Two Ton and the Ammoniacal Assassin

By Clarence George on May 2, 2016
Two Ton and the Ammoniacal Assassin
"Pneumonia leaves such a strain on a fellow, they said. But they didn't know Galento."

Every sport should have a jolly fat man to call its own. Well, not swimming or tennis, I suppose, but I’m not fully convinced that those are actually sports…

“Dat bum ammonia.”—Tony Galento

There all sorts of reasons to hold roly-poly “Two Ton” Tony Galento in affection and esteem. All right, so his ring technique was more that of mob gorilla than anything else and, yes, he could be objectionable and obnoxious outside the ring, “nothing but a comic, noisy man,” as trainer Ray Arcel put it, “whose circus tent antics and crazy eccentricities certainly brought no credit to the game.” Fair enough. And yet many loved him.

On the evening of Wednesday, October 21, 1964, for instance, “The New Jersey Fat Boy” (“iceman, boniface, actor, heavyweight contender, wrestler, referee, etc.”) was honored at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, New Jersey (still there, but now a Best Western). Joe Louis was on the dais, as were Jimmy Braddock, Tippy Larkin, Barney Ross, and Mickey Walker, among other notable pugilists, as well as Hall of Fame ballplayer Monte Irvin (who died earlier this year at 96) and Madison Square Garden’s legendary Harry Markson. Phil Brito sang the national anthem. On the menu, prime rib and strawberry parfait, as well as fresh orange and grapefruit sections on ice, which I find kinda weird.

Food and lots of it for boxing’s Falstaff. But every sport should have a jolly fat man to call its own. Well, not swimming or tennis, I suppose, but I’m not fully convinced that those are actually sports. Swimming is more what you do to avoid drowning, as both George Carlin and Woody Allen have observed. And, while I don’t question the skill or athleticism of tennis players, I do indeed question the need for boys to hold parasols over their heads to protect them from the sun.

No parasol boys for the Mets’ Bartolo Colon, who, at 5’11” and 265 pounds, can be generously described as portly. Nor were there any for baseball’s quintessential fat man, Babe Ruth. Hard to believe the official stats that “The Behemoth of Bust” came in at a quite reasonable 215 pounds on a 6’2” frame. Even tennis in the old days didn’t offer the parasol-boy perk, much to Bill Tilden’s disappointment.

In conjunction with his jolliness, Galento’s dragging “his training down to a comic strip level,” as Arcel described it, his to-hell-with-the-rules take on things — all that spaghetti and beer, with a heaping helping of hot dogs thrown in — goes a long way toward explaining why his memorabilia is whisked from the hands of dealers with all dispatch. Leaving aside Joe Louis, of course, there’s nowhere near the same degree of interest in photos or autographs of Lou Nova, Steve Hamas, Bob Pastor, Gunnar Barlund, or any other 1930s heavyweight.

Another reason to admire the Joisey barkeep is his characteristically no-nonsense kayo of an exceptionally ugly case of pneumonia. I know what that’s all about, and it’s less fun than a night at the opera. And I mean an actual night at the opera, not the justifiably revered Marx Brothers film. Food becomes as unknown as color to a blind man. Although clinically dehydrated, you don’t have any thirst. Your urine is black tea. Almost no sleep. And that’s a good thing, because when you do conk out there’s always that godawful dream waiting for you, the one where you find yourself in an uncredited role in The Angry Red Planet, what with everything all barren and red, and with nothing but perfectly spherical boulders of various sizes to keep you company. That’s right, Naura Hayden was nowhere to be found to soothe my fevered brow. Speaking of fever, mine was 104.1

Tony’s was 105.6.

Following his second-round KO of Nathan Mann at Madison Square Garden on May 13, 1938, Two Ton was scheduled to take on light heavyweight champ and Hall of Famer John Henry Lewis that July 26 at Philly’s Municipal Stadium. Al Ettore, who’d fought both men, predicted that Galento would knock Lewis out “within five rounds.” Why? Because “Tony’s a mauler. He does everything but bite you. Lewis is a smarter and more clever fighter. I think he punches harder than Galento, but I figure he won’t be able to take Tony’s mauling the way Galento will be able to take Lewis’ punches. If by any chance Lewis gets by the first five rounds, Tony will then probably win by a decision.”

Ettore had lost to Galento by eighth-round TKO at the Velodrome in Nutley, New Jersey, on July 27, 1937. He three times fought Lewis, winning the first by split decision at Philly’s Convention Hall on January 4 that year, but losing by majority decision at the same venue that February 8 and by unanimous decision at Philly’s Baker Bowl that June 15. Was Ettore’s rooted-in-experience prediction on the money? Unknown, given that the fight never took place.

