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Sandro Mazzinghi, 1938-2020

Sandro Mazzinghi
Paul Wheeler pays tribute to Italian boxing hero Sandro Mazzinghi

SANDRO MAZZINGHI, one of the greatest fighters Italy has ever produced, sadly passed away last month (August 22). The man from Pontedera in Tuscany twice reigned as the undisputed world super-welterweight champion in the 1960s. He was 81 years old and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Following in the footsteps of his elder brother, 1952 Olympian Guido Mazzinghi, Sandro turned professional in September 1961. In just 22 months, the hard-hitting Italian garnered a remarkable 28 wins (against only one defeat), including an eighth-round stoppage of Don Fullmer, of the famous fighting Fullmer family.

Mazzinghi’s fine form earned him a crack at Ralph Dupas’ undisputed world super-welter crown in September 1963. Boxing in front of his countrymen in Milan, Sandro ignored a nasty cut (a recurring problem in his career) to stop Dupas in the ninth and take the title. Three months later, the pair met in a rematch in Australia. Mazzinghi halted his opponent in the 13th to retain.

Over the next year-and-a-half, Mazzinghi won a string of non-title contests, in addition to successfully defending his championship on two occasions. However, he also had to deal with a devastating personal tragedy during this period. While travelling back home with his wife at the end of their honeymoon, the newlyweds were involved in a terrible car accident. Sandro managed to escape the crash with minor injuries, but his partner tragically died. It is a testament to his incredible mental fortitude that Mazzinghi continued to compete throughout this time.     

In June 1965, Mazzinghi engaged in an eagerly awaited Italian derby with 1960 Olympic gold medallist Nino Benvenuti. In a huge event at the San Siro football stadium in Milan, the Hall of Famer dethroned Mazzinghi via sixth-round knockout. A return bout took place at the end of the year, with Sandro battling valiantly, despite dropping a unanimous decision.

Six months after his sequel loss to Benvenuti, Mazzinghi faced off against another 1960 Olympian in Yoland Leveque. Sandro scored a KO in the 12th to become the new European super-welterweight champ. He went on to record four successful defences of his belt, beating the likes of ex-EBU titlist Bo Hogberg (rsf 14), former two-weight British ruler Wally Swift (rsf 6) and 1964 Olympic silver medal-winner Jo Gonzales (ko 4).

Mazzinghi’s triumphant reign as European king led him to a shot at Ki Soo Kim in May 1968 – the man who had deposed Benvenuti. The San Siro was the setting for Mazzinghi’s second coronation as undisputed champion, as he overcame the previously unbeaten Kim on a split verdict to regain the title.

Five months later against Freddie Little, Mazzinghi kept hold of his crown thanks to a highly contentious call from the referee, who deemed the fight a No Contest. Due to the controversy, the authorities stripped Sandro soon after, with Little going on to defeat Stanley Hayward for the vacant championship.

Mazzinghi had six outings in 1969/70 (five victories and one No Contest), before retiring from the sport. He returned for three bouts in 1977/78 (all wins), prior to hanging up his gloves for good. His final record read 64-3 (42) 2NC.

In retirement, Mazzinghi wrote and sung his own songs (briefly touring Italy), as well as running a vineyard. He was immortalised with a statue in his hometown of Pontedera, where Benvenuti visited his open casket at the local cathedral. Benvenuti softly kissed his old rival on the forehead and lightly touched his hands, 55 years after the two Italian greats first touched gloves in the ring.

Thank you to Vittorio Parisi and Dario Torromeo for their assistance in composing this article.

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