The story of Two-Ton Tony, a bloody fight in the Nut Club bar and a giant octopus

Tony Galento was involved in a savage heavyweight title fight against Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium in 1939

Steve Bunce
Thursday 17 March 2016 23:26 GMT
Tony Galento was involved in a savage heavyweight title fight against Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium in 1939
Tony Galento was involved in a savage heavyweight title fight against Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium in 1939 (Getty)

Long before heavyweights greased their six-packs, posted selfies and added a tattoo or two to celebrate a win, there were men in the sport’s top division that knew how to get a bit of copy in the daily papers.

During a time when deadlines counted and newsmen scarpered between gyms in New York City searching for a titbit for their paper, there was a beast of a man called Two-Ton Tony Galento and there is nothing he would refuse to do if it helped a promotion.

Galento drank beer, poured beer, had a fight with a bear, a kangaroo and wrestled a giant octopus in front of reporters and photographers. He had a quick reply for every question, never refused a newsman a story or a drink and as a bonus the little fat, funny, bald man could really fight.

He mangled language to help the boys with quotes and would fight anybody, which helped the promoters. “Shakespeare? Never heard of him. Is he one of those foreign heavies? I’d moider dat bum.” He finished his career with 112 fights, 80 were wins and he beat some very good boxers.

In 1939 after 106 fights with “bums and moiderers” Galento finally got his chance in a world title fight with Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium. It was a big fight and Galento was convinced that he was the attraction: “They are here to see me moider this bum.” Louis, meanwhile, just kept snarling, silent again in another fight that he was desperate to end in a career that he could not control.

Galento had been calling Louis at his home in the weeks before the fight, informing the champion and his wife that he would “moider” him when they met. Louis claimed it was the only time in his career that he wanted to hurt his opponent.

Galento ran the Nut Club bar in Orange, New Jersey, and it was in his tavern that he had a bloody altercation with his brother on the day of his fight with former world champion Max Baer; Galento was drunk in the afternoon, his brother was pleading with him, they got to shouting, the first bell approached and Galento was glassed on his lip. And, yes, some of the diehard boxing press were there. He got stitched and then beaten by Baer, that’s Max not a grizzly.

He was given the nickname Two-Ton by one of his managers after he showed up late for a weigh-in and the moniker had nothing to do with his belly. He was asked why he was late and Galento replied that he had been busy: “I just delivered two ton of ice.” The name stuck, the managers came and went.

One of his managers was former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, a genuine icon in the 1930s, but their partnership ended with a savage sparring session. Dempsey, who was close to 45 at the time of the incident, had heard enough excuses about missing training and insults from the loquacious Galento; one day in the gym, Dempsey put some gloves on and took Galento back to an even older old-school. Dempsey had been a hobo as a kid, a penniless drifter fighting for soup and a bed before he became the all-American boxing hero. He left Galento hurt, then left the gym, their contract void.

In the Louis fight there is a great moment just as the referee pulls them together in the ring before the first bell, Galento reaches out a glove to wipe some of the Vaseline-like compound from Louis’s eyebrows: Louis never flinches as the man he hates tenderly wipes his glove across his brows. A few seconds later the same glove, this time shaped into a lethal fist, connects with Louis’s jaw and he staggers, his legs dip but he survives the onslaught. Galento is then dropped heavily in round two and it is the first time that he was officially knocked down. This is one of heavyweight boxing’s long forgotten gems. In round four the slaughter ends with Galento bloated, battered and smeared with his own blood after taking 38 punches – most to his chin and head. Louis was disappointed that he could not make him suffer more and admitted that once he had been dropped in the third, he had to get Galento out of the fight. Over 30 years later Galento helped Louis out when the fallen champion was battling tax and addictions.

In On the Waterfront, the film that delivered Oscars to Marlon Brando and writer Budd Schulberg for the script, Galento plays a thug and had just one classic line. “The canary can sing, but couldn’t fly,” says Galento after a man is thrown from a building. There is a look of glee in his watery eyes.

Galento wanted to fight a gorilla to hype a promotion but settled on an octopus, which – he was told by the sudden marine biology experts in the boxing business – could actually “moider” him. There was no dilemma for Galento and he plunged in to fight the octopus. The stunt has never been tried again, but plenty have since had fights with a kangaroo or a lame bear. Galento took on the octopus and won. It was a miracle and fortunate that the octopus was dead before Galento got in the tank. And he did it all by deadline. Top man.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in