Happy 60th Birthday Paul Ferreri: Former Commonwealth Champion & World Boxing Council Title Challenger

By Tony Pritchard – Nobbs: If he was around today they'd applaud Paul Ferreri as a “Triple A Man” but because his for purist's only style was always going to fail at the Box Office, his is not a name that sparks excitement among the younger generation of fans. Turn the clock back thirty years though and the Sicilian born southpaw was one of the world's leading bantamweights, mixing it with the very best, often on the road and challenging for the World Boxing Council 118 pound crown against Mexican icon Carlos Zarate.

Holding Australian bantam, feather and super featherweight diadems and the Commonwealth bantamweight championship, Ferreri compiled an overall record of 78-13-5 scoring 26 knockouts in an an eighteen year career. He defeated world champs Rolando Navarette and Venice Borkorsor as well as a host of Australian and international stand outs, still featuring prominently in the world ratings in his mid thirty's and with his accomplishments and longevity he deserves mention when our great little men are remembered.

Paul was born in Aidoni, Sicily, Italy on New Years Day, 1948, with his family migrating to Australia in 1952, settling in North Melbourne. He first began boxing at a gym run by Snowy Sullivan in a loft near where he lived but after Snowy died he turned pro under the expert eye of Johnny Famechon's mentor Ambrose Palmer, himself once a masterful Australian fighter from the 1930's at Ambrose's gym at the bottom of Festival Hall in West Melbourne.

What most people don't realize is that Paul is not a natural left hander. He explains “When I went to Ambrose's, I shaped up with my right hand out and he told me to stay with whatever way I feel comfortable." Considering in previous era's “lefties” were usually encouraged to fight orthodox, that is somewhat unique. Does he feel it made a difference? “Not really. I fought a lot of southpaws and beat them. If you are going to be a good fighter it doesn't matter how you shape up."

Like “Fammo," whom he boxed “hundreds of rounds” in the gym, Ferreri never fought as an amateur. “I asked Ambrose if I'd fight a few amateur fights first. He told me he didn't do amateurs. He said if I wanted to fight amateur I'd have to go some where else. It didn't matter to me - I just wanted to fight." Beginning his career with a pair of three round decisions – three days apart - over Pietro Granada in August 1968, Paul fought on eight occasions before the year was out. In his nineteenth fight he became Bantamweight champion of Australia. The night was October 17, '69, just fourteen months from his debut! He beat Allan Presnell on points over 15 rounds, his third points pat over the fellow Melbourne fighter. He opened his 1970 account with February wins over Norm Britton and the admirable Reg King, a polio victim and future NSW featherweight champion and later Scotland's John Kellie, going 8-0 that year.

He split with Stadiums Ltd house trainer Palmer after out pointing Floro Ybanez of The Philippines on Nov 16, his last bout of 1970 as the company thought his style was not suited to Television and with morale at a low he'd go winless in his next three starts, being held to draws by Tony Moreno from Texas, USA and Filipino Willie Cordova, then suffering his first loss on June 1971, in his 30th outing, a ten round verdict in Melbourne to Cordova, who had twice gone the route with future WBA bantamweight champion Arnold Taylor in between. The return with Cordova took place just five days prior to his wedding to Joy.

It didn't take long to get back on a winning run. Thirteen victories and one draw (in Tahiti against French bantam champ Guy Cauldron) out of his following fourteen – notably, not in order, a second win over John Kellie on September 16, '72 - to begin the first of two reigns as Champion of the Commonwealth that spanned fourteen years - Soweto's Kid Snowball, two over Mexico's Fernando Sotelo (a Lionel Rose conqueror ) plus highly ranked locals like Harry Hayes (2), Willie Leslie, Jim Bowen, Big Jim West, Brian Roberts - he was matched with Arnold Taylor, by then the world champion in an over the limit affair in Cape Town, South Africa, losing on points after ten stanzas on March 18, 1974. The Victorian was outweighed by three and a half pounds. With the Commonwealth title he earned a number nine world ranking and his stocks only rose with his further wins and showing against Taylor.

