Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Joe Monninger (page 3)
 Talking with
Joe Monninger
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Do you think Tony fought for the money or was he just a natural brawler?

Both, probably. He made good money from fighting. He cleared something like $40,000 for the Louis fight at a time when school teachers made maybe a thousand or two a year. But he also fought through the ’20s and ’30s as a young guy picking up a buck here, a buck there. Boxing brought notoriety. He became a figure in Orange and Newark. His name still resonates there with the older citizens. They named a street near the railroad station after him. So, I think he fought for a combination of reasons.

Fairly early in his career Tony had the money to buy a bar and make a living that way. Why do you think he continued boxing?

Probably, again, for the notoriety. I learned recently — after the book was put to bed — that Tony also ran booze. People shouted down to him when he arrived with ice “give me a one and a one.” That would mean, one block of ice, one pint of booze. He made good money that way. And the bar did quite well, although he was extravagant and a bit reckless with his money. His wife, Mary Grasso, ran the business well and worked like crazy on it. But, again, he had higher aspirations. Although he might not have articulated it, he wanted to make a name for himself, rise above his surroundings. To a great extent, he succeeded.

Was there any racial reason involving Joe Louis to explain why the fight was held in Yankee Stadium rather than Madison Square Gardens?

Not that I know about. The Galento team wanted the fight in Philadelphia. They felt, with reason, that the fight would have sold better there. The year before, when Tony went to Philly to prepare for a fight against a light heavyweight named Lewis, half a million people met him at the train station and paraded him through the town. It’s hard to imagine a half million people spontaneously coming out for any sports figure today. Joe Louis, of course, was loved in Harlem and across the nation by black citizens. His management team saw Philly as a place where Galento might have an edge. They were comfortable in Yankee Stadium and they hoped to pack it.

Tony was not the only fighter to drop Louis. What makes his knockdown so special?

Louis did seem prone to a left hook. Braddock and Jack Roper both knocked him silly with a left. And Max Schmeling got him with an overhand right. Galento, though, seemed such an unlikely candidate. He hardly trained; he smoked and stayed out late and drank beer. In fact, some people contend Tony was drunk when he fought Louis. It was almost as if he personified the average fellow in the stands stepping into the ring to fight the best heavyweight around. Most observers say Galento’s hardest punch came in the first round when he drove Louis to the ropes. People identified with Galento. He used to travel around with Babe Ruth and play Santa Claus. Galento was sort of your crazy uncle Charlie, or your brother-in-law who made you laugh at the family Thanksgiving dinner.

Was there any hint of mob connections to Tony when he was fighting? The mob was involved with a lot of fighters.
Sure. He won eleven fights in a row before fighting Louis, and a few of the fights seemed arranged, if not entirely fixed. He might have beaten those fighters anyway, but the money was in building his reputation for the Louis bout. The stereotype of boxers and gangsters hanging around together has a solid foundation. Tony did not stand on ethical niceties. At one point he was banned from fighting in Michigan after a dust up in Detroit. But a fighter can only sell his time in the ring, and only when people are interested. So, like most fighters, Tony did what he had to do to maximize his leverage.
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