Bennie Briscoe: Philadelphia’s Uncrowned Middleweight King

15.07.06 - By Tom Herns: In all of boxing history, the middleweight division has always been remarkably prosperous with talent. Legends such as Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, and Tiger Flowers have blessed it with their presence in the past, and that’s merely discussing the twenties alone! Decade after decade, the division has maintained a strong standing in the sport we love, a quick glance over each era will show you that. The forties, for example, were simply electric, phenomenal fighters like “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, and Marcel Cerdan were all but a few of the big names at the time. The fifties were hardly a feeble era for the 160 lb. division either, fighters such as Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio, and Joey Giardello assured us of that. And with greats like Emile Griffith, Nino Benvenuti, and Dick Tiger ruling over the sixties, it was another decade just teeming with brilliance.

But how about the seventies? Look at the fighters who composed the middleweight scene at the time and you’ll see that this was also an exceptionally gifted period, inhabited by outstanding boxers such as “King” Carlos Monzon and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. It was also, undoubtedly, the “Golden Era” for Philadelphian middleweights.

Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, Stanley "Kitten" Hayward, Willie "The Worm" Monroe, and perhaps the most intimidating of the lot, "Bad" Bennie Briscoe, made up the colorful gang of Philly toughs at the time.

To be feared in an era that skillful was quite a statement, yet Bennie was just that. Big, bad, and bald headed, like Rubin “Hurricane” Carter before him or Hagler after, Briscoe had a fearsome look about him, and all the tools to back him up.

He was a vicious force in the trenches, his punching as a whole was first class yet there is no denying that his work to the body was his best. When he brought that right hand down to the ribs, you could see even the most hardened of fighters cringe in pain upon impact. His patented Philly left hook was short, sharp, and to the point and his unorthodox “Neck bender” left jab was full of snap, purely a weapon, not a measuring stick. However, it was his right cross to the jaw that was his Sunday punch; precise, swift, and packed with power. Briscoe would later place at number thirty-four on the Ring Magazine’s list of the top 100 greatest punchers of all time.

His ‘come-forward’ style made it seem as though he was easy to hit cleanly, which wasn’t the case at all. He stood in a half crouch, kept his hands high, bobbed and weaved past punches, tucked his chin in close to his chest, and smothered his opponents, not allowing them to get their shots off properly, making himself an awkward target. When Bennie was at the top of his game, he was tremendous.

Briscoe started his professional career in 1962, racking up fifteen straight victories with ten knockouts before dropping a decision to Percy Manning nearly three years later. Briscoe would lose to various fighters through 65’ to 67’, like fellow Philadelphian Stanley Hayward, a tough and awkward brawler most notably known for his spectacular, come-from-behind knockout of Curtis Cokes in 1964. Two years later, in one of Briscoe’s finest wins, he would retire defensive marvel (as well as future trainer) George Benton in the tenth round of their bout. Bennie would then drop a decision to former welterweight champion Luis Rodriguez before stepping up and facing Carlos Monzon in 1967.

Monzon was virtually unheard of at the time, and many felt that Briscoe would walk all over the sharp boxer from Argentina. When the pair finally got together in Buenos Aires, they fought for ten, fiercely contested rounds. Briscoe, always the aggressor, brought the fight to Carlos, who in turn worked efficiently off the back foot. It was a give and take affair, through and through, with both men displaying not only their boxing prowess, but their gallantry, heart, and determination. Though the fight ended in a draw, it enhanced Monzon’s world rankings to a much greater extent than Bennie’s.

Briscoe would run into a few more rough patches throughout the late sixties, losing his return bout with Rodriguez and falling short in his match with future light heavyweight champion (as well as future Bob Foster victim) Vincent Rondon, who he would knockout cleanly a year later in 1969.

By 1970, Briscoe had managed to regain his footing and knocked out every one of his next eleven opponents, though not without facing a bit of difficulty in the process. In 71’, Briscoe was sent to the canvas for the very first time in his career when facing Carlos Marks before storming back for the knockout win in the fifth. However, his next test against contender Rafael Gutierrez would prove to be an even more punishing contest. In the opening round alone, Gutierrez, to the surprise of many, managed to deck his opponent twice. Unfortunately for Rafael, Bennie knew the laws of survival all too well and rebounded in the second with his own attack, ending matters decisively the very same round. Bennie terrorized the crafty Al Quinney next, stopping his opponent in the second round after decking him for a fourth time, before demolishing Jorge Rosales in one.

