Frankie Terranova: Club Fighter

By Clarence George on November 1, 2015
Frankie Terranova: Club Fighter
One of his last opponents was a guy who had the gall to take the name of Trader Horn.

Frankie Terranova seemed to have a thing for guys named Greb. In addition to Larry, he took on Joey and Mickey…

“I don’t want to die without any scars.”—Fight Club

Not younger brother Phil Terranova—the very good indeed NBA featherweight champ who beat such worthies as Lulu Costantino, as well as the legendary Sandy Saddler—but Frankie Terranova, a tough lightweight who really didn’t beat anyone at all.

Five feet of muscle and with a face that commanded respect if not necessarily envy, “Terror” was described as “formidable” by the Chicago Tribune shortly before his fight with Larry Greb, who won on points at the Majestic Theater in Chicago on April 16, 1937. He certainly looked formidable, but Terranova, who fought out of New York City from 1931 to 1941, wound up with a remarkably unimpressive record of 32 wins, nine by knockout, 75 losses, 18 by knockout, and eight draws. Still, “with an overpowering desire to fight,” as described by The New York Times, 115 fights over 10 years, an average of more than 11 a year, is something to write home about.

Frankie seemed to have a thing for guys named Greb. In addition to Larry, he took on Joey and Mickey, outpointed by the former at the Jamaica Arena in Jamaica, Queens, on March 6, 1933, and by the latter at the New York Coliseum in the Bronx on February 18, 1936.

He also once fought little-remembered but intriguing Julie Katz, outpointing him at New York City’s Star Casino on March 25, 1936. On the one hand, not one of Katz’s 22 wins came by way of knockout; on the other, neither did any of his 15 losses.

One of his last opponents was a guy who had the gall to take the name of Trader Horn (0-1-1). Frankie stopped him by second-round TKO at Carlin’s Park in Baltimore on January 6, 1941.

Terror, who once fought with a fractured right arm, almost always lost when he took on names. “The St. Louis Bearcat,” Joe Ghnouly, outpointed him at the Dyckman Oval in New York City (home of the New York Cubans) on August 13, 1937; “The Bronx Spider,” Mike Belloise, outpointed him at New York City’s St. Nicholas Arena on February 14, 1938; cement-chinned Julie Kogon stopped him by fifth-round TKO at Queen’s Boulevard Arena in Elmhurst, Queens, on March 7, 1939; never-stopped Willie Joyce outpointed him at Fort Hamilton Arena in Brooklyn that September 28; “The Ripper,” Ralph Zannelli, outpointed him at the Casino in Fall River, Massachusetts, on April 11, 1940; and Hall of Famer Chalky Wright stopped him by sixth-round TKO in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on February 19, 1941.

And there were others. Tony Chavez, for instance, who once stopped Mike Belloise and even beat Henry Armstrong (if only by disqualification), outpointed Frankie at Madison Square Garden on July 29, 1937, one of only two fights Frankie had at that famed venue; in the other, that September 9, he drew against Nick Peters. And there was Bobby “Poison” Ivy, who beat guys like Sal Bartolo, Joey Archibald (twice), and Harry Jeffra, and was the only man to stop Baby Yack. He, too, won on points, at Foot Guard Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 28, 1939.

Yes, Terranova stopped the stunningly feather-fisted but nevertheless impressive Lew Feldman by fifth-round TKO at Henderson’s Arena in Brooklyn on January 29, 1937, but lost to him on points at Ridgewood Grove in Brooklyn that October 16. He also outpointed Al Reid at St. Nicholas Arena that March 5, but Reid had already outpointed him twice, on June 29 and September 28, 1936, both times at St. Nick’s. However feather-fisted, and however forgotten today, Reid was among the better featherweights of his time.

In short, a club fighter. And proud of it. I recently came across a photo of Terranova that “promotes” him with admirable if misguided honesty as “New York’s Greatest Club Fighter.” I’ve never seen that before. Since when is “club fighter” a positive? Why not “New York’s Greatest Palooka”? I don’t know who promoted, managed, or trained Frankie, but the chutzpah brings a smile to the face, and I’m proud to include him in my Pantheon of Forgotten Fighters.

Terranova retired from the ring following his loss to Herman Carey, who won by second-round TKO at Newfield Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on July 9, 1941. He last won on February 17 that year, outpointing Marty Shapiro at Bridgeport’s Pyramid Mosque.

Born on March 15, 1912, we can safely assume that Frankie’s no longer with us. In fact, someone only identified as Howard posted online in 2008, “I was friends w/him 15-20 years ago when he was living out his last few years in the apartment building I worked in. A great guy and fine story teller, even in his dotage (which was probably accelerated by the many beatings he took in the ring).”

Gone, but at least exhumed from the potter’s field of unknown and unsung club fighters.

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  1. Clarence George 09:53am, 11/02/2015

    Much appreciated, Peter.  One good thing I’ll say about Nat Loubet (which isn’t to imply that there not other good things) is that he took the time and made the effort to put together a “Ring”-based portfolio for Izzy Jannazzo when he learned that much of Izzy’s boxing memorabilia had been stolen.  That was in 1979, when the publication was still on West 31st, where it bloody well still should be.

