Joey Maxim

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The Independent Online

Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli (Joey Maxim), boxer: born Cleveland, Ohio 28 March 1922; married (two daughters); died West Palm Beach, Florida 2 June 2001.

As the writer A.J. Liebling put it, the contest between Sugar Ray Robinson and Joey Maxim for the latter's undisputed light-heavyweight championship at Yankee Stadium, New York, on 25 June 1952, was memorable, but chiefly for meteorological reasons. Delayed by two days because of rain, it took place on the hottest 25 June in the history of the New York City Weather Bureau.

When Robinson and Maxim went to their corners before a crowd of 48,000 sweltering spectators, the temperature at ringside was 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat so intense that the referee Ruby Goldstein, a former welterweight then in his forties, had to be replaced at the end of the 10th round.

Robinson, bidding to add the light-heavyweight championship to the welterweight and middleweight crowns he had already won, held a commanding lead at the end of the 13th round but had to be dragged to his corner. He had, quite simply, collapsed from exhaustion. He couldn't get off the stool at the end of the one-minute interval, and Maxim was declared the winner by a knockout in the 14th, because the bell had rung for the begining of that round.

Many sports writers took the view that Robinson had been beaten by the heat alone. Maxim's manager, Jack "Doc" Kearns disagreed. "The heat talk is an alibi and an excuse," he said. "Robinson was nailed good in the belly in the 10th round, and again in the 12th, and he got a left hook and right to the head at the end of the 13th."

Maxim himself always felt that he wasn't given enough credit for inflicting only the second defeat Robinson had suffered in 135 professional contests spanning 12 years. "Did I have air-conditioning in my corner?" he said years later. "I pushed him all night. He knocked himself out."

Joey Maxim was born Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli in 1922 in Collingwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. He started boxing at 12 years old and had more than 200 amateur bouts before turning professional shortly after his 18th birthday, taking a new name from the comparison made between his furious left jab and bursts from a Maxim machine-gun.

Never a strong puncher, Maxim was twice outpointed by Ezzard Charles in 1942 and would lose five times to him in all, including a challenge for the heavyweight championship in 1951. Maxim's career finally took off in 1949 when he outpointed Gus Lesnevich for the American light-heavyweight title. At the end of that year he was ranked leading contender for the light-heavyweight championship of the world held by Freddie Mills.

A capacity crowd at Earls Court in London gave Mills tremendous support when he defended against Maxim on 24 January 1950 but to no avail. The British hero was counted out in the 10th round.

Already at the veteran stage, Maxim won seven more fights before losing on points to Ezzard Charles for the heavyweight championship. Six months after defeating Robinson he lost the light-heavyweight title on a decision to Archie Moore. A leading contender for seven years, Moore had been avoided by Lesnevich, Mills and Maxim and only got the opportunity after agreeing to give Kearns a share of his contract. Although Moore won easily over Maxim he had to defend against him twice more at Kearns's insistence.

One of the final victories of Maxim's career was an eight-round decision over a young Floyd Patterson. After winning just one of his last nine fights, Maxim retired in 1958, later working as a cab driver, a restaurateur and a casino host in Las Vegas. He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994. "When someone comes up to you and says, 'Hi, Champ', I like that," he once said. "I'm a tough old bird."

Ken Jones

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