Winning three and drawing one in Italy among his next twelve, going 9-1-2 (the loss being to Brian Roberts at Marrickville), he then challenged Zarate on August 28, 1976. The bout prior, Paul outpointed Rolando Navarette in Cebu City. Navarette became WBC super featherweight champion in 1981, knocking out Ugandan Cornelius Boza Edwards in five rounds. By this time Ferreri was in Jack Rennie's stable, where he stayed for the rest of his career, having previous stints with Johnny Cooper and former Australian champion Gilberto Biondi.

Hall of Famer Zarate was 25 year old, stood a lanky 5' 8 and had 41 knockouts in his 42-0 slate upon entering the filled 13,000 seat Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles. After being given the toughest test to that date by the Aussie, the human Torpedo from Tepito, Mexico emerged victorious on a cut eye TKO in round twelve. “I was told to pace myself. I wanted to go at him from the start and make him work hard. I could feel him tiring when it was stopped. Had I got right at him from the first round I would have stopped him. He had trouble hitting me and I was getting to him. He had a lot trouble making weight. The plan was to wait until the later rounds before I picked it up but they stopped it because of the cut” said Paul. “Jack had a bad leg and after a few rounds couldn't even get up into the ring and he was just giving me instructions from the floor. But that is how it goes. I had my chance. I can't worry about it now."

To give a form guide on Ferreri's effort that night, the following year Zarate scored a four round destruction of countryman and World Boxing Association counterpart Alfonso Zamora (29-0, all knockouts) in an over the weight war. (Zamora had won the title, KO 4 over Soo Hwang Hong who'd taken it of Taylor and one of his defenses had been a KO 2 over future featherweight great Eusebio Pedroza). Zarate made eight successful knockout defenses before losing the world title when another Mexican Lupe Pintor was awarded a highly controversial split decision despite being floored in the fourth. Returning in 1986, “Carlos The King” finally ended his career at 66-4, 63 KO's, losing his last two fights against Jeff Fenech and Daniel Zaragoza in challenges for the WBC super bantamweight title. He'd been knocked out in an attempt at the same belt by Puerto Rican puncher Wilfredo Gomez while still bantam boss. Gomez at the time was 21-0-1, with 21 whacks, having drawn his first paid bout after being selected to box at the Munich Olympics as a fifteen (yes 15!) year old and went on to be a three division champion.

After outpointing Merv Wockner at Cardiff, NSW, Paul journeyed to Accra, Ghana, dropping a fifteen rounder and the C/Wealth title to Sulley Shittu. Returning with wins over Guinnea Hillier, Brian Roberts (he was 6-1-1 over all against NSW's Roberts, a class performer who challenged Azumah Nelson for the C/Wealth 126 lb title in 1981), Roger Henry (to win the Australian 126 lb title) and Brian Schofield, Ferreri then out pointed Venice Borkorsor, the former WBC flyweight champ over ten heats in Melbourne on May 9, '78.

After losing on points to Nepatali Alamag in Manila, he had a couple of wins in Australia and then lost to the tragic Johnny Owen in Ebbwe Vale, Wales, for Commonwealth honors on points over fifteen. (Owen died in 1980 from injuries sustained in a brave crack at Pintor's WBC title).

On February 18, 1979 at the Horden Pavilion in Sydney he had a TKO 3 victory over Rocky Gattellari, former world flyweight title challenger and top draw card of the 1960's who was making a come back. The star studded card was televised live nationally and was supposed to show case the best of Australia's boxing talent. In the main, Gattellari quit – effectively doing a “No Mas”. “That wasn't a fight” shot Ferreri when I mentioned it. “It was a farce”! At “stake” was the Victorian's Aussie featherweight strap. Following victories over Roberts, Henry (twice), West (twice - one for the Aussie 130 lb title), Thai Dejvarin Hollywood and Olympian Denis Talbot, Paul then regained the C/Wealth 118 pounder by outscoring undefeated Danish based Kenyan Mike Urungu in a fifteen rounder in Copenhagen on May 21, '81.

