Tony Galento: The Beer Barrel that Walked Like a Man

By Norman Marcus on March 19, 2014
Tony Galento: The Beer Barrel that Walked Like a Man
Two Ton had been known to fight a boxing kangaroo, a grizzly bear and even an octopus.

He drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney. Tony worked out at night after he closed up his bar. Why at night? “Cuz I fight at night!”

What made this guy so great? Tony was a street brawler and a dirty fighter in the ring. He never won the title but was still loved by fight fans. Why? This gritty little guy from the streets of Orange, New Jersey seemed to be something special. Just what set him apart from all the other fighters of his day? Was he really one of a kind or just a guy with a gimmick?

Dominick Anthony Galento may be considered a true example of the common man, very common. AKA Two Ton, Beer Barrel and the New Jersey Nightstick, he owned a bar/restaurant called the Nut Club. He was the chief cook, bottle washer, bartender, entertainer and bouncer in the place. Tony balanced this business with a professional boxing career and became a serious contender for the heavyweight title. Most folks called him Two Ton. He got the name for once reporting late for a bout. Asked why he was late he replied, “I had two tons of ice to deliver on my way here.”

The guy trained on pasta. He drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney. Tony worked out at night after he closed up his bar. Why at night? “Cuz I fight at night!” was his answer. His main nemesis in life was his brother Russell. The two often fought by throwing beer bottles and chairs at each other. What were the fights about? Usually the cash register was short after Russell worked his shift at the bar. Tony fought all types of opponents. He had been known to fight a boxing kangaroo, a grizzly bear and even an octopus. (The octopus was already dead at the time of the fight.) These stunts helped swell the gate for his upcoming bouts.

Galento had that one big title fight against Joe Louis in Yankee Stadium on June 28, 1939. He managed to knock Louis down in the third round but lost the fight in a TKO 4 to the champion. He later claimed that he could have beaten Louis. His one big mistake that night was taking the advice of his corner and fighting a clean fight!

But there were other fights in his career, just as important, that have been pretty much forgotten. Let’s take a look at some of them here and see if they reveal anything new about Galento.

The first fight took place at Dreamland Park, in Newark, New Jersey, back on June 7, 1932 against Ernie Schaaf. At the time, Ernie was ranked the No. 3 contender by The Ring Magazine. The bout had been postponed three times by weather. The winner would get a shot at heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey. The meeting was a 10-rounder and was chockfull of rabbit punches all thrown by Galento. Tony also landed some tremendous left hooks to Ernie’s body. It was a brutal affair. Schaaf got the win on points that night but he was pretty busted up. Some of the press later said that Schaaf was never quite the same following the Galento fight. Many felt real damage had been done by Tony’s repeated right hand chops to Ernie’s neck. Others blamed Schaaf’s damage on a later fight with Max Baer in Chicago, on August 31, 1932. It was a vicious win by Max. Later a noted coroner also found traces of infection, namely Influenza and Spinal Meningitis during Schaaf’s autopsy. The doc said Ernie could have been damaged goods early on; it had nothing to do with his opponents. These findings further muddled what really happened to Ernie. You can take your pick of them.

The incident we look at next was not technically a fight at all but a whuppin’ put on Galento at Stillman’s Gym on 8th Avenue in New York City. The year was still 1932 and Jack Dempsey, retired and pushing forty, was Tony’s manager at the time. Tony went through managers like he went through booze. Jack had convinced Ray Arcel to take up the role of Galento’s trainer. Dempsey felt he had a diamond in the rough here, a possible heavyweight champion. Jack just had to get Tony to train properly.

Dempsey strode in one day, dressed impeccably in a handmade suit and saddle shoes. His white silk shirt and tie had been imported from Paris. His French cuffs were monogrammed with the letters JHD, just so everyone would know who was standing in front of them. (The letter H stood for Harry, which was Dempsey’s real first name.) Jack loved to spend time in France. He once told a pal, “Most people think that the most beautiful women in the world are in Hollywood, but they would be wrong. The most beautiful girls in the world are in Paris and if you are young and heavyweight champion of the world, you can meet such women. And I was young and heavyweight champion of the world.”

