Footwork

By José Corpas on August 11, 2015
Footwork
The boxing shoes sometimes offered clues about how a fighter moved inside the ring.

I thought, for a second, that maybe the 40-year-old former contender could pull off the upset. Then I saw the sneakers…

The sneakers gave it away.

Tony Pellone, one-time contender, told me to, “Look at the shoes.” Pellone, who we called Jerry, shared many of the tips he learned while beating Billy Graham, Charley Fusari, Bob Montgomery, Johnny Greco, Paddy Young, Lulu Constantino, Joe Miceli and extending Kid Gavilan, Ike Williams, Tony Janiro, and Johnny Saxton. Looking at the shoes was one of my favorites. 

The shoes sometimes offered clues about how a fighter moved inside the ring. The wear on the soles; the scuff marks on the sides. The on-their-toes types, like Willie Pep, had more wrinkles and creases on the vamps. Come forward sluggers, like Carmen Basilio, had more scuffs along the welt. Just like scar tissue above the eyes, shoes could tell a story Pellone explained as he fed his Chihuahua a rolled up slice of ham he had just bought from the corner deli.  Two slices of ham was his order—one for the dog and one for him. “That’s all she’ll eat today,” he mused while the F-train rumbled above. “They don’t eat much these dogs,” he said while eating the other slice. 

Tough Tony came from a different era. In his day it was more likely to face an opponent they knew little about. Any info, even ones coming from scuffed shoes, was welcomed. In his era fighters weren’t as concerned with making fashion statements with their ring attire as they are today. Aside from an occasional flashy robe, the majority of fighters from the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports era wore either basic dark trunks or white trunks. 

It stayed that way until the fights were broadcast in color. Then we began seeing more reds, light blues, and greens. About a dozen years after color television sets were the norm, fighters like Hector “Macho” Camacho, first with his leopard print shorts, then later with Liberace-like sequined trunks, began dressing up like rock stars for their fights. And along with the fancy pants came matching shoes. Since then, most fighters sport a brand spanking new, scuff-free pair of shoes for each fight.  Despite that, the habit has stayed with me. I always look at the shoes.

When I found myself in the Midwest recently, in that place where everything is done big, and came across a flyer in a diner window announcing a fight featuring a heavyweight with an impressive record, my juices started flowing.  When I recognized the name of his opponent, I knew I was going. 

I convinced the group I was with that it’d be a worthwhile affair. “This guy,” I said, lightly tapping the window where the opponent’s name was, “is legit.” 

Two nights later I reached into my pocket, wiped the lint off a pair of twenties, and made my way to the convention center not far from where Jack Johnson fought his first fights some hundred years earlier. I chose a metal folding chair along the carpeted aisle where the boxers passed by on their way to the ring. From there I could give them a word of encouragement as they made their way to the ring like I sometimes do to runners of the New York Marathon when they trot down Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. 

“You can do it!”

Most of the card consisted of fights between fighters with decent boxing skills against opponents with decent crumbling skills. Most of the time it was a body shot that made them collapse to their knees along the ropes. They grimaced in pain when they made eye contact with the ref or with someone in the crowd. They reached for the ropes and struggled getting up while the ref counted them out. Then they’d jump up about a second after hearing “ten” and try to save some face by complaining, mildly, about being up before the count reached ten. 

How much did I think they were getting paid I was asked. 

“Used to be $80 a round back in the day,” I replied. $320 for a four-rounder—$400 if they were lucky.

But that was papa Bush era rates. 

If they’re getting $700 for folding after a few punches, that’s good second income they thought. Not really I said. “They have to split it,” I explained. “And they’ll likely be under suspension for 60 days. They’re lucky if they can squeeze in four fights per year.”
“Suspension?” they asked. 

Mandatory after a “KO” loss I explained.

“But,” they said, “they didn’t get hit in the head.”

After about four more fights that followed the same script, I reassured those with me that the main event should be better. First to make their way into the makeshift arena was the former title challenger.  That challenge, however, was ten years and forty pounds earlier. But at about 6’2, he carried the extra poundage well enough, most of it in his deep chest and huge arms. The favorite, shorter and fatter, looked like he was the former light heavyweight.  At about 5’10 and 240 with a jiggly torso, he did not look like the menacing heavyweight with a 90% knockout ratio featured on the flyer. 

