Sunday, August 28, 2005

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" ---- 09-03-05

""I ain't never heard of him. I suppose he's one of them foreign heavyweights."
--"Two-Ton" Tony Galento--when asked
if he knew who William Shakespeare was

He never won a world title, but Dominic Anthony Galento surely put his stamp--or should I say STOMP--on the sport of boxing. Born in the late winter of 1910 in New Jersey, "Two-Ton" got his nickname after driving his ice truck to deliver two tons of ice shortly before one of his earliest bouts. Being a bar owner, he'd always brag that he trained on beer, burgers, spaghetti, and anything else that contributed to his beer-barreled physique. He was a self-proclaimed "tough guy"--who often used the phrase, "I'll moida da bum" when asked to comment about an upcoming opponent. Yes, few (if any) fighters had the charisma--not necessarily charm--of one Tony Galento.

"Two-Ton" was a dirty fighter--and would proudly never deny it, either; in fact, he often spoke out after losses that if he would have just fouled a bit more--and avoided his trainers' advice--he could have surely held his hand in victory. He'd often bad-mouth opponents to no end, and was surely one of the most disliked fighters in the history of boxing. His former trainer, the legendary Ray Arcel, once offered the following words about the Jersey cult hero: "Nobody really liked 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 fight." Yes, low-blows, head-butts, and elbows were all part of the Galento arsenal; he also was known to purposely land KNEE FIRST on opponents. But despite his reputation as an unpolished, rule-breaking thug, "Two-Ton" Tony Galento had a gift that the modern-day athlete severely lacks--he made people LAUGH. He had that charismatic air about him that simply made people take notice--whether they loved him or not.

In the early '30s, Galento fought three opponents in one evening--knocking out all of them while drinking beer between rounds (I'll go out on a limb and surmise that he didn't spit it out, either). On another occasion, he bet a colleague that he could consume at least FOUR DOZEN hot dogs before a fight with Arthur DeKuh; he ultimately won the bet and annihilated DeKuh in four rounds--though being sluggish and bloated beyond words along the way. The 5' 9", 235-pound Galento would typically, boldly say he did his training and "roadwork" after closing his bar in the wee hours of the morning--sometimes after partaking in a late meal of a half-dozen chickens, a bowl of pasta, and a half-gallon of his favorite fermented beverage. His response to why he trained at night? "I FIGHT at night, don't I?" His sparring partners (when he DID go to a gym) were often more frightened of Galento eating THEIR meals (in addition to his own) than they were of his ferocious left hook. A clown? Maybe so. A tough guy? Hell, yeah.

Though having more of a reputation as a "pretender" than a true "contender," Galento WAS given a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world vs. Joe Louis in 1939; "Two-Ton" was perhaps the best-known member of the famed "Bum of the Month Club" (a handful of fighters who had little chance of defeating Louis at the time). In typical Galento fashion, he bad-mouthed Louis relentlessly--even making disparaging remarks about Louis' family before the bout. When asked about his chances of beating the talented champ before the fight, Galento truly got under the skin of Louis when he casually remarked, "Joe who? I never hoid of da bum." Comically, he also relayed to reporters that he didn't drink ANY wine or beer for a WHOLE TWO DAYS before the showdown! Outweighing Louis by over 30 pounds, Galento brawled with Joe at the beginning of the famed fight at Yankee Stadium--even knocking the champ down in the second round to the surprise of the 30,000 fans in the Bronx. However, the speed of Joe Louis would be, in the end, too much for the bullying bartender; Joe Louis retained his title with a fourth round stoppage of Galento--who needed 23 stitches in his face. In his typical, tough-guy style, Galento complained afterward that the fight should not have been stopped--and that Joe Louis was "not as good as they rate him; he can't take a punch." Ah, "Two-Ton" at his combative—yet loveable—best, no doubt.

Tony Galento went on to take vicious beatings from the Baer brothers--Max and Buddy--in 1940 and '41; Max would always claim that he took more pleasure out of defeating the loudmouthed Galento than he did winning the heavyweight title in 1934. "Two-Ton" would try his hand at wrestling for awhile--his pugnacious and boisterous personality being a natural for that venue--before returning to boxing in 1943; he retired shortly thereafter to spend more time in a familiar element--his smoke-filled bar in New Jersey.

In a 15-year career, Tony Galento compiled a ring record of 82-26-6--with 59 knockouts. Though his reputation was more associated with clowning and indulgence, he DID have 11 straight knockouts before taking on Joe Louis--who would later say that "Two-Ton" was perhaps the toughest man he ever fought (the two later became friends). Sadly, Galento died in 1979 due to a brutal battle with diabetes. Those who knew him best say that he was a "happy-go-lucky" soul in retirement--his former gruff/uncouth reputation just being a small part of the huge charismatic nature that he possessed for his entire life. No, his mocking/personal attacks of opponents in the past cannot be condoned; however, as time went on, it became clear that most of "Two-Ton's" perceived combative actions were more entertainment-related than personal.

In an age when sports "personalities"/cult heroes are becoming increasingly extinct, I can say with certainty that we'll never see an athlete again quite like the man they once called "Two-Ton" Tony.

Bob Lazzari

Reprinted by permission of the Valley Times.


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