Great Feuds: Return of the Rock (diary entry)

graziano janiro23.11.2021

“Learn from the Fight” returned to the career of the popular slugger, Rocky Graziano, and three of his fights in 1950 and 1951. This was following his loss of the World Middleweight title to Tony Zale in the conclusion of their trilogy. Zale had since been beaten by Marcel Cerdan and retired. Cerdan had lost the title to Jake LaMotta before being killed in a plane crash. LaMotta lost the title to Robinson in the conclusion of their sextology fight feud. Meanwhile, Graziano was far from out of the game. He won five straight fights, four of them as stoppages, before facing his biggest threat since Zale:  Tony Janiro. This was would the beginning of a trilogy of fights ending in 1951.

graziano janiro 1Rocky Graziano versus Tony Janiro 31.03.1950

Janiro, born Anthony Gianiro on 2nd February 1926 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, USA, and moved to Youngstown, Ohio, when he was just four years old. He was helped early on his career by Lenny “Boom Boom” Mancini who was the father of future WBA Lightweight Champion, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. He was managed by Frankie Jacobs and trained by the great Ray Arcel (Benny Leonard, Ezzard Charles, Jim Braddock, Barney Ross, Bob Olin, Tony Zale, Billy Soose, Ceferino Garcia, Lou Brouillard, Teddy Yarosz, Freddie Steele, Jackie Kid Berg, Alfonso Frazier, Abe Goldstein, Frankie Genaro, Tony Marino, Sixto Escobar, Charley Phil Rosenberg, Roberto Durán and Larry Holmes). Incidentally the ‘50s would be the era that Arcel would go into his first retirement from coaching after being hit with a lead pipe following a disagreement in Boston with the notorious International Boxing Club.

Janiro was an out-boxer with a strong chin. According to “The Boxing Glove”:

“Starting his career as a lightweight, Janiro boxed 29 times in his first 12 months as a professional, winning all, except one contest, a 6-rounds point’s defeat to Al Guido, which was avenged two months later… By 1946 Janiro was ranked amongst the top welterweights in the world, but he started taking on middleweights due to the fact that many of the top welters were refusing to fight him.  By 1947, still not yet 20 years old, Janiro had fought 67 contests.  Janiro’s opposition was made up from many of the top welterweights and middleweights in the world.  Janiro fought Johnny Greco, Tony Pellone, Beau Jack, Jake Lamotta, Laverne Roach, Lou Valles, Henry Hall, Rocky Castellani, Charley Fusari, Rocky Garziano, Sonny Levitt, Kid Gavilan, Fitzie Pruden, Laurent Dauthuille, and Charles Humez. “

Janiro earned a reputation as a playboy who avoided training and as a “pretty boy” fighter. He is depicted in “Raging Bull” as the latter with Jake LaMotta becoming infuriated by a jealous rage due to his wife making a complimentary comment about the boxer. They fought to a decision in 1947 that LaMotta took and Janiro was left with quite the misshapen face.

Janiro went into his fight with Graziano as the 12-5 underdog. Graziano hadn’t bargained on Janiro’s speed and dexterity. This was supposed to be part of his road back to the World Middleweight Championship, but things did not go according to plan. Used to being the aggressor, Graziano was surprised by Janiro’s opening where he was almost knocked down and then for his 10th round rebound. In the middle it was a lot of to and fro. It was typical slugger versus counter-punching out-boxer in rounds 2-5 with Graziano tipping the odds in his favour in round six. He looked like he might have his man up to round nine, but then Janiro surprised him again with a deft rally of combinations for the final round.  The fight ended on a draw – a split decision with BoxRec stating;

“The official scoring was 5-4-1 for Janiro by judge Arthur (Young Otto) Susskind, 6-3-1 for Graziano by judge Artie Aidala, and 5-5 (and 10 points each) by Referee Judge Walsh.”

The two would fight again in October that year, but before then Graziano would have five more fights. He would knock out Danny Williams in round three, stop Vinnie Cidone also in round three and knock out Henry Brimm. Brimm’s career highlight was he was the second man only to give Sugar Ray Robinson a draw when the two met in the previous year.

graziano burtonRocky Graziano versus Gene Burton 04.10.1950

Born Eugene Burton on 3rd October 1923 in Palm Beach, Florida, Gene Burton began his amateur career as a lightweight and would make New York his hometown. He won the Golden Gloves open weight championship and then their Champion of Champions tournament in 1942. He fought Ike Williams three times in the 1940s. Their first meeting was early in Burton’s career and gave his first loss. Williams beat him again the second time, but the third time the unanimous decision went to Burton. He also drew with Kid Galivan.

