Wallace Cross: Sparring Partner and Pallbearer

By Clarence George on October 14, 2016
Wallace Cross: Sparring Partner and Pallbearer
After quitting the ring, Wally hung out at Sam Magee's Ringside Gym in Orange, N.J.

Galento died of a heart attack on July 22, 1979, just three months before Wallace Cross was made a fellow inductee of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame…

“It’ll be just like the good old days, once more.”—Tony Galento

According to an Associated Press story of August 25, 1977, “Tony Galento, once a top contender for the heavyweight championship of the world, is fighting the toughest bout of his life.” Two months before, Galento’s left leg had been amputated below the knee, the only way to deal with the aging (67-year-old) diabetic’s circulatory problems, which had resulted in a massive infection.

“Tony’s been a real inspiration to everyone here [the New Jersey Rehabilitation Hospital in East Orange],” the article quoted Dr. Terry Carle. “He’s always laughing and joking with the other patients. Visitors often will come up to him for an autograph or to talk about his famous bout with Joe Louis.”

“A lot of money has gone through Galento’s hands since he fought his first professional fight in 1928,” the article continued. “His tavern is closed and Galento has retired. Although he has some savings left, the hospital bills are heavy and Galento’s friends plan a testimonial dinner in his honor Saturday night [August 27] at Biase’s Restaurant in Newark.”

Good friends on the dais included Jersey Joe Walcott and the legendary Joe Louis, whom Tony managed to put down before getting himself well and truly shellacked in their championship bout 38 years before. Also present was Wallace Cross, a tough 1940s heavyweight who’d been one of Louis’ favorite sparring partners. Many a tear was shed when the two old warriors met again at long last that hot August night.

No doubt that Cross was among “an outstanding group of sparring partners,” as Louis biographer Randy Roberts described them. But was he also the one who liked to dance? When renowned trainer Eddie Futch, who also sparred with Louis (“Even if he didn’t hit you much, just blocking those shots was like being in an automobile accident”), visited the great man’s training camp in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey (“He was regal in his approach to being the heavyweight champion of the world. He was like a king”), he noted that, “The townspeople there naturally took to him with open arms. But some of his sparring partners liked to dance, especially one guy. Joe was afraid that this fellow and some of the others might abuse the town’s hospitality. So one day Joe told ‘em, ‘When you fellows go into town, you’re going to act like gentlemen. Or you’ve got me to answer to.’”

Born in either Cape Charles, Virginia, or Orange, New Jersey (sources differ), on March 11, 1922, Wally had been a very successful amateur before turning pro on December 2, 1940. His first opponent was game Joe O’Gatty, who got knocked out in the sixth at Newark’s Laurel Garden. Cross fought out of that city (or maybe East Orange) until 1945, winding up with a record of 23 wins, 12 by knockout, 21 losses, nine by knockout, and three draws, an average of about nine or 10 fights a year.

Cross fought some tough lads, including Wild Bill Boyd, stopping him by fifth-round TKO at Laurel Garden on January 20, 1941 (Boyd knocked down four times); Al Delaney (though an early victim of Louis, he later beat Galento), who twice won on points, that March 17 and April 7, before losing the same way, that May 12, all at Laurel Garden; Buddy Knox, who outpointed him at Newark’s Meadowbrook Bowl that June 23; Ted Wint, whom he outpointed at the same venue that July 21 and at Laurel Garden on January 5, 1942, and against whom he drew at Twin City Bowl in Elizabeth, New Jersey, that August 6; Freddie Fiducia, who won by fourth-round TKO at Meadowbrook Bowl on August 18, 1941; Johnny Flynn, who twice stopped him by fifth-round TKO, first at Laurel Garden that December 1, then at Madison Square Garden on May 26, 1944; Lee Savold, who knocked him out in the ninth at Laurel Garden on March 23, 1942; Johnny Shkor, who won on points at the Mechanics Building in Boston that April 10; Larry Lane, who drew against him at Laurel Garden that May 4 and who knocked him out in the eighth at the same venue that November 9 (Lane kayoed power-punching Lem Franklin, who later died as a result); Al Hart, who knocked him out in the second at the Meadowbrook Bowl that June 15 and who won by majority decision at Turner’s Arena in DC on April 5, 1943; never-stopped Adam Spencer, whom he outpointed at Laurel Garden on September 14, 1942, and at the Garden that November 27; “slam-bang heavyweight” Al Boros, whom he outpointed at Scott Hall in Elizabeth that October 1; war hero Joe Muscato, whom he knocked out in the second at Laurel Garden that October 19; Pat Comiskey, who stopped him by seventh-round TKO at the same venue on February 8, 1943; Tony Musto, whom he outpointed at Dexter Park Arena in Woodhaven, Queens, that June 14; Curtis Sheppard, who won by first-round TKO at the Coliseum in Baltimore that October 4; never-stopped Howard Thompson, who won by split decision at the Mechanics Building that December 10; Lee Oma, who outpointed him at the Garden on February 25, 1944; Willie Reddish, who won on points at the Olympia A.C. in Philly that March 2; and, in his last fight, Clent Conway, who knocked him out in the first at the Casino in Fall River, Massachusetts, on February 22, 1945.

