It must have seemed like déjà vu all over again for Tommy Molloy of Merrick, Long Island, when he squared off several months ago in a sparring session with Tony Danza on Danza’s daily talk show. Since both guys are fitness fanatics, they didn’t look much different than they did when they fought for real way back in May 1977.
The venue was the now defunct Long Island Arena in Commack and I was there. Molloy, who had just completed a six-year stint in the United States Marine Corps, was making his pro debut against Danza, who was 1-2 (1 KO).
What began as a pretty good scrap ended abruptly when, during a furious exchange, Molloy hit Danza with a right hand and tried to follow up with a left hook. Suddenly his left knee dislocated itself from its socket and he crashed to the canvas. As the referee counted over him, Molloy, in obvious agony, kept pointing to his knee which was protruding sideways and resembled a baseball tucked tightly into a sock.
“I always blamed that on the fact that I did my roadwork in combat boots,” said Molloy, now 50, who until injuring his ankle in early October jogged at least three miles for 1,504 consecutive days. “I think that all the pounding my legs took finally took its toll. That was probably the most pain I’ve experienced in my life.”
Danza, who Molloy remembers being “a good puncher who wasn’t afraid to mix it up,” wound up winning the fight via third round TKO and later found fame and fortune in the entertainment arena after retiring from the ring in 1979 with a 9-3 (9 KOs) record.
Molloy, a Long Island fan favorite who compiled a 4-7-2 (0 KOs) record between 1977 and 1984, later achieved more success as a top-flight trainer than he ever did as a fighter.
His best known pupil was welterweight Willy Wise, who Molloy trained for his first fight with Julio Cesar Chavez in Las Vegas in October 1999. Although he was an overwhelming underdog, Wise upset the odds and beat the legendary Chavez by unanimous decision.
“It wasn’t a title fight, but it felt like a championship fight to us,” said Molloy. “Willy was coming off three losses, and we didn’t even have any sparring during our preparation. All of his training was done with mitts, with me trying to emulate Chavez. It was a great, great night.”
Several years later, when he was no longer aligned with Molloy, Wise was stopped in two rounds by Chavez in what would be Wise’s final fight. He retired with a record of 26-11-4 (7 KOs).
Molloy, who has trained seven New York City Golden Gloves champions over the years, continues to work with fighters, two of whom will be showcased at the FIST organization’s charity show at the New York Hilton in Manhattan on October 26.
Hard-punching cruiserweight Jerry Harvey of Georgia will be making his pro debut and undefeated 130 pound female Zang Mao will be looking for her second win as a pro.
“I love being involved in the business, whether it’s teaching fighters, working with promoters, or making deals,” said Molloy. “As a fighter I always thought of boxing as a ‘naked sport.’ All eyes are upon you and there is nowhere to hide. If you know you are in shape and ready to fight, it is intoxicating. I would bet it is as strong as any drug out there. I became addicted to boxing the day I got involved in it.”
That day came when, as a wide-eyed Marine Corps recruit, he was forced to don gloves for the first time in his life. Not only did Molloy immediately enjoy the intensity of the sport, he realized he was naturally gifted at it. Before long he became an All-Marine champion. He credits his military coaches, John Davis, who now works with trainer Don Turner, and former Olympians Percy Price and Ray Russell, with bringing out the best in him.
After his discharge he returned to his native Long Island, where he still resides. Back then the area was a boxing hotbed with regular shows at such venues as the aforementioned Long Island Arena and the Colonie Hill catering hall. Molloy fought on the undercards of bouts featuring such local heroes as “Irish” Bobby Cassidy, Gerry Cooney, Larry Stanton, John Capobianco, and brothers John and Eddie Davis.
“It was a great era,” said Molloy. “All of those arenas had great crowds and great atmosphere. The local guys really had a big fan base to support them.”
Although his professional career was somewhat disappointing from a statistical standpoint, Molloy absorbed enough knowledge to become a fine trainer. Initially, however, he grew disgruntled with the sport for the first six years of his retirement. He floundered a bit, only to return to boxing completely by accident.
While visiting a friend at the Westbury PAL, a young fighter asked him for advice. “Within minutes, I was hooked again,” said Molloy. “That was 1990, and I haven’t looked back.”
The years have been good to the eternally youthful Molloy, who still looks as if he is in his early thirties. He makes a nice living as a real estate agent for Gull Realty in Long Beach and he is able to satisfy his boxing passion by “teaching” fighters at both Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn and at the Titan Gym in Merrick.
“I consider myself very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing,” said Molloy. “I’ve worn a lot of hats in boxing, but think of myself as being more than just an ex-boxer who now trains fighters. I call myself a teacher because I try to impart on them lessons that will help them in daily life.
“We all make mistakes,” he added. “I’ve made plenty of them. But someday these young fighters aren’t going to have boxing anymore. That’s inevitable. They have to be prepared for what’s next. Hopefully I can help make them a winner in the ring, as well as a winner in life.”