Benton would later be in the corner of Olympian Leon Spinks when he defeated Ali for the heavyweight title. Benton worked with such Philly boxers as “Bad” Bennie Briscoe and Willie “The Worm” Monroe.
What Philly fans remember best about Benton was Georgie Benton, the boxer. He did the shoulder roll and bump before Floyd Mayweather was born. He knew how to slip a punch just moving an inch or two. He worked his way up to the No. 1 spot to challenge champion Dick Tiger. Behind him in the rankings was another Philly boxer Joey Giardello whom Benton beat in August of 1962 at Philly’s Convention Hall over 10 rounds.
“Yeah, I screwed George out of his shot. He didn’t even know about it till I told him many years later,” said Lou Duva. He was Giardello’s manager at the time and was well connected.
During the first year Giardello had the title he only had 2 non-title bouts in Cleveland, OH, defeating Juan Carlos Rivero. Benton even was introduced into the ring and acted like he was putting money in Giardello’s pocket to get a chance. The hardest hitting fighter in the division was Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Giardello’s people managed to at least get one of them knocked off insisting they have an elimination match. Carter’s big win was a 1st round knockout over Cuban Fernando Fernandez. Then 2 months before meeting Benton he lost on a cut over his eye to Jose Gonzalez but still remained in the rankings. Benton was on a 9 fight winning streak including defeating Giardello.
Benton and Carter fought in May of 1963 at Madison Square Garden with Benton 48-7 at the time and Carter 15-3 with 11 big knockouts. Carter took a split decision win over Benton in order to get the title shot in December of 1963 losing a decision to Giardello. The movie “Hurricane” came under a lawsuit showing this fight as a bad decision in favor of Carter.
In April of 1964 after defeating Carter, Giardello only had a non-title fight over a 10 month period before giving Tiger a rematch and losing the title. During the 2 years Giardello held the title Benton was 7-1 reversing the loss to Johnny Morris for the PA state title. In his next fight he defeated future heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis. In April of 1966 Tiger loses the title to welterweight champion Emile Griffith, not Benton.
Benton’s career would end in April of 1970. He was shot in the back and spent 2 years in and out of hospitals but the bullet was never removed and Benton never fought again. He ended his career 62-13-1 with 37 knockouts.
Philadelphia IBHOF promoter J Russell Peltz called “Gypsy” Joe Harris “a bag of tricks!” You had to see Harris in the ring to believe some of the tricks he got away with. He was about 5’5”, bald head and would wrap his arms around his body ala Archie Moore. He would come into the ring with “double breasted” trunks and at times do the back step that Curley of the 3 Stooges would do to avoid a punch.
Harris, Briscoe and Frazier all trained at the 23rd PAL on Columbia Avenue in North Philly under Duke Dugent. Duke once told me “Joe is my most dedicated, Briscoe my killer, but Gypsy the best!” Harris was in the ring one day Duke told me sparring with Frazier while he was in his office until he heard “get him Joe!” It seems Harris had Frazier pinned in a corner and when he stepped back for leverage Frazier hit him with a left hook and drove him clear across the ring into the other corner. Harris responded “okay you mother f*****, so you want to fight”, when Duke jumped into the ring and stopped it. Harris feared no one!
In 1966 Harris stopped fellow Philly fighter Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, 22-2-1, in 6 rounds. Just 6 weeks later he beat Cuban Jose Stable, 27-8-2, who was beating several Philly boxers at the time. This earned Harris a non-title bout with welterweight champion Curtis Cokes. Harris was 17-0, and came in at 151 to Cokes who was 45-8-3, and came in at 149, just 2 pounds over the 147 limit. The bout took place at Madison Square Garden in New York with Harris easily defeating Cokes.
Afterwards one of the local reporters asked Harris “hey Gypsy where’s the party?” He replied, “ain’t no party here, I’m from Philly and heading back there tonight.” Harris would have his picture on the front page of the Ring Magazine in the next issue! A title fight was proposed for Harris to meet Cokes in Dallas, the hometown of Cokes. When Harris arrived in Dallas at the hotel he would be staying there was no ring set up as requested. The local paper had a picture of Cokes in a row boat with a fishing pole and the caption was “Cokes went fishing”. There would be no title fight for Harris and the boxing organization did nothing about it. Cokes just didn’t want any part of Harris again and he figured he would “go away”.