After quitting the ring, Wally, “a quiet, unassuming gentleman,” hung out at Sam Magee’s Ringside Gym in Orange, teaching young’uns how to toss leather. It was there that a young Ron Lipton (a ref since 1991) made the acquaintance of a middle-aged Tony Galento. Lipton was sparring with Sugar Cliff Ryan, “whose back was made out of steel cables.”

Smoking a cigar, per uje, “Two Ton” comes over to the ring. Lipton knew all about him. Elmer “Shrimp” Palardy, a West Orange police captain and tough amateur champ, told him that “the two hardest hitters he had ever seen in his life, bar none, was Frankie Zamoris, who stopped Melio Bettina in two, and Tony Galento, whose left hook would actually kill you if he kept landing it solid before the ref could save a man.”

Lipton did indeed find him “a rough and scary man, an absolute fearless animal, who you would have to kill with an axe to stop on the street. He ruined another local fighter, crippling him for life, a nice man by the name of Don Petrin.”

Wanting to show him a trick or two, Galento, who “made Fritzie Zivic look like a fairy,” hands his lit cigar to a still-gloved Lipton. Taking off his jacket, “this old fat man with slits for eyes wallops this heavy, and I do mean hard-as-a-rock, bag hanging there with a left hook, bare knuckles, and it made me shudder.”

“The punch would have killed me dead on the spot,” relates Lipton. “It was so vicious, fast, and hard that to this day it seemed to me harder than David Tua’s hook, who I refereed twice up close. That bag almost broke in half, it doubled the bag in midair, and we had some mean-hitting heavyweights in that gym that could punch, and they never came close to what this little fat man did while drunk, out of shape, and old, let alone without warming up.”

Sonny Liston? “Galento’s hooks was harder, trust me.”

Rocky Marciano vs. Tony Galento? “It would be a bloodbath.”

Boxing tales are, of course, very much like their fish counterparts — mercifully devoid of anything so antiseptic as facts. There’s no confirmation, for instance, of Galento “crippling” Petrin, though he did loathe him (Petrin once spat in his face), meting out an “unmerciful beating” and winning on points in their third encounter (their first two bouts ended in draws). Also, while Zamoris did indeed once kayo Bettina, it was in the sixth, not the second (Bettina outpointed him two weeks later). Still, Lipton’s depiction of Galento is anything but implausible.

The man honored that August evening in 1977 died of a heart attack at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, New Jersey, on July 22, 1979, age 69, shortly after his right leg was amputated, and just three months before Cross was made a fellow inductee of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, on October 14 (Galento had been inducted on June 14, 1970). Along with fellow Garden State boxers Mario Centi, Freddie Cochrane, Tippy Larkin, Jack Benito, and Ernie Durando, Wally served as pallbearer. A devastated Jersey Joe escorted Tony’s widow, Mary, into Orange’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. An ailing “Brown Bomber” wasn’t there. He didn’t know Tony had died. No one had the heart to tell him.

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  1. Clarence George 08:00am, 10/17/2016

    Thanks, Bill, so glad you liked it.

    Ideally, avoiding any kind of punch altogether, which has always been my policy.

  2. Bill Angresano 07:14am, 10/17/2016

                Great article SO colorful ! And the importance of ROLLING with a punch, err the left HOOK !!!!!!

  3. Clarence George 06:15pm, 10/16/2016

    And Joe Frazier, Peter.

