Max Baer, World Heavyweight Champion (1934): After being knocked out early by Joe Louis, his last words to the hotel operator who asked if he wanted the house doctor were, “No, get me a people doctor”.
- One night a long time ago, as the bell was about to ring for the start of the seventh round of a heavyweight prize fight being staged in Washington DC, the referee was in one of the corners bent over one of the fighters who looked like a worn-out old man, and whose face was like a bloody mask.
Above the noise of the crowd the referee shouted to the fighter, “Do you want to carry on?”
Grimacing in pain, the tubby pugalist mumbled his answer through his broken and bloody lips, “No! No!”, and so ended one of the craziest ring careers in fistic history. It also ended a story of blood and slaughter, a tale of bluster and ballyhoo, comedy and terror, and a dismal ending for Tony Galento.
When stripped to his ring attire he looked anything but a trained professional boxer. In fact, he looked more like a grotesque puppet with a body padded with thick layers of fat. However, if he did happen to catch a man with one of his swings or hooks, it was usually ‘curtains’ for his opponent. From the start of his career the fighter from Orange, New Jersey was everything an athlete shouldn’t be. He ate whatever he fancied, drank what he pleased and chain smoked. Two-Ton Tony, the beer barrel Palooko, as he liked to be known, may not have looked like a trained fighter, however there was a more serious side to Galento’s boxing career. He may have been a far cry from being a technical boxer but he had a fighter’s heart, and all he wanted to do was fight by fair means or foul.
By the time Galento was taken over by the clever little manager Joe Jacobs, he was on his way down in the boxing game, but Jacobs realised that with a lot of ballyhoo and some clever matchmaking he could steer Galento to a world title shot at heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who was fast running out of challengers for his crown. So Jacobs took the rough and tumble scrapper and matched him with a couple of heavies who he knew Galento would beat, and then started to build up stories about him. Galento was a publicity man’s dream.
The little fat man who owned a bar, whose appearance made him the most unlikely challenger of all time. A fighter who trained on booze and cigars, and who on one occasion when out on a training run with his sparring partners, was seen to be sitting in a luxury car puffing away on an even bigger cigar, while his sparring partners were seen to be jogging alongside the car pouring with sweat. Galento’s answer to this event? “Why should I kill myself when I’m paying dem bums to do it?” He whipped up the publicity further when asked about the champion, “Who? Oh, Joe Louis – I’ll moider de bum!”, which was always his ring slogan for victory. One reporter, tired of receiving the same answer to the question about leading heavyweights of the time, ventured to ask Galento’s opinion of William Shakespeare of whom he had obviously never heard, and thinking it was some European heavyweight declared “Oh yes, him, I’ll moider dat bum too!” Galento may have looked far from being an Adonis, but he was no ‘bum’ himself. He was only 29 but had been involved in 103 professional fights, and even though he had lost 20 of those bouts he had never been knocked out, which was the thing which captured the public’s imagination, along with the fact that he was a tough brawler who often forgot the finer points of the boxing rules.
Even though most people didn’t think that Galento would survive more than one round against the invincible Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, almost 40,000 turned up at the Yankee Stadium, New York on 28th June 1939 and that night, Two-Ton Tony the Clown achieved a moment of greatness as a fighter. Even before the first blow was struck, as the referee called the two fighters together to give them the final instructions, Galento started complaining that there was too much grease on the champion’s face and insisted on wiping some off. He wiped his gloves across Joe Louis’ face and through his hair. Louis, not surprisingly, was incensed as the bell rang to start the fight, and a little out of control.
As the champion loomed over him, Galento threw the one punch he was dangerous with – his left hook. Everyone in the stadium saw it coming except Louis and as it slammed against his right cheek it stunned him momentarily, and he was almost out on his feet. The crowd were also stunned, for Tony Galento had the world title in the palm of his ham-like hand. But he hesitated, not believing that he had hurt his opponent so much. So he stood back and watched Louis with his small, suspicious, rheumy eyes, and that moment of glory which had almost made him heavyweight champion of the world slipped through his chubby fingers. Louis recovered and fought back, but Galento kept planting left-handers on the champ’s face and by the end of that round, Louis’ cheeks were red and swollen from the blows they had taken. After that Joe went to work on Tony the Clown who had dared to humiliate him, giving him a murderous beating in round two, but Tony refused to give in. In fact, in the third round he even took the fight to the champion and as Louis retaliated he threw a left swing blindly and Louis hit the canvas, but it was Galento’s last bid for glory. Louis’ pride was now hurt, and in the next round his punches went into Galento’s face like guided missiles of the future, and Galento’s body finally caved in under the weight of the punishment. He hit the deck and the referee stopped the fight to save him from further punishment. At the end, Galento’s eyes, lips and even his tongue needed stitches. However, later, Galento and his manager Joe Jacobs insisted that the next time the two fighters met, Galento would beat the great champion and take the title. But it was not to be, even though Tony beat the highly rated Lou Nova three months later, giving him such a cruel beating in the process, that the young fighter had to stay in hospital for three months. It seemed as if Galento was heading to the top, but then his wise old manager died and he never won another fight!
By George Reed
This article appears in the print edition 601 of Island Connections