Tuesday night’s fight history remained in the 1930s for a review of 1931’s first clash between Kid Chocolate and Tony Canzoneri. That year Max Schmeling defended the world heavyweight title against Young Stribling by technical knockout in the 15th round, establishing his reputation as a legitimate holder of the title. That match was rated as fight of the year by Ring magazine. However, there are others that would give the credit to the aesthetically pleasing World Lightweight Championship that became subject of tonight’s lesson and discussion.
The Five Ranges
Prior to discussing the fighters and their fight, which might be summed as a “Night of the Boxers”, I thought it was time to do another quick look at another general aspect of boxing. What I noticed in this fight and any fight when two truly great out-boxers, boxer-punchers or, as was this case, an out-boxer and a boxer-puncher clash is how important the nuances of range becomes. All ranges dictate and determine tactics.
The five ranges in a boxing match (and any stand-up fight) are out of range, edge of range, long range, mid-range and close range. Out range is the totally safe zone where boxers circle each other and make their initial plans. They also escape to it and I saw this happen quite regularly with Kid Chocolate where he virtually turned his back on Canzoneri after their clinches. Edge of range is the most controlling range for all boxing styles. This is where he can pressure his opponent and reveal opponent’s reactions. Swarmers like Dempsey, Sharkey, Villa and Armstrong used it to feint their way in and judge their path. The slugger, Max Schmeling used it to set up Joe Louis in their first fight, getting his opponent comfortable to throw his jab and reveal the weakness in his guard. However, it is the out-boxer and boxer-puncher that really excels here. This is where Benny Leonard and Tommy Loughran often stayed using their footwork. Boxer-Puncher Joe Louis used it to pick shots as smoothly slid back and forth into the next range.
Long range is the most common place points are scored and this was very evident in Chocolate versus Canzoneri fight. It is intelligently negotiated by the head movement of the great swarmers with their slipping, ducking, bobbing and weaving, but it is often the most vulnerable place for the pure slugger and where he is most likely to be taken apart by the boxers. Mid-range is where all the styles most aggressively compete, but it is probably not the greatest place for the pure out-boxer and was definitely favoured by sluggers like Max Baer and Max Schmeling but also where swarmers Jack Dempsey, Pancho Villa and Jack Sharkey did most of their damage. Close range is clearly the domain of the swarmer and this has never been better exemplified than so far in the gloved era than by Henry Armstrong where he nullified opponents’ weapons whilst simultaneously blindsiding them from his punches, especially his overhand. However, a very large and significant number of great out-boxers and boxer-punchers expertly used the clinch. From the early days of the modern era Jim Corbett and Jack Johnson were masters at tying up opponents to wear them out so they could later take them apart from the outside. Boxer-puncher James Braddock was a known spoiler and we saw him do this a lot to muffle the onslaught of sluggers.
Kid Chocolate was the ring name of Eligio Sardiñas Montalvo. The Ring listed him as the fifth greatest featherweight of all time. Born in Cerro, Havana, Montalvo was also dubbed “The Cuban Bon Bon”, and apparently got his early education in boxing watching films of the greats. He religiously studied the Joe Gans versus Battling Nelson, Jack Johnson versus Jim Jeffries and the Benny Leonard versus Lew Tendler bouts a fanatical number of times.
According to his manager, Luis “Pincho” Gutierrez, “We studied how Gans used his left hand. Then the Keed would go the gym and practise throwing his left hand exactly as Gans did. Study pictures of Gans and the Keed and you’ll see that Chocolate’s left hand was just like Gans.” In 1931, The New York Herald Tribune made a comparison of the fighters, calling Chocolate “the greatest Negro boxer of his weight since Joe Gans.” For the record, Gans, AKA “The Old Master”, was the first African American to win a world title in the 20th century, holding the World Lightweight Championship from 1902 to 1908 and defending it 13 times. He may have got his jab from Gans but he got his clinching skills from Johnson and there are media reports on how expertly Chocolate could tie up his opponents, all studied from the Johnson/Jeffries bout. From Leonard, he pretty much got everything else and ran with the knowledge. He learnt how to feint, dodge, block, parry and use footwork from Leonard’s performance. Chocolate also became known for his expert ring generalship.
