Joe Banovic: Tough Fights and Skimpy Purses

By Clarence George on December 5, 2015
Joe Banovic: Tough Fights and Skimpy Purses
"Banovic never was a champion, but when he was at his peak he was a match for anybody."

“Loyalty was only one of his many fine traits, and in his philosophical way he accepted the good and the bad with equal grace…”

“Boxing cannot be too bad a profession when it produces a grand guy like Bingo Joe Banovic.”—Jersey Jones

Of Czech descent, light heavyweight Joe Banovic was born on March 6, 1906, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, but fought out of Binghamton, New York (birthplace of Jack Sharkey), from 1925 to 1940 (though he didn’t fight at all in ‘37 and ‘38), racking up a record of 51 wins, seven by knockout, 22 losses, six by knockout, and five draws. The record isn’t complete, however, as several of the bouts he fought as “Joe Boland” haven’t been traced.

“Banovic never was a champion,” writes manager and Hall of Famer Jersey Jones in “About a Pal, Bingo Joe” in the April 1965 issue of The Ring, “but at his peak he was a match for anybody scaling from 165 to 175.” He certainly took on the toughies of his day, including Art Weigand, who stopped him by sixth-round TKO at Buffalo’s Bison Stadium on August 27, 1928, “Bingo” winning on points at Johnson Field in Johnson City, New York, on May 22, 1930. He outpointed Bob Olin at St. Nicholas Arena in New York City on December 2, 1929, lost to him on points at Madison Square Garden on December 19, 1930, and outpointed him in their rubber match at the Garden on March 30, 1931, in an exceptionally tedious fight, “one of the most disappointing bouts seen in the Garden in years,” wrote James P. Dawson of The New York Times. He lost to 190-bout veteran Charlie Belanger, who won by split decision at the South Main Street Armory in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on March 19, 1930, but outpointed him at Johnson Field that June 19. He scored a win by unanimous decision over Pete Latzo at Watres Armory in Scranton on January 22, 1931, and outpointed him at the Garden on February 26, 1932. After drawing against Bob Godwin at Portner’s Arena in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 16 that year, Banovic took on never-stopped Al Gainer, outpointing him at New Haven’s Arena that October 24. Gainer returned the favor, and in spades, stopping the Czech-American via third-round TKO at the same venue that December 15. Cement-chinned Joe Knight, aka Cairo Calamity, won on points at Twin City Arena in Laurel, Maryland, on August 8, 1933. Young John Herrera (Teofilo Stevenson’s first trainer) outpointed him at Edelweiss Park in Kingston, Jamaica, on March 30, 1935, and again at Kingston’s Wembley Stadium on May 2, 1936. After drawing against tough Henry Taylor (who once beat Jersey Joe Walcott) at Buhler Stadium in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1936, Banovic quit the ring, but returned on September 27, 1939, outpointing Nick Rabin at Binghamton’s Kalurah Temple. His last fight was at Johnson Field on August 22, 1940, Joe Matisi knocking him out in the fifth.

“Probably the keenest disappointment of Banovic’s career,” writes Jones, “was when he lost a disputed decision to Rosenbloom in a non-title bout in Scranton, Pa., early in 1931. Had Bingo Joe won, he’d have been in a position to force Maxie into a championship bout. He did win — but didn’t get the decision. The verdict was so unpopular with the crowd that it precipitated a small-sized riot and the furor resulted in a return match later that year.”

According to Jones, the rematch was supposed to take place outside, in Scranton’s ballpark, “but an erratic spell of weather — rain, shine, rain again — had the match shuffling around between the ballpark and the indoor armory. It finally went indoors. It was about midnight when the fight went on, and by that time Banovic had lost much of his fighting ‘edge.’ He was outpointed by Rosenbloom and lost the chance at the title.”