I thought, for a second, that maybe the 40-year-old former contender could reach inside his bag of ring tricks and pull off the upset. Then I saw the sneakers. 

No scuffs and brand spanking new but, they were better suited for a concrete filled basketball court than the ring.   

He’s going down in the first round I said of the high top wearing former title challenger. The menacing stare down during the referee’s last second instructions had my guys doubting me. And when the bell ring and the former contender launched a wide roundhouse right hander, the guys, and the crowd, braced themselves. 

The favorite ducked a second too late and a bit too much to the left. But the wide punch missed anyway. The older fighter followed the big right with a series of feeble jabs. Then it happened. 

About twenty seconds into the round the favorite bobbed and weaved like a tired Mike Tyson. The old veteran, still jabbing, suddenly retreated. When his back touched the ropes he went into a shell while the favorite, pumped up by the crowd, threw a flurry of shots that landed on the arms. 

After a pause by both fighters, and perhaps the thought of a clinch, the heavyweight opened up again. This time a left hook got through to the side of the rib cage. 

Down went the old fighter. He fell to his knees then laid flat on his stomach. He looked at the ref.  Then he grimaced. Around the count of “seven” he started struggling to get up. The referee shouted “ten.” The old fighter picked himself up a split-second after, shook his head in disagreement and protested. Slightly. 

The crowd cheered the hometown fighter and my guys wondered, quietly, if the crowd really believed it was a clean knockout. Being visitors, we politely applauded along with the crowd when the official decision was announced. After a very brief medical examination inside the ring, the former contender, almost unnoticed, slipped out of the ring and passed us on his way back to the dressing room. 

“Good fight,” one of us said to him when he walked by. He was still grimacing I was told. I didn’t notice. I was looking at his feet. When he passed us, I noticed a scuff on his sneakers. Right on top of his big toe.

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  1. Clarence George 08:50am, 08/12/2015

    Wonderful reminiscences, Marvin, which are much appreciated.  You should write them up. 

    Your uncle using his older brother’s name to turn pro reminds me of Tami Mauriello, who did the same thing.

  2. marvin moskowitz 08:34am, 08/12/2015

    Clarence, my uncle turned pro at 16, never had an amateur fight.. quit when he was 21.. he also lost an 8 rounder to Paddy Young.  his best friend from childhood back in the Brooklyn days was Arnie Koslow who became a long time keeper in California.. Koslow saw everyone of my uncle’s bouts. told me a story about the first Pellone bout how my uncle floored Pallone a couple times and Pallone returned the favor.. at the end of the 4th two guys with guns in their pockets appeared in my uncles corner and his corner stopped the fight.. my uncle used his older brothers name to turned pro. his real name was Archie..

  3. Clarence George 01:42am, 08/12/2015

    I did a little research, and realize that I should have used the words “on average.”  For instance, while Haber only fought once in 1946, he had an amazing 17 bouts in 1947.  He fought, by the way, from 1944 to 1948 (41-10-3, 6 KOs)—feather-fisted, but tough.

  4. Clarence George 07:58pm, 08/11/2015

    Impressive that your uncle was only stopped once, and that was by Pellone.  Equally impressive is that he fought 12 or 13 times a year over a period of about four years.

  5. marvin moskowitz 07:38pm, 08/11/2015

    My uncle Sid Haber lost an 8 round decision to Pellone on the undercard of the 4th bout between Robinson and LaMotta…it was the second bout between my uncle and Pellone.

  6. NYIrish 07:16pm, 08/11/2015

    You can tell a lot by looking at the soles of a fighter’s shoes. At least you could when fighters trained in the shoes they fought in. A good left hooker would have perfect circles worn into the leather sole beneath the ball of his foot.

  7. Glen 06:04pm, 08/11/2015

    Great!

  8. peter 12:59pm, 08/11/2015

    Unique topic! A nice read. Thank you.

  9. Clarence George 12:40pm, 08/11/2015

    My kind of article—quirky, entertaining, and informative, what with all that old-world insight.

    Funny that a boxer’s shoes almost never come up for sale, as perhaps they tell more of a story than his gloves.

    By the way, Pellone not only beat Lulu Costantino, but his brother, Al Bozo, stopped only once, by Carmine Fiore.

    You should write more often.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:58am, 08/11/2015

    Jose Corpas-Man! I really enjoyed this one !

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