The Closet Classic
When an exceptionally great fight is not widely televised or professionally taped, the fight can gain cult status or be termed a closet classic…
Lee Roy Murphy vs. Chisanda Mutti, Jorge Castro vs. John David Jackson, Michael Moorer vs. Bert Cooper, George Foreman vs. Ron Lyle, Somsak Sithchatchawal vs. Mahyar Monshipour, Jose Luis Castillo vs. Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward (number one), and Yvon Durelle vs. Archie Moore were classics in the true sense; they were both witnessed by many in plain sight and/or written about at great length.
However, when an exceptionally great fight is not widely televised or professionally taped and the details are thereafter passed on by word of mouth, the fight can gain cult status or be termed a closet classic. These kinds of fights stand the test of time; they are talked about decades after they happened. Aficionados continue to talk about Monroe Brooks vs. Bruce Curry as if it happened yesterday. Serious boxing fans can begin discussing LoCicero vs. Lee faster than you can say “Hagler vs. Hearns.”
Now I’ll defer to fellow writer and friend Lee Groves who knows his closet classics and wrote a fine book about them titled TALES FROM THE VAULT: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. Lee may even have coined the phrase “Closet Classic” and in my opinion he is the best authority on such fights, though Mike Casey is pretty darn good as well. Some of Lee’s favorites are:
Danny Lopez-Juan Malvarez
Antonio Avelar-Wilfredo Vazquez
Victor Callejas-Loris Stecca II
Leland Hardy-Ike Padilla
Thomas Hearns-Juan Roldan
However, I’ll take credit for doing some pioneering in this area and for watching more video footage than there is footage. In fact, beginning on page 195 in my 2008 book titled Reelin’ in the Years: Boxing and More, I listed well over 300 such fights and made a brief comment about each. The following list includes a sampling:
Bob Satterfield vs. Lee Oma (1950) Bob ices Oma after almost being iced himself.
Charley Norkus vs. Charley Powell (1954) Both down until Powell goes down three times in 7th.
Masao Ohba vs. Orlando Amores (1972) In this thriller, the great Ohba comes-from-behind for the win.
Earnie Shavers vs. Roy “Tiger” Williams (1976) This one featured incredible back-and-forth late round action that has to be seen to be believed.
Luis Resto (yes, that Resto) vs. Pat Hallacy (1979) Two-way mayhem that had the crowd going bonkers and giving the loser (Hallacy) a standing ovation that lasted for minutes.
Harry Arroyo vs. Terrence Alli (1985) May be a pure classic; it was that exciting.
Muangchai Kittikasem vs. Jung-Koo Chang (1991) The Thai, down three times, comes back to finish Chang.
Jeff Harding vs. Dennis Andries (1988-89-90) All three are closet classics as both ice each other in the process.
Sung-Kil Moon vs. Nana Konadu (1991) In Asian war, Konadu down thrice, Moon twice but prevails.
Zack Padilla vs. Ray Oliveira (1993) Two human punch machines break CompuBox records in punch fest. The two have more stamina than porn stars.
Ray Annis vs. Bobby Harris (1997) Very scary as the two wail away at each other nonstop. Harris never the same after this frightening affair.
Shea Neary vs. Andy Holligan (1998) Neary is in still another exciting Brit dustup.
Micky Ward vs. Reggie Green (1999) Come-from-behind, blood and guts all-time classic.
Antwun Echols vs. Charles Brewer (2001) Echols down three times comes back to stop “The Hatchet.”
Darrell Woods vs. Samuel Miller (2007) Vet upsets upstart in thrilling Fight of Year type war.
Jesse Feliciano vs. Delvin Rodriguez (2007) Thrilling stoppage as D-Rod runs out of gas late.
Michael “The Great” Katsidis vs. Czar Amonsot (2007) Czar badly hurt in gory scary war.
Ramsey Luna vs. Rene Luna (no relation) engage in a four-round free-for-all punch-a-thon that was televised in 2011 and is still bantered about. It is referred to simply as Luna vs. Luna. Amazingly, both guys were making their debut.
Some warriors were literally walking closet classics. Men like Katsidis, Satterfield, Ward, Norkus, Ohba, Soo Hwan Hong, Danny Lopez, Junior Jones, Frank Fletcher, Julian Letterlough, and the incredible Jesse James Hughes thrilled fans just about every time they fought. Speaking of Norkus, his fight with Danny Nardico in 1954 is arguably the quintessential closet classic. Let’s review it in more detail.
Nardico vs. Norkus (1954)
“My father fought a lot of great fighters…But he would have loved to have fought Marciano. Their styles were well-suited for each other.”—Charley Norkus Jr.
