By Ken Hissner: In the 60’s and ’70s, Philly boxing was at its best when IBHOF promoter J Russell Peltz of Peltz Boxing had the Philly welterweights, light middleweights, and middleweights fighting one another to the delight of the Philly fans.
Names like George “The Mayor of North Philadelphia” Benton, “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, Robert “Bam Bam” Hines, “Gypsy” Joe Harris, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Dick Turner, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Jimmy Sykes, Percy Manning, James “Black Gold” Shuler, Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, Curtis Parker, Jesse “Crazy Horse” Smith, Jim “Slim” Robinson, Charley Scott, Tony “Rocky” Tassone, Perry Lil’ Abney and Artie “Moose” McCloud, Jimmy Beecham, all Philly fighters who fought one another.
The only problem was it didn’t produce but two world champions, one being in Joey Giardello, with only two getting world title fights but losing that being “Bad” Bennie Briscoe and Stanley “Kitten” Hayward.
Giardello was out of New York, turning pro in 1951 and first fighting in Philly in 1958. In 1960 he had a disputed draw with NBA World champion Gene Fullmer.
Then he returned to Philly in 1961, scoring a pair of wins, one over Jesse Smith. In 1962 in Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year,” in a blood bath of a fight, he reversed a loss to Henry Hank at Convention Hall. In his next battle, he defeated Jimmy Beecham there and lost to Benton.
In 1963 Giardello he won twice in back-to-back fights, with the second one over former world champion “Sugar” Ray Robinson, at Convention Hall earning a world title fight with WBC & WBA world champion Dick Tiger whom he defeated.
In 1964 he defended and defeated Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and in 1965 lost his title in a rematch with Tiger. He ended his career in 1967 reversing a previous fight’s loss to Jack Rodgers at the Philadelphia Arena.
The other world champion was Robert “Bam Bam” Hines, who held the IBF Light Middleweight title for only three months. He defeated Matthew Hilton, 29-0, in Las Vegas, NV, in November of 1988 and losing in February of 1989 to Darrin Van Horn, 39-0, in Atlantic City, NJ.
Peltz promoted Briscoe, who he sent to Argentina in May of 1967 to fight Carlos Monzon, 40-3, who was not yet the world middleweight champion and only in his next fight winning the South American title.
The bout ended in a draw, and if an outside fighter gets a draw in another fighter’s country, a draw is a win, and Briscoe was entitled to the win. There are more draws in Argentina than in any other country.
Briscoe couldn’t get a rematch for a title fight with WBC & WBA world champion Monzon until November of 1972 in Argentina, which is over five years since their first fight.
The only reason Monzon gave him the rematch, in this writer’s opinion, is Briscoe got hepatitis and only had one fight after recovery, with Monzon’s people feeling Briscoe wouldn’t be at his best. Monzon won a lopsided decision. In 1974 he was stopped for the only time in his career by Rodrigo Valdes, in Monte Carlo, for the vacant WBC World title.
Another Philly fighter who got a title fight was Hayward, who lost to Freddie Little for the vacant WBC and WBA Light Middleweight title losing a lopsided decision in Las Vegas, NV, in March of 1969. Hayward was promoted by Lou Lucchese out of the Reading, PA, area from Leesport.
Benton had defeated then Philly fighter Joey Giardello in August of 1962 at Philly’s Convention Hall. Giardello wanted no parts of a rematch with Benton.
I can still see Benton being introduced into the ring during one of Giardello’s fights and walking over to him, acting like he’s putting money into his trunks as a bribe to fight him. Benton was made to have an elimination match with hard-hitting Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to get a match with then world champion Giardello. He lost to Carter by split decision in May of 1963 at Madison Square Garden.
Benton had wins over Philly fighters Jim “Slim” Robinson (later a trainer for Mike Rossman) and Jesse “Crazy Horse” Smith while losing to Briscoe in December of 1966 at the Philadelphia Arena.
Briscoe, on the other hand, against Philly fighters in 1964, stopped Charley Scott, then defeated Manning in his next fight only to lose to him in a rematch three fights later in 1965. In that same year, he lost to Hayward.
In 1966 he beat Benton, in 1967 beat Ike White, in 1969 defeated Manning in their third fight. In 1975 he defeated Hayward and, in the same year, drew with Hart and knocked him out in 1976 in a rematch. In 1982 in his final fight, he lost to Jimmy Sykes at the famous Philly’s Blue Horizon.
Two other Philly fighters, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Willie “The Worm” Monroe, both defeated “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler in Philly prior to Hagler becoming a world champion. Watts’s win was controversial, but I attended Monroe’s win over Hagler with new trainer Benton in Monroe’s corner.
