Rocky Castellani versus Bobo Olson Undisputed World Middleweight Championship 20.08.1954
Having almost finished with 1955, we needed to make a return journey to 1954 to see Rocky Castellani’s first attempt to win the crown from Bobo Olson. The last time we saw Olson was in his ill-fated attempt to challenge Archie Moore for the light-heavyweight crown, having just defeated its former holder, Joey Maxim. 10 months prior to this match, Olson had taken on Catellani in his second title defence.
Attilio N. “Rocky” Castellani was born on 26th May 1926 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to Attilio Castellani (1889–1974), a native coal miner, and Rose Isopi Castellani (1896–1938). Early in Castellani’s childhood the family moved to Margate City, formerly South Atlantic City. His interest in boxing emerged in his childhood and would regularly engage in contests with neighbourhood children. He took up a formal education in the sport during his teens and this continued into his war service career as a marine. Catellani saw action at the pivotal Battle of Iwo Jima during World War 2. His boxing earned him the title “Champion of All China and Guam”. He officially began his professional career in 1945 when he was discharged, however, his record appears to begin in 1944 and he fought 10 fights that year of which he won four, lost two and drew five. Therefore, I believe the 1945 year to be a mistake. Rocky actually took 1945 off boxing and resumed in 1946 where he fought seven times, winning six in a row and losing the last. 1947 demonstrated how far he had progressed with 12 straight victories that year. By the end of ’48 he brought that unbroken run to 19 and rounded it off to 20 with a victory over Al Priest at the beginning of ’49. He then lost for the first time in two years to Charley Fusari before winning his next two bouts, one of which was over Tony Janiro. After drawing with Tony Riccio he lost to the great Kid Gavilan. Gavilan won by a unanimous decision and even knocked Castellini down in rounds 2 and 3. However, Castellini won a lot of respect for being able to rebound in the middle rounds demonstrating conditioning and skill. He then won his rematch with Riccio which started his string of 10 wins that saw Castellini through to 1952. Amongst the scalps he claimed was an upcoming future world champion, Joey Giardello. His run was interrupted with a technical knockout loss to Ernie Durando. However, he then beat future Sugar Ray Robinson vanquisher, Ralph “Tiger” Jones. He defeated Ralph Zanelli and regular contender, Johnny Bratton. After drawing to another top ranked fighter, Billy Graham, he defeated Bratton again plus five more opponents, including Tiger Jones again.
The second fight is described on Wikipedia citing contemporary reports from The Brooklyn Eagle and The Gazette:
“The win moved Castellani to the second round of the World Middleweight Championship tournament to meet Sugar Ray Robinson for the title. Jones was never able to fight in close as Castellani circled, jabbed, hooked, and threw leading rights. Castellani clinched, armlocked or hugged when Jones attempted in-fighting, and was also successful at backing away to avoid the close shots at which Jones could be dangerous. His ability to backpedal so effectively may have indicated better conditioning than his opponent. There were no knockdowns in the close bout in which Castellani seemed to employ a more effective strategy. The bout was a convincing display of in-fighting defense by Castellani, who claimed he had learned Jones’s style by watching his bout with Johnny Bratton on television. Jones’ strongest winning round was the fifth when he swept Castellani with sweeping body attacks, and he was down from slips in the seventh and tenth rounds.”
Millionaire constructionist sponsor, Al Naiman, patronised Castellani’s career as a hobby, setting his protégé up in a house and a life job in 1953.
His next fight was a controversial loss to Pierre Langlois. Referee Ruby Goldstein and one of the judge’s scored the bout in favour of Langlois because of his strong finish in the last two rounds plus the decision he had knocked Castellani down in the eleventh whereas many had contested it had been a slip. 11 of the 15 boxing writers present believed Castellani to be the winner. It was a critical defeat as he lost his place in the middleweight tournament. However, he finally won back his number one contender position after winning his next eight matches and faced Bobo Olson.
