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The Quintessential Pier Six: Nardico-Norkus

Bad Left Hook is thrilled to welcome Ted "The Bull" Sares back to the front page with another great feature article. This time out, Ted looks way back to 1954 and a fight between Charley Norkus and Danny Nardico.

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"After World War II, everything in life is a cakewalk."

--Danny Nardico

"On the day my father died, we were informed that he was elected into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. That meant the world to me, and it would have meant the world to him if he had been there to experience it himself."

--Charley Norkus, Jr.

"Norkus was as honest of a fighter as the day is long, and he never gave anything less than a superlative effort in everything he did both in and out of the ring."

--Robert Mladinich

Sometimes I rely on my memory bank to restore my faith in boxing and this is one of those times what with the "comeback" of Antonio Margarito and the drug testing fiasco that allowed two grown ups to walk away from $ 40, 000.000. Boxing has always been my sanctuary from the madness of reality, but now that sanctuary has been penetrated by would-be crusaders and hate mongers without boundaries

If the 50s represented a golden age of boxing and the 70s were the golden age of heavyweights, then surely this age will be memorialized by what could have been.

The 80s were a memorable time. Hagler gaves Minter an awesome lesson in how to destroy an opponent in 1980 . The boxing world waited for Leonard and Hearns in 1981, Hagler-Hearns in 1985 and Leonard-Hagler in 1987. Sugar Ray replaces Ali as the right man for the right time. His charisma permeates. Hagler, Hearns, Duran and Leonard face off against one another and Sugar comes out on top in the unofficial round robin. The great Benitez fights as well. Heck, the best fought the best. Mega fights were now being held and the participants got mega bucks. Arguello and Pryor went to the brink in a savage battle. Deuk Koo Kim and Ray Mancini go beyond and only one returns.

As for the 90s, boxing was a microcosm of the decade. As in the 80s but unlike the 70‘s, boxing's popularity focused on all divisions. Oscar De La Hoya became synonymous with Pay Per View and mega fights. He replaced Sugar Ray with his charisma and good looks.

Now the last thing I am is naive and am am fully cognizant that a sleazy underbelly to boxing has existed s existed for many decades, but this time it' different. This time the inmates seemed to have taken over the asylum, and in so doing, they have penetrated one of thee few sanctuaries I still have.

Nardico-Norkus (1954)

So, as I have always done in these situations, I go to my memory bank to see if I can restore some faith. This time, I I go back to the Auditorium in Miami Beach on January 20, 1954 when Charley Norkus fought Danny Nardico.

Danny Nardico (50-13-4, 35 KOs), was an ex-Marine who had been awarded multiple Purple Hearts in WWII. He holds the distinction of being the only man in boxing history to put Jake LaMotta on the canvas (in a 1952 fight in Florida, LaMotta was knocked down in the 7th by a right hand and his corner stopped the bout between the 7th and 8th rounds). Nardico put together a string of wins and knockouts to move into middleweight contention during the 1950s. Not unlike Bob Satterfield, Charlie Norkus and Charlie Powell, he fit into an exciting mold of a hard hitting, aggressive puncher without the best defense. He never did get a title shot, but he entertained as a rugged combatant and fought very tough opposition.

Charley Norkus out of Queens, New York, was also a top ranked heavyweight fighter. In a professional career that began in 1948, he amassed a record of 33-19 (22 KOs). He was undefeated as a boxer in the US Marines in 1946-1947. He became known as "the Bayonne Bomber." He possessed a lethal left hook that also produced a string of KO victories.

One of his friends and stable mates was fellow New Jersey Hall of Famer Ernie "the Rock" Durando, a personal friend of mine back in the 70s. I mention this because I had many opportunities to discuss Norkus with Ernie and to learn some interesting things about his war with Nardico. By 1955, Charlie was a highly ranked heavyweight and an extremely fine all-around athlete, beating such high ranked fighters as Roland LaStarza, Cesar Brion, and an undefeated Charlie Powell to whom he lost in a rematch. Norkus earned a shot at Rocky Marciano in 1955, but a hand injury to the Rock during training in San Diego forced Charlie into a ten rounder in Madison Square Garden against Ezzard Charles to whom he lost a close decision and his one chance at the championship.


"The Bayonne Bomber" at war with Ezzard Charles in 1955. (Photo courtesy Charley Norkus Jr.)

Charlie also had notable non-title fights against champions Archie Moore and Willie Pastrano, but his most talked about and career-defining fight was against the aforementioned and highly touted Nardico.

Here it was, two ex-Marines, both possessing paralyzing power, meeting in the square ring in Miami Beach in 1954 and there was palpable anticipation of a brawl. What the fans got was something that went well beyond.

Both fighters were ripped with monster biceps and broad backs. Norkus looked much bigger and actually outweighed his opponent by 16 pounds (197-181). He controlled the early action and put Nardico down in the second with a long and thunderous right. Nardico was hurt again and decked in the third, and was also thrown to the canvas twice by the stronger Norkus who fought in an old timer standup sort of way reminiscent of James J. Corbett. Nardico used good movement and a counter left to keep Norkus away and survive the round.

In the fourth, Nardico turned the tables on Norkus and hurt him badly with his trademark left hook. Both fighters forgot about body shots and exchanged simultaneous head shots that would have KOd most. These were hay makers and each was meant to end the fight. And one almost did as Norkus caught one of Nardico's patented left hooks and went down like he had been sapped by a Chicago cop. He was ripe for the taking but Nardico could not finish him off.

Both continued to exchange sizzling shots in the fifth and sixth and both were wobbled. The brutal battle continued into the seventh when Charlie unloaded a number of crunching overhand rights on Nardico's head, but right at the bell, Danny amazingly floored Norkus with a sharp, nasty, and sneaky right to take the round.

Then in the ninth, Nardico attacked at the bell with a sense of urgency and Norkus met the intended onslaught with a brutal straight right that sent Danny down and for all practical purposes out. Somehow, he got up and was sent down again by a flurry of Charlie's clubbing and mind numbing shots. The referee inexplicably let the fight continue and Norkus attacked again with crunching shots that left Nardico helpless. This time the referee had no alternative but to stop the slaughter. The fight was an incredible and savage pier six affair yielding eight knockdowns, count 'em eight, and several pushes to the deck that could have been ruled knockdowns. It was full-tilt boogie violence featuring a total disregard for defense on the part of both fighters. Officially, Nardico went down six times (3 in the ninth) and Norkus twice. This was a 1950s fight at its very best; a thrilling rocker in which both fighters gave their all. The fight is still written and talked about today, though few have seen it. I have a video (thanks to Ron Lipton) of the action which just might be worth a fortune. A rematch on national TV had no knock downs but was a toe-to-toe affair with Norkus again the victor.


These two were representatives of a different time. A time when names like Murphy, Barone, Raadik, Lavorante, Powell, Patterson, Harris, Maxim, Bucceroni, Bessmanoff, Marciano, Pastrano and Baker resonated. Somehow, I don't seem them fitting intro today's boxing scene and that might just be to their credit.

Take a musical and photogenic tour through the author's recently updated website at

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