Tami Mauriello: A Cut Above

By Clarence George on August 10, 2013
Tami Mauriello: A Cut Above
"He was tough, Italian-American, and a New Yorker, which made him good box office."

How many men knew what Tami Mauriello knew, until robbed of that precious memory by dissolving dementia?

“If he were fighting today, Tami would be heavyweight champion.”—Mike Silver

January 4, 1920 or September 18, 1923? Neither, according to his family. Tami Mauriello was born May 24, 1923. He’d have been 90 this year, but we lost him on December 3, 1999. He was lost to himself and his loved ones long before, a victim of the boxer’s bane of dementia pugilistica.

Birth date or not, September 18 is an important day in the life of “The Bronx Barkeep,” for it was on that day in 1946 that he fought Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. He lost by first-round KO, but nevertheless managed to knock our all-time greatest heavy into the ropes.

What that must have felt like. How incomparable, how inexpressible. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” said Henry David Thoreau. They know honor, but not glory. They provide for and protect their wives and children. There’s food on the table, clothes on backs, and a roof overhead. All very necessary and commendable, but not very exciting and certainly not immortalizing, except perhaps in the hearts and minds of those they loved.

How many men knew what Mauriello knew, until robbed of that precious memory by dissolving dementia? Tony Galento, he knew, using that formidable left hook of his to send Louis to the canvas in the third round of their 1939 bout before being pulverized in the fourth. “Two Ton” staring down at his fallen foe, knowing, as Joseph Monninger writes, “what it would be like to be Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Mauriello and Galento never fought, but Tami did indeed take on many of the hard boys of his era: Gus Lesnevich (four times), Bob Pastor, Tony Musto (twice), Clarence Burman, Jimmy Bivins (twice), Lee Savold (twice), Lou Nova (twice), Buddy Knox (twice), Joe Baksi, Lee Oma (three times), Bruce Woodcock, Freddie Schott, and, in his last fight, Cesar Brion.

A top 10 heavyweight contender from 1942 to 1946, Mauriello (82-13-1, 60 KOs) fought from 1939 to 1949, winning his first 24 bouts, 14 by stoppage, before losing to Billy Soose by split decision in 1941. He was stopped only four times, first by Louis, then by Johnny Shkor and Lesnevich, both by seventh-round TKO in 1947, and finally by Brion via second-round TKO. He drew only once, against Pastor in 1942.

As Bill Shannon observes: “Mauriello was a good fighter, though not stylish, who was just a cut below the best boxers of his time. He was tough, Italian-American, and a New Yorker, all of which made him good box office.”

And speaking of good box office, Mauriello was wonderfully cast, along with fellow Louis challengers Abe Simon and Galento, as a goon in On the Waterfront (Oma made an appearance as a bartender). In fact, Tami was the most intimidating of the three, with that tree-stump head of his, brutishly shoving aside an ethereal Eva Marie Saint with a dead-eyed “Where you going?”

Good as Walter Burke was as Sugar Boy, Willie Stark’s flunky in All the King’s Men, how much more impressive would have been Tami, given that he more closely resembled Huey Long’s real-life bodyguard, Joe Messina.

Still, Mauriello should be remembered not as an actor, but as a boxer. As my colleague Robert Mladinich wrote several years ago in an outstanding piece on the Bronx battler, “One place that Mauriello was never out of his element was in the ring.”

And in the hearts of his fans.

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Joe Louis and Tami Mauriello in Training

Joe Louis vs Tami Mauriello

On the Waterfront (4/8) Movie CLIP - This Is My Church (1954) HD

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  1. Clarence George 12:45pm, 07/05/2017

    Thanks very much, Lucas.

    I agree that Sinatra was a top-tier singer, at least in his heyday, and occasionally did a fine job as an actor.  But his phony tough-guy act always grated.  I’ll tell you a singer I just never could warm up to—Tony Bennett.  Way too lounge for me.

    Wonderful post, Lindy, thank you.

    I wrote an article on Mederos about a year ago.  If I remember correctly, the focus was on his being the only man other than Marciano to stop LaStarza.  I must have made some reference, however, to his very controversial bout with Johnson, who claimed to have been drugged.  But the consensus then (I don’t know what it is today) is that he took a dive.

    “Boy on a Dolphin” is rendered watchable (extremely watchable) by Sophia Loren’s amazing sexiness, even by her standards.

