Mike Rossman: The Jewish Bomber

By Norman Marcus on June 2, 2014
Mike Rossman: The Jewish Bomber
Mike took on Aldo Traversaro in Philadelphia on December 5, 1978 for a quick payday.

If you are ever walking on the beach this summer, watch out for a guy with the Star of David tattooed on the calf of his right leg…

He was one of the most popular fighters of the 1970s. Michael Albert Depiano was born in Turnersville, New Jersey in 1956 to an Italian father, Mike Depiano, and a Jewish mother, Celia Rossman. The little town is right across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia. The boy took his mom’s maiden name for the ring. It gave him an immediate following with a base of fans that were starved for a new Jewish sports hero. The days of Benny Leonard and Barney Ross were long past. Since Mike’s mom was Jewish, his birthright was solid with that base. So he fought his entire pro career with the Star of David sewn on his trunks and tattooed on his right calf.

Mike started boxing when he was just fourteen years old. He had twenty-three amateur fights before he turned pro. Not surprisingly his father was his manager. His trainer was Slim Jim Robinson. Jim was a seasoned trainer who later took Mike Rossman and Tim Witherspoon each to a championship. Mike was 5’11” tall with a reach of 72”. His style was a mixed bag. He was a hard puncher who could take a punch and then come right back for more. He had an excellent left jab and his right hand carried a lot of bang for the buck. He was aggressive and liked to pressure the other guy.

The first big fight for Rossman was against the Mexican fighter Yaqui Lopez on   March 2, 1978 at the Felt Forum in New York City. Rossman’s record up to that point was 32-3-3. Early on there was some bad blood reported between the two fighters. Rumor had it that Mike had jokingly told friends, “The only place you can legally beat up a Mexican these days is in the ring.” That story did not go over too well with the Mexican fighter and his people. Lopez came in with a record of 40-6. Rossman lost the fight in a TKO 6. In the post-fight interview, announcer Don Dunphy asked Lopez what his motivation was for beating Rossman that night. Lopez, who spoke very poor English, reportedly said, “I hate Jews” or something to that effect. Dunphy turned whiter than usual for an Irishman and quickly turned the microphone over to his ringside colleague Cus D’Amato. Don then beat a hasty retreat. Did Lopez really make that anti-Semitic remark? Was it partly Rossman’s fault for running his mouth earlier about Mexicans? People still disagree about what was said.

Rossman’s first light heavyweight title fight was against the champion Victor Galindez on September 15, 1978 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The fight was the undercard of the Ali-Spinks heavyweight title rematch. For some reason Galindez was another guy who had the hates for Rossman. It wasn’t just pre-fight hype. Why is hard to figure out. Mike’s abrasive personality could have set Victor off. Anyway, Rossman opened up some cuts around the champion’s eyes early on and kept banging away at the thick scar tissue, until the referee stopped it in round 13. Galindez and his Argentinean fans were outraged by the upset.

Rossman won this WBA light heavyweight title when he was just twenty-three years of age. Maybe it came too fast and too soon for him to handle well. The WBA was a South American based organization. They did not take kindly to Galindez losing the title to a North American.

Mike then took on Aldo Traversaro at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on December 5, 1978 for a quick payday. He stopped Aldo on cuts with a left hook to his forehead. It was a TKO 6 for the young champion.

There was talk of Rossman moving up and challenging a fading Ali for the heavyweight title, but it never happened. Instead, Rossman gave Galindez the rematch that the partisan WBA had been demanding.

The fight was scheduled for February 1979 but Galindez never showed up that night in the ring. The former champion was a no-show because Victor didn’t like the judges picked for the fight. He questioned their neutrality! Rossman was left standing there, alone in the ring. Everyone at the fight finally just went home. Two months later, with new judges appointed, the fight took place. Why a champion would put up with this nonsense from Galindez, who was lucky to be getting a rematch, was crazy.

