The Other Guy from Youngstown
Humble, sincere, friendly, and religious, Harry Arroyo is one of the nicest people with whom to meet and converse…
“When I was going through my transition of being famous, I tried to ask God why was I here? What was my purpose? Surely it wasn’t just to win three gold medals. There has to be more to this life than that.”—Wilma Rudolph
“Everybody breathing dirt, eating dirt—They call it ‘pay dirt,’ for Youngstown clean would be Youngstown out of work…”—Frank Bohn, 1915
Youngstown, Ohio is the kind of place you would expect tough boxers to come from. Halfway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, it’s tough, gritty, and unsympathetic. A hardscrabble place with a population of about 74,000, it has a Steel Museum celebrating its major industry which has declined badly since the ‘70s. Located in a region often referred to as the Rust Belt, the city has seen better times as evidenced by the many boarded up shops, but strong efforts are now underway to revitalize the city’s post-steel image. Still, living in the Rust Belt proved too difficult for many who packed up their families and migrated to the Sunbelt.
One constant has been a tradition of professional and semi-professional sports with the Youngstown State University Penguins being a major regional draw. The university is also a major employer. But when it comes to sports in this city, boxing takes center stage because this is the sport that produced the likes of Tommy Bell, Tony Janiro, Joey Carkido, Frank Lentine, L.C. Morgan, Greg “The Flea” Richardson, Jeff Lampkin, Donnie “Master of Disaster” Long, Ken “The Cobra” Sigurani, Billy Lyell, Lenny and Ray Mancini and others. And when you mention Youngstown within the context of boxing, three names immediately come to mind—Boom Boom Mancini, Kelly Pavlik, and Harry Arroyo.
Harry Arroyo, of Puerto Rican decent, has dark movie star good looks and a personality to match. He was a fan-friendly power puncher who fought in the same exciting way as Pavlik and Mancini. Harry duked during a marvelous boxing era when exciting fighters and fights were continually offered up to avid boxing fans that depended on TV as their means of enjoyment. Men like Jimmy Paul, Melvin Paul, Charlie Brown, Terrence Alli, Harold Brazier, Greg Haugen, Vinny Pazienza and many others made for great Saturday afternoon entertainment and Monday morning conversation. It was a time when the best fought the best and did not run up a record against dreadful opposition and posture for one big payday.
Arroyo streaked to 22-0 before facing super popular “Rockin” Robin Blake (20-0 at the time) in Atlantic City on January 14, 1984. It was a much anticipated fight seen on national TV between two 135-pounders on the upswing. Harry won a close UD10 and that positioned him for an April fight with Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown (23-2-1), a tough scrapper out of Philly. (Are there any other kind?) When Arroyo beat Blake, he broke into the top twelve IBF lightweight rankings. As for Rockin Robin, his star dimmed as he went 13-8 and retired in 1990 with a 33-8 record. The Texan now enjoys a successful career in law enforcement.
Choo Choo vs. Melvin Paul (1984)
The fight was for the IBF lightweight title was at the Sands in Atlantic City. This would be the big one for the affable Youngstown welterweight. Brown had beaten Melvin Paul (17-2) in January 1984 to take the newly created title by a close 15-round SD and was in defensive mode.
Charlie would later recall in a City Beat article by Benjamin Herold, “[Paul] definitely came to fight. He was a steady comer, he came right at you. So I figured I’ll box him,” said Brown while pantomiming his peek-a-boo style. “Both hands is right there in front of you, but you don’t know which is coming first.” Brown dropped Paul in round one with a left hook to the body and again in the fourth round with a right to the chest. But in the final round, Paul hit Choo Choo with a crushing right that Brown couldn’t remember getting hit with. However, as is the wont of a Philly fighter, he got up and even landed some solid shots before the final bell.
Fred “Herk” Jenkins hoped to use the championship to catapult Brown, then 23-2-1, higher in the rankings of the better-established WBA and WBC. The ultimate aim was a unification tournament involving popular WBA champ Ray Mancini and tough WBC champ Edwin Rosario and bigger paydays, but that plan, unfortunately for Charlie and Herk, depended on beating one Harry Arroyo.
Choo Choo vs. Arroyo (1984)
The stage was set and Harry did not disappoint, taking the title with a dramatic 14h round TKO as Brown gassed against the better trained and more determined Arroyo, though he claimed the fight was stopped too soon.