    Speaking of sexy ladies, I was delighted to see Camila Giorgi (whom I love) beat Madison Keys (whom I can’t stand) just a few minutes ago at Wimbledon.

  2. Lindy Lindell 04:09pm, 07/04/2017

    Yes, Clarence, enjoyed reading this again.  I had forgotten about the Dunphy incident;  I am a pretty cheap fellow when comes to buying books, but I bought Dunphy’s when I found out that he had a chapter on Julio Mederos v. Harold Johnson.  Dye-in-the-wool boxing fans will remember that Johnson was kayoed in two, a shocking upset, a decade or so before Ali-Liston I, and one of the biggest and most startling in my youth.  I was 10 or 11 at the time and remember that a newspaper report had said after the fight that Johnson had been drugged by an orange peel or some nonsense, but I wondered about the incident for many years (I did think about some more important things like Sophia Loren’s breasts), and so my excitement mounted (in a quite different way than when thinking about Loren’s breasts with the announcement of Dunphy"s book and the chapter on Johnson v. Mederos.  When I snagged the book after having wrestled it from its wrapping from the post, I made for the Johnson-Mederos chapter and quickly consumed it—finding not a scintilla of illumination that I did not know as a 10-year-old. I brooded about this for a while and then wondered when the next showing of BOY ON A
    DOLPHIN would be televised.

  3. Lucas McCain 01:41pm, 07/04/2017

    And now, two years later, it’s still being read.  First rate column, very illuminating comments, and the video clips are top notch.  Not sure why you so dislike Sinatra—I assume it’s the thuggish personality linked to occasional sentimentality and self-pity, but what a singer!

  4. Clarence George 02:15pm, 11/14/2015

    Mike Verre:  Good thing this article is currently on the homepage as one of the “Most Popular.”  I otherwise don’t know when (or even if) I would have come across your great post.  I love it when an article (mine or somebody else’s) attracts interesting and informative comments.  Well done, and thanks.

  5. Mike Verre 09:43pm, 11/10/2015

    I appreciated your article. Tami Mauriello had lost his parents as a young boy and lived on the streets and with friends’ families. He would at times rely on handouts of food from a local convent. As a boy, he severely fractured his leg jumping off a building to avoid police. Surgery was performed by his school principal who was also a physician. This injury influenced the manner in which he later fought as he was unable to move backward without losing his balance. He began boxing three rounders as a 12 year old for which he received 25 cents. At the age of fifteen he won the Daily News Golden Gloves at 148 lbs. He then began boxing professionally that year using his deceased older brother’s name. At the age of eighteen, he fought Gus Lesnevich for the Lightheavyweight Championship of the World, losing in a fifteen round decision.  He subsequently moved up to the heavyweight division and was ranked by Ring Magazine as the #1 contender in 1944 and again in 1946, after beating Bruce Woodcock, the British Commonwealth Champion, to gain a title shot against Joe Louis. During an exciting one rounder with Louis, Mauriello let loose with a tremendous right knocking Louis across the ring headlong into the ropes. Louis quickly recovered to unleash a barrage of punches to finish Mauriello. As Mauriello stepped out of the ring Don Dunphy asked Mauriello what happened. Mauriello replied,” I got too goddamned careless.” This comment on national radio created quite a stir and, as a result, the seven second delay on radio was instituted. On the Merv Griffin Show in the 1960’s, Merv asked Joe Louis which boxer hit him the hardest, and Joe Louis replied,“Tami Mauriello.”

  6. Clarence George 04:49am, 07/25/2014

    By the way, Alan, what you wrote triggered a vague memory.  I had the good sense to refer to Robert Mladinich’s article, where he indeed mentions that Mauriello worked for Grumman.  Bob also tells us that Tami had a bad gambling problem, which no doubt explains his lack of funds and why you very kindly bought his lunch on more than one occasion.  I, too, like liverwurst (on a roll with onion, mustard, and sometimes swiss), and am delighted to have this in common with one of my favorite fighters.

    I’d like to visit his gravesite and pay my respects, but have been unable to find out where he’s buried.  If you know (or if anyone knows, for that matter), I’d much appreciate the info.

  7. Clarence George 07:13am, 07/23/2014

    Alan:  Thank you for that poignant and evocative reminiscence.  Sorry that it took so many months to acknowledge, but I only rarely (if ever) check comments on older articles.

