Thirty years ago, during my early dates on the boxing beat, I had the pleasure of covering Larry Stanton, a junior welterweight from Long Island, New York, who fought a veritable who’s who of top contenders and champions during a career that lasted from 1969 to 1983.
Stanton’s seemingly nominal record of 28-17-2 (16 KOS) doesn’t begin to tell the story of what a good fighter he really was. He took on six undefeated fighters and eight once or twice-beaten opponents, more often than not in their hometowns or countries.
Stanton never got the title shot that he arguably deserved, but he was respected by all who ever saw him fight as well as the top-flight boxers that he shared the ring with.
One of his biggest wins was a decision against Sammy Ayala in September 1979. Ayala, who was then 11-0, is the brother of Tony and Mike Ayala, and the fight took place in their hometown of San Antonio.
I recall reading a report in the now defunct “Hank Kaplan’s Boxing Digest” that said after the decision was announced Stanton jubilantly dropped to his knees and shouted, “Money, Money, Money,” as if this victory would finally put him on the fistic map.
I reminded the now 58-year-old Stanton of that when I ran into him at the holiday luncheon hosted by the Veteran Boxers Associations, Ring 8, in New York, on January 10. He remembered things a bit differently than I did.
“My whole career, it was never about money,” he said. “I came from a fighting family. I had 122 amateur fights, and my brother Jack (now an attorney) had over 100 fights. My father trained us. We fought because it was a family thing.”
Stanton, who still looks trim and muscular enough to go a brisk ten rounds, said he was always ready to fight. It didn’t matter how short the notice was or where he had to go to lace them up.
Teddy Brenner, the longtime matchmaker for Madison Square Garden, called him to fight once-beaten Johnny Turner on six days notice in late 1977.
Turner was a good looking amateur star from Brooklyn, and a big ticket seller. A few years after Stanton handed him a 10 round decision loss, Turner portrayed French boxer Laurent Dauthille in the classic film “Raging Bull.”
“I even gave him a few pounds and still beat him,” said Stanton.
Two of Stanton’s biggest fights were against fellow Long Islander Howard Davis Jr., who earned a gold medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. When Davis turned pro, he had a huge CBS contract, and was 6-0 when he faced Stanton in Orlando, Florida, in May 1978.
Davis won a split decision against the always offensive-minded Stanton.
“There really was no rivalry with Howard, I just viewed fighting him as a great opportunity,” said Stanton. “For me, it was about getting noticed. That’s why I had so many fights all over the place.”
Stanton wound up getting stopped in the eighth round of a June 1981 rematch with Davis, but his career leading up to that sure was eventful.
He traveled to Northern Ireland where he lost a decision to undefeated Charlie Nash, and to Trinidad and Tobago where lost a decision to future lightweight champion Claude Noel.
He headlined a Long Island club show where Gerry Cooney fought a four rounder. He battled to a draw at MSG with the always slick Vilomar Fernandez, who had defeated the rampaging Alexis Arguello in a non-title bout. He was stopped by former champion Alfredo Escalera in three rounds, and he lost close decisions to Ralph Racine and Johnny Lira at MSG.
He beat Tony Petronelli in Las Vegas, on the undercard of the superb doubleheader featuring Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Wilfredo Benitez and the first title fight between Vito Antuofermo and Marvin Hagler. And he lost a decision to local hero Nick Furlano in Niagara Falls.
A ticket from that fight, which was dubbed “War at the Falls,” is currently for sale on e-Bay.
After the Davis rematch, Stanton twice traveled to Montreal where he was stopped in seven rounds by local hero Mario Cusson, 22-1-1, and he also lost an eight-round decision to then undefeated Alex Hilton, who was 9-0, in his final ring appearance.
“A lot of those fights I got robbed,” said Stanton. “Back then I was getting robbed all the time.”
When Stanton fought at home, the rafters were always filled with his stalwart fans. Stanton personally traveled to many local bars to sell tickets, and he fed off the energy dispensed by his well-wishers.
“It was exciting,” said Stanton. “A lot of my local fights were promoted by Jimmy Winters, who I still consider the best promoter on the world.”
Winters, whose son Joey had a brief career as a heavyweight managed by actor Burt Young, was a carting mogul who promoted shows throughout Long Island, in catering halls, outdoor ball parks, and ballrooms. Up until the early 1980s, the area had a very vibrant club scene with such local attractions as Stanton, who usually fought in the main events, Tommy Molloy, who is now a boxing commissioner in Florida, Cooney, the late Gino Gelormino, Ralph Cuomo, John Molander, Todd Longmuir, Joe Martino, Tommy Amato and the fighting Capobianco and McNeece brothers.
Stanton, who remembers making just $750 for his first 10 round fight, retired in April 1983, after the loss to Hilton. He has been a steamfitter for the past 28 years.
He and his wife Mindy have two children. Daughter Lacey recently graduated from the University of Buffalo, and son Ethan is a student at the University of South Carolina.
He describes Mindy as “the greatest mother in the world” and says that he is happy with the way things turned out.
“It was a tougher time to be a fighter than,” said Stanton. “I fought everybody, but was still unable to get a title shot. But I fought on some memorable cards, and people that saw my fights will say that my fights were memorable so I don’t have any regrets.”
Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?