Rocky Castellani was an orthodox fighter who stood at 5’8″. He was an out-boxer known from his counter-punching. Unfortunately, despite being a calculating and technical fighter, his back-peddling style often counted against him and he often lost the judges’ favour against some more aggressive fighters. With only an all-time career KO percentage of 19% he couldn’t rely stopping opponents either. This was a decisive factor in this particular bout.
There is no evidence or even speculation that this fight was fixed, but the financial deals to set it up were connected to Frank Carbo and it is referenced a few times during his investigation.
The bout was held at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California where 11,870 spectators paid $121,470 to see Olson defend his title. Al Naiman had to guarantee Olson and his manager, Sid Flaherty, $125,000 to put the title on the line. This would mean he would need $200,000 in the till and the $100,000 TV bundle to make a reasonable profit. Castallani spoke very humbly and candidly about his chances against Olson who clearly admired and described as a clever fighter. Castellani came into the fight with a record of 61-7-6 and Olson was on 63-6.
Round 1 – Olson, possibly feeling Castellani’s uncertainty, went in early with a lot of aggression. He was far less cagey than normal and began chasing his defensive opponent. His punches were almost reckless and less measured, adopting a more swarmer and pressure style than his calculating slugger tactics. Castellani moved to clinches to muffle the attacks and used his footwork. He led with his left hook as he circled inside trying to check Olson’s approach. His corner, along with some members of the audience, advised him to “stick and throw the right”.
Round 5 – This was a particularly frustrating round. Castallani tried to circle but only ended up clinching Olson who pursued him. The challenger seemed to be totally unwilling to trade a mid-range.
Round 11 – Matters had improved somewhat by this stage. Olson began to land shots and sent the challenger into the ropes. Olson looked set to win by just purely being the aggressor and Castellani’s retreating and stalling did not appear anymore tactical than they had done earlier on. The clinching still persisted and Castellani was beginning to miss with some big shots until one big right hook sent the champion down for a three-count. It appeared that the challenger had finally come out of his shell, although the fall would later be ruled as a trip. However, Olson returned back to form and had Castellani back-peddling and clinching as previously within seconds.
Round 12 – The action heated up in the next round with Olson seemingly trying to get revenge for the shock knockdown. He paid his opponent back in spades, finally driving some of his heavy punches home. A straight right to the jaw had Castellani staggering and finally falling across the ring. Rocky decided to take a nine count on one knee. The fight resumed at a more elevated pace. Castellani continued to slip, angle-off and clinch defensively but it all appeared more tactical rather than desperate this time. Finally the two began trade near the ropes and a decent, if brief, back and forth rally.
Round 15 – Rocky came out early doing some of the best stick-and-move seen in this particular series of highlights. Later he showed a remarkable change of pace in facing Olson down in the middle of the ring and did well to hold his own before the fight predictably deteriorated into yet more clinching.
Olson won the bout on a unanimous decision and Castellani would have to wait
Sports Illustrated had this to say of Castellani on the night:
“LIKE Roger Bannister, Attilio Castellani is a well-conditioned, pleasant mannered athlete nimble of foot and long on stamina. But unlike the 3:58.8 miler who runs forward, Castellani—the fist-fighter who challenged Bobo Olson for his middleweight championship of the world last Friday—runs backward.
It is very difficult, perhaps impossible to win a race—or a fight—by running backward, and for this reason Castellani ran a distinct second to Olson in their sporadically exciting contest in San Francisco’s spacious Cow Palace.”
And this to say of Olson’s performance:
“Olson hardly belongs in the same books with the champions who have made middleweight history from the original, “Nonpareil,” Jack Dempsey, to Cerdan, but he left little doubt in our minds that he is the master of such as Castellani and his reign over current middleweights remains secure. He is busy, crafty, businesslike, and even when he was losing an occasional round on points he gave the impression of being in charge. He is constantly moving forward on his slightly crooked, un-athletic-looking legs, often taking an ungainly little hop, almost a limp, in order to bring himself close enough to his adversary to score with his short, chopping punches that are nasty rather than lethal.
