Tony Galento vs. Lou Nova—Not Playing the Piano
Mahatma Gandhi’s theory that “Nobody can hurt me without my permission” would surely have gotten a busted-mouth “You don’t say?” from Nova…
Fighting dirty ain’t what it used to be.
No fight reached the crescendo of brutality and savagery of the relatively recent—June 16, 1983—bout between welterweights Luis Resto and Billy Collins. Trainer Carlos “Panama” Lewis had removed an ounce or so of padding from Resto’s gloves, which resulted in Collins suffering a torn iris. His boxing career ended. Collins died in a car crash less than a year later. He was drunk at the time, and it’s at the very least conceivable that his death was more suicidal than accidental.
While notoriously dirty fighters of recent and current vintage, such as Andrew Golota and Abner Mares, haven’t sunk to Resto and Lewis’ nadir of depravity, they are nonetheless devoted subscribers to Fritzie Zivic’s adage that “You’re fighting, not playing the piano, you know.” But there’s a chasm of difference between Golota and Mares on the one hand, and Zivic on the other. The great welterweight of yesteryear knew how to foul with style. Whenever he hit Henry Armstrong below the belt (and when didn’t he?), he was sure to say “Pardon me.”
Ah, but that was a different time—rough, but hewn by a craftsman. An era marked by Lou Stillman snarling about his famous gym, sporting his yearlong tweed jacket and with .38 snugly and visibly tucked in his belt, the place so filthy that Gene Tunney refused to train there unless Stillman agreed to at least open a window. Given that Stillman was a man of principle, the windows remained emphatically shut, and Tunney took his training elsewhere. A time when Madison Square Garden was where it was supposed to be, between 49th and 50th Streets on Eighth Avenue, prowled by men in gray fedoras and ladies in fur boas, the very foundations of the arena seemingly dependent on the smoke of Lucky Strikes and Camels.
It’s 1939, and the Sweet Science’s Golden Decade, a time and place dominated by the incomparable “Brown Bomber”, is hoary and worn with age. But the decade wasn’t about to go down without a fight. And what a fight—among the delightfully dirtiest in the history of the sport.
It’s September 15, and barrel-shaped New Jersey barman “Two Ton” Tony Galento is in a foul mood at Philly’s Municipal Stadium, having seemingly come within a hair’s breadth of wresting the heavyweight crown from the brow of Joe Louis three months earlier. He had promised to “moida da bum” and had come perilously close to doing just that. Prior to his loss to Louis, Galento had won 11 consecutive fights, all by stoppage, over the course of two years. Tonight’s opponent for the fat man with the fearsome left hook? The yoga-trained Lou Nova, aka the Alameda Assassin, who was himself coming off half-a-dozen victories, including wins over Tommy Farr and former champ Max Baer.
It’s appropriate that Galento (along with fellow failed Louis challengers Tami Mauriello and Abe Simon) would appear 15 years later as a thug in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, for “Two Ton” Tony’s approach to the manly art of self-defense was considerably more dockyard than Marquis of Queensberry.
The “New Jersey Nightstick” was exemplary in demonstrating his disdain for finesse and, well, rules in his bout with Nova, a match he won via 14th-round TKO. He gleefully fouled his opponent with everything from low blows to literally falling on top of him. Most notable was “Two Ton” time and again mistaking the hapless Nova’s right eye for a cigarette to be stubbed out.
Mahatma Gandhi’s lofty theory that “Nobody can hurt me without my permission” would surely have gotten a busted-mouth “You don’t say?” from Nova.
“One of the most disgraceful fights staged since the days of the barroom brawls,” sniffed The Ring. Disgraceful? No doubt. But what I wouldn’t give to have been there.