Exclusive Interview With Ted Zale, Nephew Of Middleweight Legend Tony Zale

06/08/2023 - By James Slater - Comments

This week (June 10) marks the 75th anniversary of the third and final fight (see war) between middleweight greats Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano. “Man Of Steel” Zale won the rubber match via violent third round KO, this after stopping Graziano in the first fight and then being stopped himself in the return.

A two-time middleweight king, Zale, 67-18-2(45) ranks of one of the toughest and hardest-hitting middleweights ever, while Zale’s efficiency as a body puncher is well-documented. In short, there will never be another Tony Zale. He was special.

Ted Zale, Tony’s nephew, lost his father at a young age, this leaving “Uncle Tony” to step in, becoming a very real father figure. Ted, asked by the former champ to write his biography, complied, the book “Man Of Steel” a truly great read.

Today, approaching his 75th birthday, Ted was kind enough to give some of his time for an interview for the benefit of ESB readers.

Q: It’s great to be able to speak with you, Ted. Can I ask you, how old were you when your dad passed, and did Tony Zale become your father figure in bringing you up?

Ted Zale: “My dad passed away and Uncle Tony came in helped all of us out, I had four brothers. I was eight years old when my father passed.”

Q: And Tony Zale tragically lost his father at a young ago himself, didn’t he?

T.Z: “Yeah, when he was two years old. His father got killed in the first car-bike accident in Gary, Indiana.”

Q: Talk about a tough start in life for both of you……

T.Z: “Yes. Fortunately, I had four older brothers and I had Uncle Tony. That made a big difference in my life, for sure.”

Q: What was Tony Zale like in bringing you up? I guess he was a pretty strict disciplinarian.

T.Z: “He was a very kind man, as a father figure, as a mentor, and as a friend. The feeling of love you always had when you were with him was special. He was patient, loving – he was just a good friend.”

Q: And when did you begin writing the book ‘Man of Steel?’

T.Z: “We went out for dinner one evening, in Chicago, me and my wife and he and his wife, this was probably back in the late ’80s. And I was in the middle of a career change, learning about the financial area, that became my career. He was sat over from me and he asked me, he said ‘I have a funny thing to ask you. Would you write my biography?’ I was totally honoured, and also shocked (laughs). I’d just gotten my master’s degree, so I guess he figured I was used to doing a lot of writing. So I told him I would dedicate a portion of time every day and try and do the amount of research that’s required.

“He said, ‘Don’t forget to interview me!’ I told him I wouldn’t (laughs). I accumulated close to 300 hours of interviews, with all my relatives that were still alive, with Uncle Tony himself of course, getting his vantage point, and from his friends that were still around. I began that in the late ’80s until I finally got it done. And Clay Moyle, a boxing historian of course, he got in touch, and we worked together on the book.”

Q: Did you speak with any of your uncle’s former opponents?

T.Z: “I sure did. I talked with Rocky Graziano on the phone a couple of times, to get his perspective on the fights they had. Billy Soose, who he fought in a non-title fight, I met him in Canastota, at The Hall of Fame. And maybe three or four guys who were not as renowned, they were a bit discouraged by Uncle’s right to the body, so they never pursued it [a boxing career] much further.”

Q: Soose beat Zale, and there was no rematch?

T.Z: “Uncle wanted to fight him again, but Soose couldn’t stay at that weight class, he was too large a frame. A couple of his fights, he came in at 167, 168. That’s a bit frowned on by boxers, of course (laughs). He [Soose] was a Muhammad Ali type, he moved around and threw that jab out.”

Q: Everyone rates the Zale-Graziano trilogy as one of the very best. Would you say that was the greatest trilogy ever?

T.Z: “I would say so. Yes. That was the golden age of boxing. Both guys, they delivered a lot of punishment and they were willing to take a lot of punishment to win the battle.”

Q: Did your uncle say Rocky was his toughest career opponent?

T.Z: “No. He said that Rocky was good of course, but the toughest guy he fought was the man he won the title from, the NBA title, this being Al Hostak. Al Hostak had quick hands, a lot of power, good, shifty movement. I guess the Achilles Heel for Al was unfortunately his hands – he would often break his hands in fights. Actually, in their title fight, he had to re-tape his hands because people were concerned he had loaded his hands with tape. So they had to re-tape him before he fought Uncle in Seattle.

“Probably the most rugged guy he mentioned to me, was a young Greek guy he fought in Chicago, Steve Mamakos. Uncle said he hit him with everything and he couldn’t put him down. He beat him in the 14th round (in their second fight, Zale having won a majority decision in fight-one). Rocky probably would have been in there, right between them. And Rocky, he was a street fighter, he had that big right hand and he knew how to use it.”

Q: And only the third Zale-Graziano fight was filmed, correct?

T.Z: “Yes. By the third fight, Uncle knew what he wanted to do with him, what he couldn’t do with him, so it was a pretty dominant performance. Although Rocky tried to get some good shots in, and he did get some good shots in in the second round. But it wasn’t enough to stop Uncle in his mission to regain the title.”

Q: Everybody talks about Zale’s great body punching. Did that body punching ability set him apart?

T.Z: “Absolutely it did. He was a fighter who wanted to knock someone out, to leave no doubt about who the winner was. They said he was a bad gym fighter, but he wasn’t a bad gym fighter. What he was, was, he was trying to find the motion and the timing, when you threw your left or you threw your right, he would duck under and connect with the body and have a clear shot. And that’s what he worked on his whole career in the gym. It was okay for him, as far as he was concerned, if his sparring partner hit him. He just wanted to get the timing down, so that he would be able to land that crushing right to the body and then finish it off with a left hook.”

Q: Your uncle sure has some legacy.

T.Z: “Yes, and it wasn’t just boxing that was important to him. Helping kids out…..he spent the remainder of his career after boxing helping kids in Chicago. It’s just an incredible story, what he did. The testimony I had from many of the old fighters. They came to his funeral, and they said that if it wasn’t for him, they would have been dead on the streets of Chicago. They told me that, they said, ‘He saved my life.’

“When I was doing book signings, I ran into two different guys from the military, who had been in WWII. Uncle trained people in hand-to-hand combat in Puerto Rico, before they went overseas to fight in WWII. Two of the guys told me that if it hadn’t been for my Uncle’s training, the Germans would have killed them. They said that without the hand-to-hand combat training he gave them, they wouldn’t be here today. So it’s great and wonderful to know he had that kind of impact, on people he never knew. He taught them how to survive.”

Q: There should of course be a movie made about Tony Zale. Graziano got the movie treatment, with ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me.’

T.Z: “There really should be. Uncle was to play himself in that movie, but he knocked Paul Newman down. Uncle Tony was playing himself, practising in the ring, and Newman hit my Uncle a couple of times. My Uncle said that this is pretend, he said to him don’t hit me, or else I’ll hit you. Newman said he could see that my Uncle was getting serious. But Newman came over with a right hand and hit him and Uncle went right to the body and put him out for about three minutes! When Newman got up, he said ‘That’s it! He’s gone.’ And that was that.”

Q: Tony Zale actually flattened Paul Newman!

T.Z: “I tried to get Newman to talk about that, but he wouldn’t talk about it. I tried to interview him, and he told me, ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’ I must just mention, before we finish, the world title belts of my Uncle’s, that were stolen from The Internation Hall of Fame. We placed the belts there on loan, and on November 5, 2015, somebody broke in and stole my Uncle’s two belts and Carmen Basilio’s four belts. They are still missing. There’s no idea as to who it was, although there was a blood splatter on the scene, with a broken glass, but no matches [with prints]. Hopefully one day we’ll get his belts back.”

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