” Interview By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Dec 3, 2010) - Tweet
A person cannot be measured by his size but if he was than Philly’s “Joltin” Jeff Chandler would be a “giant of a man” at 118 pounds of natural God given talent. Image, walking into South Philly’s Juniper Gym at age 19 and 2 amateur fights later on your way to becoming a world champion. “I fought on a Friday and a Monday in the amateurs. I lost to Johnny Carter in the second one. He had well over 50 fights. I knew we would see each other again. I turned pro figuring why fight for nothing,” said Chandler.
Chandler came to the Juniper Gym in 1976 where Matthew Saad Muhammad, world light heavyweight champion started 2 years before him. Both would become world champions with Saad in 1979 in the light heavyweight division and Chandler in 1980 in the bantamweight division.
While Saad was managed and trained by the Nick Belfiore, Chandler was managed by Arnold Giovanetti and trained by Pat Patterson. Belfiore took over as trainer when Giovanetti disappeared. Becky O’Neill took over as manager and her husband Wille was the assistant trainer around Chandler’s seventh fight. “Becky and Willie were the greatest people ever. My life was never the same when they passed,” said Chandler.
“As small as Becky was she would stand- up for me in an instant if someone said something negative about me. I told her I could stand up for myself,” said Chandler. It would be 5 years from turning professional in 1981 when O’Neill took over as head trainer.
“When I first start sparring in the gym Nick (Belfiore) would have the guys lined up on the bench waiting for me. I had just come from my construction job and was really tired. In time I would walk in the door and yell to them to get ready,” said Chandler.
Chandler at 5:07 was a giant in the 118 division. He made his debut in the coal mountain region of Scranton, PA, some 2 hours north of Philly. His promoter would be J Russell Peltz, later to become a Hall of Fame promoter from Philly. His cut man would be PA HOF’s Eddie “The Clot” Alliano. “Eddie would be with me in every fight. There were times he would run the corner,” said Chandler.
The Catholic Youth Center gym was over a bowling alley. This was the same place Philly’s uncrowned champion Tyrone Everett started his career. Chandler was brought along slowly. They knew they had something special in Chandler if he was brought along right. The east coast was not stocked with bantamweights in the 70’s. “Peltz put me in some of my first fights and when he saw something in me he signed me up,” said Chandler.
Philly’s Mike Dowling, 1-0 was Chandler’s first opponent. It ended in a draw. “I was 118 and I know they didn’t put weights down in those days because Dowling had to be 130. I fought Michael Frazier who lived 2 blocks from me (his third fight). I would use him as my sparring partner after I won the title,” said Chandler. Places like the Blue Horizon, Convention Hall, in Atlantic City and Fournier Hall, in Wilmington, DE, would provide Chandler with the needed experience that would benefit him.
Chandler’s first bout at the Spectrum in Philly was in November of 1976 against Tony “Pee Wee” Stokes, of NY, in a scheduled 4 rounder. Both Stokes and Chandler were 5-0-1. The main event would feature WBC champion Alfredo Escalera defending against unbeaten Philly super featherweight Tyrone Everett, 34-0. It was this writer’s opinion of the worst decision I ever witnessed. I had it 13-2 and Everett lost by split decision. Everett would be shot to death within 6 months. “I had the walk out fight that night and only saw a couple of rounds. Later I would see it in its entirety and Everett really got robbed,” said Chandler.
Chandler passed his first real test winning over Stokes. His career was starting and Everett’s near its end. It would be close to 2 years before he would step into his first 10 rounder. Saad Muhammad was defending his WBC title in the main event with Chandler in the semi-windup.
In his next fight Chandler was under the main event of Marvin Hagler and “Bad” Bennie Briscoe. “Briscoe would fill the arena to the rafters,” said Chandler. Chandler defeated Sergio Reyes, 12-6, over 8 rounds. His brain trust, Peltz, was guiding him up the rankings slowly but surely. There hadn’t been a 118 champ from the US since 1943. “Maureen (Sacks, Peltz VP) takes care of you. She’s a wonderful lady and I have nothing negative to say about Russell (Peltz),” said Chandler.
In April of 1979 Chandler would meet former Olympian Davey Vasquez, 18-2, at the Spectrum and win in a 10 rounder. “He had good stuff,” said Chandler. In July he would meet one of the few other east coast bantam’s who happened to also be from Philly, Kid Chocolate, 18-2, for the USBA bantamweight title just outside of Philly in Upper Darby’s Forum. “He said he was going to jump on me before the fight but I jumped on him first in the opening round,” said Chandler. He stopped Chocolate in the 9th round.