Feeling first hot then cold while at Madame Bey’s training camp in Summit, New Jersey, four days before the fight, Tony headed for his bar. Now, feeling nothing but cold, “not even several games of darts, or a half dozen Tarzan yells, warmed him,” writes Joseph Monninger in Two Ton. Wife Mary phoned his doctor, Joseph Higi, who immediately sent him to Orange Memorial Hospital. Finding it increasingly difficult to breathe, Tony, whose temperature now stood at 104.4, was placed under an oxygen tent. Manager Joe Jacobs called promoter Muggsy Taylor, who stood to lose a $200,000 gate (at least $3,285,000 in today’s money). Arriving at the hospital, he “broke down and wept.” For Tony? For himself? Let’s be generous and say both. By the next day, consensus among the doctors was that Tony wouldn’t make it. Lewis came by and later “sent a candle to St. Venantius Catholic Church, where parishioners said masses for Galento’s improvement.” (Venantius should be a favorite among boxers, given that his martyrdom included a broken jaw and knocked-out teeth.)

Vowing to “kill dat bum” (the pneumonia, not Lewis), Galento slowly but surely began to recover. He left the hospital after a month, with calls of “Bring on Joe Louis!” In his weakened condition, however, even the champ’s mother would have been more than a match for him.

“Boxing writers and critics said that Galento was through as a fighter,” writes Joseph G. Donovan in Galento the Great. “He’d never return to the ring. If he did, he’d get murdered. Pneumonia leaves such a strain on a fellow, they said. But they didn’t know the fighting heart that was Galento’s! They didn’t know this stubborn, bullish fellow, who didn’t even fear death.”

Galento lost 80 pounds while on his bed of fever and pain, but regained the weight — and then some. In his next bout, on November 14, 1938, he came in at 236 pounds (four more than when he kayoed Mann) to stop tough ham-and-egger Harry Thomas by third-round TKO at Philly’s Convention Hall. He won his next five, all by stoppage, before losing to Louis by fourth-round TKO in a championship bout at Yankee Stadium on June 28, 1939.

Pneumonia’s one thing; Joe Louis another.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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

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

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

Tony "Two-Ton" Galento -vs- Jackie Gleason | as told to Rocky Marciano (16mm Transfer)

Two Ton Tony V Jack Doyle (1951)

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  1. Clarence George 02:27am, 05/03/2016

    Thanks, Peter, very glad you liked it.  I do enjoy writing about him, as do others, our own Chuck Hasson, for instance.

    Thanks to you, as well, Bikermike, and there’s always something to learn from your characteristically colorful posts.  In fairness to our hero, however, the story that he didn’t shower for days or even weeks before a fight may not necessarily be true.  Max Baer made that claim, I know, but Tony always denied it.  And, indeed, I once came across a photo of him showering vigorously shortly before his fight with Charley Massera.  Don’t forget that he was married, and I doubt his wife would have looked favorably on his pungency.  Nor would the patrons of his bar.  I wonder, though, if he didn’t employ this noisome tactic before his fight with Baer, who said that Tony “smelled of rotten tuna and a tub of old liquor being sweated out.”  Yikes!

  2. bikermike 06:49pm, 05/02/2016

    two ton toney would never bathe..nor shower.prior to his big fights….he’d give then his armpit…in hopes that his opponent would not tangle ...and he’d whallop them with big punches…...............
    Big TIME..


  3. bikermike 06:39pm, 05/02/2016

    ....said one scribe….“TONEY,,,,??? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF SHAKESPEARE ??’

    Toney , responds..


    Trump will win

  4. bikermike 06:34pm, 05/02/2016

    two ton toney galento ..had a bar….in a tough area….
    Toney made lots more money on his bar….than on his prize fights…...but nobody could doubt his courage…nor his ‘joy of battle’....

  5. bikermike 06:13pm, 05/02/2016

    My Dad was a pharmacist…and a WWII veteran….had to replace the distilled water tank ..several times a week…..
    He’d get that five gallon glass tank from the basement of the store…run up to the main floor with this large mass on his shoulder…and ..with a small ladder..he’d replace this necessary item ..for pharmacy that time..

    Two TOn Tony would come running up the stairs ..with a keg of beer on his shoulders…...several times a night…

    besides any of Galento’ s idiosyncrasies…he was a very tough man to try to beat in a fair fight….or even not a fair fight

  6. bikermike 06:05pm, 05/02/2016

    great article usual

    Two ton TONEY….was a favorite…to the ‘everyman’  in the world.