  8. Alan 10:12am, 04/27/2014

    I worked with Tami at the Farmingdale storage facility for Grumman, back in the late sixties.
    I didn’t know who he was until the crew filled me in. He would stagger slightly and could not maintain his balance very well, while talking to you.
    Tami at times, did not even have money for lunch. I bought his lunch many times. His favorite sandwich was liverwurst. His favorite phrase was “who loves you”.
    He was a friendly good natured guy who I still like and think about , to this day.

  9. Clarence George 02:40am, 08/12/2013

    Ha!  She’s a highly regarded artiste, Irish, not an exotic dancer.

    Yes, Eydie was a Sephardic Jew.  Also, Neil Sedaka’s cousin.  I see him sometimes at a Chinese restaurant with his wife, an attractive woman to whom he’s been married for some 50 years.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:59pm, 08/11/2013

    Clarence George-I’m betting that she might dance at some point and you just might get the opportunity to slip some legal tender into the waist band that surrounds her undulating and very tender lady parts. Which reminds me….this might interest you and possibly Ted Sares….Eydie Gorme….God rest her soul…. was of Turkish and Spanish descent…added to that she was both pettite and zaftig….no wonder she kept Steve Lawrence happy all those years.

  11. Clarence George 05:20pm, 08/11/2013

    You may be interested in knowing, Irish, that my delectable belly-dancer neighbor just invited me to her birthday bash, to take place this coming Thursday at Le Poisson Rouge.  Several of her equally undulating friends will be there as well.  I’m not sure I can make it, but what matters is that she asked.  Yup.

  12. Clarence George 04:57pm, 08/11/2013

    Irish Frankie Crawford!  You just wait until your father gets home.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 02:25pm, 08/11/2013

    Clarence George-Now that you mention it, I wouldn’t mind having a gander at Marie Dressler in silky slip….I’m guessing she had dark brown areolas as big as saucers.

  14. Mike Silver 06:47am, 08/11/2013

    Clarence, I’m glad to hear that the Committee is on the job.

  15. Clarence George 02:04am, 08/11/2013

    Thanks very much, Mike S.

    I was hoping you’d chime in to answer those who took issue with your observation.  You’ll be pleased to know that files are being compiled on the naysayers.  Upon completion of the investigation, the files will be turned over to the appropriate committee, and further action will be taken.

    I’m in complete agreement—the Klitschkos are the best of a sorry lot; the current heavyweight division is as stagnant and noisome as a neglected fish tank.  Great for their era, yes, but the brothers are anything but in the context of history.  They are indeed overrated, while there’s little appreciation for the heavies of the past, who were more skilled, experienced, and a helluva lot tougher…not to mention entertaining. 

    Reading your book is on my to-do-with-pleasure list.

  16. Mike Silver 10:41pm, 08/10/2013

    Great article Clarence. Glad to see Tami resurrected. As for him being heavyweight champion today—of course! What do you think would have happened had that big right landed on Klitschko’s chin instead of Louis. Do you think the K’s would have reacted as Louis did? No way—Tammy would have been on top of them and finished the job. Taking nothing away from the K brothers who are terrific athletes and “great” for their era but too many people overestimate the K brothers skills and underestimate the old timers who had to fight the killers on the way up. They K bros. are good fighters surrounded by the most pathetic group of heavyweight contenders in history. Read chapter 13 (The Bigger They Are—The Harder They Fall) of my book “The Arc of Boxing” for a fuller explanation.

  17. Clarence George 07:51pm, 08/10/2013

    I hadn’t heard, Irish, though I did know of Karen Black’s death a couple of days ago.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:43pm, 08/10/2013

    Clarence George-On a more somber note….Eydie Gorme just passed away….God rest her soul…I was always very, very jealous of Steve Lawrence.

  19. Clarence George 06:52pm, 08/10/2013

    I can always count on you, Irish.  I’m a little surprised, however, that my article doesn’t somehow remind you of Marie Dressler en deshabille.

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:56pm, 08/10/2013

    Clarence George-“ethereal”....yes…even saintly…..but spying her in that filmy slip filled my eager young heart with libidinous and lascivious thoughts!

  21. Clarence George 02:35pm, 08/10/2013

    Ha!  Frank, there’s nothing I like more than a good sport.

  22. FrankinDallas 02:31pm, 08/10/2013

    Fellas…you just TKO’d me in the first round!

  23. Clarence George 02:20pm, 08/10/2013

    Magnificently expressed, Beaujack.

