Izzy Jannazzo: Where the Heart Is

By Clarence George on September 21, 2014
Izzy Jannazzo: Where the Heart Is
Izzy Jannazzo took on everyone, including guys who were bigger and just plain better.

Let’s compare them stats to those of Floyd Mayweather Jr., who’s had 47 fights over 18 years, or an average of two to three a year…

“For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.”—Matthew 6:21

I don’t know about treasure, but I do know about paychecks. I also know that Izzy Jannazzo had the heart, the fire in the belly, to earn his pay in the ring—every blood-red cent of it.

The welterweight was born in Ensley, Alabama, but fought out of New York City from 1932 to 1947, winding up with a record of 65 wins, eight by knockout, 46 losses, six by knockout, and 15 draws. Not overly impressive at first glance, but appearances are nothing if not deceiving. After all, Izzy won the Maryland version of the welterweight title by decisioning Cocoa Kid at Carlin’s Park in Baltimore on October 14, 1940, a match refereed by Jack Dempsey.

Not a whole lot of cherry-picking in them days. Jannazzo took on everyone, including guys who were bigger and just plain better. He had his share of notable wins, including over Johnny Jadick (who twice outpointed Tony Canzoneri, as well as Fritzie Zivic and Al Foreman), Joe Rossi, Gustav Eder, Steve Mamakos, Jimmy Leto, Freddie Cabral, Ralph Zannelli, Charley Parham, Joe Governale, and, yes, Holman Williams. Even when he lost or drew, he put up fierce fights against the likes of Kid Azteca, Ceferino Garcia, Solly Krieger, Georgie Abrams, Coley Welch, Fritzie Zivic, Johnny Green, Bee Bee Wright, Prentiss Hall, and, in his last fight, Steve Belloise, losing to him by third-round TKO at the Orange Bowl in Miami on January 28, 1947. He lost to Barney Ross, fighting for the Welterweight Championship of the World at the Garden on November 27, 1936, but he did go the full 15. Four times he fought Sugar Ray Robinson, twice going the distance. In their second fight, at the Arena in Cleveland on December 1, 1942, Izzy landed “a whizzer of a right-hand on the jaw in the eighth,” but got himself stopped in the same round.

Izzy was also stopped by Krieger, Welch, and Zivic. He, in turn, stopped Ralph Esposito, Joe Mulli, Steve Halaiko, Freddie Cabral, Sammy Secreet, Al Gilbert, Phil Enzenga, and Larney Moore.

Jannazzo, who died age 80 on June 18, 1995, isn’t much remembered. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be. He had 126 fights over his 15-year career, an average of between eight and nine a year. Let’s compare them stats to those of current welterweight Floyd Mayweather Jr., who’s had 47 fights over 18 years, or an average of two to three a year. And there’s talk that he may not fight again until September 2015.

Just keeping things real up in here.

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  1. Clarence George 09:27am, 12/04/2014

    Mrs. Martinez:  It was my privilege to write about your father, and I’m delighted that my effort brought pleasure to you and your family.

    You made my day.  Nay, my entire week.

  2. Kristin Martinez 07:45am, 12/04/2014

    Thank you for writing such a nice article about my Papa. He was a wonderful man who had a heart of gold. Our family misses him very much. Articles like this are amazing to find. We lost most of his pictures and memorabilia due to a theft and a flood over the years, so finding things like this is so nice.  Amazing how many fighters he had in such a short time. It definitely took a toll on him later in life, but he was still light on his feet up until the very end and had the strength of a bull. He was still the first Italian stallion if you asked any of us.  Thanks again. This warmed his first grand daughters heart to read this morning!

  3. Clarence George 03:07pm, 09/22/2014

    Thank you for your excellent post, Daniel, and for reminding us (anyway, me) of the impressive Jack Carroll, who three times beat the very tough Jimmy Leto.  In fact, I probably should have mentioned him in the article, but I’m glad that he’s at least here in the comment section.

