A Night to Remember in Gritty Lowell, a City with a Great Boxing Tradition

The names of professional boxers who competed in Lowell, Massachusetts, as amateurs read like a who’s who of boxing greats.

As fellow writer Jeffrey Freeman (KO Digest) writes, “…Lowell is proudly known more for its amateur boxers than for its professionals. Lowell has the annual Golden Gloves tournament and twice hosted The Nationals, in 1973 and 1995. Brockton was home to former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano and former World Middleweight Champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, both of whom actually competed in Lowell during their amateur days. Mike Tyson also boxed as an amateur in Lowell. So did Sugar Ray Leonard.”

Lowell, of course, has produced Dicky Eklund, and Irish Micky Ward. In addition, it also lays claim to David Ramallo, Beau Jaynes, Larry Carney, Paul Frechette, Billy Ryan, Phinney Boyle, Danny Heath, Al Mello, Jackie Morrell, Manny Freitas, Don Halpin, and Ray Andrews. And let’s not forget the Roach brothers — Freddie, Pepper, and Joey — from nearby Dedham who developed a big following in this tournament.

This blue-collar town has a great boxing tradition dating back some 71 years ago. A Golden Gloves show in Lowell features certain electricity in the air; fans get a certain charge when they watch these fighters give every ounce of themselves for something that simply can’t be described with words.

More to the point is this quote from Arthur Ramalho:

“There’s nothing else like fighting at the Auditorium. The noise alone can be intimidating if a kid isn’t used to it. That’s what’s so great about fighting there. The fans get involved. They’re knowledgeable and passionate. They’re as much a part of the show as the boxers. It doesn’t matter whether the kid is from Lowell or not. If they don’t feel the judges got the decision right, they’ll let you know about it.”

And sometimes things get out of hand.

A case in point was the February 1988 Golden Gloves 165-pound final between two top amateurs, future title contender Joey DeGrandis and John Scully. DeGrandis was out of South Boston but boxed out of Lowell. Scully, nicknamed “The Iceman,” hailed from Hartford, CT and was runner-up national champion in 1987. Today he is an outstanding trainer.

As a Boston area resident for 17 years, I attended both professional and amateur bouts in Lowell and witnessed many closet classics, but none quite like this one that featured a memorable brawl at the end that included cops, fellow boxers, fans, and family members.

The Fight

“Joey and I ran into each other while I was loosening up in the hallway, where the concession stands are, and we were yelling back and forth at each other. A lot of fans came over to see the commotion. I leaned over and whispered to him, ‘It’s showtime’ and I remember Joey calling me a ‘redneck from Connecticut’ and I was smiling inside because it was all a big show, like Ali-Frazier, and I loved it.” — John Scully

Early in the fight, the bull-like DeGrandis (nicknamed “D-Train” because he grew up in South Boston’s notorious D Street housing projects) frustrated the more technically skilled Scully by using his shoulders in an In-close swarming attack. However, late in the first (and only) round John came to life and landed a head snapping right uppercut that slowed “D-Train” down considerably. This allowed Scully to land several heavy punches in combinations and seize the momentum.

DeGrandis had been warned two or three times by referee Ed Fitzgerald for using his right arm to hold, but Scully also was warned. Iceman recalls, “When the bell sounded I stopped and turned and he hit me. He didn’t hit me hard but he hit me. I wanted to hit back but I was able to tell myself ‘Don’t do anything stupid.’”

After the bell, Fitzgerald warned Joey about something (probably holding or hitting late after the bell) and Joey said something that infuriated Fitzgerald, convincing him to disqualify the rugged Southie native. Things apparently had been brewing between the two fighters for about 24 hours and this was a prescription for trouble.

The Brawl

All hell then broke loose as DeGrandis went after Scully and the two resumed fighting, but this time they were joined by fans, friends, and relatives, many of whom were skilled boxers. In fact, two brothers engaged in a fight with one another. As he cops entered the ring in force, the brawlers scurried and slid out like lizards. The scene was one of total bedlam and would never be forgotten by those in attendance.

As Dennis Whitton of the Lowell Sun reported, “Fans were punching at cops, cops were flailing away at fans, trainers were struck, stools were being wielded and the entire scene was disintegrating into bedlam before the police finally restored some semblance of order.”

Someone told Scully “They’re all from South Boston. They’ll stab you.”  As John recalls, “I was kept in the basement for two or three hours. Finally we went out the back door with some cops and turned the corner and a couple of guys came running at me. I thought it was the South Boston guys but it turned out to be reporters and camera guys.”

As for whether the fight was stopped prematurely, only referee Fitzgerald and Joey know what was said, but whatever it was, it surely included an expletive.

Later

Scully would lose in the national finals in Omaha for the second straight year, another controversial 3-2 decision.

As a pro, DeGrandis went 30-8. He fought for three world titles but lost each time. He is a member of the Ring 4 Boxing Hall of Fame. Despite his tough exterior and swagger, he is a sweet and decent person with a good heart and is now an excellent boxing coach.

Scully was 38-11 but lost both of his world title shots. He became a superb trainer and well-respected announcer. He is a member of the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame and goes out of his way to help boxers in need.

John and Joey later patched things up and are now friends. Many years later, I would become a Ring 4 Brother of Joey and Eddie Fitz (the referee) as well as a close friend of John’s. The boxing community is a close-knit one.

Ted Sares, a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. He has won the EPF Nationals championship four years in a row.

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