  24. beaujack 02:10pm, 08/10/2013

    FD, I beg to differ with you about “Tami Mauriello just being a Friday Night ” fighter. You are only correct that whenever he fought at MSG it was only on Friday Nights, BUT Tami Mauriello was a helluva tough punching heavyweight who beat by ko, Gunnar Barlund, Bruce Woodcock, Lou Nova, Steve Dudas, decisioned Lee Oma [2],Lee Savold, drew with a tough Bob Pastor, and lost 2 CLOSE decisions to Jimmy Bivins…If this makes Tami Mauriello a Friday Night journeyman ,what does it say about most of the heavyweights today ??? He could hit, he could take a punch, and he had stamina enough to beat some top men of his times, and often…

  25. Clarence George 01:59pm, 08/10/2013

    Frank:  I respectfully but vigorously disagree with you and those who share your views.  Tami isn’t on anyone’s top 10 list, including mine, but his record is quite impressive.  Eighty-two wins, 60 by knockout, only 13 losses, and a measly four by stoppage.  And his opposition was formidable.  He was very good indeed, and I’m proud to call myself a fan.

  26. FrankinDallas 01:32pm, 08/10/2013

    I hate to disrespect a fellow Bronxite, but Tami was at best a Friday Night Fights kind of fighter. No more, no less.

  27. Clarence George 12:44pm, 08/10/2013

    Yet another great reminiscence, Beaujack!  And I appreciate the kind and astute words about Tami.

    Yes, I know the story of an injured leg or foot.  I heard it was the result of a childhood accident, but perhaps you’re right that it was a birth defect.  As the confusion about his birth date indicates, it’s difficult to be certain of much prior to his boxing career.

    I never cared for Sinatra, but there’s no denying that a point in his favor is that Tami was indeed his favorite boxer.  Didn’t he first come to at least some public attention by singing the National Anthem at a Mauriello fight?  In any event, he was generous to him in later years.  In fact, Sinatra was generous to any friend, such as Toots Shor, who found himself down on his luck.  No, I didn’t like him, but I’ll give credit where it’s due.

  28. Mike Casey 12:06pm, 08/10/2013

    Yes, how times have changed, Clarence - ‘goddamn’ was not for family consumption back then!

  29. beaujack 11:17am, 08/10/2013

    In the mid 1940s, there was one heavyweight, my dad and I never failed too see at the old MSG. That was the brave, action packed Bronxite Tami Mauriello. We saw him flatten the British bomber Bruce Woodcock, and saw him fight such toughies of that time, Lee Oma, Joe Baksi, Lee Savold etc. Tami could punch and he NEVER took a back step…Some of us knew that Tami was born with one foot shorter than the other, hence his always moving forward…He was Frank Sinatra’s favorite fighter in those days…
    In 1941, Tami Mauriello was a rising star in the Bronx along with another young middleweight punching sensation, Steve Belloise…They clashed in 1941 and Mauriello flattened Belloise in ONE rd. We always felt that if Tami remained a middleweight, he would have been a MW champ..
    No one was any braver than Tami Mauriello !

  30. kid vegas 10:54am, 08/10/2013

    “If he were fighting today, Tami would be heavyweight champion.”—Mike Silver

    I think not. He would be decapitated by the Klitschkos.

  31. Clarence George 10:05am, 08/10/2013

    Thanks, Mike.  I’m a huge fan of Mauriello, and was glad of the opportunity to write about him.

    Tami was very tough and skilled.  I think Louis said that his fight with him was the last great one of his august career.

    Appreciate the info on Runyon, which I didn’t know.  I did hear, however, that Don Dunphy interviewed Tami immediately after the fight, and that Tami used the word “goddamn,” which brought the session to an abrupt close!

  32. Mike Casey 08:24am, 08/10/2013

    Very interesting article, Clarence. Mauriello was wildly exciting and compiled an admirable record in a very tough era. His exciting defeat to Louis was, I believe, Damon Runyon’s last big fight report before his death.

  33. Eric 07:35am, 08/10/2013

    “If he were fighting today, he would be champion” has got to be the most overused and abused statement in boxing. Sorry but Tami Mauriello wouldn’t be the light heavyweight or cruiserweight champ, and to think of him beating one of the Klit brothers at heavyweight is laughable. The term would apply to someone like Jerry Quarry at cruiserweight, but it seems every other “old school” fighter gets tagged with this line.

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