Banovic supplemented his boxing income by running an illegal gambling joint in his hometown. Writes Ronald G. Capalaces in When All the Men Were Gone, Binghamton gamblers would “go through Harry’s Lunch, a greasy spoon next to Konick’s Tin Shop, and leave out the back door. Then they would walk through an alley and enter the back door of a cigarette and candy store next to Minnow’s Barber Shop. Once inside, they would shoot dice and play blackjack in the back room while Joltin’ Joe Banovic, a local professional boxer, ran the house and Johnny Haystack, a punch-drunk boxer with over 200 fights and cauliflower ears to prove it, walked the alley outside to keep an eye out for Bulldog Parker and the other cops.” Wisely, because Officer Parker “patrolled Clinton Street as if he owned it. Parker, a fat Binghamton cop, kept an eye on the Gypsies and everyone else [the Gypsies came to town every spring and were suspected of wanting to steal children]. He walked the street with his big belly and big patrol stick swinging from side to side. As with the Gypsies, it was a smart thing to stay away from Bulldog Parker.” As for the colorful Haystack, he smoked a pipe, “but instead of putting tobacco in the bowl of his pipe, he put a lit cigar in it.”

After “his glove-tossing career ended,” Jones writes, Banovic tried his hand at wrestling. Jones should know, though my research didn’t turn up any specifics. Of course, Banovic’s third bout with Olin was more of a wrestling match than anything else. In addition, there’s this newspaper report from June 23, 1940: “Maxie Baer had Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis groggy Saturday — with laughter at Maxie’s antics as the clowning Californian trained to meet Tony Galento at Jersey City July 2 [Baer retiring Galento in the seventh]. After five rounds of sparring [three with heavyweight Jim Howell, two with Banovic], Baer put on a wrestling ‘dumb show’ with Joe Banovic for the benefit of Champion Louis and more than 150 fans. This pantomime was so unexpected and so mirth provoking that Louis said: ‘If Maxie does that with Galento he’ll win. He’ll make Tony shake himself to death laffin’.’” Meanwhile, back in Summit, New Jersey, Galento was breaking the nose of sparring partner Tom Schenck. But that’s another story.

Bingo eventually gave up clowning and wrestling, going to work for a trucking company in Binghamton. What he took up instead was eating. Ballooning to 250 pounds, and he was only 5’8”, he “had already survived a serious heart attack before the fatal one,” Jones writes.

Joe Banovic died December 31, 1964, age 58.

“Loyalty was only one of his many fine traits,” writes Jones, “and in his philosophical way he accepted the good and the bad with equal grace. He never was one to complain of adversity when the ‘breaks’ went against him, and he certainly had his share of disappointments, especially during the years of the Depression, when fights were tough and purses skimpy.”

An actual epitaph for a forgotten boxer. What will they think of next?

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  1. Clarence George 04:37am, 12/10/2015

    My absolute pleasure, Marty, and thank you for posting here.  I envy you that album and painting.  Terrific stuff!

  2. Marty Banovic 04:00am, 12/10/2015

    Thank you so much for the tribute to my Uncle BINGO JOE.  I remember him
    when I was in my teens and he was one funny guy. My family has a very
    thick album of all his fights and an oil painting 3 feet by 2 feet of him in
    full fighting stance which was done from a picture in the early 1930s



  3. Clarence George 01:19pm, 12/06/2015

    Well done, Mike!

  4. Mike Casey 01:08pm, 12/06/2015

    The glitter of putrescence!

  5. Clarence George 06:43am, 12/06/2015

    My distinct pleasure.


    Val Lewton

  6. Slim Pickens 06:35am, 12/06/2015

    Great story, great name: Bingo Joe Banovic. Thanks for bring this colorful chharacter to my attention.

  7. Clarence George 10:23am, 12/05/2015

    Thanks very much, Mike, for the kind words and great post.  Gotta love the champs and the top-tier guys, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the journeymen and club fighters, the guys who are the backbone of the sport, but who usually don’t get a spit’s worth of ink.  I, too, like Jones, who wrote some fine historical pieces for “The Ring.”

    Very glad you liked it, Chuck, and I should have known you’d have a copy of that issue.

  8. c.h. 10:06am, 12/05/2015

    Never thought I would ever see another article on “Bingo Joe” after reading Jersey Jones’ obit on his former charge in he RING. Great stuff, as always, Mr. George !

  9. Mike Casey 09:51am, 12/05/2015

    Another splendid article about a tough old journeyman pro, Clarence.There have been thousands of these guys throughout boxing history and they deserve a healthy dose of publicity for all their efforts. The bonus here, for me, was the inclusion of Jersey Jones who handled a wealth of great fighters and wrote for The Ring (when it really was a great magazine) for many years under Nat Fleischer. God bless Bingo Joe!

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