In February of 1980 Chandler would add the NABF title to his USBA title meeting Javier Flores, 26-4-3. Chandler would drop Flores in the 9th round and stop him in the 10th to become a dual champion. What he wanted was the world title and by year’s end it would happen.
In Atlantic City Chandler defeated the Puerto Rican champion Andres Hernandez, 30-6-1, in defending his 2 titles. Hernandez had lost to knockout artist Carlos Zarate in 13 going for the champs WBC belt. This was under the Matthew Saad Muhammad and John Conteh light heavyweight main event. “I would have liked to have fought Zarate,” said Chandler.
After a couple of knockouts in July, Chandler would be matched in November of 1980 with Julian Solis, 21-0, of Puerto Rico, for his WBA bantamweight title in Miami. On the undercard would be Alexis Arguello defeating Jose Luis Ramirez by split decision. Chandler said, “Can you imagine the great Alexis Arguello on my undercard?” Chandler was well ahead on 2 of the scorecards when he stopped Solis in the 14th round to become the first world champion from the east coast in 33 years. “He was a good boxer with a lot of heart so I just kept being aggressive. I felt great. I knew what I had to do to win it (title) but to keep it would be harder,” said Chandler.
Chandler’s first defense would be in February of 1981 against former WBA champ Jorge Lujan, 22-3, who lost his title in his 6th defense to Solis. In order to get the Solis fight I had to agree to fight Lujan if I won. This bout was held at the Franklin Plaza Hotel, in Philadelphia. Chandler would win on all score cards 148-143, 146-143 and 146-142. Not only were all the judges Latino but so was the referee.
In April it was off to Tokyo, Japan, defending against the OPBF champ Eijiro Murata, 18-0-2. The referee had it even, while the judges had it 147-146 for Murata and 145-142 for Chandler, a draw. “I was Jeff’s sparring partner even though I was 140 and supposed to go to Japan with him. I went to the nationals instead and won them at 16. Jeff is the greatest and he made me a better fighter,” said Vinnie Burgese (22-5-1 as a pro). “I thought I won the fight. He kept coming in with his head causing a cut,” said Chandler.
There would be a rematch before the year was out but first a rematch with Solis, 22-1, was next. Chandler was going to make sure there would be no need for the judges after the Murata draw. In Atlantic City Chandler would stop Solis in the 7th round, ahead on all score cards at the time. “He didn’t seem like the same fighter I first fought,” said Chandler.
In December came the rematch with Murata, 19-0-3, in Atlantic City. “Belfiore would drop out as trainer and Willie O’Neill would take over as trainer at this point,” said Peltz. Well ahead on all cards, Chandler stopped Murata in the 13th round dealing the Japanese opponent his first career loss.
In March of 1982 at the Civic Center in Philadelphia what goes round comes round. This was the rematch with fellow Philly fighter Johnny “Dancing Machine” Carter, 23-1, who Chandler lost to in his second and last fight in the amateurs. “We were in the ring getting announced when Carter gives me the “tomahawk” sign and starts dancing around. I thought you’re in the wrong spot this time. We had gone to night school together so I clapped for him,” said Chandler. Chandler would get up and run from 5am to 6am then go to his construction job. “I would usually run 10 minutes before a fight,” said Chandler.
“He knew it was a lot different this time as early as the first round,” said Chandler. He was ahead on all score cards going into the sixth round. “I got off the stool for the sixth round and Willie slapped me on the butt so hard I thought I was having a heart attack. He said now go get him,” said Chandler. Referee Frank Cappuccino would stop it at 2:28 of the sixth round in favor of Chandler.
In Chandler’s only other fight in 1982 he stopped Miguel Iriarte, 12-1-1, of Panama ending his 8 bout winning streak in the 9th round in Atlantic City. “He came out throwing bombs the whole fight trying to kill me. I hadn’t fought for 7 months but was able to avoid most of them,” said Chandler.
In March of 1983 Chandler would meet a future WBA and WBO champion and a Hall of Famer in Gaby Canizales, 24-1, who was the USBA champion and winner of 14 straight. “I said, where’s the easy one’s?” He had defended against No. 1 thru No.4. Canizales trainer Jesse Reid said, “Chandler was a great fighter.” At Atlantic City in his 7th defense Chandler would win by scores of 148-140, 147-140 and 145-141.
