SI Vault
John Underwood
May 18, 1964
Telephoner Joey Giardello is the champion of boxing's best division—the middleweights. A devoted father and friend of the Little League but still beloved at the pool hall, he has buried his Dead End Kid days and is...
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May 18, 1964

A Mighty Desirable Fellow

Telephoner Joey Giardello is the champion of boxing's best division—the middleweights. A devoted father and friend of the Little League but still beloved at the pool hall, he has buried his Dead End Kid days and is...

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The middleweight champion lay on the table with his eyes closed, the white terry-cloth robe with " Joey Giardello" in script on the back pulled up around him. He had become Joey Giardello when a patriotic guy on the street in Brooklyn offered to donate his birth certificate so Joey could join the Army at the age of 15, provided Joey gave the patriot two bucks. But that was a long time ago. Nobody calls him Carmine Tilelli anymore. The room, like a thousand of its kind, was weakly lit and grim and, in the coarse concealment, the scars on the fighter's face grayed out as if by cosmetic. Giardello's face (see cover) is marvelously expressive, capable of prodigious winks and lowers, and the places where people have beaten on him for 16 years seem to add to it rather than detract, the way age and scars enhance the appeal of an antique.

Last month in Cleveland half a dozen of Joey's friends, his personal solar system from South Philadelphia, were with him in his dressing room before a fight while two Cleveland cops self-consciously guarded the door. It was a needless precaution, because Joey lets in anybody who ever knew him. Joey is a believer in friends. Thirteen of his friends once got together on his behalf and offered Dick Tiger $100,000 to defend the middleweight championship. Tiger eventually agreed to the match and lost the championship last December in Atlantic City. "Did you actually have $100,000?" one of the friends was asked. "Are you kidding?" he replied.

"Carmen Tedeschi has been shooting off about offering me $125,000 to fight Carter," said Joey from the table. "But that's how I got my shot, so I'm wise to that. He puts in the papers how he calls me up and I'm never home, Tedeschi. So one night, it was after midnight, I call him from Philadelphia. Collect I call him. He says he now has only $100,000, so I tell him I will accept his penalty if he will please come to Philadelphia with a—a whatayacallit—"

"A cashier's check," somebody said.

"A cashier's check. I know he ain't got it, but every time he starts off the phone I say, 'Well, but what about—' and we gotta go through the whole thing over. I got him on there quarter of three, three o'clock. Collect." Everybody in the room enjoyed Joey's practical joke.

Lou Duva, who bails people out of jail in Paterson, N.J. when he is not acting in his new capacity as Joey's personal promoter, came in with a giant poster: "Champion vs. Champion, Joey Giardello, World Middleweight Champion, vs. Rocky Rivero, Middleweight Champion of Argentina, Buckeye State Promotions, Cleveland Arena." Duva collects posters. This one had taken liberties, however, because this would not be for any title—Joey has not defended his yet—but rather a 10-round bout for television and for Joey to take risk-free advantage of his high station while he is leisurely deciding to fight Rubin Carter or Joey Archer or Dick Tiger or Laszlo Papp or, perhaps, Florentino Fernandez in Puerto Rico.

As usual, the middleweight division is better stocked with good fighters than any other. (Men who weigh 147 to 160 pounds are naturally more plentiful, being of a size that is standard once easy living has been exposed to exercise and diet.) The heavyweight championship, of all the championships contrived to get a man to fight, is the most prized, but the middleweight champions—Ketchel, Soose, Papke, Walker, Zale, Graziano, Robinson, Cerdan—are often as well known, and among their challengers the competition is the best. Right now Champion Giardello could make his selection blindfolded and come up with a legitimate contender, so scrambled is the division.

Joey says he has a moral obligation to give ex-Champion Tiger a return fight and would not mind discussing it, but he has not seen Tiger's name in the paper in some time and presumes Tiger is back in Nigeria making political speeches and raising children and hanging around obscure places with Hogan (Kid) Bassey. As a very good second thought, there is Joey Archer, the flat-faced New Yorker who moves like a sparrow and has won 40 of 41 fights. Laszlo Papp, the Hungarian who fought in three Olympics and then, at the retirement age of 31, turned professional, is a possibility, and so is Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, who has impressed people with his mandarin mustache, his jailbird stare—the most insidious east of Sonny Liston—and his left hook. There are also Jose Torres, who has everything but an abiding interest in fist-fighting, and the two Italians, Sandro Mazzinghi and Nino Benvenuti, and the Cuban exile, Fernandez, and Luis Folledo of Spain, and names that used to mean a lot, like Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer.

Naturally, none of the contenders wants to waste time fighting another, and when they even mention that tactical blunder their managers get so upset as to appear unbalanced. "Archer is a stinking, rotten national disgrace as No. 1 contender," screamed Tedeschi, Hurricane Carter's manager, after Carter lost a decision to Archer. Naturally, too, Giardello is not interested in any giveaway opportunities. He was a top contender himself for 12 years and got only one other title shot and not a single Green Stamp until he fought Tiger. He is not at all unwilling to let all parties wait until September, when he will probably fight Carter. In the meantime there is money to be made fighting people like Rocky Rivero, on TV, out of jeopardy. Giardello likes the idea so much that he is fighting Rivero again May 22.

"Rivero weighed in 69� today," said Joey on the table in Cleveland. "He was supposed to make 65. I coulda raised a stink, right? Made him sweat it off. But what the hell. I was worried myself. I thought we were gonna have to do what we did in Jacksonville that time, right, Adolph? I come in there about 180. I get on the scales and Adolph grabs me up by the trunks. He's cutting me in half, Adolph, and I see we're going down to about 150, so I nudge him to take it easy. I weigh 164 for the fight."

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