  2. peter 08:28am, 11/02/2015

    @ Clarence…Not kind—fact. I’d rather read Clarence George than Nat Loubet anyday.

  3. Clarence George 05:43am, 11/02/2015

    Much too kind, Peter.  Much, much too kind.

  4. peter 05:34am, 11/02/2015

    With articles like these, is better than Ring Magazine ever was. Thanks.

  5. Clarence George 08:00pm, 11/01/2015

    Glad you liked it, Mr. Cook, and thank you for your good post.


    Billy Gilbert

  6. Elisha Cook Jr. 07:14pm, 11/01/2015

    Being an accomplished “club fighter” or a “star bouter” (headliner) was quite an accomplishment in Terranova’s day.  These guys were the lifeblood of the sport, so it is great to see them recognized here. Thanks Mr. George, for keeping the memory of men like Frankie Terranova alive. They warrant all the attention they get here.

  7. Clarence George 01:41pm, 11/01/2015

    Glad you liked it, Sean, and thanks for the good post.  As A. J. Liebling observed, televised boxing quickly shut the doors of any number of smokers, clubs, and second-tier arenas.  Such venues are almost nonexistent today, which is why you no longer have real McCoy club fighters like Frankie Terranova.  A great pity, of course.

    “When Boxing Was King”...a bittersweet title.

  8. Sean Matheny 12:40pm, 11/01/2015

    Another nice story about a mostly forgotten ring warrior.  Unfortunately, it’s very tough for a true club fighter to exist in boxing today.  There just aren’t enough local cards to make tough but limited competitors like Frankie Terranova viable!  Bring back the days when boxing and baseball were king.

  9. Clarence George 10:37am, 11/01/2015

    Absolutely right, Eric.  Regardless of his height, I’d be glad to have Frankie by my side in a donnybrook.

    Thanks, Beaujack.  And super post, as always.  Yes, I know of Perez, a real character.  Funny you mention Bossio, because he gets a mention in an upcoming article.  No, gentlemen, I *can’t* say more.  As you know, upcoming George articles are as closely guarded as upcoming episodes of “The Walking Dead.”

    Appreciate the thought, KB, but I’m no Lee Groves (psst, this is where you launch a vigorous protest against my unwarranted modesty).

  10. KB 09:36am, 11/01/2015

    You should put these together in something called, “Gone but not Forgotten.” Maybe a book. Lee Groves did it with closet classical. It’s called “The Vault”. Quite good.

  11. beaujack 09:30am, 11/01/2015

    Another enjoyable column Clarence on Frankie Terranova…I never did see him ringside but I did see some of his opponents at local fight clubs in the Metropolitan area. Yes at 5ft tall his feet barely reached the canvas. When I was in the Navy at boot camp there was a sailor named Bill Bossio from Pittsburgh who was just 5 feet tall and later became a main event fighter who fought the tall elongated Sandy Saddler.
    Speaking of “club’ fighters in the 1940s we would see a journeyman WW named Lew Perez, who seldom won a fight, and as he was walking to the ring he would shout out jokes to the crowd such as ” the birthday cake may be heavy but the candles make it light”. I still recall his jokes after all these years…

  12. Eric 07:48am, 11/01/2015

    Frankie looks like he spent some time in the weight room and he didn’t neglect leg days. Lot of muscle on that 5-foot frame.

  13. Clarence George 06:57am, 11/01/2015

    Glad you liked it, Irish.  Yes, very much a fireplug and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was 4’11”.  I don’t know what he did after leaving the ring, but you’re right about his working steady and making a living over those 10 years.

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:42am, 11/01/2015

    Clarence George-My kind of article about my kind of guy! He was was built like a fire plug but guess what….someone who admits to being five feet tall just might have been 4’11”. He could have auditioned for Wizard of Oz and in those days when lightweights were lean, long, hungry and mean he was at a decided disadvantage. 75 losses , but guess what….he got paid during those bleak Depression years.

  15. Clarence George 05:30am, 11/01/2015

    Thanks very much, Chuck, for your kind words and excellent post.  And I quite agree with you.  Journeymen today are seen as little more than punching bags, while club fighters are usually hefty prison guards or truck drivers looking to occasionally supplement their income.  Nothing contemptible about either (no man who steps between the ropes is contemptible), but they were far more respected and admired in Frankie’s day.  And rightfully so.  I nevertheless find it odd, but not at all displeasing, that his studio portrait is emblazoned with “New York’s Greatest Club Fighter.”  Damned unusual, to say the least.

    Based on your comment, I think (hope?) you’ll also like my next one.

  16. ch 04:38am, 11/01/2015

    I love these stories! Guys like Frankie Terranova were the backbone of boxing. The guys that were always available to fight anybody with action filled “club fights” that made the undercards must see affairs. Today the terms “club fighters” and “journeymen” are misrepresented. In the old days a journeyman was a guy who was experienced, crafty and tough that could hold his own with even the best. And club fighters were the guys that helped make the shows exciting for the fans as they cheered them on even if they went out on their shield. Clarence, keep these stories coming.

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