Rocky Tomasello fought 16 times in 1951
By Matthew H. Ward
Rocky Tomasello was a professional middleweight boxer from Matawan, New Jersey who fought professionally from 1950 to 1957. Tomasello was a tough fighter who fought all over the tristate area, and stood toe-to-toe with a number of boxing contenders and world champions. Although he will largely be remembered in boxing circles as a mediocre, journeyman fighter, he was a hero to boxing fans not only in Matawan, but throughout the Bayshore area of New Jersey. His boxing career was covered in a numbered of local and national newspapers including The Matawan Journal, Asbury Park Press, The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Joseph Anthony Tomasello was born on March 19, 1930 in Keyport, New Jersey to Lucy Rose Grande and Joseph Tomasello, an Italian immigrant. He grew up in Matawan, leaving town in 1947 to join the United States Air Force. While serving in the Air Force in Guam, he won the welterweight title in a multiservice boxing tournament on Marbo Island in 1949. Tomasello’s accomplishment in the military was especially remarkable in that he joined the Air Force with virtually no ring experience. He defeated an Air Force teammate, George Hawkins, for the championship.
His accomplishments in the squared circle attracted the attention of two prominent figures back home in Matawan, Police Captain, John L. Flood and Matawan Boro Attorney, Leo Weinstein. Both men assisted Tomasello in establishing contacts amongst New York City managers, so that Tomasello would be prepared to turn professional at the end of his military obligation on April 17, 1950. Rocky Tomasello turned professional on December 7, 1950 against Pete Adams, another future journeyman fighter. In Brooklyn, New York, Tomasello’s promising debut was cut short by a third round knockout loss to Adams at the 1:52 mark of the round. This was the first of 27 losses that Tomasello would earn as a professional.
Twelve days later, on December 19th, Tomasello stepped back into the ring with Eddie Wenger. In White Plains, New York, Tomasello defeated the previously undefeated Wenger via unanimous decision for his first professional win. On January 22, 1951, Rocky lost by technical knockout to future New Jersey welterweight and middleweight champion Georgie Johnson in Trenton. With a record of 11 wins, 10 losses, and one draw, he squared off against Tex Gonzalez on May 6, 1952 in the first of three eight round battles. In the first contest, Gonzalez outpointed Tomasello. The two men met months later in August at the Meadowbrook Bowl in Newark where Tomasello was again outpointed. Tomasello had his revenge on January 27, 1953 in White Plains, where he defeated Gonzalez by split decision.
On July 24, 1953, Tomasello fought Nenoz “King” Solomon. The details of this contest were covered in The New York Times sports section. Solomon entered the fourth round of the scheduled ten round fight trailing Tomasello on the scorecards. He caught Tomasello with a left hook that sent him to the canvas for the referee’s count of eight. Seconds later, Solomon hit Tomasello’s chin with a hard right hand that sent Rocky out of the ring on his back. Tomasello pulled himself up at the count of eight, only to be knocked out by a flurry of punches. Referee Eddie Coachman stopped the fight at the 2:52 mark of the fourth round. Solomon’s victory opened the door for him to challenge Billy Kilgore for the Florida State Middleweight title.
August 11, 1954 was the biggest night of Rocky Tomasello’s long professional boxing career. Tomasello squared off against Brooklyn’s Phil Rizzo in the semifinal bout on the undercard of the Archie Moore vs. Harold Johnson World Light Heavyweight title fight at “The Mecca of Boxing,” Madison Square Garden. The main event of the evening was an action packed affair between the champion and betting favorite, Archie Moore, and the contender, Harold Johnson of Philadelphia. Despite being knocked down in the tenth round, Moore defeated Johnson in the fourteenth of fifteen rounds. The referee, Ruby Goldstein, called an end to the action after Moore knocked Johnson down with a left hook.
Phil Rizzo had previously fought against Japanese boxing legend Hachiro Tatsumi for the Japanese Middleweight title in 1952 in Tokyo. Tomasello floored Rizzo twice in the first round. The first knockdown came from a Tomasello left hook to the side of the head around the 30 second mark of the round. A few seconds later, Rizzo was wrestled to the canvas and suffered a cut above his right eye. Tomasello suffered a similar cut during the round. A third knockdown of Rizzo came in the second round. In the final round of the six round contest, Tomasello staggered Rizzo. Despite Tomasello’s outstanding performance, the six round decision went to Phil Rizzo. “The boos that greeted this verdict were probably heard in Keyport.” Louis Effrat of The New York Times described this decision as an “unpopular verdict.” The two men met again in 1957 at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York City, where they fought to a six round draw.
On October 25th, Tomasello fought his sixth professional fight of 1954. He faced Tony Baldoni, a future contender for the Pennsylvania State Middleweight title, at the Coliseum in Baltimore. Baldoni was known as the “miniature Marciano” because of his resemblance to World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano. He was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, who joined the Marines after he saw the 1949 John Wayne film, Sands of Iwo Jima. The Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania native entered the ring with an impressive professional record of 21 wins, five defeats, and one draw. The Asbury Park Press described this contest as a “middleweight battle,” in which both men fought well over the course of ten rounds. There were no knockdowns in the contest, which ended in a unanimous decision victory for Baldoni.
In June and November of 1957, Tomasello fought two bouts against Billy Ryan of Lowell, Massachusetts. Ryan was a tough fighter, who was a protégé of Rocky Marciano. Ryan captured the New England Light Heavyweight title in 1958. In their June 27th matchup, Tomasello was far behind on the scorecards when he knocked out Ryan at the 1:45 mark of the tenth and final round. Ryan had his revenge on November 19th when he defeated Tomasello by unanimous decision in an eight round bout.
Rocky Tomasello’s final professional bout was on December 10, 1957 at the Mechanics Building in Boston. Eddie Andrews, a native of Lowell, had previously fought twice for the New England Middleweight title in 1954 and 1956. Tomasello was shook by a hard right cross in the sixth round that set the pace for the final four rounds of the bout that Andrews controlled. This contest ended in a unanimous decision victory for Andrews, who was given the decision by all three judges, due to his body punching, and aggressiveness throughout the bout. Soon after this match, the popular Matawan journeyman retired from professional boxing with a record of 18 wins, 27 losses, and two draws.
Following his retirement from professional boxing, Rocky stayed involved in the sport of boxing. He was the head coach of the Roller Drome boxing team in the early 1960s, which competed against amateur teams from around the Jersey Shore. A popular roller-skating and concert venue, The Roller Drome, was located on Lower Main Street in Matawan. Jersey Shore rocker Bruce Springsteen and his early band the Castiles played at this venue in 1967. The building was eventually destroyed by a fire in August of 1968.
The sport of boxing ran in the Tomasello family. Rocky’s younger brothers Johnny and Paul were also boxers. Paul fought in the 1962 New Jersey Golden Gloves tournament as a middleweight. Rocky’s manager as a professional fighter, Frank Boyle of Cliffwood, New Jersey, handled Tomasello’s younger brother, Paul.
Rocky Tomasello retired to a warmer climate than Matawan. He died on November 8, 2007 in New Port Richey, Florida.
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