  4. Daniel Attias 02:52pm, 09/22/2014

    Jannazzo certainly was willing to fight anyone. He fought Australian welterweight king Jack Carroll in front of 30,000 people in Sydney back in ‘37. By all accounts Jannazzo was one tough customer and Carroll had to use all his speed and skill to evade the onslaught by Izzy.

  5. Clarence George 12:23pm, 09/22/2014

    Yes, but they’re much older—late 70s, early 80s.  That said, Anita has been, ahem, exceptionally zaftig for decades.  Anyway, I don’t think anyone fell apart more drastically than Leonore Lemmon.  But that was the booze.

  6. FrankinDallas 09:58am, 09/22/2014

    You want to see something REALLY depressing, have a look at what Brigitte Bardo and Anita Ekberg look like now.

  7. Clarence George 08:46am, 09/22/2014

    The one who shocks me the most, Eric, is Linda Hamilton, who was so sexy in her day.  She’s turning 58 on the 26th, but looks at least 10 years older.

  8. Eric 08:36am, 09/22/2014

    Father Time is a bastard. Speaking of ‘70’s beauties that have been ravaged by that old bastard, check out Patti McGuire before and after. Patti was Playboy’s Ms. November 1976 and would go on to marry Jimmy Connors. She has really packed on the pounds. Another hot babe and a great singer to boot was Linda Ronstadt. She was a hottie back in the day, but has put on quite a bit of weight as well. Oh well, nuffin last forever. At least the babes back then weren’t covered in tramp stamps, and the singers like Linda Ronstadt actually had some talent.

  9. Clarence George 07:39am, 09/22/2014

    Eric:  Barbi is now in her 60s, which is really quite depressing.

    Irish:  As you no doubt know, St. Jude is patron of desperate cases, and therefore massively appropriate for boxing fans.

  10. Eric 07:24am, 09/22/2014

    Clarence, Barbi Benton was a cutie back in the day, remember her from Hee Haw, and from being Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend back in the ‘70’s. Irish, a great deal of the population of Lebanon are Christians, and St. Jude is one of the few organizations I trust enough to donate money to nowadays. My main beef with the new crop of “immigrants” is they come not to embrace America, but to rape her. The “old” immigrants built this country, had to learn the language if they wished to assimilate, put America’s interests first, etc. This “new” breed of immigrants have no loyalty to America, only came after it was already flourishing, and some quite frankly hate America.

  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:56am, 09/22/2014

    Clarence George and Eric…Someone recently opined that we are welcoming the wrong kind of immigrants these days….which reminds me….Najeeb Basha immigrated from Lebanon in 1886 and his new family landed in Arizona by way of New York…. struggling in the early days in the mercantile business when the Pima Indian tribe formed a big part of their clientele the Bashas survived and finally thrived with 130 super markets in Arizona in the present day. I actually enjoy shopping in their stores and not just because they have a large statue of St. Jude above the meat department in our local store.

  12. Clarence George 05:55am, 09/22/2014

    Glad you liked it, ch., and outstanding post, per uje.

  13. ch. 05:32am, 09/22/2014

    BIRMINGHAM, AL. “LITTLE ITALY.” Labor shortages drew Italian immigrants to Birmingham’s coal and steel industries…..Italian immigration into the Birmingham area was widespread during the late 19th and early 20th century…..BY 1910 THE ITALIAN COMMUNITY WAS THE CITY"S LARGEST SINGLE ETHNIC GROUP, surpassing German and Irish populations which dominated the earliest influx.
    “TONY TOWN” was a southwestern U.S. term often used in that section as “EYETALIANS” set up their own communities, and Italians in Clarksburg, WV. once represented 2/3rds of the city’s residents and still holds an annual and very popular ‘Italian Festival.”——-Whoda’ thunk it ?
    Clarence, thanks for the story on Jannazzo, who was a real road warrior that fought on the road so much that winning a close fight in a his opponents home-towns were pretty slim.

  14. Clarence George 02:04am, 09/22/2014

    Ah, but what does Barbi Benton have to say about all this?  That’s what I want to know.

