Philadelphia’s Own Jimmy Binns

By Norman Marcus on March 8, 2016
Philadelphia’s Own Jimmy Binns
Binns has a full Philadelphia Police Highway Patrol uniform. Jimmy Binns also has a Glock.

“I met Stallone when I was boxing commissioner. I met him at Bookbinder’s. He was making a new movie and asked me to be in it…”

“Jimmy’s a character straight out of a pulp-fiction novel.”

Fight fans from this city all know the name Binns. James J. Binns is not just a guy from the old working-class neighborhood of Mayfair. He is definitely an anachronism, something that shouldn’t be around anymore but still is for some inexplicable reason. Jimmy is seventy-six years old now and still going strong.

“He’s certainly a man among men. You would think he grew up in the hood somewhere, as opposed to his real background,” said Tom Welsh, assistant squash pro at the Philadelphia Racket Club. But that is the puzzle of Jimmy Binns. You can’t miss him on the street. He always wears a custom tailored Italian suit, slicked back white hair and a solid gold Rolex on his wrist. He seems to have his feet planted in two different worlds, one in the law, the other in the ring. Let’s take a closer look at this guy.

Young Binns learned to box while at La Salle College. His trainer was one Franny Venuti, at a gym on Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. Joey Giardello and Sonny Liston worked out there too. Jimmy had two years of training there as an amateur boxer. He must have taken the advice of Apollo Creed, “Stay in school…Use your brain…” He went to law school at Villanova University on the Main Line. 

Jimmy will take on any kind of court case that challenges him. He specializes in anything and everything. For example, in 1981, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers needed a fighting lawyer for a nasty labor strike with then Mayor Bill Green. The grinding negotiations between the two sides went on for weeks, often twenty-four hours a day. In the end, the young mayor lost the strike on points. The union got the decision. Jimmy billed union president John Murray, for so many hours in that case, that he was able to buy a swank summer home in Margate, New Jersey. Neighbors jokingly call his shore house “The ’81 strike…” He gets along so well with the cops down there that he once dressed up like a Margate police officer for a parade, gun and all. He also has a full Philadelphia Police Highway Patrol uniform, including a .40 caliber Glock automatic. Somehow Binns also came up with his own Harley-Davidson Police package motorcycle, which he rode in Hero Thrill Shows for fallen police officers. He has gotten so much in the way of free bikes, motorcycles and horses for various police departments that the boys in blue sometimes look the other way when Jimmy steps over the line a bit.

Binns can get congressmen, senators and even some wise guys on the phone at a moment’s notice. I’m talking about characters like Al Dente, from Broad and Porter Streets in South Philly. Yeah, the real Al Dente, not the firm spaghetti!

As a lawyer Binns has won thirty-one straight cases for the World Boxing Organization. The names of the vanquished are familiar, Muhammad Ali, Tim Witherspoon, Evander Holyfield, Marvin Hagler, Top Rank, Don King, and Mike Tyson. Binns is ranked in the top five percent of Pennsylvania lawyers and was named a Super Lawyer by his peers at the Philadelphia Bar Association. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame in 1984.

Jimmy was also the Pennsylvania State Boxing Commissioner under two governors, Richard Thornberg and Bob Casey. He has been a promoter and manager of a dozen young fighters that he felt had a shot at the big time. Binns was key in finally placing the “Rocky” statue by the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In addition, he was a boxing Supervisor for eight championship bouts over the years, representing the WBA seven times and the WBC one time. A supervisor must first be a certified Level II referee or judge. The rule book says, “The Boxing Supervisor must be given a center seat in the technical zone at ringside and shall conduct the tabulation of the scoring and will be the sole arbiter regarding the interpretation of the Rules and Regulations. The Supervisor must be in attendance at every weigh-in and has full authority to administer the Rules and Regulations.”

Here is Jimmy’s history from the Boxing Record Book. He was supervisor of the following championship fights:

Starting in 1987 with four Mike Tyson bouts. First a TKO7 by Mike Tyson over Tyrell Biggs at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Followed by a 1988 TKO4 over Larry Holmes at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Again in 1988 at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey by TKO1 over Michael Spinks. Finally a 1989 win over Carl Williams at the Convention Center, Atlantic City, New Jersey, by a TKO1.

In 2000 Binns branched out to other divisions by a light heavyweight bout with Roy Jones Jr. over Davis Telesco at the Radio City Music Hall in a UD12. Again in 2001, at the Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, Connecticut, Kostya Tszyu over Oktay Urkal in a super lightweight bout by way of UD12. In 2001 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, super middleweight Byron Mitchell won over Manny Siaca in a SD12. Finally in 2007 at the Sears Centre, Hoffman Estates, Illinois, a super lightweight bout, Juan Diaz won a TKO9 over Julio Diaz.

Jimmy has also had acting parts playing himself, in two of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” movies, including “Rocky V” and “Balboa.” Stallone liked realism in these films. Binns was the real deal. Sly always returned to Philadelphia when he needed the gritty feel of the city. Jimmy’s acting career started by accident. “I met Sylvester Stallone when I was boxing commissioner. I met him at Bookbinder’s (restaurant)…He was making a new movie and asked me to be in it,” Jimmy said, simple as that.

As a highlight to his career he was later invited by boxing writer and former editor of The Ring magazine, Bert Sugar, to be the keynote speaker at a 90th birthday party for author Budd Schulberg. Jimmy gave a fine tribute to the old man. Budd was a legend in boxing. He came up with two great books, “The Harder They Fall” and “On the Waterfront.” They were later made into two great motion pictures. All about corruption and mob influence in boxing during the 1940s and 1950s. A bunch of familiar faces also made their appearances in these films. Tony Galento and Abe Simon appeared as mob torpedoes in “On the Waterfront” (1954). Max Baer, Joe Walcott and Pat Cominsky had featured roles in “The Harder They Fall” (1959). The movies have lost nothing since their release. If anything they have just gotten better to watch.

So here we have a thumbnail sketch of Jimmy Binns. He was a boxer, manager, promoter, supervisor, and Super Lawyer. Finally, at the age of 74 years, he also graduated at the top of his class from the Municipal Police Academy at Delaware Community College in 2013. To Binns this must have been his finest accomplishment. After all, keeping peace on the streets is a daily fight.

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