Galento vs. Louis/1939: “I’ll Moider da Bum”
For one moment in his tumultuous life he had Joe Louis at his feet. That is a feeling “Two Ton” Tony never forgot…
“Shakespeare? I ain’t never hoid of him. He’s not in no ratings. I suppose he’s one of them foreign heavyweights. They’re all lousy. Sure as hell I’ll moider dat bum.”—Tony Galento
Dominick Anthony Galento was 5’8” tall. He weighed in at 240 pounds. He had a pot belly and was balding. He was only 29 years old, but in the boxing game that’s no “spring chicken.” Most would say you are on the downside of your career.
This June night he was fighting Joe Louis, the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Joe was six-feet tall and weighed a sleek 200 pounds. The champ was 25 years old and at the peak of his power. The fight with Galento was considered one of Joe’s “Bum of the Month” fights. Louis liked to fight, it kept him in condition and his manager Mike Jacobs loved the gate and radio money. But the champ was running out of credible opponents; hence the derisive “Bum of the Month Club.”
Tony didn’t have far to travel for the fight that night. He trained at Madame Bey’s in Summit, New Jersey. His manager at the time was Joe Jacobs, the old manager of Jimmy Braddock, the retired heavyweight champion. Galento had a dozen managers over his career. In 1933-34 his manager was Jack Dempsey! Tony stopped at the bar he owned in the town of Orange. He wanted to make sure his brother wasn’t stealing any booze or money from the till. It was only a short drive later that evening to Yankee Stadium.
Louis was cool and quiet the night of the fight. His mother Lillian Brooks would be ringside, as she often was in those days. They didn’t call Joe “The Brown Bomber” or “Dark Destroyer” for nothing. He had, as Max Baer quipped after their fight in 1935, “come to work this night and wanted to go home early.”
Tony was a very funny guy. You were never sure when he was serious. The press loved him. He made a great story for them every day, up to fight time at ten o’clock. There was a $400,000 purse for this fight. The champ, or rather Mike Jacobs, got 40%, while Tony just got 17%. Galento had been calling Louis all month on the phone telling him what a bum he was and how he was going to lose big time. Tony actually believed he was going to win this fight!
Here is a short summary of Galento’s last press conference before he broke training camp.
The Press: “What do you think of your chances against Louis?”
Galento: “Joe who?”
The Press: “Joe Louis.”
Galento: “I never hoid of the bum.”
The Press: “Tony why do you train at night?”
Galento: “Cuz I fight at night!”
The Press: “What do you think of William Shakespeare?”
Galento: “Never hoid of him, what’s he one of those foreign heavyweights? I’ll moider da bum.”
The Press: “What did you have for dinner last night?”
Galento: “Oh, six chickens, a side of spaghetti, a bowl of vegetables, then I wash it down with a dozen bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. But I’m real serious about the fight tonight, I haven’t had any hard liquor in two days.”
So here he was, the “Bum of the Month.” But was Galento really a bum or just a showman with a terrific left hook? Galento was called “Two Ton Tony,” “The Jersey Nightstick,” “The One Man Riot,” and “The Beer Barrel that Walks like a Man.” You can’t make this stuff up. Tony was one of a kind.
Everyone was there for the fight that night in Yankee Stadium. J. Edgar Hoover was ringside. So was Gene Tunney, Mayor LaGuardia, Gov. Lehman, and comedian Jack Benny, who had a dollar bet on Louis!
Tony was one of the few boxers who wrapped and taped his own hands. Now that is 12 feet of bandages and 10 feet of tape. If he could do all that by himself, he had to have something on the ball.
Tony was such a character that 40 million people listened to the fight on NBC radio. One poll claimed that 47 percent of the people were rooting for the little guy to win! The referee was of course Arthur Donovan. He was on Mike Jacobs’ payroll and worked all of Louis’ fights. He was also the premier referee for many of the other top fights of the 1930s. Joe Jacobs had made Tony promise him that he would fight clean in this fight. Tony later regretted that promise to his manager.
