Cult Classic: Danny Nardico vs. Charley Norkus

sares28.11.07 - By Ted Sares: 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 deck (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 Charlie Norkus, he fit into an exciting mold of a hard-hitting, aggressive puncher without much 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 twice took second place in Golden Gloves boxing contests and remained 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 mine back in the 70s. I mention this because I had many opportunities to discuss Norkus with Ernie. By 1955, Charlie was a highly ranked heavyweight, beating such notables as Roland LaStarza, Cesar Brion, and an undefeated Charlie Powell. Charlie had notable non-title fights against champions Archie Moore, Willie Pastrano and Ezzard Charles, but his most talked about and perhaps career-defining fight was against the aforementioned and highly touted Nardico.

The Video

Here it was, two tough ex-Marines, both possessing paralyzing power, meeting in the square ring in Miami Beach in 1954 and there was palpable in anticipation of a brawl. What the fans got was something that went beyond a brawl. Think Foreman-Lyle, Castillo-Corrales or Durelle-Moore.

I now have a video of the action which just might be worth a fortune since only the rematch (which Norkus also won) was televised and much of what transpired was passed on by word of mouth thus adding to the cult-like nature of the fight.

The Fight

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 malefic 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 haymakers 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. He was on Queer Street but Nardico could not finish him off.

Both fighters 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 floored Norkus with a sharp and sneaky right to steal 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 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 and several pushes to the deck that could have been ruled knockdowns. It was full-tilt boogie violence featuring both fighter‘s total disregard for defense. Officially, Nardico went down six times (3 in the ninth) and Norkus twice.

This was the essence of a 1950s fight; a thrilling rocker in which both fighters gave their all. The fight is still written and talked about today, though few have seen it. A rematch on national TV had no knock downs but was a toe-to-toe affair with Norkus the victor again.

Article posted on 28.11.2007

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