Has there ever been a greater fighter who lost his pro debut? A greater fighter than Henry Armstrong? It sure seems doubtful. Armstrong, for many one of the top-five greatest fighters in boxing history, would rule the world at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. Also, the general consensus is “Hammerin’ Hank” was robbed of a win for the world middleweight title when he was held to a controversial draw by Ceferino Garcia.
But all of that seemed like a million miles away on July 28th, 1931.
An 18 year old Melody Jackson (Armstrong took up the new surname shortly after graduating from high school) went pro against a puncher named Al Lovino, a southpaw who weighed 123 pounds. The two men fought in North Braddock and were each paid around $50. Lovino of Swissvale, Pennsylvania recalled the fight many years later for Pittsburgh Boxing:
“I had trouble getting bouts because I was a southpaw and could hit. All I could do was punch. But could I punch!,” Lovino said. “Armstrong was deceptive in build. I weighed 123 pounds and he appeared much heavier. He was all arms and shoulders. He came buzzing after me, boring in from the start, and I let him come, nailing him with lefts to the body and head. He mas made to order for my southpaw counter-punching. He went down twice in the second round from punches to the stomach. The end came in the third round from another good one.”
Imagine if the young, green and raw Armstrong had decided to turn it in, that boxing was not for him! And there were more bumps in the road to follow; with Armstrong winning his next fight but then losing three in a row; all on points. Armstrong then strung together a 12-win streak, before another points loss came, and then, in late 1933, Armstrong boxed three consecutive draws.
By the time he had his first fight with long-running rival Baby Arizmendi, 21 year old Armstrong was 30-6-5. Armstrong lost the first two fights he had with Mexico’s Arizmendi, both decision defeats, but would win their series 3-2. Armstrong would find his greatness around 75 bouts into his career; when he won first the featherweight crown, then the welterweight title and then the lightweight crown. Truly astonishing.
From January of 1937 and his win over Rodolfo Casanova, to August of 1939 and his loss to Lou Ambers – this run comprising of 46 fights – Amstrong would fail to win only one fight; this the draw with Garcia.
Armstrong had incredible stamina, he threw a truly stunning amount of punches in each round of each fight, and he had speed, balance and power. And Armstrong loved to fight, as often and as hard as he could. After ruling as a three-weight king, Armstrong finally began to fade in the 1940s, suffering back-to-back defeats to Fritzie Zivic. Even then, however, a still only 29 year old Armstrong fought at an incredible rate – with 15 fights in 1942, 12 fights in 1943 and an incredible 19 fights in 1944. It was in August of 1943 when the immortal Sugar Ray Robinson defeated his idol via ten-round decision.
Armstrong finally retired in 1945, his record a jaw-dropping 152-22-9(101).
Lovino, who could so easily have persuaded Armstrong that boxing wasn’t for him, finished at 8-7-3(2) according to BoxRec. Lovino passed away at the young age of 59, this in May of 1968.