The bell rang and Tony lumbered out to meet Louis for Round One. The two men came within range of each other and paused for an instant. In a cat-like way Galento leaped at Louis with a left hook to the jaw. It landed solid but not square, otherwise the fight may have been over right then. Louis staggered to the ropes as Tony pursued him. Joe’s legs began to sag as Galento followed up with a right hand and tried to end it. Joe caught the blow on his gloves. The champ began to move and his head began to clear. The two men continued to throw punches at each other. But Louis the bigger man had the range now and was beginning to stick and move. Louis was hitting Tony’s face at will. The bell sounded ending the first round. Galento had won it, having landed the only big punch. Tony jokingly called it his “beer punch.”
A hush fell over the crowd. The little fat guy was beating up Joe Louis. Four hundred police assigned to the crowd inside the stadium were frozen in place. Two hundred more police in squad cars outside Yankee Stadium listened to the fight on radio. All the people in Orange, New Jersey and the crowd listening at Tony’s bar waited for the bell to start the next round.
Round Two started with Louis finding his rhythm. The champ had his range now. The tap, tap, tap on Galento’s face brought spurts of blood from his broken blood vessels. Tony’s face started looking like a tomato can. Just as the round was ending Louis knocked Tony to the floor. It was a straight right to the face, followed by a left hook to the chops. He had never been knocked down before. In 100 fights he had never been on the canvas. A “moolignon” had knocked him down, an “eggplant” for Christ sake! Tony jumped up and swung wildly at Louis. A cardinal rule of boxing is “Never get mad,” but this guy didn’t follow the rules. That’s what made Tony so popular. Joe now continued the punishment—tap, tap, tap all over Tony’s face. Donovan and Joe were now covered with Galento’s blood. The round ended and each man walked to his corner. Joe Jacobs tried to encourage the New Jersey Nightstick with words of praise. His manager told him that round three would be his round. In the Brown Bomber’s corner the words were familiar to Louis: “Finish this guy and lets go home.”
The bell rang for Round Three. Tony shuffled out, his face a thick bloody mix of Vaseline, sweat, and blood. Louis calmly walked out and began the pounding on Galento again. This was getting ugly. It wasn’t entertaining any more. Galento was just Joe’s punching bag but the guy wouldn’t go down. If this wasn’t a championship fight Arthur Donovan would have stopped it already. Louis loaded up, prepared to end the carnage. He began to throw a left and dropped his right a few inches. Tony ducked and let fly a left hook that landed right on the Champ’s chin! The punch was so hard that it lifted Louis off the floor and crumpled him as he fell. There was the little man standing over Joe Louis. Louis was up before Arthur Donovan’s count of one by. Louis’ eyes were clear and he again proceeded to pound Tony at will. The little man was a human punching bag once more. The round ended and both men went to their corners.
Round Four started with Tony no longer in his usual crouch. He was too tired; he just walked out there standing straight up, his hands at his sides. Louis started hitting Tony with two- and three-punch combinations. Tap, tap, tap went Joe’s hands as they smashed into Galento’s face. The champ had been knocked down and showed no mercy toward the bloody mess of a man standing in front of him. Galento threw some left and right hooks but he was just swinging at the air now. Louis had him up against the ropes, Tony dropped his hands, and Louis hit him one more time as the little man bounced off the ropes. As Arthur Donovan stepped between the two fighters Tony sagged to one knee. Donovan put his arms around Galento. It was over. Louis calmly walked to his corner, still champion.
In September of ’39 in Philly, just three months after the Louis fight, Galento won his last big fight. It was against Lou Nova, a hot new contender from the West Coast. The fight was a real free-for-all with headbutts, eye gouging, rabbit punches: one of the dirtiest fights on record. Nova was so badly hurt that he had to spend a year in the hospital, almost losing an eye. The fight was stopped in the 14th round. It was a TKO for Galento. He lost his next two fights to the Baer brothers, Max and Buddy, and called it a career. He came back a few years later and won three in a row but they were against nobodies.
That, however, was not the end for Tony Galento. He built a bigger bar in Orange, New Jersey. A real classy joint, where nice people went to eat, drink and meet the first man to knock down the champ. Tony went to Hollywood and appeared in movies, small parts, usually playing a gangster or a mug, but it was good money. His wife finally left him, as did the circulation in his feet, then his legs, as the diabetes got worse. He finally lost both to the disease. But for one moment in his tumultuous life he had Joe Louis at his feet. That is a feeling “Two Ton” Tony never forgot.