In this corner…

By Michael Tilelli
April 3, 2003

Mike Tilelli

“From chump to champ!” Those were the words used by Joey Giardello to explain the first fifteen years of his boxing career. As far back as he could remember, Carmine Tilelli, better known as Joey Giardello, always wanted to be a fighter. Born in Brooklyn, on July 16th, 1930, Giardello was always known as a fighter. Everyday after school he would challenge some one to a fight. He fought for his brothers, and to let everyone in his neighborhood know he was the boss.

As Carmine grew older, his reputation as a fighter grew larger and larger. Fighting came natural to him and his will to win was insurmountable. By the age of sixteen, Carmine was bored with the neighborhood and felt that it was time to move on, so he followed in the footsteps of his older brothers and joined the Army. Although he was to young to join the Army, he got a fake I.D. and went by the name Joey Giardello. He soon joined the 82nd airborne and fell in love with the army life. He loved the training, but most of all he loved jumping out of planes. Although he loved the Army, it was soon found out that he was to young to serve, and he was asked to leave.

Although he was disappointed, Carmine kept his faith in God and moved to Philadelphia. Since he did not have a lot of money, he was left with no other option than to become a professional fighter. In 1948 in Trenton, the career of Joey Giardello began with no amateur experience. His first fight was a four round fight that paid him twenty-five dollars. A natural to the sport, Giardello started taking fights whenever he could. He would fight two or more times a month, and his reputation began to grow as he won his first twenty. The thing that amazed many was that Giardello was not much of a trainer. He would run and work out, but not as much as other fighters. While in Philadelphia Giardello met Rosalie Monzo and the two quickly fell in love. This was the turning point in Giardello’s career, because he got married, and like every other man he wanted to give his wife everything she wanted.

The newly married Giardello, was focused and ready to go. He was quickly building a fan base in Philadelphia and at the same time he began climbing the ranks of the middleweight division. In the 1950’s there was an abundance of great fighters in the middleweight division. Everyone from Gene Fullmer, Henry Hank, Dick Tiger, and “Sugar” Ray Robinson wanted to be champion; these men fought for pride and championships. In this era fighters didn’t make that much money because there was no Pay-Per-View or HBO. There was no pre- fight build up to put people in the seats, it was just boxing to be number one.

Giardello fit in perfectly with all of these fighters. He was determined to become one of the greats. Rapidly climbing the ranks with his counter- punching style, Giardello was looking for his chance to fight for the title, and finally, in 1960 he got a chance to fight Gene Fullmer for the championship. It was a lopsided fifteen round fight that Giardello was believed to have won, but the decision ended up being a draw. Giardello was very disappointed by the decision and was unable to get a rematch with Fullmer. Now Giardello was lost in the shuffle and with so many other great fighters in his division it would be years before he would get another chance at making history.

As the years went by Giardello was making history in other ways. He became the one and only fighter to score three knockouts in three consecutive months at Madison Square Garden. His career gave him many opportunities to travel around the world. He was able to fight all over Europe and the U.S. As his career moved on Giardello kept on fighting anyone that was willing to stand in the ring with him. As the years went by Giardello felt like the champions in his division were avoiding him. After fifteen years in the hurt business Giardello was finally given another opportunity to fight for the title, because the new champ, Dick Tiger, thought it would only be fair if Ray Robinson would fight Giardello, and the winner would get the title shot. This was the window of opportunity that Giardello was looking for. He knew that he had just one more fight to win and he would get his title shot. Giardello knew he was getting older and that this would probably be his last shot at making history, so he trained hard. The fight with Robinson was one that Giardello looked forward to for years. On the night of the fight, Giardello was in great shape and he dominated one of the greatest fighters of all time. In the fight Giardello knocked Robinson down several times and easily moved forward to his title fight. On the night of December 7, 1963 Giardello finally got his title shot. In the fifteen round fight Giardello used his strong left hook and counter punching style to score a victory and become the World Middleweight Champion. This meant the world to Giardello because to him, this meant he was the toughest man in the world at 160 pounds. He came home to a parade and he was now on top of the world.

Giardello went on to defend his title against the much feared Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. In that fight Giardello used his jab and left hook to out point Carter for an easy victory. After two years of being champ, Giardello once again, for the fourth time, fought Dick Tiger. This fight marked the end of his reign as champ. Although he was disappointed he knew that he was in the twilight of his career and he began looking at what life would be like after boxing. Finally, in 1968, after twenty years in the hurt business, Joey Giardello decided to call it quits. He now had four children and wanted to spend more time with his family and his wife. When his career ended he had a record of 100 wins, 25 losses, 7 draws, 1 no decision, in 133 fights. (He was also never knocked down.) In 1993, Joey was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.

The great thing about Joey Giardello wasn’t his boxing career, but his life outside of the ring. He is a devoted catholic who loves to help out wherever he can. In the years during his career Giardello did all he could to help handicapped children. For one of his fights he donated his entire purse to help the Saint John of God School for handicapped children and he contributed a lot of his time and money to the Special Olympics.

Joey Giardello now lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He has four children, and five grandchildren that love and respect him more than anything. He is in frequent contact with his two brothers, and he just loves to have his family near him. As he looks back on his career, he truly believes that without his wife of fifty-two years and his family, none of this would have happened. He also believes that his faith in God played a big factor in his becoming champ, and if you asked him what he was most proud of, he would quickly say that he is proud of his marriage, and his children who have grown to become great fathers, and raise great children. In the end, Joey Giardello looks back at what he was a part of and says, “It was an honor to be part of such a great era of boxers.”

Posted to the Web by Angelina Wagner

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Michael Tilelli

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