Tense and unsmiling, pale and red-nosed even before the fight, his is a forbidding and disconcerting visage as he moves steadily forward, his hands punching the air in a boxer’s St. Vitus while he spars and feints and vamps for an opening.”
After ending ’54 with a win against Moses Ward via TKO, Rocky Castellani defeated Holly Mims and Chico Varona in ’55 before his road back to another world middleweight title challenge merged with another hungry fighter on his own path to redemption. The winner of the next fight we get their rematch with Bobo Olson.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Rocky Castellani 20.08.1955
Round 1 – Castellani seemed to resort to the previous tactics we had seen except there was less back-peddling. He worked with Ray from the outside but quickly sought the clinch. Ray was quick to work in kidney shots and to keep the action going the clinch. As the fight moved to the outside, Ray made use of his jab and rear hooks to the body. As Ray began landing cleaner shots from long range, Castellani muffled him with the clinch again. Both fighters circled and angled off, slipping and avoiding each other punches. The main shots happened in the clinch.
Round 2 – Both many actively engaged from long range but little occurred at mid-range. They scored jabs off each other and as either moved in to follow up, they quickly clinched. Not that the clinches were sluggish. Indeed there was a lot of infighting as Castellani used his single over-hook to control Robinson. As the round progressed, Robinson began landing a wider variety of punches at long range and began to do a little work at mid-range. His uppercuts and lead hooks were connecting as was the ever-present rear hand hook. Castellani’s best shots were still landing in the clinch at this stage of the fight. Robinson began to introduce a counter to his opponent’s regular clinching as he pummelled away at his mid-section with short hooks from both fists.
Round 3 – As Castellani bobbed and weaved, Robinson brought in his left uppercut. Robinson appeared to be seeking the mid-section on his opponent, pumping out his famous body jab and rear hook. He was definitely getting the better of the short rallies, moving to upstairs and downstairs work. However, it didn’t appear that Castellani was stalling or retreating; he just wasn’t getting his punches in and missed with some huge haymakers.
Round 6 – This time there seemed some definite method in Castellani’s aggressive clinching. A sharp left hook to the forehead and a solid overhand made its way to Robinson’s jaw sending him down for three. Robinson took the remainder of a nine count on one knee and looked dazed. There has been some discussion about this being a slow count but I didn’t see that in the footage. Castellani did not waste any time and came back hard trying to capitalise on the knockdown. He began chasing Robinson around the ring with heavy punches until an over-eager overhand missed and threw him off balance. The slip was enough to buy Robinson more time to get his composure and the round ended on a more even ground. Castellani clearly took this round.
Round 7 – Both men did well to fight at distance more than they had done in the previous round we had watched. At one point Castellani went down but it was ruled a slip and he was back fighting very quickly. After freely engaging with Robinson in a few rallies, he lost his balance for a second time in this round when he missed again with his big overhand. Robinson continued to pummel away at Castellani’s mid-section probably in a bid to weaken his clinches, which were now much shorter lived although both men were looking tired. The round clearly belonged to Robinson.
Round 9 – Robinson’s pattern was clear. He used his left hook at long range, pummelled Castellani at mid and close range before controlling the over-hooks. He looked totally in control. Castellani seemed to be having trouble placing punches from outside the clinch. Robinson continued to work his sharp jab.
Round 10 – Both fighters were visibly tired yet determined. Robinson continued to work his stinging jab. Castellani landed a tremendous left. Robinson seemed in the best condition overall but was a battle of wills by this stage.
The fight was scored
Jack Downey 56 – 54
Frankie Carter 56 – 24
Jack Silver 54 – 56
This gave Sugar Ray Robinson a split decision victory and his opportunity to win back his old title. His next opponent would be Bobo Olson.
Meanwhile, Rocky Castellani was back down the line and having to contend with new generation of upcoming middleweights. His would win a technical knockout over Pedro Gonzales in October that year before facing the talented new kid on the block, Gene Fulmer on 4th January 1956. However, that will be a match for another lesson.