“Norkus was as honest of a fighter as the day is long, and he never gave anything less than a superlative effort in everything he did both in and out of the ring.”—Robert Mladinich
“After World War II, everything in life is a cakewalk.”—Danny Nardico whose legs bore the scars of his wartime experience
Danny Nardico (50-13-4, 35 KOs), was an ex-Marine who had been awarded multiple Purple Hearts and the Silver Star for his service in WWII. He is the only man in boxing history to put Jake LaMotta on the deck. In a 1952 fight in Florida, LaMotta was knocked down in the 7th by a Nardico right hand and his corner stopped the bout between the 7th and 8th rounds. Inexplicably, that feat was never mentioned in the movie “Raging Bull.”
Nardico put together a nice string of wins and KOs to move into middleweight contention during the 1950s. Not unlike Charley Norkus, he fit into an exciting mold of a hard-hitting, aggressive puncher without much regard for defense. He never did get a title shot, but he entertained as a rugged combatant and fought very tough opposition.
Charley Norkus out of Queens, New York, was also a top ranked heavyweight fighter. As an undefeated boxer in the service, Charley was selected as an alternate to the U.S. Olympic team during the 1948 games in London. He was the U.S. Navy and Marine heavyweight champion from 1946-1948.
Norkus amassed a record of 33-19 during a professional career that began in 1948. Fighting in New Jersey early in his career, he became known as the “Bayonne Bomber.” He was an orthodox right hander, but possessed a lethal left hook that he uncorked from a low stance and it produced a number of impressive KO victories.
One of his friends and stable mates was fellow New Jersey Hall of Famer Ernie “the Rock” Durando, a personal friend and workmate of mine back in the early ‘70s. I mention this because I had many opportunities to discuss Norkus with Ernie and to learn some interesting things about Charley’s fights with Nardico.
By 1955, Charley was a highly ranked heavyweight and had wins over Roland LaStarza, Cesar Brion, and an undefeated and streaking Charlie Powell to whom he lost in a rematch. Charley also had key non-title fights against champions Willie Pastrano, Archie Moore, and Ezzard Charles, but his most talked about fight was against the aforementioned and highly touted Nardico.
This war appropriately featured two ex-Marines, both with paralyzing power, meeting in Miami Beach in 1954. Both fighters were ripped with monster biceps and broad backs which was quite unusual for that era. Norkus looked much bigger and actually was as he outweighed his opponent by 197 to 181.
The “Bayonne Bomber” controlled the early action and floored Nardico in the second with a long and thunderous right. Nardico was hurt again and then decked in the third. He was also thrown to the canvas twice by the stronger Norkus who fought in an atypically kind of old-timer standup sort of way. Nardico used good movement and a counter left to keep the incoming Norkus away and survive the round.
In the fourth, Nardico suddenly turned the tables on Norkus and hurt him badly with his trademark left hook. The two forgot about going to the body and exchanged simultaneous head shots that would have KOd most. These were malicious haymakers each meant to end the fight, and one almost did as Norkus caught one of Nardico’s patented left hooks and went down like he had been sapped. He was on Queer Street but Nardico could not finish the job.
Both fighters continued to exchange sizzling shots in the fifth and sixth and both were wobbled. The brutal battle continued into the seventh when Charley unloaded a number of crunching overhand rights on Nardico’s head. But right at the bell, Danny floored Norkus with a sharp and sneaky right to win the round.
Then in the ninth, Nardico attacked at the bell with a sense of urgency and Norkus met the intended onslaught with a brutal straight right that sent Danny down and for all practical purposes out. Somehow, Danny got up but was sent down again by a flurry of Charley’s clubbing shots. For reasons known only to him, referee Jimmy Peerless allowed the fight to continue and Norkus attacked again with crunching shots that left Nardico helpless. This time Peerless had no alternative but to stop what had now become a legal mugging.
The fight was a savage pier six affair yielding eight knockdowns and several pushes to the deck that easily could have been ruled knockdowns. It was full-tilt boogie violence featuring a total disregard for defense on the part of both fighters. Officially, Nardico went down six times (three in the ninth) and Norkus twice. This was a 1950s fight at its very, very best; a thrilling brawl in which both fighters gave their all.
The fight is still talked about today, though few have actually seen it, but that’s being rectified. Black and white film footage, albeit scratchy and silent, has now been put on YouTube so that fans finally can appreciate what happened in this one. A rematch on national TV produced no knockdowns but was another thrilling toe-to-toe affair with Norkus again the winner.
POSTSCRIPT: Danny Nardico was inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012. Fittingly, Charley Norkus was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame also in 2012. Charley is also a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of fame.