Briscoe’s winning streak would end after losing a close decision to Luis Vinales in 72', who he would stop in seven in their rematch the same year. After this victory Briscoe would meet Monzon, the now middleweight champion, once again, this time for the WBA and WBC titles.

Carlos proved that he had learned a substantial amount since their initial meeting and boxed beautifully for fifteen rounds. He worked in circles, pumping out that snake-like left jab, razor-sharp right cross, and sweeping left hook in rapid succession while Bennie, as dogged as ever, stalked his target. Briscoe was, as always, relaxed yet lively, and bursting with rhythm as he bobbed, weaved, dipped, and dived his way forward. He worked Carlos’s ribs stubbornly, however his opponent simply wouldn’t wilt under fire. Monzon got a good taste of “Bad” Bennie’s right cross in the ninth, slumping onto the ropes upon delivery. But the clever champion managed to tie his opponent up before he could follow up the attack and survived the rest of the round. By the end of the fifteenth, the decision was clear in favor of “Escopeta”.

Briscoe, eager to receive another shot at the title, stopped each of his next three opponents until catching up with the dangerous Columbian slugger Rodrigo Valdez. In their initial meeting the two battled it out for twelve, close rounds, only to have Valdez pull out a close decision. Following the loss, Briscoe would rack up another three straight knockout victories, resulting in a rematch with Rodrigo for the vacant WBC middleweight title in 1974.

The bout was a vicious affair indeed, with plenty of fierce exchanges and punching power on display by both men. Valdez made certain to establish his authority early on, nearly decking his opponent with a piercing right hand in the opening round. As the bout progressed, Rodrigo seemed to be having the better of it, as Briscoe was simply getting outgunned by a younger, more powerful opponent. The seventh saw Briscoe come out well, launching a successful body attack and even staggering his foe with his own right hands. As Bennie began to throw his infamous right cross once more, Valdez saw the opening he’d been looking for and landed a short right hand flush across his opponent’s face. Bennie’s head sagged forward and his knees buckled, and the following left hook didn't do much to help him regain his composure as the seasoned veteran went crashing to the canvas. Briscoe arose at eight, but the referee had decided he’d seen enough and halted the contest. It was the only time in his entire career that the Philadelphian had ever been knocked out.

Briscoe would also drop a decision to the great Emile Griffith the same year before defeating Stanley Hayward in a return match and taking a split verdict from future light heavyweight champion Eddie Gregory, a.k.a Eddie Mustafa Muhammad in 1975. Briscoe would also draw with fellow Philadelphian puncher Eugene Hart in a thrilling contest.

Hart was a massive hitter by all accounts, his left hook in particular was phenomenal. Many of his opponents, such as Vito Antuofermo and Marvin Hagler, who both appeared on Boxing Scene’s 1991 list of the top ten greatest chins of all time, would later go on to say that Hart had hit them the hardest out of anyone they had ever faced. However, Eugene’s most impressive display of power came in 1971, when he flattened Stanley Hayward in a single round. Years after the fact, when Hart was asked in an interview if Hagler was his toughest opponent he replied, "To be honest, tell you the truth my toughest opponent was Bennie Briscoe."

The two would cross paths once again in 76’, however a big right hand from Briscoe would end matters in the very first round. Briscoe would then draw with Griffith in a rematch and lose a close decision to his old rival Valdez for the WBC and WBA middleweight titles in 1977. By this time, Briscoe was far removed from his prime and had paled in comparison to the murderous slugger we all knew and admired from his early years. He would lose decisions to various contenders in his final stages as a professional, including to future middleweight champions Antuofermo and Hagler, before retiring in 1982 with a record of sixty-six victories with fifty-three knockouts, twenty-four losses, and five draws. When naming his most challenging bouts in an interview following his career, Hagler would go on to say, “Talk about big, bad Bennie Briscoe”.

Briscoe was, in my mind, not only one of the fiercest middleweights of the seventies, but also one of the finest. He was avoided like a plague by many of the top contenders throughout his career, very few, if any, were eager to face him. And who could blame them, no one walked out of a match with a prime Briscoe unmarked or untested. From savvy defensive specialists and top class boxers to nasty sluggers and one-punch knockout artists, Bennie met them all. Fearless, vicious, and just plain “Bad”, Bennie Briscoe was Philadelphia’s uncrowned middleweight king.

Article posted on 15.07.2006

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