Bizzarro World

By Clarence George on January 20, 2015
Bizzarro World
He fought Carlos Ortiz on June 20, 1966, for the WBC & WBA lightweight championships.

Johnny died in 1998 at age 60, but Johnny Bizzarro’s Fleetwing Auto Sales (“Erie’s Legend in Your Corner”) is still going strong…

“I don’t like money, actually, but it quiets my nerves.”—Joe Louis

Most boxers wind up with nothing. An exceptional few exit the squared circle with tens of millions of dollars, sometimes hundreds of millions. They live the life of drug kingpins. There are too many women and too many women’s children. Too many Aston Martins in shades of blue ranging from turquoise to midnight. Whatever happened to just one salmon-pink Cadillac? Too many mansions. This one has Corinthian columns. That one, Doric. And a third boasts Ionic. One’s in Palm Springs, California. The other in Palm Beach, Florida. And number three’s in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Or Newport, Rhode Island. Or Greenwich, Connecticut. Or just outside Atlanta, Georgia. That’s where Evander Holyfield had his. A white elephant with 21 bathrooms that cost him a million dollars a year to maintain; $17,000 a month just for electricity. Until the inevitable foreclosure set in.

Too many dollars and not enough sense. Too many of this and too many of that. Too many…things.

And not enough memory of Joe Louis the Las Vegas greeter.

But, speaking of cars, there was a boxer who didn’t so much buy them as sell them.

Clever boy!

Lightweight Johnny Bizzarro was born in Italy, but fought out of Erie, Pennsylvania, from 1958 to 1968. He wound up with a record of 56 wins, 25 by knockout, 11 losses, one by knockout, and two draws. He won a couple of minor titles, decisioning Paddy Read in July 1963 for the North American lightweight title, and doing the same to Al Duarte that October for the North American junior lightweight title. But he came up short in his quest for the WBC and WBA junior lightweight belts, decisioned by Flash Elorde on February 16, 1963, in Manila, and stopped by Carlos Ortiz via 12th-round TKO on June 20, 1966, in Pittsburgh, when he tried for the WBC and WBA lightweight championships.

Wine, women, and mansions? Not for our Johnny. After leaving the ring, “Bizzarro opened a Ford agency in Ridgeway, Pa. and a used car lot in Erie,” reports Ingrid Yates in an interview that appeared in the January 16, 1971, edition of the Erie Press. Also interviewed was another Erie lightweight from an even earlier era, tough Maxie Strub, who got into the fight game because “he needed the prize money to buy new tires for his Ford coupe,” while “Bizzarro boxed ‘to be on top.’” Said Strub, “In 1923 Erie was a good boxing town. Fighters came from all over and it was nothing to fight six, seven or eight times a month. Of course we didn’t have to travel 150 miles and we weren’t just looking for a buck and blood.” Contemptuous of the training and conditioning of Johnny’s era, Strub snarled that “Cassius Clay doesn’t even know how to tie a man up in a pinch. When your mind says move and your feet say wait a second, it’s too late.” Outside of agreeing that Rocky Marciano was the best, the men were “talking two different kinds of boxing,” writes Yates. For Bizz, boxing was “head instead of muscle.”

And money was investing instead of spending.

Johnny died in 1998 at age 60, but Johnny Bizzarro’s Fleetwing Auto Sales (“Erie’s Legend in Your Corner”) is still going strong.

As for Holyfield’s mansion…

He doesn’t live there anymore.

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  1. Clarence George 05:56am, 01/23/2015

    Always glad when you visit, NYI.

  2. NYIrish 05:33am, 01/23/2015

    Bob said it. Good stuff

  3. Bob 04:31am, 01/22/2015

    Just read the Dick Wipperman link posted by Chuck in this comments section. Great piece as usual by Pete Ehrmann. It is because of these types of fighters (and characters) that I fell in love with boxing.  How could you not?  I love Wipperman’s comments when throwing down the gauntlet to the bikers. Priceless.

  4. Eric 02:40pm, 01/21/2015

    Ken Norton came close to the 47 second record on two seperate occasions from both sides of aisle. The Norton-Bobick bout was 58 seconds and the Cooney-Norton bout was all of 54 seconds.

  5. Clarence George 02:01pm, 01/21/2015

    Your posting “trivia,” Chuck, will be forgiven if you promise to write an article on one or more of the DeJohns.  Perhaps you and Bob can split the brothers between you.  And be sure to mention that one of Mike DeJohn’s opponents was…Ponce de Leon!

  6. ch. 11:17am, 01/21/2015

    Last trivial piece (I promise) : When MIKE DE JOHN KO’d unbeaten Alex Miteff in 77 seconds, at Syracuse, it was the quickest KO ever scored in a main event on national TV. When Mike KO’d Charley Powell in 47 second, also at Syracuse, that became the new record for a quick national TV main bout stoppage. So Mike twice held the record before he retired. Mike usually ran out of gas after 4 rounds and he was completely exhausted when he caught Billy Hunter with a couple of desperation bombs for a 9th round KO in another televised bout from Syracuse.