In 1974 Monroe defeated Hart, stopped Hayward, and lost to Watts. In 1976 defeated Hagler. At a weigh-in, I talked with Monroe, who had a cast on his hand telling me he was giving Hagler a rematch in Boston, and I told him it wasn’t a good idea. Benton had changed his running style for their first meeting to standing in front of him that hadn’t prepared Hagler for that. In the rematch, he knew what to expect and stopped Monroe in Boston and again in Philly all before winning the title. In 1979 he lost to Curtis Parker.
Parker would defeat fellow Philly fighters Kid Samson, Jerome Goodman, and Frank “The Animal” Fletcher. Fletcher lost to Philly fighters Artie “Moose” McCloud (uncle to Monroe), stop Jerome Jackson, Caveman Lee, and Ernie Singletary. Then defeat Sykes and in his final bout be stopped by Parker. Sykes would be stopped by Mike Robinson, stop Tony “Rocky” Tassone, defeat Briscoe and lose to Fletcher.
Getting back to Watts, he stopped Perry “Lil’ Abner” Abney, stopped Hart, and defeated Monroe. Manning defeated Sidney “Sweet Pea” Adams, get stopped by Dick Turner, Hayward, and Briscoe. Then defeats Briscoe in their next fight while ending his career being stopped by Briscoe.
Philly’s Turner was in this writer’s first live fight in Philly, losing to Hayward in what I felt was a controversial decision. He then stopped Al Styles and Manning losing his final fight to Hayward. He retired with a detached retina.
Possibly the most flamboyant of all was Harris, who beat Johnny Knight twice, Hayward, then in 1967 went to Madison Square Garden and in a non-title fight defeated welterweight champion Curtis Cokes. He would later travel to Dallas, TX, for a title fight only to find Cokes not there and in a local paper showing him “out fishing!” Harris disgusted, then moved up to middleweight. He would end his career suffering his only defeat to Emile Griffith in a non-title fight.
The career of Harris ended when it was discovered in what was to be his next fight being blind in one eye. This writer attempted to get his license back, knowing he fought his whole career like that, memorizing the eye charts.
His gym war at 23rd PAL in Philly with Briscoe was so brutal that the gym’s head Duke Dugent had to jump in the ring and stop it after just a minute, telling both, “never again!” Through Dugent, we tried unsuccessfully to get the license of Harris back, referring to other great boxers with one eye like Harry Greb and Marvin Hart.
At the end of their careers their records were Benton, 61-13-1 (36), Giardello, 98-26-8 (31), Briscoe, 66-24-5 (53), Monroe, 40-10-1 (26), Watts, 39-7-1 (22), Hines, 25-3-1 (17), Hayward, 32-12-4 (18), Hart, 30-9-1 (28), Parker, 29-9-1 (21), Turner, 19-2-1 (11), Manning, 17-7-1 (11), Harris, 24-1 (9), Shuler, 22-1 (16), Sykes, 13-11-1 (9), McCloud, 11-5 (8), Tassone, 17-7-2 (6), Robinson, 21-9-1 (15), Abney, 24-13-1 (20), Smith, 46-12-5 (33), Beecham, 41-31-3 (12), Scott, 35-32 (20) and Fletcher, 18-6-1 (12).
Peltz had this to say about some of the Philly fighters:
Harris: A one-eyed genius who couldn’t beat the streets. Monroe: Always insecure about his own ability and never the main guy in the stable. Hayward: He would have been the star in the age of social media, plus he could really fight.
Hart: The best left hook I ever saw in person, and that includes Joe Frazier.
Watts: The best of the Watts-Hart-Monroe trio due to his boxing smarts, but his body may have been too fragile to hold up in the trenches.
Benton: He enjoyed fighting out of the pocket and being a defensive genius that he often forgot the purpose of the fight in winning.
Briscoe: He came to hurt you, body or head, and the thought the only battle he ever lost was when Rodrigo Valdes stopped in 1974 in Monte Carlo.
Turner: Only saw him once – a loss to Jose Stable – but another talent’s career was cut short due to a detached retina.
Fletcher: Relentless force and the most exciting fighter of the early 1980’s who made the most of his unlimited talent, but he couldn’t stay out of trouble on the street.
Giardello: Underrated champ who fought every tough Black fighter in his era. A throwback fighter.
Manning: Decent technician but fragile and thrown to the wolves by management.
Scott: Another burned-out Philly left-hooker whose schedule of opponents was chosen by the Marques de Sade.
Shuler: Beat James Kinchen but died way too young. Hearns loss could have been an anomaly, but we’ll never know.
Hines: Beautiful to watch with his repertoire of punches inside, and you cannot say that about too many southpaws.
Parker: Terrific action fighter who should have been managed better. Too many brutal fights in a row for his bruising style.