TALES ABOUT LIGHTWEIGHTS
Part Two — Eye-Talians and Eye-Poppers
By Angelo Prospero Jr.
Frankie Ryff and Orlando Zulueta put on a furious fight that won “Fight of the Year” honors in 1954. Ryff came on fast in the closing rounds to cop the verdict, but paid a price requiring 36 stitches after the fight. After his career, Ryff fell several stories down an elevator shaft on a construction job. He was given up for dead but after a long hospitalization and therapy made a miraculous recovery. Ryff never made it to the championship, but few ever displayed as much courage in life’s everyday battles.
At one time the division was loaded with Italian champs and challengers. In addition to Rocky Kansas, Lou Ambers, Tony Canzoneri, Tippy Larkin, Sammy Angott and Sammy Mandell, Italian contenders abounded such as Al Mello, Pete Lello, Nick Castiglione, Tony Janiro, Aldo Spoldi, Ed Giosa, Al Guido, Billy Petrolle, Al Nattlow, Nick Cammarata, Paul DeBello, Enrico Venturi, Red Guggino, Angelo Radano, Patsy Giovanelli, Rocco Lescio, John Virgo and Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini.
Jimmy Carter was a hard-punching champion who won and lost the title on a couple of occasions. He upset Ike Williams, then lost and regained his title against Lauro Salas and Paddy DeMarco before finally losing to wallace “Bud” Smith. Salas made one of the all-time forgettable remarks when interviewed after winning the title. The TV announcer asked him how it felt to be champion of the world. Lauro shocked the listening audience by shouting, “I’m champeen of Mexico.”
Carlos Ortiz also lost and then regained his title. He beat “Old Bones” Joe Brown, lost to Ismael Laguna and beat him to become kingpin again. The fist Laguna-Ortiz bout was the first title contest ever held in Panama. Later, Carlos ran for political office in New York City, but lost. He also tried an ill-advised comeback against Ken Buchanan and lost that too.
Jimmy McLarnin started as a bantamweight and rose to be welterweight champion but lost out on the lightweight title, the one he wanted the most, when he was outpointed in fifteen rounds by Sammy Mandell. He later beat Mandell twice in non-title fights. Jimmy was superb in return bouts, beating beating Barney Ross, Tony Canzoneri, Ray Miller and Billy Petrolle.
Henry Armstrong won the feather and welter titles before winning the lightweight crown from Lou Ambers in a blodd-filled fight. Hurricane Hank had to swallow a lot of his own blood due to a nasty gash inside his mouth. He just about finished the 15 rounds. The return bout when Ambers regained his laurels was a foul-filled affair with Armstrong, losing five rounds due to low blows.
Sammy Angott was a deceptively difficult style that was tough to fathom. He didn’t look classy, but he was a winner. He had all divisions in making comebacks. Sam is best noted for stopping Willie Pep’s long unbeaten skein. He was stopped only once, by Beau Jack. After losing twice to Ike Williams, he scored the major upset of 1945 by stopping Ike, breaking his rib in the process.
Sugar Ray Robinson started his career as a lightweight in 1940 and was unbeaten, quickly running out of opponents. After winning his 21st straight fight against Angott, he went after the welterweights.
Ike Williams was a dynamite puncher who won a share of the crown with a two-round knockout of Juan Zurita in Mexico City in 1945. His destruction of the hjometown favorite caused fans to riot and and Ike had to hide under the ring until police quieted the unruly mob. Williams won the undisputed title in 1947 by kayoing his one-time conqueror, Bob Montgomery. Bob had stopped Ike’s 32-fight win streak three years previous.
NEXT: Sometimes the end is rough