  7. Clarence George 09:43am, 01/21/2015

    Should have known, Chuck, as you go by ch.  I thus transfer part of my thanks from Chuck to…Chuck.

  8. ch. 09:31am, 01/21/2015

    Clarence, the Pete Ehrmann piece on Dick Wipperman was supplied by another Chuck. Good story but not from me.

  9. Clarence George 08:47am, 01/21/2015

    Thanks very much, Chuck.  Enjoyed reading Pete Ehrmann’s piece on Wipperman, as well as your excellent post—what a wonderful fount of information you are, to be sure.

  10. ch. 08:28am, 01/21/2015

    Clarence, I remember the first Narvaez-Bizzarro fight was as close as your next breath. most scribes had Johnny winning but Frankie’s aggressiveness I thought won it. Anything could have happened in the fights in Puerto Rico.
    Clarence and Bob, Johnny DeJohn always claimed that 1930’s contender RALPH DE JOHN was the best of the brothers, Carmen DeJohn was said to carry that dangerous DeJohn left hook as well….I will leave you with another “fightin’ family,” The TIBERI clan of Wilmington, De. Seven brothers boxed. Dave, Joe, Mario (who had only 3 pro bouts, but was 1978 Pa. GG champ) and Vince were pros and Pancho, Gene and Nick were good amateurs. Their offsprings Dom, (a S.E. Pa. amateur champ but retired after getting blasted out in pro debut). Joey jr., and Mike Tiberi both have done well in the pros so far.

  11. Chuck 08:22am, 01/21/2015

    Excellent piece, Mr. G. Here’s something on the great Dick Wipperman:


  12. Eric 08:12am, 01/21/2015

    @ch…Remember watching the Bizzarro-Duran fight. Pretty good scrap, Bizzarro put up a good showing against a prime Duran.

  13. Clarence George 05:53am, 01/21/2015

    The DeJohns…absolutely.  Joey fought Robert Villemain, Ernie Durando, and Jake LaMotta.  Dick Wipperman!  Not a name you hear every day.  Didn’t he also fight Chuvalo and Cooper?  Don’t get you started, Bob?  On the contrary—these articles have got their tongues hanging out for you to write them.

    Anyway, very glad you liked it.

  14. Clarence George 05:35am, 01/21/2015

    Welcome post, Chuck, per uje.

    Johnny didn’t do too well against Frankie, losing three of four, if I remember right.  Elbaum is indeed a legendary promoter (albeit massively lackluster as a boxer).  Paul Bizzarro had a successful if short-lived career, while brother Lou was much more impressive.  He lost only two fights, to Duran and Norman Goins.  And, as you mention, all that fightin’ offspring!  Of course, some did better than others.  Ernie, for instance, had only one bout.

    By the way (see photo), 35 cents for a hot dog in ‘66 would be about $2.25 today, I would think.  Not sure why the gloves were weighed in a deli.  The guy in the hat is Mike Brady, Bizzarro’s manager.  With him are Ortiz and Bizzarro.

  15. Bob 05:29am, 01/21/2015

    When I attended college in upstate (western) New York in the 1970s, the Bizzarro brothers, despite being from Erie, PA, and the De John brothers were legends. I met them one night in either Elmira or Syracuse at a boxing how featuring Ricky Fratto. There were several members from each family and I remember being in awe of them.  They were all very colorful, but extreme gentlemen. My knowledge of the Bizzarro’s was limited, but I always had a warm spot for them and was glad to read this. It’s wonderful to keep the names of these ring idols alive. Back in their days they brought their fans a lot of pride and pleasure, and should not be forgotten. Would have loved to see a Bizzarro or a DeJohn on Peter Wood’s list of favorite books of boxing people past or present. Another interesting fellow from upstate New York who would make a great story is Dick Wipperman, who fought Joe Frazier and others. I think Wipperman became a cop, shot a motorcycle gang while taking police action, and had a contract put on him.  Met him in the 1970s as well. Talk about characters. Don’t get me started…...

  16. ch. 03:32am, 01/21/2015

    Clarence, I remember Johnny very well from his TV fights from MSG. against Frankie Narvaez. Johnny was slick and quick. I believe he was the legendary, Don Elbaum’s first fighter. Really happy for his later success but sad about his early demise. Talk about “fightin’ families, Johnny and his brothers Paul and Lou (who fought Duran for the title). Their offsprings who also boxed pro, Johnny Jr., Lou jr., Ang, Ernie, and Joe, all who I met at Canastota when John jr. boxed at Turning Stone during HOF weekend around 2001. Nice guys that loved hearing us talk about their fathers.

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