HBO has announced that they will relaunch their ultra-popular series “Legendary Nights” this fall, with a one-hour retrospective and behind the scenes look at the thrilling Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward trilogy. I was excited to hear of the return of this wildly entertaining series which recounts legendarily intriguing boxing events. I began to reminisce, along with others, about what other great nights of boxing they could possibly work into the series. As I reminisced and revisited the emotions and excitement of various events, I began to think about my own personal “Legendary Night” boxing memory. A night when I was 11, that holds a prominent spot in my memories of boxing and in life:
I began to hear stories about boxing at a very early age. My grandfather, Kid Manny Bruno, was a club and professional boxer from the 1930’s with over 120 recorded fights on his tally. His animated storytelling and living room fighting tutelage is what got me started in learning about the sport of boxing. I began attending local Boxing Hall of Fame banquets in Rochester, NY with him and my dad, at a very early age. Over the years I would meet numerous former champs, contenders, fighters, trainers and fans at these dinner events. Though I was unaware of it at the time, I was gathering a baseline knowledge and appreciation of the sport and its people.
My dad and I attended numerous sporting events while I was growing up in Rochester, NY. He would take me to baseball, hockey and semi-pro football games on a fairly regular basis. However, I had never attended a live boxing event before. That is, until April 25, 1981.
My dad got my grandfather, he and I, tickets to see a live boxing event at the Rochester War Memorial Arena. I was stoked! Stoked not just because I was going to an interesting and new-to-me event but stoked because I was going to get to see Frankie Minnigan fight. Frankie Minnigan was a welterweight whom I had met and spoken to a few times before at various boxing banquets. As a 9 or 10 year-old kid, meeting an actual pro- fighter for the first time, I was awestruck by Frankie. At the time, I didn’t realize that Frankie sported a 9-16-1 record heading into the 8-round bout that night in 1981 but, it wouldn’t have mattered much to me. I had met him, spoken to him, shook his hand and he was my guy. That is about all you need as an 11-year old fan.
In the days leading up to the event, my dad explained to me that Frankie (who’s closest brush to the big-time is probably a 4 round TKO loss to an up and coming Marlon Starling in 1980) would be fighting on the undercard for the main attraction that night, which was actually an NABO Light Middleweight Championship bout between local favorite Rocky Fratto and reigning champion Rocky Mosley. Neither of whom I had met before.
My guy Frankie Minigan AND a championship fight? Man, this was a big deal!
As we made our way to our seats in the arena that night, my grandfather was frequently stopping and glad-handing the various veteran fighters and local boxing people in the crowd. I felt a tinge of celebrity as he introduced my dad and I to numerous local luminaries along the way. My grandfather, in his senior years, was gregarious and full of personality. In looking back, I may have gained some of my own proclivity for entertaining and engaging people, from watching my grandfather do it at these events.
Our seats were decent. Not ringside, but not nosebleeds either. I could see the ring fairly well. The atmosphere in the arena was different than it was for the hockey and basketball games I had attended there before. It was much darker and there was more of a sense of mystery and anticipation than I had sensed at a sporting event before. It was as if it was a different arena altogether. Even the air seemed different. A haze wafted above the lighted ring which created a theatrically bold setting in the middle of the arena, unlike anything I had seen before.
I recall feeling somewhat anxious as I awaited my man, Frankie Minigan’s entry into the arena. After what seemed like a long time, Frankie eventually took to the ring, as part of a largely nondescript undercard. I remember feeling oddly nervous and excited as that fight began, as if I had something personally invested into it.
The 5,000 or so in the crowd were only mildly engaged in the bout, which wasn’t a fact that was evident to me at the time. I, of course, was glued to the ring action. My guy was in there, doing his thing. Frankie started well, as a hero should and dominated early. I don’t recall who he fought but he handled the occasion like the ultra-cool hero that I saw him as and in the 3rd round, was soundly beating his ring foe, to the point where the referee jumped in to stop it. Frankie by TKO. Hero status intact. If you had asked me that night, my 11-year old analysis would have reported that Frankie, despite his 10-16-1 record, was absolutely ready for a title shot!
Now that Frankie had taken care of business, there was a pause in the action before the main event Fratto fight. I began to sense an electricity and chatter building in the air. There were more people in the arena now and there was a definite buzz that hadn’t been there during the Minigan fight. The lights again dimmed and the spotlights fired. As I look back on the night, I now recognize that there was a swirling cocktail of angst and pride pulsing through the crowd as their guy Rocky Fratto, made his way to the ring. There were roars of approval and prideful claims as Rocky was formally introduced and the two pugilists met for the first time in the center of the ring.
Moments after the fight began, Fratto ignited me and the crowd as he knocked the champ down in the very first round. I recall needing to stand on my chair to see the action as the crowd had risen to their feet. I held my dad’s shoulder to balance myself as I was swept up in the visceral reaction of the crowd. I began leaping up and down on my chair as we cheered wildly and watched Fratto work to finish Mosley off in round 1. He didn’t complete the task in round 1 but a fire was lit in me and in the rest of the crowd.
The fight did wind up going the full 15 rounds, in a very competitive affair. Both men were battered and bleeding by the end. The pro-Fratto crowd was into it for the entire duration, cheering every blow by Fratto and jeering any questionably unsportsmanlike moments Mosley would appear to have. The fervor culminated in the final round as Rocky pounded Mosley to seal the champs fate and the crowd crescendoed as the clock wound down to the final bell and a sure Fratto victory.
I recall being electrified throughout the entire bout, riding the ebbing tidal waves of the crowds vocalized approvals and recoiled moments of concern. I recall my grandfather next to me, himself a veteran boxer, feigning, shadow jabbing and coaching from his seat. I continued to stand on my chair during the numerous Fratto flurries and never had a moment of diminished engagement. To me, there was nothing else in the world happening, outside of that ring. For that night, in those moments, that was my world.
Of course, Rocky’s hand was raised and he hoisted his newly earned belt, to one final burst of pride and approval from the crowd and me, standing on my chair.
Rocky Fratto? Frankie Minigan? Rocky Mosley? Certainly not the names that conjure up discussions of legendary fight nights but, at age 11 and at my very first live experience with the great tradition that is a live boxing event, they were legends to me. It was not known to me, nor would it matter that I wasn’t seeing legendary boxing talent on display that night. My dad, grandfather and I were there together. Experiencing the uniquely inspiring spectacle of two men in a ring, alone, with nothing but their heart, courage and training to guide them.
That night would leave a lasting imprint on me. It would teach me more of what my grandfather endured in being a boxer and as a result, what he could endure in life. It gave me a glimpse of what the nature of human perseverance and toil was about and how seeing it displayed in the rawness that the sport of boxing allows, can be deeply moving. I would learn the joy of standing on a chair and cheering for your sports hero. The joy of sharing a unique and defining experience with your grandfather and father at your side, making sure you didn’t fall off that chair.
To most, April 25, 1981 was just another cold night in Rochester, NY, or just another average card in the world of boxing, but to me, it will always be a “Legendary Night”!