Montalvo adored fighting and partying, but Gutierrez infamously embellished his amateur record. He claimed Kid Chocolate won 100 fights, 86 of these by knockouts, but these are thought to be fabrications created by his manager and they are the mildest versions of the story. Cuban boxing historian, Enrique Encinosa, has verified some 22 amateur bouts through the press at the time, which were fairly meticulous in recording fights, all of which Chocolate won.
There is also some confusion regarding his professional record as he apparently turned pro in Cuba and won a large number of fights there before moving to New York, the then capital of boxing, in 1928. He had a verified Kid Chocolate’s official professional record stands 152 fights, winning 135, 51 by knockout, losing 11 (including one disqualification) and drawing six times.
His first attempt at a world title was a failure when he lost to 1930’s reigning featherweight champion, American, Christopher “Battling Battalino” Battaglia, on a unanimous point-decision. The New York Herald-Tribune wrote of the bout “In the vast throng which witnessed a truly exciting, bitterly fought encounter were a considerable number who disagreed with the decision. Chocolate floored the champion in the 1st round and had Battalino on the verge of a knockout. He carried nine of the 15 rounds in the opinion of this writer.”
After this match, Kid Chocolate went up a weight category to the super-featherweight/junior lightweight division and knocked out the current champion, second generation Ukrainian immigrant, Benny “Little Fish” Bass in 1931. Chocolate became the first Cuban in history to win a world title. After winning five straight fights that year, he decided to go up a division again and challenge Tony Canzoneri for the World Lightweight Championship. At the time, his professional record stood at 67-3-1. Kid Chocolate was an out-boxer by style who, like many other intelligent out-boxers, knew how to also control the clinch.
Tony Canzoneri was previously mentioned in a supporting role of the careers of Barney Ross and Lou Ambers, both who we saw fight Henry Armstrong. Barney Ross considered Canzoneri the most talented man he faced after he won the World Lightweight Championship off him in 1933. Lou Ambers considered Canzoneri his mentor and hero as he served as his sparring partner. He also took the same title off Canzoneri in 1936. According to BoxRec:
“Tony Canzoneri fought 18 world champions and six Hall of Famers. He defeated such fighters as Baby Arizmendi, Benny Bass, Jackie (Kid) Berg, Kid Chocolate, Johnny Dundee, Johnny Jadick, Frankie Klick, Jimmy McLarnin, Billy Petrolle, Andre Routis, Battling Shaw, Al Singer and Bud Taylor.
Canzoneri fought 175 professional fights, winning 141 (44 by knockout), losing 24 and drawing 10 times. He was born in Louisiana but moved to Staten Island with his family when he was a teenager. He fought as a bantamweight, a featherweight, a lightweight and a light welterweight. He beat Johnny Dundee to win the vacated NYSAC and The Ring World Featherweight Championship on points in 1928. He defended it once against Benny “Little Fish” Bass and then lost it to André Routis. He went up a division to fight for the undisputed World Lightweight Championship. He lost a decision to Sammy Mendell before Mendell was knocked out in the first round by Al Singer. Canzoneri, who had previously fought the rapidly rising Singer to a draw, delivered karma by knocking Singer out in the first round in the first title defence. Canzoneri went up another weight division to knock out reigning champion Jack Kid Berg for the National Boxing Association’s World Light-Welterweight Championship in third round in 1931. He was now a two-division world champion and defended both titles three times before he first match with Kid Chocolate. Tony Canzoneri entered the fight with an 85-9-8 record.
“Canzoneri was a great observer and would watch other fighters and learn from them. He developed his own unique style. Benny Leonard said of Tony that he had a style that could not be copied as it only worked for him, but it made him a great fighter.” – Bobby Franklin, Boxing Over Broadway
Canzoneri was considered to be a fighter that had it all but is probably best described as a classic boxer-puncher fighting against competition with some seriously tough chins. He carried a low left hand to set up with his right and possessed an effective jab as well as powerful body shots.
Canzoneri was the reigning lightweight champion and Kid Chocolate was the current world junior lightweight champion. This was a tight fight with what turned out to be a controversial decision at the time going to Canzoneri. Contemporaries were more in favour of Chocolate whereas retrospective commentaries seem to agree with the decision. I was surprised at how much of a to and fro bout this was from start to finish. Both demonstrated good ring craft and outside boxing skills. Chocolate had a wiry build and Canzoneri was visibly more muscular with broader shoulders.
