DELAWARE BOXING—A Long and Proud Tradition on the Ropes!

By Sembello C. Hasson on March 2, 2015
DELAWARE BOXING—A Long and Proud Tradition on the Ropes!
Al Tribuani defeated former lightweight champion Lew Jenkins at the Wilmington Ball Park.

However in 2014 ominous clouds appeared and the demise of pro boxing in Delaware is a distinct possibility…

When Delaware’s Dave Tiberi lost a bitterly disputed decision to James Toney for the IBF middleweight championship in February 1992, at Atlantic City, many people figured Dave was the first from that tiny state to box for a “world title.” In fact he was the third title challenger and Delaware does, indeed, have a long and proud boxing tradition. As far back as 1898, a very rugged and crafty individual known as “Wilmington Jack” Daly was the first to battle for a crown when he fought the legendary lightweight champ, George “Kid” Lavigne to a brutal 20-round draw in Cleveland on March 17.

The next to get a title chance was popular “Whistlin’ Willie” Roach who lost a 15-round decision to N.B.A. featherweight titlist, Sal Bartolo, at Boston Garden, Dec. 15, 1945. Willie met most of the top men in his division during his long career, including Sandy Saddler and Willie Pep.

Nineteen former, present, or future world champions performed in Delaware rings, including : “Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey, George Dixon, Jack Britton, Leo Houck, Benny Bass, Primo Carnera, Johnny Jadick, Red Cochrane, Joey Maxim, Lew Jenkins, Gus Lesnevich, Harold Johnson, Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jeff Chandler, Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad), Matt Franklin (Saad Muhammad), William Guthrie and Hasim Rahman.

Former heavyweight king Michael Spinks and amazing multi- champion Bernard Hopkins are current residents of the “First State” and have used Delaware facilities for preliminary training for upcoming matches.

Wilmington became a popular boxing center in the late nineteenth century when many well-known fighters from around the country took matches there. During a time when Philadelphia had its six round no-decision rules, Wilmington was often used to stage important 10- and 15-round bouts to settle final disputes over the longer distance between Philadelphia area fighters at Brandywine Springs and other local fight clubs.

By the 1920s professional boxing promotions sprung up in towns like Rehoboth Beach, Harrington, Dover, New Castle, Elsmere, as well as popular Wilmington venues such as Pythian Castle and Shelpot Park and developed a virtual army of local favorites that included Vic Malin, Marty (Kid Sunn) Sullivan and his brother Lenny, Jimmy Ireland, Mickey Morris and many others who took on many of the best boxers on the Eastern Seaboard. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was a frequent visitor to Wilmington—accompanying his actress wife, Estelle Taylor, for visits to her parents who lived in the city and made for a real event for the local citizens.

Despite boxing’s popularity in the State, the sport was twice temporarily banned until the State Legislature legalized it in 1931 with a charter and guidelines for conducting it in their jurisdiction.

Many top flight boxers were developed after this edict was put in place. Tommy Rios, the “Mexican Fireball” upset middleweight champion, Vince Dundee in an overweight match at nearby Leiperville, Pa. in August of 1934, with thousands of Delawareans cheering him on to victory. Johnny Aiello, became one of the greatest amateur boxers in history winning 15 major titles including Chester, Philadelphia, New York, Inter-City, National, International and Pan-Am Festival. He postponed turning pro to compete in the 1940 Olympic Games but sadly World War II shattered that dream.

Lou Brooks was a world rated heavyweight who boxed “Big Boy” Brown for the “Duration Heavyweight Title” and also tangled with Gus Dorazio, Melio Bettina and also boxed Joey Maxim and Lee Savold before large crowds at the Wilmington Ball Park before an eye injury ended his career.

Rough and ready Jimmy Lancaster fought three world champions in Kid Chocolate, Petey Scalzo and Tippy Larkin and always gave such a rousing show that he became a real fan favorite in New York and boxed on six undercards at Madison Square Garden.

