By Pat McElligot
Luigi D’Ambrosio was born on November 8, 1913 in Herkimer, NY. Herkimer is a small town, with little in the way of recreation for its young people. So, being born into a large family, including five brothers, D’Ambrosio learned to fight at a young age. he learned to box in the basement of the St. Anthony’s Church, and developed a long-lasting relationship with Father Gustave Purificato. Father Purificato would go to all of Luigi’s fights, even after he eventually turned pro and became famous as Lou Ambers.
On May 10, 1935, after losing only one of 48 fights, Ambers fought in an elimination bout for the lightweight title vacated by Barney Ross. He had earlier served as a sparring partner for his opponent, Tony Canzoneri. Tony was too much for Lou that night, and won a fifteen-round decision.
The Herkimer Hurricane defeated future welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic in July 1935. This was before Zivic had made deep inroads toward his own particular greatness. Fritzie broke Ambers’ jaw in the seventh round, but Lou continued on to win the fight. “That’s when you’re in good shape,” Lou later recalled, “when you can go on when there’s something wrong.”
In 1936, Ambers defeated former junior welterweight champ Frankie Click, Mexican Baby Arizmendi and Tony Scarpati. Tony dies following the fight from injuries he received, and the young Ambers wanted to quit fighting. Manager Al Weill talked him into continuing his career, and in his next bout, Lou fought in the same Coney Island ring in a benefit bout for Tony’s family.
Then in September, the Herkimer Hurricane won the lightweight title from Canzoneri. In November, he lost a non-title bout to former welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin. Lou later said that Lou was the hardest puncher he ever faced. Even Al Weill admitted, “It was a mistake to fight.”
1937 was an easy year for the champ. In May, he defended his crown against Canzoneri, and again in September defended it against Pedro Montanez. At this point his many fans thought he was unbeatable.
But then, on August 17, 1938, he defended against Hammerin’ Hank Armstrong. The New York fight grossed $102,280, with a crowd of 18,240. Ambers’ share was just over $32,565, while Henry got $19,540.
It was a furious fight, with Armstrong attacking the body, and Ambers surprisingly electing to slug it out with him. Lou was decked in both the fifth and sixth round and almost again in the 14th. He was also covered with blood, but it was Armstrong who ended up with 15 stitches in his mouth.
Although Hank lost three rounds on low blows, he still captured a split decision. One judge had it 8-7 Ambers; the other 8-6-1 for Henry. And the ref, who incidentally only had to break clinches twice during the entire fight, had it 7-6-2 for Armstrong.
Lou and his family took the defeat well. Ambers was always a gentleman. But unfortunately, the local press in Herkimer and Utica did not react the same way. Reflecting the sentiments of the large Italian population, an outrage was rampant. They felt their man had won.
Meanwhile, AP reporter Harry Ferguson was more realistic about the fight, scoring it 8-5-2 for Armstrong, noting that he outpunched Ambers eight to one in close, and never took a step backwards. Besides decking Lou twice early, in the 14th he had Ambers “reeling across the ring, staggering crazily, but keeping his feet.”
Ambers had to wait a year and five days for vindication. he became the first man to regain the lightweight title from the same man he lost it to. In this fight, Armstrong lost five rounds on low blows! Lou ended Homicide Hank’s win streak of 46 in a row.
On October 5, 1939, Lou married hometown girl Margaret “Tootsie” Celio in Herkimer.
Then, on May 10, 1940, Lew Jenkins, a storm out of Texas, stopped Ambers in the third round. Jenkins decked Lou three times in the third, so Al Weill threw in the towel. After the bout, Ed Van Every, boxing expert for the New York Sun, revealed that Ambers had been rushed to a hospital a few days before the fight to prevent impairment of a kidney. Lou was having great difficulty making the weight, and starved himself several days before the bout so he wouldn’t come in over the weight.
In February 1941, Ambers beat Norment Quarles in a tuneup for his return bout with Lew Jenkins. Ambers now fought as a welterweight, and was hoping for a shot at that crown if he could beat Jenkins.
But two weeks later, Lew stopped him in seven rounds. This time, Lou was decked three times in the seventh, and referee Arthur Donovan stopped it.
Ambers had been slightly ahead before the bout was stopped, as he was reluctant to retire. This time, Al Weill talked him into it. he was well off financially, because Weill had always looked out for him.
Lou Ambers was credited with 102 fights, though he had many more. He won 88 of these, with 29 knockouts. He had eight losses, with Lew Jenkins being the only man ever to stop him. Four of the men who were lucky enough to get decisions over him fought him again, and were defeated in return. He also boxed six draws.
Lou Ambers was famous for being very close to his mother. In fact, after every bout, both in the amateurs and the pros, Lou would call his mother to assure her he was okay. He was also known to sing his favorite song in the dressing room after his fights, and that song was “I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad.” Not only was Lou a great fighter, he was also a very talented musician.
Ambers died on April 24, 1995, three years after having been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.