For this week, ESPN goes back 59 years and travels just a bit further west to Chicago, IL for a welterweight contest. Yes, its the days of Blue Ribbon Bouts, and we're at the now defunct Chicago Stadium for a 10 round contest between Johnny Bratton and Rocky Castellani. A brief history lesson for the fight: Bratton is a former (briefly) welterweight champion. He had won the vacated NBA title following Sugar Ray Leonard's move to middleweight against Charley Fusari back in March of 1951, and had lost the title in his second fight holding it against Kid Gavilan just two months later. He managed a draw in a rematch with Gavilan in a non title bout that November, but was still on the outside looking in when it came to contention. Castellani had lost to Fusari and Gavilan in 1949 but picked up plenty of wins over other less "elite" names like Harold Green, Joey Giardello, Ralph Jones, and others. They met for the first time in March of 1952 at MSG, with Castellani pulling out a close decision. That all brings us to this rematch, held one time zone over in Bratton's city of residence.
(I often like to score bouts along with the fights, but I rarely end up doing it for classic bouts of this sort of vintage. These are fights that predate the 10 point must system, and so its inaccurate to bother doing it in that system because it doesn't reflect the era.)
The fight itself is a very good one; Early on we see a feeling out process taking place with Castellani moving forwards and pressuring Bratton. Castellani's best two punches by some degree are the left hook and the over hand right. He rarely throws anything but and generally if there's a combination, its those two punches being linked together. Unlike a lot of guys who are offensively limited, he does seem to have a fairly good idea on how to block punches and move around the ring. He never follows Bratton around; he cuts the ring off and fights. Bratton, meanwhile, is a slicker defensive counter puncher with a wider offensive range. Whenever you have that kind of clash is styles, the odds are good that you'll get punching exchanges and guys getting hit clean.
By round 3, Bratton is beginning to find his range and lands a number of strong shots to Castellani, who continues moving forward perpetually. By round 6, the punches that have landed seem to have exhausted Castellani and Bratton appears to be firmly in control of the bout. At the very least, I considered the bout generally even in round 6 if not clearly ahead for Bratton. Round 7 sees Castellani come out as a house afire, throwing bombs and landing strong punches. One hook snaps around Bratton's head and he's forced to hold on to the final bell to prevent a knockdown being scored against him. In round 8, he recovers nicely and it looks as if Castellani has burnt himself out going for the kill in the 7th round, but again Castellani shows great grit by throwing hard in the final two rounds and coming forward. Bratton generally does a decent job slipping punches, but with the volume of stuff that comes at him, he's bound to be hit clean a few times. He also has the very difficult issue to overcome of being pushed on the back foot by Castellani regardless of what he's landing.
There is little surprise when the cards are read that its a split decision. But one card (read as 56-44 on TV, shown as 54-46 on Boxrec) is the determining score for the winner, and rather than go to the hometown fighter, it goes to the Italian fighter from Pennsylvania. Castellani wins the fight; he would go on to fight Bobo Olson in August of 1954 for the middleweight title, and lost by unanimous decision. In fact, while he fought a great many of the star fighters at 160 (Sugar Ray Robinson, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giambra), he never attained the kind of success there that he did as a welterweight. Post retirement, he opened a bar and also was a judge for the NJSAC from 1984-1996. Bratton would recover in his career and find himself fighting Gavilan again one year later in 1953. After losing badly by decision in a fight he was reported to have taken a beating in, Bratton never recovered, lost 3 more fights in a row, and basically disappeared. His final years are reported to have included run ins with the law over intoxication, work as a farm hand, and a death in 1993.