Arguably the best Delaware boxer of all-time was Al Tribuani who defeated former lightweight champion Lew Jenkins at the Wilmington Ball Park in front of 9,000 fans. He also scored two victories over the fabled Al (Bummy) Davis and fought a savage no-quarter asked battle with the great Henry Armstrong before a packed house at Philly’s Convention Hall. Al was the fourth rated welterweight when he went off to war and was badly wounded in Italy which virtually put an end to his promising career.

Al’s older brother Ralph Tribuani was the area’s leading manager and promoter and his association with Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter (a Delaware resident and DuPont relative) during the 1940’s helped the sport thrive and was truly the “golden age of boxing” in the state.

Competition with televised boxing in the 1950s and ‘60s brought Delaware boxing to a crises point but ex-boxers Benny Silicato and Ralph Tribuani promoted cards sporadically during this period, often losing money but keeping the game alive and giving young fighters a chance to develop such as Arthur Redden who became the Pan-American Games light heavyweight champion in 1967 and was a teammate of George Foreman on the 1968 United States Olympic Team.

In the late ‘60s and and ‘70s a series of shows were presented at Fournier Hall and Delaware Park using such local favorites as Ronnie Branch, Joe Barbizzi, Pinky Gordon, Ali Bey, and the Tiberi Clan as well as importing the afore-mentioned Matt Franklin, Jeff Chandler and Eddie Gregory.

Out of this atmosphere top prospects were developing national reputations including the hard punching Princeton graduate, Henry Milligan, who won the National AAU heavyweight championship in 1983 and was a favorite to win a berth on the 1984 Olympic team but was upset by an unknown 17-year-old named Mike Tyson in the trials. Henry had a brief but spectacular pro career by winning 17 out of 23 by KO.

Joe Tiberi was probably the hardest puncher in Delaware boxing history, while his brother Dave was the victim of one of the most controversial decisions ever in a world title match. The fighting Tiberi family produced seven boxers who provided area boxing fans with many years of exciting action inside the ropes.

In recent years Delaware has become an important boxing center drawing fighters from all over the country to take advantage of its modern conditioning facilities, top flight trainers and teachers, and its close proximity to the Philadelphia and Atlantic City boxing environment. In 2002 Dover Downs Casino began an important series of top, world class boxing shows in their beautiful Rollins Center that gained a national reputation and were showcased on ESPN and other cable television outlets. Thus allowing for a constant flow of good fighters from the state like William Guthrie, Richard DeJesus, Larry Marks, Vaughn Bean, Mike Stewart, Amir Monsour, Omar Douglas (all of whom boxed for either “world” championships, national titles or regional belts), also the next generation of the Tiberi boys and other up-and-coming future area prospects. However in 2014 ominous clouds appeared and the demise of pro boxing in Delaware is a distinct possibility. After a couple of dismal shows that featured mismatches to build the records of fighters under contract to the latest promoters, Dover Downs has declared they don’t plan on featuring any pro boxing in the foreseeable future. And the latest cards in the city of Wilmington failed for pretty much the same reasons but the promoters added to the problem when they charged astronomical prices for seating at their venues.

Although most mainstream boxing fans in the larger metro areas may consider boxing in Delaware as nothing more than a small blur on boxing’s big picture, the state and its boxing tradition has always proven to be a useful participant in the overall Philadelphia tri-state boxing scene, along with Harrah’s in nearby Chester and other outlying communities that offer much needed work, activity and experience to area fighters and the end of boxing in Delaware would be a devastating blow to the overall Philadelphia boxing landscape.

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  1. Ralph Tribuani III 04:46pm, 05/05/2015

    Hey Al Tribuani is My uncle I would love to see more pics

  2. Clarence George 10:29am, 03/06/2015

    Chuck:  Impressively encyclopedic, as always.  Zannelli fought Izzy Jannazzo several times, while Gomes fought Johnny Bizzarro, who himself reported on the fight for “The Ring.”

