|Tuesday, September 29, 1992|
THE FIGHT CROWD
Boxing show draws characters in and out of ring
By Lenny Megliola
WALTHAM — The faces. These are the faces you'd feel good about going to war with. The front lines. Hand-to-hand combat. These faces.
A relatively small but distinctive boxing crowd pulled into the swanky Vista International Hotel last night for a night of pro fights. A Johnny Gagliardi production. Gagliardi is 52 years old and used to do business with Subway Sam Silverman, the high priest of New England fight promotion. "I'm the most active promoter in New England," says Gagliardi. "Since 1978 I've done 100 shows." It's a sidelight, though. The boxing game is on a resuscitator. So what does Johnny Gag do to pay the bills? "I do some commodities," he says vaguely. "Mortgaging. Whatever I can."
He had promised the crowd Muhammad Ali last night. Sixty bucks got you a free cocktail, hors d'oeuvres and a glimpse of the champ. Except the champ's in a Hilton Head hospital. Sixty bucks and no Ali. Johnny Gag knew this could be a rough night.
Before the first bout, which starts half an hour late, ring announcer Johnny Tuberoso begins with "John Gagliardi Celebrity Boxing, in conjunction with the Muhammad Ali Foundation..."
"Where is he?" screams a voice from the crowd.
"We apologize," says Tuberoso. "Ali's not doing too well physically."
Earlier in the evening, as the crowd started coming into the Eden Vale Ballroom, Gagliardi was asked about Ali's absence. "There's nothing I can do," he says. "His being sick has been in all the papers. I tried to get (Larry) Holmes." Tuberoso says he tried to get Jake LaMotta.
No Ali? Gagliardi's sweating.
With Ali, he would have had a bigger crowd, of course. Most of the would-be patrons chose to leave when informed at the box office that the Greatest would not be in attendance. During one of the bouts, a writer sayss to Johnny Gags, so what's the house, about 200?
Gags rolls his eyes. "It's like a disaster. I don't even want to hear about it right now."
Clearly, it's a night when everyone's going to lose money except the Vista.
Gagliardi at least hopes the fights will be smashing successes, but the first bout is over after barely one smash. The blow didn't look like it could have disturbed a fly. Heavyweight Arthur Saribekian threw it and Peter Vorias received it and fell down. Vorias goes by the nickname Spartan Lightning. The bout was over 42 seconds after it started.
"Give it up, son, give it up!" a fan yells at Vorias.
What a crowd, what a crowd!
Gagliardi says, "The first fight was crappy, but you're going to see some good fights now."
This better be true. Those who chose to stay, Ali or no Ali, better see something for their sixty clams, these hard-working or unemployed guys with S-shaped noses suggesting they'd done some fighting, too.
There are some lesser celebrities here. North End hero and former welterweight champion of the world Tony DeMarco looks in better shape than Peter Vorias, though he's 40 years older. Newton pol and ex-pug Joe DeNucci is here, but it is the people around DeMarco and DeNucci that really catch your eye, although when Tom McNeeley goes up to DeNucci, cups his head and kisses him genuinely, well, you couldn't help notice that.
But fighters are different from you and me. The fighters who don't see each other often are famous for kissing each other real good because they're real tough and don't have to prove it. They're cut from another cloth, having chosen throwing killer punches and ducking them for a living.
They kiss because they survived in a world only they understand, the scarred eyebrows and crooked noses they'll take to their graves reminders of what they once did.
A young, slightly punchy young man comes up to DeMarco. "Tony!" he says. "Remember me?" You can see DeMarco doesn't.
"I'm one of Johnny Gag's fighters!"
"How ya doin'?" says DeMarco. "Oh, doing OK," says the kid. "Hangin' in dare."
No smoking is allowed in the main ballroom (gold-trimmed mauve seats) where the fights are held, but there's a bar in the foyer and if this is a fight crowd, and it most definitely is, somebody's got to be smoking cigars out there. Nobody smokes cigars like the fight crowd. It's not so much the way they finger the cigars or even puff them, it just how natural they look with them. These guys ain't your average businessman.
