In May 1978 heavyweights Guy “The Rock” Casale of Newark, New Jersey, and Bobby Halpern of the Bronx engaged in an epic battle at Madison Square Garden. At the time Casale was a 23-year-old puncher on the way up, while Halpern was a 44-year-old ex-convict who a year earlier had been released from prison after serving 17 years for an array of offenses that included kidnapping, robbery, assault and grand larceny.
Because Halpern had been the subject of an eight-page Sports Illustrated article, interest in the fight was high. Few people expected Casale to win, but he managed to survive a right hand bomb that was landed by Halpern in the first round. To this day, Casale, who had sparred with the likes of Gerry Cooney and Duane Bobick, still says that was the hardest he’s ever been hit.
The two exchanged vicious punches until Casale ended matters with his own right hand in the third round. Within weeks, Halpern was arrested for arson and then nearly killed after being blasted several times with a shotgun by assailants who were not apprehended. He never fought in the ring again.
Casale fought a while longer, eventually retiring with a record of 14-3-3 (7 KOS) after a loss to Marvis Frazier in 1981. He managed to do awfully well for himself in his post-ring career. He has served as a detective for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey for nearly 25 years, and he also graduated from law school in 1994.
Because his work as a detective precludes him from utilizing his law license, he is currently a non-practicing attorney.
At the May 20 meeting of the Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 8, in New York, Casale and Halpern were reunited. They had nothing but good things to say about each other.
“Nobody ever hit me as hard as Bobby did,” the now 52-year-old Casale told the approximately 100 members in attendance. “I wasn’t supposed to win that fight, and Bobby almost ended matters in the first round with that right hand. I felt that punch through every inch of my body.”
A week or so after the fight, Casale was back in the gym when he was told that Halpern was there to see him. Because Halpern’s reputation as a street thug was so well known, Casale initially geared up for the worst.
He assumed that Halpern either wanted to finish matters then and there, or maybe even extract some other kind of revenge. He wound up underestimating Halpern’s character as much as Halpern admits he underestimated Casale’s ring capabilities.
“He told me that his life story was being made into a movie and that he wanted to make sure that I made a few bucks,” said Casale. “That really showed what kind of a guy he is. I was really touched, and a little embarrassed for thinking what I was thinking.”
Halpern, who is now 73, has certainly mellowed with age. He said that even thought he was 44 when he met Casale in the ring, he felt young after “training” in prison for nearly two decades.
“I always knew I’d make a comeback and felt like I would always be 39 ½ , like Jack Benny,” joked Halpern, who was brought to the event by Doug Harden, a Golden Gloves finalist in the 1980s.
“I was on a roll, until he ended it for me. But he’s a good guy, and it’s good to see him here.”
Also in attendance at the meeting was recently retired heavyweight contender Lou Savarese, who trained at the same gym as Halpern all those years ago. His locker was next to Halpern’s and the old war horse had the annoying habit of hanging his stinky hand wraps on the door.
One day Savarese couldn’t stand the stench anymore and burned them. “If you were wondering what happened to them, it was me who burned them Bobby,” confessed Savarese, who added that Renaldo Snipes had walked in during the act but took a vow of secrecy.
When Snipes was recently asked if he recounted the incident, he proved that he takes his oath of omerta seriously. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Snipes, who showed that he is still as stand-up as they come.
Other highlights of the evening included New York Daily News reporter Bill Farrell, the author of the wonderful book “Cradle of Champions: 80 Years of New York Daily News Golden Gloves,” talking about his love of the fabled tournament.
During the crack-plagued 1980s, he was covering five to six homicides a week for the paper.
“To get away from the horror, I’d go to the Golden Gloves to relax,” said Farrell. “It was great to see young athletes conducting themselves as gentlemen in the ring and not shooting at each other. The Golden Gloves has always been, and will always be about kids needing to prove something to themselves.”
Even after covering the tournament for 25 years, he is still in awe of the devotion and dedication of the boxers. “So many of them get up early, go to work, then go to the gym at night because they have a dream,” he said. “Even if the dream just lasts on night, it will be forever etched in their memory.”
He then heaped special praise on Sadam Ali, who won several New York City Golden Gloves tournaments and will represent the United States at this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
“Only in New York can a kid with a name like that carry the American flag in Beijing,” he said of Ali, whose parents were born in Yemen. “I am very proud of that, as a New Yorker and as an American.”
Ring 8 also presented a scholarship to Nikki Russell, a female Golden Glover who will be attending Rutgers University in September to study pharmacology.
Anyone wanting to make a tax-deductible donation to Ring 8, which, among other things, has been helping indigent boxers for over 50 years, can do so by mailing a check to:
Veteran Boxers Association
c/o Waterfront Crab House
2-03 Borden Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101