Joey Giardello: Middleweight boxing champion

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The Independent Online

They no longer make fighters like Joey Giardello, the boxing champion of the 1960s who spent nearly two decades in the ring but who is best remembered for a legal dispute involving the depiction on film of his famous title fight with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

A gutsy middleweight of the old school with relentless energy and a solid chin, Giardello fought 134 times, winning 33 of his 101 victories by knock-out. He held the world title for two years, from 1963 to 1965, and was cited by the Boxing Hall of Fame for his tough, gritty demeanour and his dodging, dancing style.

Giardello flattered to deceive, however. His career was marked by ups and downs, as well as by disputes with some of the underworld figures who controlled his sport. Despite chalking up victories over Billy Graham and Sugar Ray Robinson – widely regarded as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in history – he failed to capture a title belt until the relatively advanced age of 33.

That moment came in Atlantic City in December 1963, when he upset the odds to beat the reigning champion, Dick Tiger of Nigeria. However, his most famous win came the following year, when he successfully defended his belt against Carter in a gripping match-up that went 15 rounds.

The fight, which featured in the 1999 film The Hurricane, saw Giardello survive a mauling in the opening rounds to impose himself on the famously relentless Carter through nimble footwork and intelligent use of his jab. By the closing stages, Giardello was bleeding profusely from a head wound that had been opened up by an accidental head-butt early in the fight. But he won by a unanimous verdict.

Many years later, when the film The Hurricane came out, Giardello filed a federal defamation suit, contending that the fight was wrongfully depicted. In the movie, Carter, played by Denzel Washington, is shown delivering a heavy beating to Giardello, portrayed by Ben Bray, but losing on a racially tinged decision.

The lawsuit claimed that the movie, which recounted how Carter spent more than 19 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a triple murder, created a false impression of the bout. Giardello claimed that this "demeaned" him in furthering the theme that Carter's life was destroyed by racism. After the case was settled, an explanation of what had actually happened during the bout was added to the video, and scenes from the real fight were added to the DVD. Carter's story was also famously told in the Bob Dylan track "Hurricane".

"For 19 years, I fought the greatest fighters around and I beat Carter fair and square," he said after the verdict. "I just wanted to set the record straight, and I think it has been."

Joey Giardello was born Carmine Tilelli, the son of a New York Sanitation Department foreman in Brooklyn in 1930. He spent most of his life in Philadelphia, however, and like many Italian-American children in the city, began boxing during childhood. He borrowed the name Joseph Giardello from a friend's cousin in order to enlist, under-age, in the US Army in 1946. He honed his boxing talents in the military and turned pro shortly after being discharged in 1948.

Guy Adams

Carmine Tilelli (Joey Giardello), boxer; born New York 16 July 1930; world middleweight champion, 1963-65; married Rosalie 1950 (four children); died Cherry Hill, New Jersey 2 September 2008.