IT MAY BE more fitting to raise a beer barrel than a tear on the death of Two-Ton Tony Galento, who, when he was standing stood for a kind of athlete who has totally disappeared from American public life. In fact, it is hard to be sure if Mr. Galento, who downed more pasta than several Italian villages, and chomped cigars while doing road work, was actually an athlete at all. An official program would have had to list him as a heavyweight boxer, but as a "boxer he was closer to the canines than the pugilists, having once defended himself before the New Jersey Boxing Commission by asking: "Who is this guy, Queensberry?" Still, he fought 114 matches from 1929-1944, winning 82 of them. And, of course, he won permanent fame for knocking down a mightily surprised Joe Louis in a championship bout at Yankee Stadium in 1939, before Joe Louis remembered who the champion was. Before the fight Mr. Galento predicted he would "moider da bum," but he was always saying that.
Mr. Galento was never a champion with anything but his mouth, yet as a character he was frantically loved by a public who saw in the former saloon bouncer the true nature of his sport. "Who is this guy, Queensberry?" Indeed. When Mr. Galento waded into the ring bearing 200 or, more often, 240 pounds on his 5-foot, 9-inch frame, and started to weild that unclever left hook, he carried with him the pure, unvarnished, gloves-off purpose of boxing -to beat a man's brains out with your fists. No repe-a-dope for Two-Ton. No Brut or Lite Beer ads, either. In 1947, his boxing days behind him and 275 pounds of flesh around him, he turned his temperament to professional wrestling, and on the night of his first bout, 2,000 bitterly disappointed fans had to be turned away.
Of course, Mr. Galento may not have been the braggart pug his press agents made him out to be. But the point is that if he were starting out in the swinging 70s, that image would not only fail; it wouldn't even be seriously comtemplated. Everybody in the ring is Gentleman Jim Corbett nowadays, and when a boxer shows signs of being asocial or merely a puncher, he is dissmissed out of hand as unworthy of the profession. But Mr. Galento knew what his profession was, and his fans knew that he knew. He stood for moider with permission, and was so cheered up and down.