The second meeting finally happened on April 14, 1979, again at the New Orleans Superdome. This time it was a different story. The former champ from Argentina was in much better shape for this fight and hungry to get the belt back. He was still getting hammered for the earlier loss by fans back in South America. Rossman on the other hand was still enjoying the spin of his new celebrity status. He wasn’t as hungry as Galindez that night. He didn’t train as hard as he could for any of his fights. This one was no different. Things quickly went south for Rossman. He broke his right hand (knuckle) in round 5. Not only did it hurt now to throw his right, it also hurt to block punches with that hand. All he had was his left to hold Galindez off. By the end of round 9 Mike told his dad he couldn’t continue. The pain was just too great. He sat on his stool while the Argentinean paced back and forth shouting insults at him, calling him a coward and worse. Not a good way to lose your title. Referee Stanley Christodoulou officially stopped the fight. I think it scarred Rossman from that day forward. Galindez won it on a RTD 9.

Rossman never fought for another championship title again. He piled up some big wins though over Mike Quarry, Christy Elliott and Lonnie Bennett. Mike also fought with his dad over where some of his prize money was going. He did fight on for another four years, accumulating a final record of 44-7-3 with 27 KOs. In Mike’s last ten fights after Galindez, he won eight and lost two. Mike lost a KO 7 to Dwight Braxton (Dwight Muhammad Qawi), on May 31, 1981 at Resorts International Hotel and Casino in AC. It was his biggest post-championship loss. He retired from boxing at twenty-seven in 1983. Mike was fed up with the game. He never got the big money promised or the television exposure. There was no HBO or Showtime back then to showcase a fighter.

Rossman drifted away from the sport. He got a job with the roofers union in Atlantic City. Roofers Local #30-AC. He had some minor scrapes with the law.

Sometimes it’s hard for a boxer to find his way, when boxing is all he knows. Rossman later said that his championship year “seems like a dream” to him today.

Mike is now fifty-eight years old and still living in Atlantic City. If you are ever walking on the beach this summer, watch out for a guy with the Star of David tattooed on the calf of his right leg. Just be careful not to kick sand in his face. It’s definitely the Jewish Bomber, Mike Rossman.

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Victor Galindez Mike Rossman 14 04 1979

Mike Rossman vs Dwight Braxton 5-31-81

Mike Rossman vs Mike Quarry 5-11-1977

Yaqui Lopez vs Mike Rossman

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  1. gary 05:24am, 10/31/2015

    What about Rossman vs. Ramon Ranquello in Secaucus n.j ?

  2. Eric 07:23am, 06/05/2014

    @ch… Ron Stander is Italian??? Never knew that. Certainly doesn’t have an Italian name and he doesn’t look Italian.

  3. ch. 04:36pm, 06/04/2014

    In Dec. 1963 Larry Merchant wrote a column in the Philadelphia Daily News hailing Joey Giardello winning the middleweight title but bemoaned the thought that Giardello and Willie Pastrano might be the last of great white fighters and particularly Italian fighters in boxing, mentioning that they both were the remnants from the last great Italian boxing era of the 1950’s.
    Although most of the Jewish and Irish fighters had pretty much faded away the future wasn’t quite as bleak for the Italian-Am. boxer. Even as the Italians were now accepted into the American mainstream, the fighting spirit of the Italians allowed that there seemed to always be a few well regarded top notchers on the scene up to the present time.
    Those winning titles included : Antuofermo, Rossman (DiPiano), Mancini, Pazienza, Gatti, Spadafora, Malignaggi. Others receiving title shots or national prominence were Johnny Bizzarro, Frankie dePaula, Tony Licata (half Chinese), Ron Stander-who was known as the “Dago Butcher” until the politically correct crowd was heard from. Others were Pete Ranzany, Lou Bizzarro, Dick Diveronica, Vinnie Curto, Tony Chiaverini, Ralph Palladin, Tony Petronelli, Johnny Lira, Dave Tiberi, Joe Mesi. Other contenders Rocky Fratto, John Verderosa, Lou Savarese, Tough Tony Suero, Peter Manfredo etc. And even more important to boxing was that almost all of those mentioned were terrific box office attractions with large followings from their passionate “Latin” fans.
    Maybe not the same caliber of the Italian greats of 1920 thru 1960 but it shows that they are far from extinct as major players in the national spotlight from time to time.