Dempsey stood with Lou Stillman as they watched Galento loaf about in the ring. Tony was grossly overweight and looked like he needed a bath. It only took the old champ two minutes to explode in anger. He asked for a pair of boxing gloves and quickly removed his suit coat and shirt. He bounded into the ring and said, “Now Tony, it’s you and me. I’ll show you how we used to do it.” Stillman rang the bell and Dempsey began to stalk his fighter. Jack got that old look in his eyes again. Gene Tunney would know that look from back in 1927. Dempsey was still in good shape. He easily had enough juice left for a couple of rounds. He hit Galento with his classic left hook to the face, which split Galento’s lips. The champ closed in with a short punch that crashed down and broke Tony’s nose. Blood sprayed on Jack’s tailored trousers. The New Jersey Night Stick covered up and implored Jack to take it easy. It was just sparring after all. Dempsey continued the attack. Luckily Lou Stillman rang the bell to end the round. Tony was a bloody mess. Ray Arcel chimed in, “Jack, take the guy somewhere else… He’s driving us crazy around here.” Dempsey nodded to Galento, “Now I’m through with you. You can find yourself another manager.”

Exactly what happened that day is in dispute. Some folks swear that Dempsey knocked Tony out with that first left hook. Others argue Galento never hit the canvas. Lou Stillman later recalled that everyone in the gym could hear Dempsey’s left hook land to Galento’s head. Lou was not a man to exaggerate.

The third fight was years later on September 15, 1939, at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. Galento met Lou Nova in a 15-round bout. It was one of the dirtiest fights in ring history. Tony fought his fight this time. The Ring described the fight this way: “One of the most disgraceful fights staged since the days of the barroom brawls. Galento was permitted to thumb Nova’s right eye until it reached a terrible condition. Finally Nova went down in the 14th round after being fouled for the last time.” Lou had been knocked down five times. He was in the hospital for most of the following year, while the doctors fought to save his right eye.

Tony’s next big bout was against Max Baer at Roosevelt Stadium, in Jersey City, New Jersey on July 2, 1940. Galento never showered for weeks before a fight. He used his body odor as a weapon. Baer said “He smelled of rotten tuna and a tub of old liquor being sweated out.” Galento was favored to win this fight but Max stopped him in a RTD 7. It seems Tony had cut his lip in another barroom brawl with his brother Russell, just days before this fight. They had argued over some free tickets to the bout for Russell and his friends. Tony had New Jersey fight doctor Max Stern stitch him up for the fight but Baer busted the lip open in the first round. Galento swallowed so much of his own blood that he was unable to continue. Tony later blamed the loss on his “inability to hook him around the head and head butt him.” Ironically Doc Stern was the same doctor who had once helped Baer out. Stern had numbed Baer’s broken hands with Novocain, minutes before his fight with Joe Louis in 1935. (Note: Sadly the drug wore off just as the fight began and Baer was unable to hit with any power. He was stopped by Louis in four rounds.)

Tony’s last big payday was against Max Baer’s little big brother, contender Buddy Baer. It took place on February 8, 1941, at Uline Stadium, in Washington, DC. Galento was 5’9” tall and weighed in at 235 lbs. Baer on the other hand was 6’7” tall and weighed in at 230 lbs.! Still, the fans felt Tony always had a chance. Even against a giant like Buddy Baer.

The United Press described it all in a few short paragraphs: “Tony Galento waddled over the hill to the fistic poorhouse today. The last shove came from the hammering fists of Buddy Baer…and forced the roly-poly barkeep to call it quits after six rounds. Referee Eddie La Fond proclaimed Buddy the winner on a seventh round TKO when Galento refused to answer the bell on grounds he broke his left hand in the closing seconds of the previous heat. Tony claimed the break was a recurrence of one he suffered in his previous ill fated fight last summer with the elder member of the Baer boxing firm—Max.” Later x-rays showed no break in the hand. Galento’s purse was held up pending an investigation…

Tony fought three more times in a comeback attempt. His first opponent was someone named Herbie Katz who he knocked in 1943. It only took Galento 35 seconds of the first round to put the guy to sleep. His two other opponents were professional wrestlers, not even boxers! He knocked these tomato cans out early too. Still, it was a sad way to end a career.

Tony retired in 1943 with a record 80-26-5 with 57 KOs.

Galento followed the usual retirement route. He went into professional wrestling, movies, and the Broadway stage for some fast easy cash. His name still brought in the fans.

