History | Nov 06 2019

On This Day: The brilliant Tony Canzoneri was born in 1908

George Zeleny tells the story of Tony Canzoneri, one of boxing's chief history makers

EX-SHOESHINE boy Tony Canzoneri was a brilliant box-fighter who contested world championships at four weights, was the world’s champion at three of them and became the first man in the history of the ring to win the world lightweight title twice. He still holds the record for the quickest knockout in a world lightweight title bout when he stiffened champion Al Singer in 66 seconds in November 1930. All-in-all Canzoneri beat thirteen different world champions and was only stopped once, in his very last fight.

Born in Slidell in Louisiana in November 1908 of Italian parentage Canzoneri’s family moved to New Orleans when he was two. He followed his elder brother Joe to the Gayosa Gym when he was 11 years old and came under the tutelage of ex-world bantamweight champion Pete Herman. The family then moved on to New York and settled in Brooklyn where Tony continued his amateur career, winning the New York State bantamweight title when he was just 15.

A year later in July 1925 Canzoneri lied about his age and turned professional with a 22 second knockout of Jack Gardner in New York. He never looked back. He ran up an unbeaten run of 31 fights with three draws and two no-decisions. By 1927 Canzoneri was ready to fight for his first world title. He boxed a draw with Bud Taylor in Chicago. Three months later, in the rematch, the teak tough Taylor took the title on a points decision. The growing Canzoneri was only 18 but after that defeat decided to move up to featherweight. His unique ring style was now fully developed. Standing 5ft 4ins with a 63 inch reach, the barrel chested Canzoneri had a huge upper body perched on spindly legs. He used minimum footwork and shuffled forward with his left hand dangling at knee level. Seemingly wide open he had lightning reflexes and dazzling hand speed and often, instead of jabbing, would attack with a sweeping left hook. With a solid chin and great stamina, Canzoneri also enjoyed a good tear up and rightly became a hugely popular performer in the New Madison Square Garden. He won his first world title before his 19th birthday by outscoring 300 plus fight veteran Johnny Dundee “The Scotch Wop” for the featherweight crown. A year later, struggling with weight problems, he lost the title to old foe Andre Routis and moved up to terrorise the lightweights. He was undefeated in his first 12 fights yet failed to beat tricky Sammy Mandell for the title in Chicago in 1929. He fought Britain’s whirlwind Jack “Kid” Berg but was outpointed. By the end of 1930 had knocked out Al Singer in a round to win the world lightweight title. He met Berg in a re-match for two titles as Berg had recently won the junior-welterweight title. In a stunning display, Canzoneri flattened Berg in the third round to become a dual champion. In the rubber match, as fiercely fought as the others, Canzoneri edged out a 15 round decision.