Instead of fighting Harris Cokes took on Frenchman Francios Pavilla whom he fought a draw with in a non-title fight 2 months before losing to Harris. In the meantime Harris defeated Ted Wright, 46-15-10, at Philly’s Arena. Just 4 days later he flew to Dallas and stopped Texan Bennie Browser, 19-10-3, in 5 rounds. Harris was 160 for that fight and knowing the Cokes fight wasn’t happening went on to defeat Miguel Barretto, 15-1, twice. In between those fights he took on southpaw Bobby Cassidy, 27-6-2, at Philly’s Arena. I was there that night when Harris backed into a corner and allowed Cassidy to grab his left should with his right hand and fire a punch at the head of Harris and missed! There was only one “Gypsy” Joe Harris!
In 1968 Harris would defeat Dick DiVeronica, 38-8, and sign to meet former champion Emile Griffith in Philly some 6 months later. A week before the fight Harris disappeared and it was rumored he married a bar maid. A couple of days before the fight was scheduled Harris showed up at the 23rd PAL and Duke told me “I worked with him the best I could for this fight but knew he wasn’t in shape like he should have been”.
Harris would come in at 160 and lose his first and only fight that night to Griffith after going 24-0 at the Philly Spectrum in August of 1968 setting an indoor record at the box office. It would be discovered that Harris fought his entire career with one eye. He was to fight Manny Gonsalves of Texas. Harris was sparring with C.L. Lewis for this fight and got thumbed in the bad eye which was red when he showed up for the examination. Harris would never fight again. He claimed he got hit with a brick as a teenager in Camden, NJ, where he then lived.
I met him at the 23rd PAL where Dugent was talking to him and suggested he fight in either Puerto Rico or Canada where he could get a license. Dugent told me to take him to his doctor on Ridge Avenue to get a letter to go to Cooper Hospital to get the records. When we got to the doctors he wasn’t in. I lost track of Harris after this going into bars and pool parlors trying to find him but it never happened.
Harris deserved a title fight with Cokes but the champion would have nothing to do with Harris whose weight went up to 160 and at times 152 but he was no longer a welterweight while being put off by Cokes.
The last of the 3 Philly boxers was the only one to get a title bout and that was southpaw Tyrone Everett. I once told him “you are like a black Asian boxer.” There were few US fighters at 130 who could be as quick as Everett was.
In July of 1970 Everett won 27th straight fight defeating South Korea’s Hyun-Chi Kim, 23-1, at the Philly’s Spectrum. In Kim’s previous fight he lost a split decision in the Philippines to WBA super featherweight champion Ben Villaflor. In the next year Everett would win 7 more fights defeating Ray Lunny III, 23-1-3, in San Francisco and in Caracas, VZ, defeating Hugo Barraza, 48-7-3, to earn a title fight with Pueto Rico’s Alfredo Escalera, 36-7-2, for his WBC super featherweight title in Philly in November of 1976.
I was there watching Everett dart in and out and give Escalera a boxing lesson. It wasn’t until the 13th round that a head butt by Escalera, known for his dirty tactics, opened a cut on the forehead of Everett that had Everett back tracking after that. I had Everett ahead 13-2 in rounds at the end.
It looked like Philly was about to have a newly crowned champion as the ring announcer gave out the scores. Referee/judge Ray Solis of Mexico had it 148-146 for Everett. The Puerto Rican Ismael W. Fernandez had it 146-143 for Escalera. The crowd let out a loud noise of displeasure. When the third judge Lou Tress of PA gave the split decision win 145-143 to Escalera the crowd went wild with anger. How in the world could Everett get robbed in his hometown of Philadelphia? There was an investigation after the fight by the commission and Tress would never judge again but Escalera held onto his title and wasn’t about to give Everett a rematch.
Everett would score knockouts in 1977 in Feburary and May. The one in May even had him on the same card as Escalera who was defending his title over Ronnie McGarvey, in Landover, MD. Just 10 days later Everett would be shot to death inside the home during a domestic argument. Everett was known to be surrounded with the wrong people and he would be dead at the age of 24.
Benton never got his shot though ranked No. 1. Harris won a non-title fight but would never achieve a title fight with the champion he beat. Everett, the only one of the 3 to get a fight lost in what at the age of 70 this writer calls “the worst decision I have ever witnessed!”