Rounds one and two were even, with both fighters coming out hard. Kid Chocolate worked a long jab a lot and Canzoneri used some intelligent inside work, such as over-hooks and collar ties to set up his rear hand. The fight went back and forth in terms of aggression, each fighter having their moment. Chocolate worked the lead hook at outside range whilst Canzoneri went to the body with his lead hook. Canonzeri seemed to be pushing more forward into the second round with Chocolate back-peddling and scoring with the jab. Again, plenty of clinching, wrestling and inside punching interspersed with both fighters primarily fighting off the lead hand when on the outside. However, there were definite slug-fests in round two where the two had hard back and forth exchanges against the ropes and in the middle of the ring.
Round Three saw Chocolate become the more active in the exchanges. He was still using a lot of defensive movement compared to Canzoneri, but he pushed the champion back more and scored more punches on the whole.
Round Four was a slightly slower pace, but there were still some heated exchanges in the centre of the ring. Chocolate might have gone down although it is unclear by the footage or reports. Canzoneri landed three hard shots which Chocolate tried to bob and weave out of but appeared to collapse.
- Chocolate, if not floored at the end of the 4th, had still been hurt, and he made a change and boxed defensively now. It was the slowest round yet. However, Chocolate threw more punches and some would give him this round.
- This round was far more tentative than the previous ones with the pace having slowed down into an even fight.
- Chocolate appeared to start to take control with a very sharp jab possibly reminiscent of Joe Gans with Benny Leonard’s defences allowing Canzoneri to miss more. The Jack Johnson clinching tactics are also quite evident as he spoiled Canzoneri’s attacks.
- An almost role reversal this time with Canzoneri taking the lead. He used his jab quite effectively but Chocolate was still very much in the game, making it a close round. Canzoneri primarily stalked and Chocolate back-peddled, both seemingly comfortable within their respective styles for this fight. Canzoneri fought well in the clinches using a lot of body hooks whilst Chocolate was trying to find his way in with the odd over hand.
- A more even round this time saw both fighters work mainly from long range. Kid Chocolate appears to score more on the whole.
- Both fighters traded good shots in this very close slug-fest of a round. Retrospective commentators give it to Canzoneri for scoring more power shots, however, I see a lot of Chocolate channelling Johnson’s tie-up tricks to counter and frustrate.
- Tight again with many commentators siding with Canzoneri again yet I have read at least one historian saying they saw this round as a reverse of the previous one, giving it Chocolate. There was a good balance of outside and inside fighting. Chocolate appeared to be out-positioning Canzoneri and perhaps a little more active but also was visibly missing his shots. Canzoneri seems to have landed the most punches and I would have given it to him this time.
- This rounds saw some aggressive and regular uppercutting from Canzoneri on the inside at the beginning but Chocolate’s deft use of his left from the outside evened the score. A similar picture comes is repeated towards the end of the round. Canzoneri lands heavy hooks to the body on the clinch whilst Chocolate pumps out effective jabs and lead hooks at distance. Both seem to win their fair share of fights on the inside almost taking turns with the last hook.
- Canzoneri somewhat upped his game this time, leading with an impressive jab and lead hook from long range. However, this was where Chocolate could excel and whipped out his accurate double jabs in a return from long range. Leaning into his power advantage Canzoneri still sought to take the fight directly to Chocolate. However, he was less keen to do this in clinch range where Chocolate was comfortable wrestling and was immediately demonstrated each time they entangled, and this time we even saw more punching action coming from his side. Instead I saw what looked like a strategy to keep the fight at mid-range where logically the boxer-puncher would have the greater advantage having a more damaging punch. Nevertheless, Chocolate was willing to trade blows here relying a lot on head movement.
- There was a lot of in-fighting from the beginning of this roudn, but it did not slow down the action with both men actively trading shots throughout. Towards the end Chocolate drove Canzoneri back into the corner but his opponent pushed back out. Countless numbers of hooks were landed during the exchanges with one at least unbalancing Chocolate just prior to their last clinch. This round was clearly a strong foreshadowing of the war that was about to follow.
- The final round saw Canzoneri come out strong and catch Chocolate with a lead hook to the head fairly early on. After that the first minutes of the round appeared to be Chocolate passively blocking Canzoneri’s charges. This changed quickly though and Chocolate began to dip and roll again, getting back into the swing of the action. Soon a tempo developed consisting of Canzoneri throwing left and right hooks to the body was answered with Chocolate bobbing and weaving into delivering check hooks. The fight continued escalate with a variety of punches being thrown by Chocolate to Cazoneri’s head whilst Canzoneri launched overhands that missed and body shots that landed. The fight ended with both men up against the ropes still going.
