Tony DeMarco - When Being A Fighter Meant Everything

21.06.05 - By Matthew Hurley: One of my fondest boxing memories will always be meeting Tony DeMarco at the International Boxing Hall Of Fame. I had just pressed the flesh with Carmen Basilio and Gene Fullmer, my father dutifully snapping photographs, when I walked off unknowingly into the warm embrace of Tony D. So infectious was this tough gladiator from my hometown of Boston that I made a mental note to myself to write about him one day. I've mentioned him before in previous articles but he plays on my mind and my affection for him only increases with the passage of time.

The first time I truly became aware of DeMarco was from a conversation I had with my uncle Eddie. Eddie, like my father, has provided a wealth of boxing history for me and his favorite boxing memory remains DeMarco's unforgettable bout with Carmen Basilio at the Boston Garden. A classic black and white photograph of the dramatic brawl's ending is still something I search for in archives for my uncle. It's a photo he remembers of a fight he can't forget.

My uncle Eddie attended those fights in smoky arenas when beer flowed for nickels and men in hats and tailored suits brought their wives or girlfriends to the fights to show themselves off. My uncle and my father were the kids in the rafters, in worn out jeans and T-shirts smoking cigarette butts and looking for half empty cups of flat beer. Sometimes, in their haste, the beer would have a burned out butt in it but they would fish it out and drink it down. The fights were where you went to be seen or where you went to mingle with what you imagined was an unseemly lot.

It was cinematic. Other than baseball or horse racing's triple crown there was nothing bigger than boxing at that time. Tony DeMarco, the tough street kid, fit right in with the almost Hollywood script. He was a gentle but rugged man who engaged in two fights with Carmen Basilio that illuminated and ultimately defined both their careers. The first, a brutal struggle that Basilio won in the 12th round was the "fight of the year." The rematch, fought only months later was nearly as good and was the runner up for "fight of the year" honors. But they were bouts Tony lost and is most remembered for which irks the "forever" fighter. "People forget I fought and beat Johnny Saxton and Kid Gavilan," he says wistfully. "I fought a lot of tough guys."

DeMarco typified the tough aesthetic of a fistic triumvirate of men who seemed glued together by their times and ultimately by time. Tony, Basilio and Fullmer represent an age of boxing when men fought both to feed their families and for pride. They were tough men who demanded to be considered and carried out on their shields if that was to be their fate. And when they were broken and carried out they got right back in the ring again, sometimes a week later. Their pride wouldn't allow them to do anything less. And now they commiserate at the Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies in June. That's where they truly sense their worth as fighters and feel the love and adulation of the crowd that other months of the year tend to forget.

Tony DeMarco is going to be honored in Boston this week along with Boston Celtic great Bob Cousy and Boston Bruin idol Terry O'Rielly, a fighter if there ever was one. But I wonder if Tony will only receive a polite applause when he is introduced. Boxing was so huge when my uncle, a young kid at the time, breathed in the air of an arena filled with cigar smoke and beer and peanuts. It's a forgotten time.

Then I shake my head and remind myself, "I'm writing about them. I'm a young man who is determined not to forget what came before him."

I've become a more enlightened man through the stories told by my father and my uncle Eddie and my uncles Frank, Jerry, John and Jimmy. They've created a window to the past and I never would have discovered so many things without them. I may have never become a writer were it not for the stories they planted in my mind. And I never would have had a most prized possession on my desk, a photo of myself and Tony DeMarco taken by my dad.

Article posted on 22.06.2005

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