  4. ch. 04:06pm, 06/04/2014

    When Rossman boxed in New York most of his fan base was predominately Jewish, when he fought in Philly most of his fans were Italian. He came from Turnersville, NJ, also known as “south philly east” and heavily Italian. Almost all the Philly area boxing fans knew Mike is Italian/Jewish. But you make a good point Eric about the timing of “Rocky” and Mike’s career.

  5. Eric 12:42pm, 06/04/2014

    @nicolas…I’m thinking that during the late ‘70’s when Rossman was coming on the scene, it would’ve boosted his fan base somewhat to play up the “Italian Stallion” gimmick. Vito Antuofermo was around, some other less noteworthy fighters like Rocky Mattioli, Tony Chiaverini ( nor sure about spelling,) Alfio Righetti, but the Italians weren’t that highly represented during Rossman’s peak, which was the late 70’s. Always thought a good fantasy fight for Rossman would’ve been against Bobby Czyz. Both started out as middleweights, both would capture the light heavyweight crown, both were from New Jersey and both were part Italian. Rossman fought in a better era for sure, but still a hard one to pick. Peak vs. Peak. I would go with Rossman over Czyz.

  6. nicolas 11:31am, 06/04/2014

    ERIC: I don’t agree with you on promoting the ‘Italian in him’ As Clarence george has pointed out, Jewish fighters were once the norm in American Boxing. Rossman had he been more successful might have sparked something of a rennasance. Italian American fighters were still around at that time, as were Irish Ameircans, though certainly not what had once been, but Jewish American fighters had started to somewhat fade in the late 30’s, and Rossman was quite an exception to the rule.

  7. Eric 10:40am, 06/03/2014

    Mike should have chosen to promote the Italian a little bit more. His “peak” years were coming on the heels of those two blockbuster movies, “Rocky” and “Saturday Night Fever.” Just sayin’ might have been a marketing boo-boo.

  8. Eric 09:17am, 06/03/2014

    Galindez trained well for the rematch and lost the excess weight by training hard, not starving himself. It showed.

  9. Eric 08:10am, 06/03/2014

    Actually liked Mike Rossman until he beat “Vicious Victor” on the undercard of Spinks-Ali II. Victor was one of my favorite fighters back in the day. Saw his fights with Mike Quarry and Gary Summerhays and was pretty impressed with Rossman back then. Have yet to view the Rossman-Lopez fight, but I’ll have to catch that one on Youtube. Rossman also had a pretty memorable fight with fringe contender Luke Capuano in their first fight back in 1980. Really don’t know what Rossman’s management was thinking when they decided to match him against Braxton. Braxton had just dominated an ESPN light heavyweight tournament from the year before and didn’t miss a beat in beating up on contender Johnny Davis later on. Predictably, the streaking Braxton, put a one-sided beating on a fading Rossman. I wouldn’t rank Rossman with Spinks, Mustafa, Galindez, Qawi, Johnson, Saad, Conteh, or even Yaqui Lopez, but would put him with the other solid but not great fighters of that period. Rossman happened to catch a Galindez who was a bit past it by the time they fought in 1978, an undertrained Galindez who had starved himself to make weight at that. Not too mention a Galindez who had already gone through some tough battles with Lopez, Kates, Burnett, Gregory, etc.

  10. ch. 05:53am, 06/03/2014

    I often wonder what if Galindez wouldn’t have run out on the rematch with Rossman (2/24/79) in Las Vegas while Mike waited in the ring and Victor refused to fight. Mike was in the best condition of his career that afternoon and was completely confident of winning. After that episode, and Rossman deteriorating relationship with his dad, he seemed to lose his confidence, belief in himself and interest in boxing.

  11. Mike Silver 08:42pm, 06/02/2014

    The night Rossman beat up Galindez for the title he would have been a handful for any light heavyweight champion of the past 50 years. It was a magnificent performance of the boxer’s skill. But it was a huge mistake to give the tough Argentinian a second chance after Galindez was a no-show for the rematch. Mike wore out quickly because of the brutal beating by Yaqui Lopez and the second bout with Galindez.

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