    I recall reading somewhere that a heavyweight’s fist can pulverize a concrete block one and a half inches thick.  And that’s more or less average.  Imagine what a Dempsey, Louis, or Foreman is capable of.  It’s why I think they should do away with gloves, which are intended to protect the hands, not the head.  A boxer with unprotected hands won’t risk breaking them on heads, which would greatly reduce the frequency of eye damage, dementia pugilistica, and ring deaths.

  4. peter 05:12pm, 10/16/2016

    Tua, Cooney, Henry Cooper, Galento—all lethal left hookers. I recall someone gauged the force of Henry Cooper’s left hook by having Cooper hit an inflated balloon. The force was equivalent to a few tons.

  5. Clarence George 04:15pm, 10/16/2016

    Yeah, Eric, a tiger would rarely, if ever, come out on top against a bear.

    Several years ago, a hunter almost wound up fined and/or imprisoned for killing what he thought was a polar bear, and which he was licensed to hunt.  Despite being white, the bear had a hump and other grizzly characteristics.  According to DNA tests, it was neither one nor the other, but both.  The first such hybrid discovered in the wild.

  6. Eric 02:12pm, 10/16/2016

    Clarence….There was a show a few years back about hypothetical animal matchups. I think the name of the show was, “Animal Face-Off.” Really can’t see why anyone would favor the gorilla over a Kodiak bear, or even a grizzly for that matter. An average adult male gorilla is going to top the scales about 4-500 hundred pounds while a Kodiak is enormous. I think one of the matchups was a Russian brown bear vs. a Siberian Tiger and if I remember right, the bear won the matchup. Interesting thing happening with polar bears and kind of ironic actually. Male grizzly bears are wondering into the polar bear’s territory and breeding with female polar bears. I believe the Washington Post ran an article stating that the polar bear population is being threatened by the grizzlies mating with polar bears. I kid you not.

  7. Clarence George 01:40pm, 10/16/2016

    By the way, there used to be real-life matches (usually arranged by bored cowboys or prospectors) between grizzlies and fighting bulls.  The bear almost always won, often by shattering the neck or skull of the bull.  Imagine the power.  There very few land animals (the rhino comes to mind) that a grizzly, particularly a Kodiak, couldn’t take, and that includes the moose.  A grizzly will rarely attack a full-grown male moose, which is quite the dangerous animal, but will come out on top if and when he does.

  8. Clarence George 01:05pm, 10/16/2016

    I wonder if this business of knocking out horses started with Mongo (Alex Karras) doing exactly that in the grossly overrated “Blazing Saddles.”

    Anyway, I’m reminded (though I’m not really sure why) of a popular mythical match-up:  Kodiak vs. Gorilla.  I’m amazed at the number of people who go with the gorilla.  A Kodiak is bigger, stronger, heavier, and has claws and more formidable fangs.  Also, he’s a no-nonsense and ill-tempered predator, which the gorilla is not.  That said, a gorilla’s strength is almost beyond belief.  Either Galento or Tua (or both together) would be mulch for the gorilla’s nest in very short order.

  9. Eric 11:45am, 10/16/2016

    Irish…Sounds like the type of guy that I would be honored to call neighbor. As for him being a little out there, that’s alright, I get along best with those type of people. Have a pleasant Sunday afternoon, my friend.

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:36am, 10/16/2016

    Eric-There’s a grizzled old bugger that lives up the road from me. He reminds me of Barney Google because his wife divorced him because he liked Coors way too much and now he’s living with his horse. He has “Support Your Local Police” and “Impeach Obama” bumper stickers plastered all over his pickup. Every time we chat he seems a little further out there. He open carries a Colt Model 1911 and if he ever sees anyone sucker punching a horse I don’t want to anywhere around.

  11. Eric 10:22am, 10/16/2016

    Irish….I think I read that Duran allegedly knocked out a horse. Hell, Duran had a hard enuff time knocking out welterweights much less horses. Also remember reading that Duran would take cats by the tail and sling them up against a wall. As an animal lover, I was disgusted about this side of Manos de Piedra.

  12. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:52am, 10/16/2016

    Horses are a very close runner up to dogs as man’s very best friend. Who in the name of God would sucker punch a horse for a stupid publicity stunt?! It simply boggles the mind. Try sucker punching a chimp and you’ll get your friggin’ face chewed off!

