Bristol’s boxing history 1920’s-1950
Although boxing in Bristol has ceased decades ago, it holds an important part with regards to Bristol sports past. Old-timers have long talked about the bouts here, those held at Muzzy Field, Red Men’s Hall, Bristol Armory and elsewhere.
As for amateur boxing, Bristol began taking part in the late 1920‘s, while that level of the sport had been active elsewhere in the state and country. In Connecticut, there was Kid Kaplan, a Russian immigrant born as Louis Kaplan who settled in Meriden with his family as a youngster and would later capture the world’s feather weight title. Following him a few years later would be Bat Battalino, born Christopher Battagha of Hartford, who would later become the world featherweight champion.
Several young men from the Bristol area soon tested their fistic prowess in the professional ranks. Sammy Lawson from Plymouth engaged in several bouts, as well as Rocky Segretto, Al Matera and others from here who went straight into the pro ranks without preparatory amateur experience. Large crowds began forming in Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and Bridgeport, among other large town, to witness these matches.
One of Bristol’s best boxers who came along at the time was amateur Tony Laviero, the first pugilist and only to date to be inducted into the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame. His older brother, Joe, had been a fan of the sport and although didn’t take up the sport seriously in boxing under the name of Kid Lee, he saw some sign of ability in his younger brother, Tony. Joe would take him behind the back of their house to show him the finer points of the sport and later introduced him to a neighbor on the street, Thomas Hinchliff. Tom, an electrician by trade, knew a promoter who was running weekly matches and one day the two entered the ring and told fans, much to Tony’s surprise, that young Laviero would be facing a Johnny Byra in the ring the following week. Tony hadn’t been consulted of this and for whatever reason that next week Byra never showed up.
Tony, a welterweight, would go on to box locally and in the state, as well in New York. He had over 100 fights and didn’t travel as far as some of the other Bristol boys. He was 26-1 as a professional between 1931-36 and 59-4 previously as an amateur. He recalled winning two of three bouts in one day in New Haven. He would go on to promote the sport and train boxers, including Earl Roys from Bristol who went on to win the New England Bantamweight title.
Hinchliff’s stable of fighters continued to grow and included: Mike Cavalieri, a bantamweight then bantamweight; heavyweights Frank Miller and Joe Ryan; middleweight Joe Melino; lightweights Al Hopkins, Joe “Speed” Manarino and Joe Christy; featherweights Nick Christy, Peter Martin, Johnny Moroski, Frank Lesege, and Peter Stroski; bantamweights Frank LeFebvre and Red Blasckie; flyweights Emery “Al” Taylor, Mendes Achilli, Henry, Frank and Joe “Scott” Tart, Frankie Stone, Dom Riccio and Tippy Steves. Forestville produced lightweights Johnny “Red” Sahno and Joe Surko, while there were a number of Terryville fighters under Hinchliff, would eventually become the dynamic force behind Bristol area boxing scene, although never having put on gloves himself.
The Bristol boys used the Bristol Boys Club, Bristol Armory and the IOOF Hall at the corner of South and Elm Streets to workout. Sometimes they’d travel to the Hartford Capital Gym to par with other fighters.
Weekly boxing cards came to Bristol in 1927 at Muzzy Filed with of crowds between 3,000 and 5,000 attending. The fights were held under the auspices of the Park Athletic Club of which Hinchliff oversaw with the assistance of Chauncey D. Crosby. The popular New Departure Band usually preceded the bouts with musical selections and “Honest John” Willis refereed most of the boxing cards with occasional appearances by Johnny Caronne and Louis Kid Kaplan as the third man in the ring.
Matchmaker Rocco Palotti of Hartford did the pairings for the Bristol shows and the announcer was usually John Fitzpatrick who came to be called Joe Humphreys of Bristol. Judges were Ray Casey, Harold Horkheimer, Bill Duffy, and Joe and James Butler. John Driscoll and Eddie Coughlin took turns as timekeepers. Boxers were allowed but one bout per week, but would use an alias to fight more than once.
Bristol’s Rebelle Carpenter was deputy boxing commissioner in the area for some eight years. Carpenter said he never stopped a fight, but would from time-to-time take the boxing license away from someone who couldn’t handle the poundings in the ring. Interestingly, too, boxers generally didn’t know the amount of money they were competing for. At the end of a match they were handed whatever management and promoters had worked out with the opponent’s side.
In addition to the bouts, organizations in town such as the men’s clubs of both St. Joseph and St. Anthony churches, the French Club. West End Club and Italian American Club held smokers, where the local boys would face one another. And through the years they learned to throw their leather at one another without leaving serious damage, because these weren’t the big fights and they were training partners.
One of Bristol’s most talented boxers was Nick Christy. He engaged in some 150 fights during his career and had a hard punch as evidenced by the number of knockouts he recorded. Amateur boxing held in New Haven, one of the state championships locations, often had a fighter compete in two bouts to claim the championship in one day. One time Christy came close in winning the first and losing the second in vying for the title.
As a professional, Christy gained such pugilistic stature that he nearly had a bout with Bat Battalino. However, it never took place. He fought once at Madison Square Garden and at one point traveled from here to Florida for extra ring work under the management of Henry Zack, a Bristol native who did some boxing out of New York.
Al Taylor had a brilliant career in the ring. A flyweight, he engaged in 150 bouts and copped the state flyweight championship in 1931 at the Foot Guard Hall in Hartford. He was given a golden gloves medal for participating in a New Haven elimination tournament and one for boxing at Madison Square Garden where he won three fights.
A few years after Laviero hung up his gloves at a young age, several other Bristol area boys emerged into the fistic scene. They were Early Roys, Earl Caddick, Ralph “Liberty” Nasori of Forestville, fighter turned actor Carmen Richards, Buzz Barton, Jack Kent, Kid Silko, Lou Leonard, Sal DiPietro, Al King, and Dom Tinnelli.
Under the watchful eye of manager Laviero, Roys came to enjoy a brilliant boxing career. He copped the New England bantamweight championship in 1946 in going farther title-wise than any other local in the game. He also enjoyed the distinction of being the only boxer from Connecticut to beat Willie Pep in an amateur bout. Pep, who went onto become a world’s champion, has long been considered one of boxing’s best-ever pound for pound. Laviero said this of Roys who at one point had won 39 consecutive fights: “He was always in A-1 condition. He was a good hitter and could box.”