Years of boozing was obviously not good for him. He suffered from diabetes and the alcohol made it a death sentence. First he lost his feet to the disease, later the docs had to take what was left of his legs. He died at the age of 69 in his hometown of Orange, New Jersey on July 22, 1979.

So what made this guy stand out? What was his appeal? Maybe he was a Rocky Balboa, way before the movie came out? After all, he knocked down the champ, right? Tony lifted him right off his feet, with a left to the jaw. That’s what people remembered, nothing else.

Sources: United Press, Reading Eagle- 4/9/41, P.18, Boxing Record, Buddy Baer Autobiography-Rhino Publishing, S.A. 2003, Two Ton- Joseph Monniger, Steerforth Press, 2006.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Joe Louis -vs- Tony "Two Ton" Galento 1939 (16mm Film Transfer)

Tony "Two-Ton" Galento -vs- Lou Nova 9/15/1939 (Restored Broadcast)

Max Baer -vs- Tony Galento | All Rounds w/Postfight (16mm Transfer)

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  1. Tex Hassler 04:14pm, 03/24/2014

    Tony Galento was some one must fiction writers would have worked extra hard to invent. He was a one of a kind and he could fight. If he had trained like Marciano there is no telling what he could have accomplished in boxing. Wonderful article on Tony G.

  2. bikermike 04:58pm, 03/23/2014

    yeh….what magoon said.

    Two ton toney didn’t give a fuk about anybody but his friends ...

    It is true that Jack Dempsey was his manager….and it is true that Jack Dempsey stayed in good shape..after his retirement….

    ..but like magoon said…..If jack did step in the ring with galento….galento would have tried to hit him in the nuts and thumb him in the eyes….for fkn sure

  3. Bob 06:26am, 03/22/2014

    From a strictly boxing standpoint, Tony was colorful because of his shape,  or lack thereof, durability and resilience, but from all I’ve read he was about as charming as Jake L:aMotta. Doesn’t seem like a very charming fellow.

  4. Eric 11:44am, 03/20/2014

    I’ve read that Roland LaStarza wouldn’t shower a week or so before a fight also. Nice strategy. Read that Oscar Bonavena would hold his nose and sniff when he was around Joe Frazier, as if insinuating that Smokin’ Joe was a little ripe. Not a bad strategy at all.

  5. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:03am, 03/20/2014

    Norman Marcus-“Galento never showered for weeks before a fight. He used his body odor as a weapon.”....probably the most cringe worthy, hair raising, and blood curdling bit of folklore ever presented on Which reminds me….those were the days my friend, when the only real measure taken to tone down male body odor (B.O.) was Lifebuoy soap and little else…...a bath on Saturday night and you were good to go for another week… least.

  6. Eric 07:34am, 03/20/2014

    @Magoon, Have to agree with you on the “alledged” Dempsey sparring bout. Galento never backed down from the shots of the Baer brothers and of course The Brown Bomber, and those guys could hit a little bit themselves. Dempsey was and still is a legend, and many times the legend becomes bigger than the man. I still think Tony might’ve been even better had he dropped 30-40lbs of lard by training a little harder, and laying off the spags and suds.

  7. Magoon 02:39am, 03/20/2014

    Did Galento go back to his bar after boxing? What I heard is that he got a job as a greeter at a place called the Gaslight in Manhattan, NY. Other than that, not much new here except for Dempsey getting in the ring with him, which is what the article should have been about. Not that I believe for one second that “The New Jersey Night Stick covered up and implored Jack to take it easy.” Hard to picture Mr. Two-Ton ever asking for mercy from anyone, and that includes Mr. Manassa-Mauler.

  8. Eli 05:46pm, 03/19/2014

    I don’t think Tony would’ve been a better fighter if he trained better or at all. He was a brawler’s brawler, a street fighter, that was his style. He might’ve lost something with more fitness training or technique.

  9. Eric 09:47am, 03/19/2014

    Tony’s appeal was that a short, fat, balding guy could get off his barstool and knockout a tall, well built, athletic guy. He certainly gave the Adonis looking Lou Nova fits.  And Tony could do it by eating tasty foods like spaghetti and meatballs, washed down with lots of beer, and enjoying a smoke afterwards. Wonder if he ever even paid attention to the scales while “training” for a fight or how much “roadwork” he did. Just think how good he could’ve been had he trained properly and took better care of himself.

  10. JimmyD 09:08am, 03/19/2014

    Great article about one of the more colorful characters of the fight game.

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