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Tami Mauriello-The Bronx Barkeep


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Despite not being too familiar to everyone who knows something about boxing history, Tami Mauriello was one of the best boxers of the 1940's. He fought from welterweight to heavyweight, carrying a huge punch in each of those divisions, and fought for the world title three times, twice for the light heavyweight version against Gus Lesnevich and once for the heavyweight version against Joe Louis. Out of his 82 wins, 60 came by knockout. His most impressive victories were a first-round ko against Steve Belloise, fifth round ko over Bruce Woodcock, then undefeated, and a sixth-round ko against Lou Nova. He fought for 10 years, starting out very young, and left behind a record of 82-13-1.


Born Stefano Mauriello to an Italian-American family in Bronx, NY, on September 18 1923, he was known under the nickname "Tami" which he would also fight under. He debuted as a pro at the age of 16 in 1939 and first fought as a welterweight, standing 5'11 and a half inch. He won his first 24 fights, scoring 14 knockouts. He was then upset for the first time against Billy Soose, a taller and rangier, as well as more clever fighter, who beat him by a split decision in 10 rounds, January 3 1940. Mauriello had become a middleweight by then and his power improved. It was on March 14 that he would score his first big victory when he fought Steve Belloise, a more experienced but naturally smaller fighter, in what was billed as "Battle of the Bronx" as both guys were from Bronx; Mauriello scored a first round knockout, decking Belloise four times before it ended with one second left of the round. A month later, he beat the very experienced Wildcat O'Connor, 101-24-15, decking him seven times before the fight ended in the sixth round. Mauriello now started fighting as a light heavyweight and his power there also proved equally potent, as he stopped Jimmy O'Boyne, Tony Cisco and Paul Mamakos, by KO 2, TKO 5 and TKO 9 respectively. He was then offered a fight against the world champion, Gus Lesnevich, and took it. It was August 26 1941 at Madison Square Garden and it was a great fight, as Lesnevich was known as a guy that liked to brawl and slug it out. He put the young Bronx fighter down for a nine-count in the first round but Mauriello got up and bounced back, making the fight close and difficult to score as it lasted the distance. In the end, one judge had Mauriello winning by as much as 10-5, but the other two scored it for the champion narrowly, 8-7 and 8-6. A rematch was signed and it happened November 14, again at Madison Square Garden. This time, Lesnevich was more dominant and hurt Mauriello in rounds 2, 3 and 8, but began to tire after round 12, and Tami closed strong to take the last three rounds, but ultimately lost by a unanimous decision. 9-4-2, 9-5-1 and 10-2-3.


Having failed to take the big prize at light heavyweight, the young Bronx warrior made the move to heavyweight. He made his heavyweight debut at the end of 1941 with a TKO 1 against no-hoper Jay D Turner. The fight was covered in New York Times. In his second heavyweight fight, he scored a pivotal victory over Finnish Gunnar Barlund, January 27 1942. Barlund was the better man in the first five rounds and outboxed Mauriello, since he had an amateur pedigree and Mauriello didn't. But he suddenly tired after that and Mauriello started hammering him for the next three rounds until the fight was stopped at the end of round 8. Mauriello scored seven more wins, six inside the distance and drew against Bob Pastor before fighting the future hall of famer Jimmy Bivins, September 15 1942; Bivins was a clever and capable fighter who could hit and was also tough, so he was a difficult opponent. He dropped Mauriello with a left hook in the first round, before the Bronx warrior bounced back and made it a brawl which was close enough for one referee to score it for him, even though the other two saw it for Bivins and so once again, Mauriello was the loser by a split decision. Since the fight happened in Cleveland, where Bivins was based, there was a rematch clause that the next fight had to happen in New York and it did. But before that, Tami scored two major victories; first he decisioned Lee Savold on October 30 and then had the fight against Lou Nova, who had beaten Max Baer twice and ended his career with a vicious beating. It was December 11 at Madison Square Garden and Nova, taller man by 2 and a half inches, first put Mauriello down in the first round. But like before, the young Bronx bull got up and bounced back, knocking Nova out in round 6.