When Canzoneri was awarded the split-decision the match was booed for a solid 10 minutes. The New York Herald-Tribune again was a fan of Chocolate’s work and believed that despite Canzoneri’s desperate rally in the later rounds, the champion had not done enough to retain the title. The journalist said that Chocolate “belted the champion with everything but the timekeeper’s gavel”. Chocolate won nine straight fights, including a defence of his World Junior Lightweight/Super-Featherweight title, before losing another controversial split decision to the British Jack “Kid” Berg. The New York Times said of the fight “A crowd of 15,000 persons saw the battle… when the verdict was announced a storm of protest went up. Many thought that the Cuban, due to his more effective punching at long range and better boxing ability was entitled to the award. Most of the experts at ringside also were of this opinion.” He retained the Super-Featherweight title again this time against the Italian Eddie Shea and five non-title bout victories later there is a record of him winning the World Featherweight title in a bout with Lew Feldman when Battling Battalino relinquished it in 1932. However, this is in contradiction to the tournament held for this title that was won by Tommy Paul. After his twelfth round knockout of Feldman, Chocolate had 10 more victories from 14th November 1932 to 1st November 1933. On 24th November that year he met Canazoneri again.
After his fight with Kid Chocolate, Tony Canzoneri lost his other title belt (the National Boxing Association recognised World Light-Welterweight title) in a unanimous decision to Johnny Jadick. He won four non-title bouts before his rematch with Jadick for his old title only to lose again, this time on a split decision. There were two more non-title bouts before he defended his lightweight title against Billy Petrolle. This was followed by two more non-title bouts, after which he won back the light-welterweight title from the man who had beaten Jadick, the Mexican Battling Shaw. However, it was a short-lived victory as he lost it to Barney Ross. Canzoneri then lost the immediate rematch against Ross. He won a non-title fight after that against Frankie Klick before it was time to fight Kid Chocolate for their second bout.
Despite his winning streak, Kid Chocolate was beginning to suffer the effects of syphilis. Canzoneri knocked him out in the second round of their rematch. However, Chocolate would successfully defend his Super-Featherweight crown against Frankie Wallace less than two weeks later before finally losing it against Frankie Klick on Christmas Day in a seventh round knockout. He temporally retired, but was back fighting against in April 1934 where he went on to fight 49 more times until his retirement in 1937. Of the remaining fights, he only lost three and drew five times but was denied any type of title shot. During his time at the top he had created a reputation for partying as hard as he fought, but now he felt abandoned by the boxing elite and returned home to Cuba to live a quiet life. Castro’s revolutionary government largely ignored him for the first 10 years or so, where he became something of a forgotten champion. However, in the 1970s his boxing achievements were recognised and he was given a small pension. He died in 1988, living in the same house he bought for his mother at the height of boxing fame.
Kid Chocolate became the inspiration for the character Chocolate Drop in Clifford Odets’ play “Golden Boy”. He would also inspire many boxers including Sugar Ray Robinson who tops many lists as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter all time. Just Chocolate had studied his idols so Robinson emulated a lot of Chocolate’s slick movement and combined it with the precision and power punching of Joe Louis. Former World Boxing Organisation Middleweight Champion the American Peter Quillen also adopted the “Kid Chocolate” moniker in honour of his idol.
After beating Kid Chocolate far more decisively in their second fight, Tony Canzoneri would compete in 55 more matches. After 15 of these fights he got an opportunity to win back the now vacated undisputed World Lightweight Championship in 1935. He was up against the ascending star that was Lou Ambers and his former sparring partner. Canzoneri won by unanimous decision. He would win 10 more fights, including a defence of his title, before he lost the title in a rematch against Ambers. After four more fights, an unsuccessful rubber match against Ambers in 1937 would decide their trilogy and Canzoneri would never fight for the title again. Canzoneri had 22 more matches, winning 15, losing five and drawing twice before retiring in 1939. He was only knocked out once in his career and that was in his last fight where he faced Al “Bummy” Davis. Davis was 11 years his junior and became a seriously ranked contender for the lightweight and welterweight divisions. He was beaten by Lou Ambers, Henry Armstrong and the future middleweight champion Rocky Graziano.