He then lost and regained the Australian feather belt against Gary Williams, defended the 130 pounder against Talbot. Four inside the distance triumphs in Commonwealth defenses over Zimbabwe's Styx McLeod (2) England's European title challenger John Feeney (on the infamous Opera House bill) and Zambia's Francis Musanakabala – three at home and one in Harare, ZIM, were sandwiched by points wins over Thai Sakda Saksuree (who once beat the great Khaosar Galaxy) and Indonesian Saipa Monod before three straight ten round points defeats overseas in Seoul, Los Angeles and Portland in 1983 and '84 saw him slip out of the world title picture. Not that there was any disgrace losing those decisions. Oh Min Gun went on to win the IBF featherweight title, Gilberto Roman became WBC super flyweight champion and James Manning was a home town favorite and world top tenner.

For a time he trained young pro Lester Ellis but also continued to ply his trade, hoping to goad then IBF bantam champ, a young Jeff Fenech enough that he and wily promoter Bill Mordey would take the bait. Needless to say, Ferreri believes he would have been too good for The Marrickville Mauler, especially in his prime. “He had a smart promoter and won three world titles but if he was fighting in the seventies he wouldn't have been Australian champion because he would have had to fight me” commented Paul quite matter of factly.

With the help of globe trotting Sydney trainer Charlie Gergan, who was also keen for a Fenech – Ferreri showdown, the by now 36 year old veteran was matched to fight top rated 26-1-1, 17 KO's, Hurley Snead, a more experienced Kronk stablemate of 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mc Crory on the under card of Fenech – Mc Crory in Sydney on June 20 '86 but it fell through when the 26 year old import inexplicably failed to make weight.

In the final year and a half of his career Paul stopped Kiwi Jeff Smith, Sydney's Kirk Blair and Queensland's Junior Thompson but after defeats to Tony Miller - a later Fenech victim - for the national 126 pounder in Melbourne and Ray Minus (a three time world title challenger) surrendering the Commonwealth jewels in The Bahama's, he retired in September 1986, perhaps wondering what might have been had he arrived in a later era?

“No. I'm glad I got to fight in the time I did because that is when the better fighters were. To be a Commonwealth champion back in those days was like being a world champion today. They have so many titles today that there aren't enough fighters to fill them."

Asked what victories stand out he said winning the Australian title of Presnell, as well as beating Snowball, Sotelo and Feeney.

Ferreri names Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhummad Ali as his favorite fighters. “They could do anything. They were beautiful to watch”. Defense is what he says was his greatest attribute. “It's like Ambrose always said 'boxing is the art of hitting and not being hit.' I think it is the reason I was able to fight until my late thirty's and still have all of my marbles”.

Fittingly, Paul finished his career holding the Bantamweight Championship of Australia seventeen years after first capturing it. “I never relinquished it or lost it in the ring. They (powers that be) took it from behind my back when I was overseas in 1975” he protested. He ended up regaining it and retaining Commonwealth laurels by beating Brian Roberts, the new champ in 1976. “I am the longest reigning Australian champion in history. I believe it is a world record also (for national champions)."

We have not produced a better southpaw since and in 2006 Ferreri was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame (ANBHOF).

He retired from work at the age of fifty, being a Youth Worker with Juvenile Justice since the later stages of his fighting days and still has his gym in Avondale Heights, where he lives, and has run for thirty years.

“Unfortunately I haven't found a fighter dedicated enough to keep at it” he said.

Sadly, they don't make 'em like Paul Ferreri no more.

*Note: This article first appeared in November's issue of leading Aussie boxing publication Fist Magazine.

Article posted on 30.12.2007

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