  13. Clarence George 09:20am, 10/16/2016

    Fair enough, Eric, but I made it clear in the article that Lipton’s colorful tale needs to be taken with a grain of salt or two (true of pretty much all boxing tales).  I nevertheless find his take on Galento, for both good and ill, far more plausible than not.  As for his opinions—that Galento’s hook was harder than Tua’s, for instance—one can’t do much more than agree or disagree.  After all, there’s obviously no definitive answer.  In any event, the opinion is hardly preposterous.

  14. Eric 06:33am, 10/16/2016

    Those heavy bag stories are every bit as amusing as the knocking out horses and cows stories. No doubt that Galento had some TNT in his mitts, but me thinks he doesn’t rank on the same level in terms of punching power with Liston or Tua. We have all heard the story about Bruce Lee sending a 300lb heavy bag to the ceiling with a side kick. No way in hell did that happen, especially from a 135lb man. Have heard that Marciano hit a 300lb bag on occasion, but I can’t even see Foreman’s punches having that much effect on a bag that large.

  15. Clarence George 08:50am, 10/15/2016

    Completely agree, Irish (though that’s a very possible explanation for what happened to Jean).  In fact, there’s nothing remotely suspicious about Dorothy’s actions that day.  Her parents demonstrated supreme stupidity in not reporting her disappearance to the police until weeks after she went missing.

  16. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:27am, 10/15/2016

    Clarence George-Thanks for the info on Dorothy Arnold. IMO her actions that fateful day don’t portray a young woman on her way to an appointment with a backstreet abortionist.

  17. Clarence George 06:15am, 10/15/2016

    In fairness to the LAPD, Irish, I think they made a real effort to find Jean.  In fact, I believe the case is still open, even though she disappeared in 1949.  Without accusing him, I think Kirk Douglas (who turns 100 in December) behaved very oddly and suspiciously at the time.

    Disappearances are often very difficult to solve, sometimes impossible.  I’d put the NYPD up against any law enforcement agency in the world, but they never cracked the truly extraordinary case of socialite Dorothy Arnold, who went missing in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue (or perhaps in Central Park) in December 1910, never to be seen again.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:24am, 10/15/2016

    Clarence George-They claim that here is a “missing white woman syndrome” kinda’ like the damsel in distress, especially if they are young and beautiful. The population of LA when Jean went missing was almost 2,000,000 but I get the impression that with all things considered, the LAPD of that era wasn’t up to the standards of the NYPD.

  19. Clarence George 06:50pm, 10/14/2016

    Perfectly plausible, Irish.  That sort of thing happened all the time, and there’s no reason to assume that Cross was some sort of choirboy.  But given that many of his losses came at the hands of fighters who were, by any reasonable standard, his superior— guys like Lee Savold, Pat Comiskey, Curtis Sheppard, Lee Oma, and Willie Reddish—I think it’s at least equally plausible that his losses were legit.  We’ll never know, of course.  But, then, what happened to Jean Spangler will also likely remain a mystery.  Hey, whaddya gonna do?

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:14pm, 10/14/2016

    Clarence George-I believe that you alluded to this before….that to many of these guys this was a job and many were living paycheck to paycheck….so, if a fighter was fighting once a month, for all practical purposes he had steady income. I’ve always had the suspicion that for guys like Cross who probably knew in his heart that the golden ring would always be out of reach for him….that a loss here and there, for a dark complected fellow like himself in the early Forties,  just might mean more paydays in the long run.

  21. Clarence George 07:45am, 10/14/2016

    Thank you, Irish, but—ha!—how delightfully suspicious you are.  No disrespect whatsoever to tough Wally Cross, but I just don’t think he was that good.  After all, a solid amateur background doesn’t necessarily prefigure an equally solid pro career.

  22. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:23am, 10/14/2016

    Clarence George-Another breath of fresh air! Still…I look at the photo above and I read about a “very successful amateur career” then I see all of the KO losses and then I think of the times and then I think about a “sparring partner mentality” and I wonder.

  23. Clarence George 05:45am, 10/14/2016

    So glad you liked it, Norm, thanks very much.

    Thank you, Mr. Anderson.  Yes, in researching Cross, I was delighted to find connections with Louis and Galento.  I like angles.


    Kelly Thordsen

  24. Herb Anderson 04:35am, 10/14/2016

    There were actually three stories in one, in these heartfelt tales of Wallace Cross, Two Ton and Joe Louis. Very touching and soulful. Nice work, Mr. George., as usual.

  25. Norm Marcus 04:16am, 10/14/2016

    Another great article Clarence! Puts the reader right there in the story.

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