Joey Giambra’s Change of Plan

By Mike Casey on October 9, 2012
Joey Giambra’s Change of Plan
The two Joeys met up again for their final contest at the old Cow Palace in San Francisco.

In the rich and bountiful middleweight division of the fifties and sixties, the “G Men” of New York became a permanent fixture and were known and admired by the boxing fraternity for their slick and worldly skills.

Joey Giardello, from Philadelphia by way of Brooklyn, and Joey Giambra from Buffalo seemed to fight every five minutes and became leading and perennial contenders for the middleweight championship.

In 1952 they battled each other twice within a month, trading unanimous decisions as Giardello triumphed in Brooklyn and Giambra got even in Buffalo. Six years later the two Joeys met up again for their third and final contest at the old and wonderful Cow Palace in San Francisco, with Giambra winning a split verdict. But it was Giardello who had the last laugh when he finally landed the world championship after sixteen years of hard campaigning with a points victory over Dick Tiger in 1963.

Joey Giambra, for all his talent, never even got a shot. He lost just ten times in a 77-bout career against consistently stellar opposition; and five of those losses came in his last eight fights when he was fading but still artful enough to mess the best men around. Giambra was never knocked out.

In the summer of 1961, twelve years after starting out as a pro, Joey was talking excitedly about a new outlook and a new fighting style. No longer would he trade solely on skill and finesse. He was rolling the dice, letting rip and taking more chances. It seemed to be working, but it was in fact the beginning of the end of a long journey.

Desperation had set in, as it does when a sliding golfer begins to fiddle with a tried and tested swing or treat himself to a new putter to cure that dreaded nervous condition known as the ‘yips’. Arnold Palmer embraced all manner of gimmicks in his bid to shoo Father Time away from his door. Tony Jacklin ended up plugging his ears when he began to hear every pin drop in a hushed crowd.

Joey Giambra simply let it all hang out. It was late in the day. He had to go for it. “Chasing champs can wear you out,” he said. “You know how far back I began hollering for a title fight? When Bobo Olson was the champ. In 1955. I fought Olson over the weight. It was a TV fight in San Francisco. I was in the Army at the time and couldn’t train the way a civilian can. At that, I deserved the decision.

“Well, Bobo wouldn’t give me a chance at the championship and neither would Sugar Ray Robinson after he got the title from Bobo on his comeback. Fullmer, Pender, Tiger – they’ve all seen my calling card. No soap.”

Giambra explained his new, no-nonsense approach eagerly: “From the cosy, lay-back boxing I did for so long, I’ve gone in for open hammer-and-tongs stuff. It may lose a fight for you here and there but you make friends, influence people. You begin to get the kind of publicity you need.

“This spring Yama Bahama was scheduled to fight Farid Salim on a national TV fight in New York. Yama got sick and I got a hurry-up call. Now Salim was a tall fellow with a good left hand and an awkward style. If I had boxed him my old way, I likely could have won but the fight would have been a stinker.

“Instead I ripped and tore. I knew I was playing into his hands, yet I also knew it would make a good impression. I wasn’t wrong. He got the decision but a short while later the TV circuit needed somebody for Florentino Fernandez at Miami Beach. They thought of me.

“Maybe you caught me on the air with Fernandez. Again, I didn’t go in for smart, stick-and-run manoeuvring. I planted my feet firmly and banged him with the most stinging shots I had, left hooks, right uppercuts, right crosses. He was game and rough, but I got through. I concentrated on his schnoz, which stands out like a headlight. I scored so often and bloodied him up so much, the referee had to stop it.

“This, friends, is the new Joey.”

Proud fighters, proud golfers, proud footballers and proud baseball players. All develop tunnel vision as age begins to nibble at their special talents. The “new Joey” had already been pushing leather for too long in a torrid era of competition when only the special few could still be contending for major honors in their mid-thirties. Joey Giambra was thirty and an “old” fighter. The Fernandez win was his last. Joey lost successive decisions to Denny Moyer, Luis Rodriguez and Joe DeNucci and then retired. He came in at short notice against DeNucci and put up a splendid battle before losing a split verdict.

Some time before, Giambra had said defiantly, “Some day, some champ is going to break down and give Pal Joey a chance.”

Some champ never did. It was over. Joey G from Buffalo never fought again.

Mike Casey is the Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Tex Hassler 04:47pm, 10/31/2012

    Giambra should have gotten a title shot some time in his career but sadly did not. He was an excellent fighter and did not seem to duck any one. If he was around and in his prime today he would be a champion.

  2. Lindy Lindell 08:25am, 10/11/2012

    The first two fights I saw in the flesh (both in my hometown of Norfolk, VA) involved the G. boys, both against toughie Al Andrews.  Andrews gave Giardello a terrific fight, fighting Giardello almost on even terms for the first nine rounds, but Giardello dropped Andrews in the 10th and won a unanimous decision;  the following year, Giambra won convincingly over Andrews, but the stobborn Andrews wouldn’t go away and blackened one of Giambra’s eyes.  Because my father produced both shows for the CBS affiliate, I was able to gain entry to both matches and for the Giambra encounter I got to sit next to one of the most gracious people I ever met, Jack Drees, who did the telecast for the Wednesday Night Fights brought to you by Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Imagine:  a twelve-year-old (me) being introduced to this man at ringside as he prepared to do the telecast;  he got up out of his folding chair, looming about 6’5”, and shaking my hand.  I got to sit next to him as he worked the fight, an assistant flashing him cards to indicate the seconds left in the round and for the upcoming Wednesday Night Fight.

    Seeing old telecasts in more recent years reminds me that Drees had a distinctive, commanding voice and who rarely got ruffled.  He was “old school” in the sense that he never allowed himself to editorialize to the detriment of a participant.  It took the most exciting fight I’ve ever seen (Archie Moore v. Yvon Durrelle I) for him to venture, “Man, what a fight!”

  3. Mike Silver 09:29pm, 10/10/2012

    Loved that classy standup style of boxing. Fencers with gloves on.  The G boys were almost mirror images of each other. Hard luck Giambra did get a title shot against Moyer in ‘62 for the new Junior Middleweight title. But too long in the tooth by that time. Thanks for another sweet article Mike.

  4. Mike Casey 02:16pm, 10/10/2012

    I think you are spot on with your analysis there, Dan. But what great boxers both boys were!

  5. jofre 01:27pm, 10/10/2012

    Giambra was one of the classiest boxer-punchers to ever step in the ring. I remember as a kid the Two “G” boys being featured in Boxing Illustrated. At that time I thought Giambra would get the shot at the brass ring before Giardello, but Giardello’s busier schedule won out. Mike, thanks for the memories.

  6. Mike Casey 06:55am, 10/10/2012

    Yes, Bob, I agree with your sentiments on Joey.

  7. Bob 05:20am, 10/10/2012

    One more thing: I believe that Giambra was recruited by “the boys” to fight under their auspices, but refused. If so, he deserves even more accolades. It was hard to make any headway in those days without such connections, but Giambra stood firm and that might have cost him in many ways. He seems like a decent, hardworking man who got few breaks in the world’s toughest vocation.

  8. Bob 05:13am, 10/10/2012

    I could feel Giambra’s frustration, trying everything to garner a title shot in an era when titles were not a dime a dozen. What a good, solid pro he was. I believe he became a Las Vegas cab driver who would hawk his self published book to passengers. Not the happiest of endings, but things could have been worse, Tough business, this boxing. Not for the faint of heart, for sure.

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