    As for today’s fan base, local or otherwise, they wouldn’t know Harry Greb from Harry Houdini.  Not surprising, given that they haven’t heard of either.

  3. ch. 09:03am, 03/06/2015

    Clarence, Rhode Island can boast of ‘Ripper” Ralph Zannelli, Georgie Araujo, Harold Gomes, Young Montreal, Vinnie Pazienza, Peter Manfredo, etc. and a lot more i can’t think of at this time. Boxing was a very popular sport, just about everywhere, in this country (and the world). In recent times there just isn’t that local fan base anymore to make for a constant flow of good fighters IMO.

  4. Clarence George 05:27am, 03/06/2015

    Isn’t Rhode Island the smallest state?  Not too many boxers from there that I can think of.  Joey Archibald?  I was very surprised to learn that New Jersey is among the smallest, what with the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil and all.  But my interest in and knowledge of geography is limited.  Of course, no shortage of fighters from the Garden State.

  5. ch. 04:53am, 03/06/2015

    Thanks Ken, There isn’t anything about the boxing scene in the tri-state area that you don’t know about. In fact it was you that broke the news to me about the situation at Dover Downs the last time we talked.

  6. Ken Hissner 06:44pm, 03/05/2015

    This was an excellent story on the country’s smallest state of Delaware. There were facts I was never aware of though it’s a nearby state.I had heard much about Al Tribuani and now I know something about him. I heard od Willie Roach and knew he fought Willie Pep.

    It’s a shame how the matchmaking kept bringing in mediocore opposition to the point the fan’s couldn’t take it anymore. Once Amir Mansour left that was it.

  7. ch. 02:41pm, 03/05/2015

    Bennie D., thanks for the great information. Trib was also a real booster of keeping boxing alive in Delaware…....
    Mike, thank you for the nice words. Dave Tiberi is doing O.K. from what I hear. He has been involved in many ventures including hosting his own cable TV show,  promoting boxing, management of boxers, helping in training fighters, including his nephews (Dom, Mike and Joey) and has also had many business interests in the “First State.”

  8. Bennie D. 02:02pm, 03/05/2015

    The interesting fact re Tribuani was that he initially was assigned as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the Army but requested combat status and served under General Patton’s 90th Infantry Division where he was gravely wounded fending off the Nazi’s in the Czechoslovakia mountains ten days prior to the end of the war.  Tribuani and former champions Lew Jenkins and Barney Ross were all decorated for valor during World War II and Jenkins even served in Korea.

  9. Mike Silver 01:37pm, 03/05/2015

    Who else but you Chuck would have the knowledge to post this great article.
    Delaware boxing was in its heyday when boxing was in its heyday. Thanks for keeping the torch alive. BTW, how is Dave Tiberi doing? A great guy who should have been awarded the title in that fixed decision against Toney. One of the most atrocious robberies in the history of the sport. Provoked a congressional investigation. But a blessing in disguise as he left the sport in disgust before getting his brains scrambled.

  10. ch. 08:16am, 03/02/2015

    Thanks Clarence, funny you should mention the likeness between Marciano and Tribuani. I have a photo, circa 1957, of the Rock posing with the 3 Trib brothers (Ralph, Al and Dino) at a St. Anthony’s, Wilmington’s “Little Italy” parish, sports banquet. Rock + Al look a lot alike as you point out.

  11. Clarence George 05:18am, 03/02/2015

    Chuck:  Great detail on Delaware’s boxing history, of which I knew next to nothing (though I do know of toothsome Christine O’Donnell).  Wonderful seeing such names as Larrupin’ Lou Brooks and Big Boy Brown.  And Joltin’ Jeff Chandler (not to be confused with the actor of the same name)...what a terrific bantam he was.  As for Al Tribuani…I always thought he looked rather like Rocky Marciano.

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