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Articles of 2005

Al Certo Has Seen It All



Al Certisimo was a professional lightweight boxer from Hoboken, New Jersey, who compiled a 9-1 (4 KOs) professional record between 1953 and 1954. All of his fights took place either at the fabled St. Nicholas Arena in New York or its New Jersey counterpart, the Laurel Garden in Newark.

Although Certisimo was a crowd pleaser who brought no shortage of fans to his fights, he retired from the ring after accidentally cutting a nerve in his right index finger. He opened a tailor shop and later became more famous than he ever was as a fighter. As Al Certo, he became a well-respected, well traveled, and perpetually in-demand trainer and/or manager of such fistic notables as Buddy McGirt, Mustafa Hamsho and Andrew Golota.

“What a life!” laughs the eternally youthful 77-year-old Certo, whose latest fighter, New York heavyweight Vinny Maddalone, scored a fourth-round TKO over Dennis McKinney on the undercard of Antonio Tarver-Glen Johnson II in Memphis on June 18. “I’ve been involved in boxing, whether it was promoting, managing or training, since the ‘40s. I’ve seen it all.”

Extremely articulate in a “deese” and “dem” kind of way, Certo is one of the sport’s last truly colorful characters. While best known for his long association with McGirt, who can ever forget his expletive-laden tirade against Andrew Golota when the troubled Pole called it quits against Mike Tyson?

“That was a bleeping nightmare,” said Certo. “The sad part is that he was such a talented kid. He got himself the opportunity of a lifetime, and bleeped it up. When he came to the corner and said ‘Stop the fight,’ I said ‘Go back out there and fight, you bleep. You’re not gonna quit on me and all these people that paid to see you. I’ll hit you with the bleeping stool.’”

As we know all too well, the pep talk didn’t work and the disgraced Golota was pelted with debris as he made his way back to his dressing room. A disgusted Certo, whose tailoring business had been thriving for years, went back to making suits.

“That was one of the biggest disappointments of my career,” he lamented. “I’ve had a lot of good times, and a lot of bad times. That was one of the worst. Afterwards, I even had to sue Golota to get paid. The whole experience was so bleeping ugly.”

One incident that left an even more indelible impression on Certo was when one of his fighters, lightweight Gino Perez, was seriously injured during a bout with Juan Ramon Cruz at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in September 1983. Six days later, he died from his injuries.

“I jumped on the ring apron to stop the fight, but it was too late,” he said as his eyes filled with tears. “He was a good kid, with such a nice family. In boxing you always know this can happen. But seeing his mother and sisters, all the pain they were in, was unbearable.”

Ironically, in Atlantic City in February 1981, Perez was involved in another fatal bout. In that encounter, his opponent, Fred Bowman, died after being stopped by Perez in the sixth round.

As tragic as those particular memories are, Certo speaks more fondly of the years he spent with McGirt, whom he describes as the most tireless and diligent boxer he ever worked with. “He was a great talent, and the easiest fighter to train,” said Certo. “I would show him something new and within minutes it would look like he’d been doing it his whole life. He had the sharpest eyes and quickest reflexes of any fighter I’ve ever seen. He could punch from any angle and knock you out.”

Certo also took over the training and managerial reins of 1980s middleweight madman Mustafa Hamsho after the death of Hamsho’s Runyonesque manager, Paddy Flood, who was one of Certo’s closest friends.

“Mustafa was a really strong kid, with a head like a brick” he said. “If [Marvin] Hagler wasn’t around, he would have been a two- or three-time champion.”

One of 13 children, Certo grew up on 519 Monroe Street in Hoboken, a block away from the household of Frank Sinatra, who lived at No. 419. He was even brought into this world by Sinatra’s mother Dolly, who was midwife to many of the Italian women in the neighborhood. (She was also charged with performing illegal abortions.)

Also living on the same street was singer Jimmy Roselli and comedian Pat Cooper. Certo’s father, who went by the name of Al Cosley, was a well known bandleader who often played at political meetings hosted by Sinatra’s mother. In his pre-stardom days, Frank would come and sing at these events, often at the prompting of Cosley.

In the early stages of Certo’s pro career, he asked for a little promotional boost from Sinatra’s father, a former boxer who, in order to be appointed to the local fire department, used the alias Marty O’Brien. In those days, immense anti-Italian sentiment worked against athletes as well as those seeking civil service positions.

In essence, Certo was told to jump in a lake. “He acted like I was looking for a handout,” explained Certo. “Obviously it didn’t work out. So much for neighborhood ties.”

Once Certo retired from the ring as a prizefighter, he thrust himself into his business, and at one time was producing 40 to 60 top-of-the-line suits a week. His wide array of customers ranged from superstar athletes to local politicians and businessmen, ordinary Joes, and organized crime figures.