  15. Eric 08:32pm, 09/21/2014

    Remember watching an interview with George Benton. Benton was of the opinion that the richer he became the more unhealthy his diet became. Benton want on to explain that all those rich sauces, and extravagant dishes of the wealthy weren’t particularly healthy. Of course that goes against every study I’ve heard or read about. Generally it is assumed poor people usually have the most unhealthy diets, which is often attributed to fast food making up a large part of their diet.  Maybe Benton was talking about back in the day, long before there was a fast food joint on every corner. Collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens and kale were/are pretty cheap, but very nourishing and healthy. He talked about how the simple diet of many Mexicans was one reason why the Mexican fighter was often a superior fighter. I would think the high starchy Mexican diet would wreck a fighter, and it surely isn’t a diet to follow while you’re trying to fight flab. Probably had more to do with the Mexican fighter being figuratively as well as literally hungrier than his opponent.

  16. Clarence George 06:14pm, 09/21/2014

    My grandmother was always on the lookout for such animal parts.  Well, peasant cooking, regardless of the ethnicity, is always the best.  None of this nouvelle cuisine for me, thank you very much.

  17. Eric 05:23pm, 09/21/2014

    Mamma Jannazzo learned how to cook some good ole soul food while in Alabama. Izzy built up his strength while eating Mamma’s collard greens and pork neck bones. Mamma even combined soul food with Italian by flavoring her renowned sauce with neck bones. Mamma knows how to cook Southern Italian.

  18. Clarence George 01:24pm, 09/21/2014

    According to my own research, Eric, Papa Jannazzo arrived in New York on the same boat as, yes, Vito Andolini.  His wife’s recipe for spaghetti and meatballs was considered too revolutionary, almost iconoclastic, by the other mamas.  So Mama insisted that Papa pack up La Familia Jannazzo and move to Alabama, because it sounded Italian (picture Sophia Loren saying it, and you’ll see why).  Ah, but the siren call of Mulberry Street was anchored in young Izzy’s heart, and he soon returned.  The rest, as they say, is pugilistic history.

  19. Eric 10:27am, 09/21/2014

    Googled Ensley, Alabama. Ensley is on the outskirts Birmingham, and like Birmingham had a thriving steel industry at one time. Maybe Papa Izzy worked at one of those steel mills.

  20. Clarence George 09:52am, 09/21/2014

    What I’d like to know is how the hell the Jannazzos wound up in Alabama in the first place.

  21. Eric 06:23am, 09/21/2014

    Gotta love the name Izzy Jannazzo. Sounds like a jazz musician’s name or some small time Jewish/Italian gangster. Even Izzy’s 100+ fight ledger would pale in comparison to someone like the great Joe Gans, and even more so against Greb or Sam Langford. Much has been made about Greb’s distaste for training, but Greb stated he kept in shape for fighting by actually fighting. Hard to remain undefeated when you engage in well over 200 fights in your career.

  22. Clarence George 06:06am, 09/21/2014

    Much appreciated, Beaujack.

    If Izzy had been less willing to take on all comers, and their big brothers, his record might have been less erratic.  But would that have made it more or less impressive?  I wonder.

  23. beaujack 05:35am, 09/21/2014

    Thanks Clarence for reminding boxing fans of Izzy Jannazzo, a name I
    have not heard since I was a pup…What a brave fighter Izzy had to be to
    tackle the best fighters of his time and survive.  To fight the greatest fighter
    I ever saw Ray Robinson in his welterweight prime many times, is a feat
    unto itself…Wherever Jannazzo is now, your article made him smile…

  24. Clarence George 05:02am, 09/21/2014

    My pleasure, Irish, and thank you for noting my mastery of current vernacular.  I am indeed familiar with such expressions as “23 skidoo” and the ever-popular “keeping it real” (thanks to Chris Rock).

    I like Garrett Wilson (though he’s the last person I’d want to meet in a dark alley), but I’m glad Thabiso Mchunu won yesterday—I like him even more.

  25. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:42am, 09/21/2014

    Clarence George-Thanks for “keeping things real’”....they had to fight to eat in that era and there was always a boxing card to be filled in the many fight venues of the day. Nowadays even a throwback like Garrett Wilson only has a handfull of fights on his resume.

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