Unbeaten Heavyweight Lee “Italian Stallion” Canalito“ The Way It Happened..
By: Ken Hissner
This writer remembers seeing Lee “Italian Stallion” Canalito fight in a couple of his twenty-one fights if memory serves me right. Good looking studd, physically fit and had Angelo Dundee in his corner.
Canalito was a lineman at Sterling H.S. in Houston, TX, and was on Parade magazine’s annual All-America H.S. Football Team in 1971. He played defensive tackle at the University of Houston for two seasons before his college football career was derailed by a knee injury. His coach Bill Yeoman at Houston said “if Lee Canalito had two good legs he would have been the best defensive college football player ever in college football.”
Canalito won the Houston Golden Gloves with only seven amateur fights. He was trained by Angelo Dundee from 1977 to 1981 when Richie Giachetti took over until 1987 when Canalito retired from boxing with a 21-0 record with 19 knockouts.
In 1978 Sylvester Stallone cast Canalito, who had never acted, to co-star in the 1978 movie Paradise Alley, which Stallone wrote and directed. He would appear in 1988 in The Glass Jungle and in 1990 in the Emperor of the Bronx. He also appeared on Magnum P.I. in their third season. He was managed by Texas millionaire Hugh Benbow and later by Stallonewhen he was 8-0 while trained by Richie Giachetti.
Canalito debuted in January of 1977 on the undercard of a Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran lightweight title defense at the Fontainbleau Hotel, in Miami Beach, FL, posting a knockout in two rounds. It would be his first of four bouts in the Sunshine State during his career. He stopped the first three opponents within two rounds before meeting then prospect Greg Sorrentino, 7-1-1, in St. Louis, MO, in May of 1977 winning a four round decision.
In 1978 starting a movie career kept him inactive for 19 months until returning to the ring in December of 1978 at the Convention Center in Miami Beach posting a first round knockout. In 1979 after scoring a first round knockout in FL, a month later he met veteran Charley Polite, 18-36-3, knocking him out in 6 rounds in Savannah, GA. He wouldn’t fight again for eight months returning at Madison Square Garden stopping Dennis Jordan, 13-7, in four rounds.
Canalito would be inactive for twenty months returning to the ring in July of 1982 scoring a third round stoppage in Atlantic City. Just eighteen days later he took on veteran southpaw Vic Brown, 29-29, and scored a first round knockout in Niles, OH. A week after that he stopped Luis Acosta, 15-5, in the first round in West Palm Beach, FL. That’s three stoppages in twenty-five days.
It would be just short of a year when Canalito returned to the ring in July of 1983 posting a first round knockout and an eight round decision over veteran James Dixon, 15-29-2, both in Atlantic City. Dixon seemed more concerned on survival than winning. Nine months later he would fight in his home city of Houston for the first time in 1984 posting three stoppages that year all in Texas.
In March of 1985 Canalito stopped Lou Benson, Jr., 15-8-2, in Atlantic City and six months later in the same Sands Casino stop Steve Zouski, 24-8, in seven rounds. In 1986 he returned to Houston scoring a seventh round knockout and eight months later stopping Dan Ramsey, 6-3, in the first round in Las Vegas.
Ten months later Canalito would end his career with a first round stoppage over Mike Jones, 4-1, in Houston in September of 1987. As you can see having only twenty-one fights over ten years meant he was a part-time boxer but had an impressive record.He was 6:05 with a high weight of 269 and a low of 239.
Canalito had five fights each in New Jersey and Texas along with four in Florida. If he would have been a full-time boxer this writer is sure he would have been a contender as he was No. 9 in the world then and a title challenger today. Upon retiring as a boxer he opened up the Lee CanalitoVIP Boxing Gym in Houston.He has provided inter-city HISD elementary, junior and senior high school after school boxing and fitness programs.
“He retired from football and was just starting to box when I met him. Great guy and a fun guy,” said Termite Watkins.
KEN HISSNER: After your football career came to an end at Univ. of Houston is that when you turned to boxing and if not when?
LEE CANALITO: Came along with a friend who was competing in the Golden Gloves. Won novice and open went to Nationals and won 2 fights and hurt my hand and had to withdraw.
KEN HISSNER: Your trainer Angelo Dundee I’m sure was high on you. When did you switch over to Richie Giachetti?
LEE CANALITO: Angelo saw me in the Gloves and contacted me. He was the best one to communicate with me. He never yelled but the rest of the trainers did and I didn’t need that. I had 8 fights and we parted in a good way. When Stallone took over as my manager that is when he brought Richie in to train me.
KEN HISSNER: How was your fight with Greg Sorrentino?
LEE CANALITO: I had a swollen knee but took the fight and he was hard to hit. I only had a couple days of sparring.I felt I won and was in charge.
KEN HISSNER: After having 4 fights in your initial start in 1977 you had a 19 month gap until your next fight the end of 1978. What happened?
LEE CANALITO: A fight with Gerry Cooney fell through when they didn’t accept the offer.
KEN HISSNER: In 1982 your wins over Vic Brown and Luis Acosta were good wins. A win over James Dixon in 1983 was another good win. 1984 was a 2-0 nothing year and 1985 you came up with another good pair of wins. Did your acting career take away from your boxing career?
LEE CANALITO: Acosta fight he had many fans there. Dixon did nothing but run.
KEN HISSNER: Your last two fights were good wins. What made you finally retire from boxing?
LEE CANALITO: I lost interest. There were too many fights falling through and too many broken promises.
KEN HISSNER: I know you opened a gym called Lee Canalito V.I.P.Gym. How is that? I’m sure you probably had more non-boxers than boxers in order to make any money doing it.
LEE CANALITO: Most favorite thing is holding pads especially with kids. When you work with non-boxers you get paid regularly unlike you do with boxers.
KEN HISSNER: Any funny stories you can talk about?
LEE CANALITO: When I was with Angelo in Miami Ali was there. In the dressing room he said let’s do this for the reporters out in the gym. He started banging on the lockers and yelling “I’m the Greatest”. He told me to go out and shadow box like we are mad with each other. We did just that and he was yelling and then stopped. He was one of the funniest people. I thought he was the best heavyweight of all time and I was glad to have sparred with him several times. I also sparred with Riddick Bowe and Tyrell Biggs and I felt I held my own. I’m not saying it in a bragging way.
KEN HISSNER: What was your feeling prior to waiting for the opening bell of a fight?
LEE CANALITO: I sized the opponent up and when we started boxing I showed him respect but when you get hit you react. I believe you should treat people with respect.
KEN HISSNER: Lee do you attend a church?
LEE CANALITO: Yes I do and I believe strongly in God. I attend St. Mary Queen Catholic church as often as I can.
KEN HISSNER: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer questions and wish you all the success in the world in the future.
LEE CANALITO: It was my pleasure talking to you Ken.