Brown went on to win only three more bouts and eventually lost his last 11 fights retiring in 1993. “Things didn’t go to well because of the frame of mind I was in,” he said. “It got to the point where I just didn’t give a damn. I’ve been hurt by the fight game a little bit. I expected something from it. I’ve been to the top, and I even took the city to the top by my being from here. It didn’t last long, but I got there.” He finished with a mark of 26-16-2 after a second round KO loss to veteran Sammy Fuentes in 1993.
Arroyo vs. White Lightning (1984)
In September of 1984, Harry was set to defend his newly won crown against still another Charlie Brown (this one nicknamed “White Lightning”) in Youngstown. This Charlie Brown (23-0 at the time), from basketball-crazy Moline, Illinois, was a true road warrior having fought in Miami, New Jersey, New York City, Memphis, Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Ohio, California, Virginia, North Carolina, and Denmark. Going into the bout with Arroyo, White Lightning had impressive wins over Remo Di Carlo (11-1), Louis Burke (18-0), and Frank Newton (24-0-1). He also raised eyebrows when he beat (and retired) the former active WBC super featherweight champion Alfredo Escalera (53-13-3) at Madison Square Garden in 1983.
But none of this helped much as Arroyo destroyed, dismantled, and grounded White Lightning by TKO in the eighth round. This Brown would also follow a pattern and go 8-10 losing six of his last eight (though one of his later wins came against the famous Saoul Mamby by six-round UD 1992). He retired in 1995 with a 31-11 mark, his last fight a second round TKO loss to rugged Ralph Jones (30-2). He probably will be remembered more for his nickname and subsequent first round KO loss to Greg Haugen than his willingness to fight anywhere in the US.
At this point in Harry’s career, it was becoming apparent that fighting him could result in a big career detour as was the case of the two aforementioned Charlies. Numbers don’t lie and their fights with Harry were pivotal in a negative way. But what about Harry, where would he go from here?
Arroyo vs. Alli (1985)
After the win against “White Lightning,” the Youngstown native defended his title against rock hard Terrence Alli (24-3-1) from Brooklyn by way of Guyana. The fight took place at Bally’s in Atlantic City in January 1985 and for those who were fortunate enough to be there or to witness it on TV, it was a memorable one with ebb and flow action and incredibly hard punches landing on the heads of the combatants. Savage and brutal, each fighter took turns hitting the other with sharp combinations and accurate career-ending shots. Harry was hurt by a vicious uppercut in the seventh but somehow hung on. In the 11th round, with the fight dead even on the judges’ scorecards, Arroyo, who had been down once, waged a fierce exchange with Alli finally catching him in a corner. Putting his punches together, albeit slowly, he launched a barrage of unanswered shots that snapped Alli’s neck back until Tony Perez, an always recalcitrant third man, had no choice but to call a halt to the sudden and lethal onslaught at 1:16 in what was hailed as one of the best fights of the year. Harry survived, but did he win the battle and lose the war.
While the loss seemingly had no immediate adverse impact on Alli’s career (he would go on to win 29 more bouts though his last nine were winless), it was a different story for Harry. In April 1985, and perhaps too soon after the Alli fight, he defended his title against crafty Jimmy Paul (21-1) again at Bally’s. This time he lost a lopsided decision. Paul put Harry down five times to take the IBF title and signaled that the Alli fight took far too much from him. Validating this notion, Arroyo’s career then went in the same direction as that of the two Charlies and he too fell on hard times, albeit Harry’s hard times resulted from a hard-earned win.
Arroyo went 14-10 the remainder of his career and while he picked up the WBC Continental Americas light welterweight title from undefeated Rick Souce in 1988, he lost it two months later by a brutal first round knockout to tough Loreto Garza, who later became the WBA junior welterweight champion. After dropping a 10-round UD to undefeated Vinny Letizia in 1993, Harry Arroyo called it quits with a fine record of 40-11 and a willingness to fight the very best. And give his all.
Arroyo has expressed some disappointment over the fact that he never had a chance to meet Ray Mancini in the ring. The possibility of a matchup between the two fighters emerged in the early 1980s, but circumstances intervened. Had it been made, it would likely have been billed as “Don’t Blink.”
Harry now lives comfortably with his wife and four children in Ohio. Humble, sincere, friendly, and religious, he is one of the nicest people with whom to meet and converse. He has made a positive transition from boxing to a life after boxing and remains a true credit to the sport.
Ted Sares is a private investor who enjoys writing about boxing. A member of the Elite Powerlifting Federation, Ted is one of the oldest active competitors in the world and holds several state records.