Chandler had a return bout with Murata scheduled in September so he took a couple of non-title bouts to keep busy. In Atlantic City he dropped Hector Cortez, 39-11-3, of Ecuador, in the 1st, 2nd and 7th rounds easily winning over 10 rounds. “I was really cracking that night,” said Chandler. To this writer’s pleasure Jeff got up in his kitchen and started throwing jabs and left hooks. He’s still very trim and quick at 54.
Chandler wasn’t so fortunate in his next fight losing a split decision to L.A.’s Oscar Muniz, 36-3-3, the NABF champ who had won his last 10 fights in a row. “I was offered 100k to fight Muniz in 1 week. I couldn’t turn it down and though I was only in the gym 1 day I thought I did all right all things considered,” said Chandler.
They promised to give Muniz a title shot after a September defense in a rubber match with Murata. Once again Chandler would travel to Japan but with only knockout on his mind. Murata, 24-1-3, was down in round 2, round 3, and 3 times in the 10th before the referee Isidro Rodriguez would stop the one-sided fight in the 10th round.
In December against Muniz in the rematch it was a different fight this time with Chandler coming in at his lowest weight in almost 3 years. “Every time he had an inch I scratched it,” said Chandler. Muniz, 38-3-3, was no match for Chandler this time. Ahead on all score cards Chandler stopped Muniz in the 7th round on a cut at the 0:23 mark. Now he had avenged the draw and the loss marring an otherwise perfect record.
Next would be well re-guarded Richie Sandoval, 22-0, of CA, in Atlantic City in April of 1984 being Chandler’s 10th defense. “I had hurt my left shoulder several weeks before the fight. The day of the fight I got an injection for the pain. By the third round I told my trainer I felt like I was drunk. That shot really affected me” said Chandler. Why he didn’t get it earlier for re-action purposes he didn’t know.
Chandler got dropped for the first time in his career in the 11th round. “I didn’t think it was a real knockdown,” said Chandler. Referee Arthur Mercante stopped it at 1:20 of the 15th and last round declaring the end of an era and the end of a career for “Joltin” Jeff Chandler losing to Sandoval. Several years later Sandoval would lose the title to Canizales and retire after losing for the first time in 30 fights. “The WBA gave my belt to Sandoval after the fight and I never got it back,” said Chandler.
At the age of 27 Chandler would announce his retirement with a 33-2-2 record and 18 knockouts along with 9 title defenses. “I was told I had cataracts on both eyes just prior to the fight and knew it would be my last fight,” said Chandler. He would be inducted into the IBHOF in 2000. “I knew I was that good,” said Chandler. He now resides in Newark, DE. He has 3 son’s Tarik, Jeffrey, Jr. and Julius whom live in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.
This writer caught up to Chandler at the PA HOF in May and at the Briscoe Awards in October. We made arrangements to meet in November through John Di Santo who runs the Briscoe awards. “Jeff Chandler was probably the best fighter to come up at the Spectrum, and he’s on the list of all-tie Philly greats,” said DiSanto.
Fellow Doghouse Boxing writer from DE, Dave Ruff , accompanied me for the interview. He asked Jeff if he would speak to the kids where he works in Wilmington, DE, at the Frains Boy’s & Girls Club. He said to call him anytime and he will be there. Ruff said “you can show them you’re life skills.”
“Ali was the reason I got started in boxing. Joey Giardello (former world champ) told me how dangerous the sport was. That is why I always kept my hands up high so to take care of myself down the road. I couldn’t believe how guys like Giardello and Carmen Basilio would fight so many times and against so many tough opponents,” said Chandler.
“I loved my mom and she was great. She would put something away for me after my fights. When I was young she said you will be in jail before your 21 if you keep doing what you’re doing. That always stayed with me. God is always with me and looking out for me. Even when I was champ I tried staying away from people that were not good for my boxing career,” said Chandler. The family attended the “Light of the World Chapel” in South Philly.
Chandler brought out a beautiful portrait of himself with the Ring Magazine belt on. He also showed us his picture on the cover of the July 1983 Ring Magazine. He signed a boxing Hall of Fame card for Ruff. Both Ruff and I agreed after talking and laughing with “Joltin” Jeff Chandler that he was a very modest person and a lot of fun to be with. Being one of the all time best Philly champions and a boxer who was tops in his field in making 9 successful title defenses it was our pleasure that he took so much time to talk with us.
Philadelphia’s J Russell Peltz, the IBHOF promoter of Chandler’s who has worked with many world champions and contenders for over 40 years summed it up by saying, “Jeff was the most talented fighter, physically and mentally, I ever promoted.”