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Joey Giardello: 1930-2008

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20080905_dn_g2joey05s_medium Source: Philadelphia Daily News

Boxing lost one of its best yesterday, as former middleweight champion Joey Giardello passed away in Pennsylvania. He was 78 years old. Giardello's health had been "deteriorating for some time," and he went peacefully at 12:30pm.

Born Carmine Orlando Telleli in Brooklyn, New York, on July 16, 1930, the charismatic and popular fighter made his professional debut in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1948. He became a major star in his adopted home of Philadephia in the years to come, first fighting in the city on December 30, 1948, knocking out Willie Wigfall in the first round at the Metropolitan Opera House.

He started his career 18-0-1, but it was a creampuff record. His first loss came to journeyman fighter Joe DiMartino on January 16, 1950. He lost again four months later, this time to Carey Mace, and a third time to Harold Green in October. He later avenged the Green defeat.

The first notable mark on Giardello's career came when he beat Billy Graham via disputed split decision in August 1952, and beat him again that December. This time, he won again on a split decision, but New York commissioners Robert Christenberry and CB Powell altered a judge's card to award the fight to Graham. Giardello sued, and the New York State Supreme Court reversed the reversal that February. (Bert Blewett's The A-Z of World Boxing)

He would fight Graham again on March 6, 1953, losing a 12-round decision. Giardello kept on fighting and fighting, squaring off with the likes of Joey Giambra, Charley Cotton, Rory Calhoun, Spider Webb and Chico Vejar (among many others) for years.

He fought the great Dick Tiger twice in 1959, splitting the bouts, and also split a pair with Henry Hank in 1961-62. In 1963, he forever made his stamp on boxing, beating 42-year old Sugar Ray Robinson via unanimous decision, and at the age of 33, he was made No. 1 contender to Tiger's middleweight championship.

He faced Tiger for the third time on December 7, 1963, about five and a half months after beating Robinson. Giardello won on points in 15 rounds, and was the new middleweight champion of the world.

Still, though, Giardello went right back into controversy. His non-title decision win over Juan Carlos Riveo in April 1964 has been called "not popular," but to his credit he fought him again a month later, and won another close decision.

Perhaps his most famous fight is his first championship defense, which came on December 14, 1964, at Philadelphia's Convention Hall. That night, Giardello defended against challenger Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. I want to be clear in saying that I'm not trying to trash Carter's credentials, but this fight would later take on a life of its own in Norman Jewison's docu-drama The Hurricane, and the fight deserves the truth told as much as possible.

While Jewison's film depicted it as some savage Carter beatdown where Giardello was awarded a racially-driven victory, the truth is that Giardello beat Carter fair and square, plain and simple. There is really no one on earth that debates who won this fight, and there are few on earth that remember Rubin Carter as a great fighter, and those that do are propelled with the fake nature of the film's storytelling and some Bob Dylan lyrics. Carter himself never disputed the decision at the time, and he was also 20-4 going into that fight. He was no legend. He was a fighter, and a pretty good one, but no legend. And he did not beat Joey Giardello, by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, Giardello sued over the depiction of this fight in the movie, and settled out of court. Norman Jewison even made note on the film's DVD that Giardello was "no doubt" a great fighter.

After the Carter win and a stay-busy victory, Giardello gave Tiger a rematch, and lost the title. He never returned to the main event stage, fighting four more times before retiring in 1967, finishing with a career record of 101-25-7 (33 KO). He was 5-3-1 against fighters that are in the Hall of Fame.

And in 1993, Giardello himself was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Rest in peace, champ.