Which brings us to this. Why did Johnny Gags choose the Vista on top of Prospect Hill for a fight night? "I'm trying to stay away from smoky arenas," he says. "Get away from the bummy people and appeal to the businessman."
Excuse us, Gags, but this is not that kind of business man crowd you've got here.
One of the nicest guys, however, is a slight fella (well, after all, he used to be a featherweight) named Sam Santillo. Sam's wearing a pink-stripe shirt with a yellow hankie in the breast pocket. He's got a fedora, a bandaged left hand ("My cat wounded me," he says) and the attention of two lovely ladies. Sam's 75 years old.
Johnny Most is here, too, a ringside guest. He gets the warmest ovation of the night. "I used to announce fights for Sam Silverman," says Most. He used to do the same at Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway Arena, one of the most famous fight arenas in the country back in the 50's and 60's. "I had the Floyd Patterson-Hurricane Jackson fight there," says Most.
He also mentions that he and DeMarco are cousins by marriage now. "I've known Tony for 30 years," says Most. "He used to tell me the secret of fighting was 'Stick, stick! Jab, jab! And keep your ass off the floor."
Most's wife, a wonderful woman named Roberta, is a stunning vision in purple this evening.
In the ring, the fight Gagliardi prays for finally happens. George Heckley of Chelsea and Mike Tilton of Lowell stage one of the greatest fights no one ever saw. The super middleweights explode brutal shots to the jaw and ribs for four rounds. Just when you thought one of them was going down for the count, he'd suddenly get a second wind and start landing haymakers of his own. It ended, fittingly, in a draw.
It was Heckley's pro debut and only Tilton's first fight. If they live, they'll be crowd pleasers. "I'm going over and personally congratulate both of them," says Gagliardi, who used to pick opponents for Marvin Hagler. His assessment of the marvelous one? "He was the worst middleweight champ in history. He was just lucky. He fought all smaller guys."
The fourth bout brings Medfield's Peter McNeeley out to fight Van Dorsey. McNeeley, Tom's son, calls himself Hurricane because he had his first fight about the time Hurricane Bob blew a few doors off. Dorsey is a sub. McNeeley was supposed to fight Jimmy Harrison, but Harrison was the victim of a training injury a couple of days before the bout..
A guy named Angie, who knows everything about this shady business, tells a couple of writers that Dorsey "spent more time on the scale at the weigh-in than he'll spend in the ring" with McNeeley.
He's right. About 15 seconds into the fight, McNeeley hits Dorsey with a huge left hook and Dorsey hits the canvas. He takes a nine count, gets up on Jell-o legs, gets punched again, and falls again. "He can't even walk!" Dorsey's cornerman screams at the ref. "Stop it for chrissakes! McNeeley's gonna kill him!"
They stop it. Sixty-two seconds. Another quick one, but McNeeley's big punching power is exciting to watch. McNeeley, who turns 24 in a couple of weeks, is 10-0 but seven of his fights have ended in the first round. He needs work. He clearly has some talent and he needs better opponents. Later, McNeeley said the kid actually hurt him somewhat with a body punch. Kid? Dorsey looks like he's pushing 40, although too many beatings like this could age a man long before his time.
So how much will McNeeley make for this? "You mean what I'm supposed to make or what I'll really get?" says McNeeley. "I'm supposed to get $100 a round. But that's usually negotiable after the fight when it goes like this." A fight that didn't even go a round. It's doubtful the kid will get his due.
Ahh, it's a great business. Anyway, you should have seen the brunette with the black leather skirt that barely covered an eighth of her thighs. And the guy in the dark Vegas suit making a call on his own cellular phone. And the guy who looked like Mickey Rourke. And the woman with the big blonde hair that looked like the sun rolling at you. And the...
What a crowd!
This story ran on page 1D of The Middlesex Daily News on 09/29/92