Because of his ethnic background, as well as his involvement in boxing and his underworld clientele, Certo could never shake the label that he was mobbed-up. The fact that he ran the Secaucus Police Athletic League for 12 years, and was also involved in numerous charitable endeavors didn’t help de-stigmatize him one bit.

His gangster persona was exacerbated when he killed a man in a 1974 street fight. For five years he had been feuding with the victim, who was spreading salacious rumors about a member of Certo’s family.

“I threw one punch, a left hook, and he went down,” said Certo. “He fell, hit his head, and died 10 days later. Suddenly, I was Public Enemy No. 1. The press said I was making $60 million a year as a gangster. If I was, why was I sweating my balls off in my tailor shop for 80 hours a week just to make ends meet? The Feds saw a lot of gangsters come to my shop. I never asked what they did for a living. I just made them suits, but it was guilt by association.”

As his trial began, celebrities such as former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey wrote glowing letters to the judge requesting leniency. Three days into the trial, Certo was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and escape jail time. One thing he couldn’t escape, however, was his conscience. To this day, he tears up when discussing the case, much like he tears up when discussing the death of his daughter, a longtime drug user, from AIDS in 1990.

“Sandra was my firstborn,” said Certo. “She was only 35 when she died. I often ask why it couldn’t have been me.”

 Certo and Lee, his wife of 57 years, have another daughter, Kim, as well as two grandchildren, who are 21 and 16.

“I honestly don’t know anyone who has a bigger heart, or has done more favors for people than Al,” said Richard O’Neill, the former vice-president of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and one of Certo’s closest friends. “To the casual observer, he would sound crude, harsh and rough. It’s virtually impossible for him to put a sentence together without at least two curse words, most of which begin with the letter F. In actuality, he’s one of the most sincere and warmest-hearted people I’ve ever met. Considering the fact that he’s in boxing, that speaks volumes. He doesn’t know how to say no to anybody. The best thing about him is he treats everyone the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s Rocky Marciano or a derelict on the street.”

Speaking of Marciano, Certo was extremely close with the only heavyweight champion to retire from the game with an undefeated record. He remembers asking the smallish champion how he was able to outmuscle and outlast much bigger men.

“I knew I was handicapped because I had short arms and was only 185 pounds,” he was told by Marciano. “So I had to do something to make me equal, or above, my opponents. I knew conditioning was the key. I’d go to the mountains for five months. I’d even tell my wife, don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

He also laughingly recalls Marciano describing a trip to Africa, where the former champion’s plane was forced to land in the middle of the jungle. “He told me the pilot warned him not to walk around because there were lions nearby,” said Certo. “Rocky says, ‘Lion’s, they only got teeth.’” The guy was bleeping fearless, absolutely fearless. He had iron balls. I never met anyone like him.”

Certo also recalls when the classic film “On the Waterfront” was being filmed in Hoboken in 1954. The movie’s lead actor, Marlon Brando, would regularly visit the Hoboken Recreation Center to work out on his own. He described Brando as a “ballsy kid who wanted to box,” but says that he was not allowed to do so because of the production company’s insurance regulations.

“He had the most potential of any actor I’ve ever seen,” said Certo who has worked with, among others, Mickey Rourke, John Belushi, Robert Conrad, and John Diehl, who was a regular on the hit ‘80s television show “Miami Vice.” (All except Belushi had at least one professional fight). “But Brando didn’t talk much. He was kind of arrogant. He always looked like something was on his mind.”

One of Certo’s favorite all-time characters was former middleweight champion Rocky Graziano. Like most Americans with even a rudimentary knowledge of boxing, Certo revered him. One time, when Graziano had a television appearance scheduled on the “Mike Douglas Show,” he asked Certo to slap together one of those gaudy, multi-colored suits that all would-be hipsters were wearing in the early seventies.

Certo feverishly worked to get one finished, and did so in record time. When Douglas asked Graziano where he got the nifty suit, Graziano replied “Delancey Street,” referring to New York City’s bargain central.

Certo, who was hoping that a plug by Graziano would bring him nationwide exposure, was appalled, but concedes, “You couldn’t get mad at Rocky. He was the most lovable guy you could ever meet.”

All in all, says Certo, his life has been a helluva ride. He survived open heart surgery several years ago, and looks and feels decades younger than he is. He attributes much of his youthfulness to being involved in what he loves most: boxing.

“I used to think the sport would give me a heart attack, maybe even kill me,” he laughs. “Now I think it’s what’s keeping me alive. It’s like what some people say about women. You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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