The Italian Stallions: Heroes of Boxing's Glory Days

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  • Written by Thomas Hauser & Stephen Brunt
  • ISBN 1894963032
  • Format: Hardcover, 224pp
  • Pub. Date: January 2004
  • Publisher: Sport Media Publishing

The Italian Stallions is a celebration of another time in the history of North American society, and, by extension, of North American sport. It is also a tribute to the classic rags-to-riches tale of the new immigrant, told through the rich stories of a band of Italian-Americans who, for the middle third of the 20th century, held sway over the national sporting psyche in a way perhaps no other single ethnic group ever has. In the 1930s 1940s and 1950s, the nation was obsessed with two major sports, baseball and boxing. It was, as acclaimed author Thomas Hauser proposes in his introduction to The Italian Stallions, a time When Boxing Mattered. Nowhere was this more evident than New York City, the Mecca of the fight game, where Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and Madison Square Garden played host to most world title fights, but also where no fewer than 22 neighborhoods gave birth to local fight clubs. Those neighborhoods were cauldrons of desperation, but also of opportunity; one, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, spawned two men, Thomas Rocco Barbella and Giacobe LaMotta, who would not only become middleweight champions of the world but whose stories were so compelling that Hollywood featured them in movies starring Paul Newman and Robert DeNiro. At roughly the same time Barbella -- better known as Rocky Graziano -- and LaMotta were moving to Brooklyn and the Bronx, the tough streets of Hartford and Brockton, Mass., and the onion fields outside Canastota, N.Y., were shaping three other men who would come to rivet public passion: Guglielmo Papaleo, Rocco Francis Marchegiano and Carmen Basilio. Papaleo -- or Willie Pep, as he became known -- fought a remarkable 242 times over 26 years, while Marchegiano begat Rocky Marciano, whose career record -- 49-0 -- would become boxing's most storied number. Wherever and whenever they stepped into a ring, those five, ably supported by the likes of Roland LaStarza, Joey Maxim and Joey Giardello, inspired passion and excitement. In the 15 years between 1945 and 1959, one or the other among them was a combatant in Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year an incredible 13 times. An end-of-the-century USA Today poll ranked two of their fights -- Pep's second with Sandy Saddler and Graziano's second against Tony Zale -- as among the top four bouts ever.

In The Italian Stallions, noted boxing author Stephen Brunt draws together the threads of these fighters' mutual story in the opening chapter, "From Italy With Love -- And Desperation." Later, the individual character of each boxer is revealed through a series of articles from the pages of the old SPORT magazine. SPORT, from its launch as North America's premiere sports magazine in 1946, emphasized its coverage of boxing. Through the prose of such luminaries as Jack Sher, Frank Graham Sr., Barney Nagler, Rex Lardner, Ed Linn, Ed Fitzgerald and Stanley Frank, and through exquisite photographs from The SPORT Collection, each fighter springs vividly to life again, young, taut and ready to throw a lethal combination at an instant's notice.