It was then time for the rematch with Bivins, which happened March 12 1943 at the Garden. Again, Mauriello suffered an early knockdown in round 2 but came back to give Bivins hell. However, Bivins was stronger in the middle rounds while Mauriello had a late surge, which proved to be too little to give him the victory and he lost by majority decision. After this, he was supposed to enter military service, but was turned down due to bone chips in his foot, which he got from a childhood accident. He resumed his career in July and then in September again beat Gunnar Barlund by TKO 8. He also again decisioned Lee Savold but then dropped a decision to the very strong contender Joe Baksi, February 25 1944. Once again, Mauriello hit the deck in the first round for a nine-count and got up, but ultimately lost by a unanimous decision in 10 rounds. He then had a trilogy of fights against Lee Oma, winning the first one by KO 8 after again coming off the canvas in round 2, then losing the second by UD10 and finally winning the third the same way. He again faced Lou Nova June 25 1945 in Boston and knocked him down after a minute before finishing him off with a right to the jaw to end the fight in the first round. He also won his third fight against Barlund by a corner retirement in 2 before scoring his third great victory against the English puncher, Bruce Woodcock. It was May 17 1946 at the Garden and Woodcock was 25-0 coming in, with 24 knockouts and naturally had a reputation as a fearsome puncher, one of the hardest in boxing at the time. Mauriello was a 6-1 favorite. The fight was close until the fifth round, when Mauriello landed an uppercut to the jaw of Woodcock which dropped him. He was unable to make the count and the fight was over at 2 minutes 16 seconds. 13 thousand witnessed what would be Mauriello's final great triumph.


This victory was so impressive that it landed him the shot for the world title, held of course by Joe "Brown Bomber" Louis, arguably the greatest heavyweight ever. The fight was held on Mauriello's 23rd birthday, September 18 1946, at Yankee Stadium in Bronx. Couldn't have been more of a homecoming party for him. And it started well for young Tami, as he showed no fear or intimidation of Louis and sent Louis to the ropes with the very first punch he threw, a looping right. Louis was taken by surprise but bounced back and started tearing into Mauriello with a flurry of lefts and rights which staggered him and then seconds later put him down with a big left hook. Tami started to rise at five but then went back down before getting up at nine. He threw himself at Louis again but Louis measured him and put him down again with a left hook, after which Mauriello was unable to beat the count and it all ended at 2 minutes 9 seconds. The young challenger was in tears afterwards and said:"I thought I had him. I thought I had him and I grew careless." A crowd of 38 thousand, mostly fans of Mauriello, went home disappointed as Louis had made his 23rd successful defense. He was not quite the same after this fight and was stopped by a 25-10-1 fighter called Johnny Shkor in his third comeback fight, by TKO 7. He took a battering and was cut up badly, but vigorously protested the stoppage and took a punch at one of the officials. He got suspended for that, briefly. He came back to the ring 2 months later and scored a TKO 5 against Jimmy Carollo, before again fighting his old nemesis, Gus Lesnevich, who was now campaigning as a heavyweight. Despite a significant weight advantage, Mauriello was hurt three times and in the end lost convincingly on points.


He was now 24 but looked 34 and in their fourth fight, Lesnevich stopped him by TKO 7, after knocking him down once in round 4. It was October 31 1947 and Mauriello would take a year off from the ring before returning almost exactly a year later, October 19 1948. He weighed in at 210, more than ever before, and easily stopped Roy Taylor by TKO2. He scored in all seven victories in a row but against weaker fighters, before losing on points to fringe contender Joe Dominic in September 1949. A month later, on October 5, he was down in the first round against Cesar Brion and then stopped on his feet in the second. He decided to retire now, aged 26 and announced his retirement in the dressing room right after the fight. He simply didn't have it anymore. After retirement he appeared in the great Marlon Brando-starring movie "On the Waterfront", playing a union hood. Appearing alongside him was his longtime friend and fellow boxer Tony "Two Ton" Galento. He was Frank Sinatra's favorite fighter for a long time and was one of the most loved fighters in New York in his time due to his kind and gentle nature, which was at odds with his fighting profession. He gained his fighting alias because he worked as a bartender while boxing. He was pushed into the game too early by his father and many believe he could have had an even better career had he waited a little longer to turn pro. After divorcing his wife of 43 years, he came to live with his sister and was later diagnosed with pugilistica dementia. Stefano Tami Mauriello passed away December 3 1999, aged 76. He was featured on the cover of The Ring in August 1942. He hasn't been inducted into the IBHOF, and likely never will, but...he could have been a contender.

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