Burton stood at 5′ 4½″ / 164cm and was naturally a welterweight. He was another out-boxer with a light punch. At the end of his career only 12 of his 54 wins would be by KO. He fought 86 times in all, losing 22 and drawing 10. In essence, he took points fighting from the outside and was used to staying the distance.

Rounds 1 and 2 saw a more cautious Graziano starting slow for a change. Burton probably took the second round for picking up the pace and delivering the best flurry so far in this particular bout.

Round 3 saw Graziano come back into the frame more. He landed a solid right and took the round.

A round 4 and 5 saw Graziano press the offensive and put everything into his right hands – usually straights and crosses but sometimes hooks when he pinned Burton against the ropes. Burton came back with some of his fast punches, making it difficult for Graziano to edge these two rounds.

In round 6 Graziano almost had his opponent down and Burton looked like he was beginning to wear. However, late into the round Burton rebounded off Graziano’s solid right with a strong flurry of shots.

Round 7 saw the end for Burton, but he went down fighting. Early on he pressed Graziano, clearly concerned about the rounds he had lost. A left hook to the body sent him to one knee. Later he was stunned by a left hook that probably did most of the damage a right hand would punctuate for the second knockdown. He valiantly fought his way up, but the referee made the right decision in calling it a day.


graziano janiro 3Rocky Graziano versus Tony Janiro 19.09.1951

Graziano would have long road of fights to get through before he would be given a chance to reclaim the middleweight title near to the end of his career. After knocking Pete Meade out, he would get his rematch with Janiro. This time he got the unanimous decision. He then went on stop five more fighters. All but one was by a straight KO. He then won on a DQ to Chuck Hunter. The newspaper report of the time says that the match looked like Graziano won by a second round knockout, but Hunter’s defeat was ruled by him “slapping” rather than punching.  Now he was ready to face Janiro for their third match. Given that both the previous ones had gone the distance, which was very rare for Rocky, and that the first one had been a draw, it is understandable why audiences would want to see them go again.

The bout turned out to be a controversial one. Janiro was ahead on everyone’s scorecards throughout the bout and did well to keep his distance. He looked like he had the measure of Graziano and kept picking off shots as the slugger attempted to wade in. Later Graziano would say that he thought the bout was tight and he only had to win the last round in order to get the bout. In actual fact the judges had scored nine rounds in favour of Janiro. We can see Graziano regularly missing with his swings, desperate to land his big right overhand. Janiro kept him at bay with his pawing jab, often posting, and his Billy Conn-like footwork constantly circling to the right. Here and there he would pick of fast flurries that, although lacked bite compared to Graziano’s bombs, landed far more often. Graziano pursued Janiro through the rounds with vigour, having more luck with his lead straight arm hook than any other punch and occasionally trapping his opponent against the ropes. It would offer some degree of foreshadowing of what was to come. In round 9 Janiro seemed tired and was having trouble keeping Graziano off him. He began tying him up a lot. Then a left and right clipped Janiro on the jaw without answer and Graziano smelt blood. He pursued Janiro around the ring with volley after volley of hooks and overhands. Finally he caught up with him and sent Janiro to the floor. Janiro was up without a count, but the referee had seen enough of the fighter not defending himself and clearly in trouble as Rocky landed blow after blow.

Janiro’s side were infuriated having seen their man come so close to winning a clear points victory.

Quotes from the press via BoxRec:

“Rocky Graziano today looked forward to a possible shot at middleweight champ Ray Robinson, but it took a typical Graziano finish against Tony Janiro last night to move him into contention. Graziano rose from the brink of defeat to score a 10th round TKO over a younger and lighter Janiro. With defeat staring him in the face, Graziano cut loose a volley of desperation blows in the last round and sent Janiro to the canvas. The 24 year old ring veteran bounded to his feet before a count could start, but referee Lou Handler had already raised “The Rock’s” hand as the winner. Screams from Janiro and his manager were in vain and Handler’s decision stuck. Janiro had much the better of the early rounds, while Graziano failed to show much of the steam for which he is noted.” -United Press

  • It’s a shame when a referee has to take a fight away from a boy when he’s tried so hard.” -Frank Jacobs, Janiro’s manager, who had objected to Handler as the referee before the bout.
  • “I knew I was behind but I thought I could win on points by winning the last round. I didn’t know I was that far behind. Now I want a fight with Robinson.” -Rocky Graziano

After losing the title to Tony Zale 19 fights ago, Graziano appeared to have earned his place, stopping the vast majority of his opposition inside the distance and not losing once. He fought two more fights over the next two months – stopping Eddie O’Neil in round four and Canadian Roy Wouters in round one – before he would get his second shot at the title and face Sugar Ray Robinson.



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