    Strong as an ox…and tougher’n than boild whale shit…could absorb punishment ...if only to deliver those huge…AND I MEAN HUGE !!...blows from either hand…with all his weight behind them…

    Many a fighter avoided him…but couldn’t…

    I’m proud to say I am ..and always have been a fan of TOney Galento.,,,

  7. peter 05:59pm, 05/02/2016

    Galento is still alive, eating a hot dog at this very minute, and chugging a beer in the fertile crevices of Clarence George’s mind. I just wish there were more Galento photos and video of this colorful character—hence, more witty Clarence George stories. Thanks for this one, Clarence!

  8. Clarence George 12:23pm, 05/02/2016

    Vince McMahon wouldn’t look favorably on Bruno Sammartino today, Eric.  The aesthetics have changed.  “The Living Legend” was too bulky and hairy by current standards.  Remember when Sean Connery’s hairy chest was a key selling point?  No more.  My own sister-in-law told me that my chest is too hairy and that I should get it waxed.  Huh?!  Sculpted, smooth, and tanned is what’s in.  And pretty.  Dolph Ziggler is a good example.  There exceptions, sure, but relatively few.  Sammartino, by the way, weighed 265 pounds, despite being only 5’10”.  But it was all muscle.  Unbelievably strong.  Chris Taylor died very young, not surprisingly.

    I, too, would prefer if they left “Old Hickory” on the dub, but my opinion wasn’t sought.  A gross oversight.

  9. Eric 08:19am, 05/02/2016

    Clarence…Tanks for the link. Some big’uns for sure. This was before the WWWF aka WWE went for the bodybuilder look. Back in the day you had the Sammartinos and others, but a lot of rasslers tended to look more fat than buff. I say leave Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill and place a Native American icon on a 25 dollar bill, but what do I know, I’m suffering from “White Privilege.” BTW, Olympic bronze medalist, Chris Taylor was a legit wrestler who topped the scales over 400lbs back in the ‘72 games.

  10. Clarence George 07:15am, 05/02/2016

    Plenty of fat guys in baseball, Eric.  Football, too.  Not so much anymore in wrestling, Kevin Owens being one of the few exceptions.  He packs at least 265 pounds on 6’.  In the old days, of course, it was different—Haystacks Calhoun, Gorilla Monsoon, and of course Happy Humphrey, among others.  Check out the link below (the shower story is rather off-putting, I must say).

    I think it’s fair to say that Galento was both fat and burly, while Ruiz is avert-your-gaze obese.  Damn good heavyweight, though, unlike Gerald Washington and Eddie Chambers, who put on one of the worst “fights” I’ve ever seen this past Saturday.  Both men, especially Chambers, should have been disqualified for refusing to engage.

    Andrew Jackson will always be persona au gratin as far as I’m concerned.

  11. Eric 06:09am, 05/02/2016

    Baseball has had plenty of good “fat guys” through the years. Mickey Lolich, Boog Powell, Cecil & Prince Fielder, Tony Gwynn, John Kruk, David Ortiz,  just to name a few. Let’s not forget that a fat guy named, Rulon Gardner, actually tamed the Russian beast, Alexander Karelin, to take the Olympic Gold in Greco-Roman wrestling. Karelin is/was known as “The Specimen.” Karelin’s training regimen had to be seen to be believed, the guy was a monster. I think “burly” fits Galento’s physique better than labeling him fat. Andy Ruiz Jr. is the type of guy that I would call fat. BTW, can we still mention Andrew Jackson anymore? I can’t keep up with these things.

  12. Clarence George 05:45am, 05/02/2016

    Delighted you liked it, Mr. Zuckert, and excellent post.

    Are you saying that Tony was bile-inducing?  Many did indeed think so, including Joe Louis at one point, though they later became good friends.  There’s a photo of Tony feeding Louis a cocktail wiener at some shindig, which I find both amusing and endearing.  But there were plenty who truly loved him, including Jersey Joe Walcott, who was very hard-hit when Tony died.  An incomparable brawler and a unique character, I doubt he ever elicited only a shrug.  Totally unknown to today’s kids, of course, but then so’s Andrew Jackson.  Sissies and strumpets, every single one of ‘em.


    Bradford Dillman

  13. Bill Zuckert 03:54am, 05/02/2016

    Wonderful story, Mr. George. As interesting as Two Ton was as a boxer (mauler) and as a journalistic subject, my guess is he was not the most pleasant person to be around in private.  Your article, as well as the book “Two Ton,” bring to life this charismatic figure who despite being a neanderthal in private could pack quite a wallop and fill the seats with fans. He figures prominently in boxing during a crucial era for the sport. He was more than just a another colorful character in a sport where those types of people abound. It could be argued that he was a cultural con. His phrase “I’ll moider the bum” is used as often today by millenials as “You can run, but you can’t hide,” even thought they have no idea of the origins of those phrases, which speaks volumes of their social input.

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