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Fred Apostoli


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Fred Apostoli was a middleweight world champion between November 1938 and October 1939. In his career, he defeated Marcel Thil (to win the world title), Freddie Steele (the first man to stop Steele), Young Corbett III, Solly Krieger, Lou Brouillard, Swede Berglund, Babe Risko, Georgie Abrams, Erich Seelig and Glen Lee. He fought between 1934 and 1948, retiring with a record of 61 wins, 31 inside the distance, 10 losses and 1 draw. He was known under the fighting alias of “Boxing Bell Hop”. He stood just under 5feet10 tall and had a reach of 70 inches. He was a rough and tough brawler but also possessed good boxing skills and instincts. He was inducted into the IBHOF in 2003.


Born in San Francisco’s North Beach district, into an Italian American family, his birth name was Alfredo Apostoli. His father hailed from Gibbstown, New Jersey, and worked as a fisherman and labourer in the Bay area. Alfredo aka Fred was born on 2 February 1913 and his mother died in childbirth when young Alfredo was not yet ten years old. Tragically, in 1928, when Fred was 15, his father was also killed in a working accident and Fred was sent to an orphanage. It was there that he started boxing and in 1934 he won the Pacific Coast welter title, the Golden Gloves middleweight title and finally the AUU middle title. He turned pro on 8 October same year and won by TKO3 against vastly more experienced Gilbert Attell. After going 6-0, he was pushed or rushed too fast against Freddie Steele, who back then had a record of 93-2-11! Still, the young San Francisco warrior gave the puncher from Tacoma a hard fight, before eventually succumbing in the 10th. The first 6 rounds were even, and then Steele started wearing him down with his body punches and in the 9th Apostoli fell twice without being hit, showing he was seriously weakened.


It was a very brave loss and a valuable lesson for the 22-yearold Apostoli. That was in April 1935, and he bounced back by winning seven fights, closing the year with a unanimous decision victory over Swede Berglund. In 1936, he also defeated the reigning champion Babe Risko by a 10-round decision, in a non-title fight. Risko would soon lose the title to Freddie Steele himself. In January 1937, Apostoli suffered his second loss, to the clever technician Ken Overlin, by a majority decision in 10. However, the decision was unpopular, and many observers had Apostoli winning 6 rounds. He rebounded by beating the very solid Solly Krieger by UD10. They had a rematch a month later, in April, and this time, Krieger got stopped in 5 rounds due to a cut lip. He then got a crack at the IBU title, which was considered a lesser version of the world title, then called NYSAC. His opponent was Frenchman Marcel Thil, a physically strong and crafty boxer, who had made 11 defences of the title. They faced off at Polo Grounds in New York, 23 September 1937 and Thil opened best, but Apostoli came back strong in the second half and cut Thil badly with a left hook over the right eye in the 9th round. With blood also pouring from Thil’s nose, the fight was stopped after 44 seconds of round 10 and Apostoli was the victor by a TKO.


However, despite winning this title, he was not recognized as the real world champion, but instead Freddie Steele held that honour, officially. That is why they had to fight each other again, but for some reason, none of their titles were at stake. The fight was held at Madison Square Garden, 7 January 1938 and was a true slugfest. This time however, Apostoli prevailed and cut Steele up over both eyes badly and also broke his breastbone, leading to the fight to be stopped, 54 seconds into round 9. After the fight, Apostoli said: ”I knew I could do it. I’ve only lived the last three years to get that guy into the ring. Now if he doesn’t give me a title fight, I’ll claim it anyway.”


After beating Glen Lee by SD in his next fight, he faced Young Corbett III, a former world welterweight champion, in what was billed as the fight for a world title, even though it officially was not staged as such. It took place at Seals Stadium in Apostoli’s hometown of San Francisco, 22 February 1938. However, he found himself the loser by a unanimous verdict after 10 completed rounds. California State Athletic Commission then recognized Corbett as their middleweight champion of the world. They had a rematch on 18 November, this time with the NYSAC (the main) world title at stake. It was at Madison Square Garden that the 25-yearold from San Francisco finally achieved his great triumph by halting Corbett by a TKO8, after dropping him twice in the 7th and twice in the 8th. It was another terrific stoppage victory for the new champion. In 1939, he had two fights above the middleweight limit, against the great light heavy, Billy Conn, losing the first by UD10 and the second by UD15. Conn was just too tall and too elusive and crafty for the rugged 5’9 warrior, but Apostoli was having some success in the early rounds of the first fight. He had four more non-title fights and won them all, before finally defending the world title against Filipino underdog Ceferino Garcia, 2 October 1939 at Madison SG. Everything went well until the 7th round, when he was put down three times by the bolo-punching Garcia and stopped by a KO. The ref waved the count off at only 2 after the third knockdown. And so-it was farewell to world title glory. In his next fight, he beat Melio Bettina, a light heavy, by MD12 in a tough fight where he was down three times and Bettina once. They had a rematch a month later and this time, Apostoli took a heavy beating in the 10th, 11th and 12th before quitting in his corner after round 12. In November same year (1940), he also dropped a decision in 10 to Tony Zale, also getting dropped twice.


In June 1942, he tried to avenge an early defeat to Ken Overlin, but the fight ended a draw, despite Apostoli doing most of the damage. Apostoli had returned to middleweight and would remain in the division for the rest of his career. In 1943, he served in the Navy during World War 2, as a gunner aboard the light cruiser USS Columbia, in the Pacific. He was wounded in battle and received a Bronze Star, returning to San Francisco in 1946. He came back to the ring in August same year and won his first fight by TKO4. However, he would fight mostly lower-level opponents for the remainder of his career and once got stopped by TKO1 against Bobby Volk, due to a cut eye. However, he avenged that loss in the rematch soon thereafter, winning by a KO3. His last victory was a majority decision in 10 against Georgie Abrams, who earlier fought Tony Zale for the world title. His last fight was on 1 December 1948, and he lost by UD10 to Earl Turner. He retired at the age of 35, close to 36.


He was named The Ring fighter of the year in 1943, interestingly, even though he didn’t fight that year. After retirement, he worked as a chairman for the Olympic Club. He died on 29 November 1973, aged 60, at home in San Francisco. Fred Apostoli was definitely one of the best middleweights of his time and ever, and he managed to stop both Thil, Steele and Corbett, which is a testament to his abilities, punching prowess and toughness. He was a tremendous body puncher and tough as nails. After getting blasted away by Garcia, he seemed to lose some of his edge and perhaps also because he had had some tough and gruelling fights. He will always be remembered as a true warrior and a world class fighter.

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