Jerry has made some great friends over the years
By Jerry Fitch
I have to admit that when I first started my boxing journey years ago and began to meet former greats, I had no idea what to expect.
Conversations evolved into much more than wins and losses, who was their toughest opponent and the usual standard questions a young journalist might ask.
My best estimate to date is that I have met more than sixty world champions and countless contenders and opponents. Some of these men I met in passing, at a dinner or a fight, talked briefly and maybe I never had the opportunity to meet up with them again. Others I ran into several times as I traveled more and more over the years.
The fighters I had extended friendships with would include among others such men as Jimmy Bivins, Jersey Joe Walcott, Jimmy McLarnin, Tony Zale, Georgie Pace, Joey Maxim, Carmen Basilio etc. And still others I had extended but more casual friendships with such as Archie Moore, Kid Gavilan, Sammy Angott, Billy Conn, to name just a few.
One of the most amazing things I found in many cases was how kind, gentle and friendly many of the former fighters were no matter how aggressive or tough they were in the ring. I have to admit I never expected that, so it was a wonderful surprise. It turned out to be an experience I would have many times.
But I think another surprise was learning how two men could knock the stuffing out of each other, sometimes fight dirty, but after their careers ended, they would meet up at dinners and events showing the respect and friendship they really had for each other. This was true most of the time, with a few exceptions of course.
Archie Moore and Jimmy Bivins fought five times and had some personal history that at least in the case of Archie was vented in Peter Heller’s wonderful book, "In This Corner."
However years later I met Archie and found that bitterness he had at one time was long gone and he showed nothing but respect for Jimmy.
Carmen Basilio was only stopped twice in his career, both near the end of his journey in the professional ranks. Both times they were grueling fights with Gene Fullmer and it looked like these men didn’t like each other.
But boxing is not only a sport, it is a business. I witnessed Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio together several times and you could see they liked each other. At times they acted more like a comedy duo than former opponents.
Fighting each other was a business and when it was finished, they went on with their lives.
Other encounters were with fighters such as Kid Gavilan and Ike Williams, or Ike Williams and Jimmy Carter. Regardless of the results, who won, who lost, they seemed to be genuine in their respect for each other.
Probably no greater example was Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano, who at least in their first two fights, fought like two pitbulls, with each winning once. But they spent many years appearing together and were friends. They were involved in many charity events also.
Rocky Marciano was undefeated and knocked out most of his opponents. But the Rock was a true gentleman and seeing former foes such as Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles interacting with him showed the same thing...respect and often friendship.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule or every story. I truly believe Joey Giardello and Gene Fullmer never liked each other. This stemmed from their April 1960 Middleweight Championship fight that was called a draw after 15 rounds.
It was a fouled filled bout with many headbutts and both men till their dying days blamed the other man. And Joey felt he was robbed of the title in that fight and I tend to agree.
One other fighter, former heavyweight contender, Lou Nova would always tell me how dirty Tony Galento was, how he thumbed him in his eye and how he lost sight in that eye.
I met Lou in 1975 and saw him for at least ten years during my trips to Los Angeles and he never forgave Two Ton Tony.
But in more cases than not fights turned into friendships. That will always be one of the cherished memories of my years in boxing.
Jerry can be reached here: