Former middleweight contender Joey Giambra, who appeared in 33 televised fights back in the golden age of televised boxing, died at his home in Las Vegas this past weekend at age eighty-six.
Giambra was born in a rough section of Buffalo, one of 13 children, only eight of whom survived to adulthood. His father was a chef who became a WPA ditch digger during the Great Depression.
Giambra was boxing in local smokers at the age of thirteen. He won New York Golden Gloves titles in 1947 and 1948 before turning pro the following year. As a pro, he compiled a 66-10-2 record that included wins over such notables as Joey Giardello, who he fought three times, Florentino Fernandez, Chico Vejar, Bernard Docusen, Rocky Castellani, Gil Turner, and Ralph “Tiger” Jones. He spent 77 months in the top-10 ratings of The Ring, rising as high as #3.
Giambra had the distinction of appearing in the first recognized title fight in the 154-pound weight class. On Oct. 20, 1962, he lost a 15-round decision to Denny Moyer for the vacant WBC strap in Moyer’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. An interesting aspect of that bout is that there were three ringside judges, rather than two judges and the referee scoring the bout, as was the custom in those days. The local authorities weren’t comfortable with letting referee Sonny Liston have a scorecard. Liston was then the reigning heavyweight champion, having won the title from Floyd Patterson the previous month. (Liston refereed the fight without incident.)
Many people took to calling Giambra the uncrowned champion after he lost a non-title fight to middleweight title-holder and Bay Area resident Carl “Bobo” Olson at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1955. Olson won by margins of 6, 5, and 3 points, but the crowd booed the decision. Giambra was then serving in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, and took the fight on short notice. (Giambra’s rubber match with his Italian rival Joey Giardello was also held at the Cow Palace and this time Giambra got the best of it from the judges, winning an unpopular split decision.)
After his fighting days were over, Giambra settled in Las Vegas and had a series of jobs, including salesman of industrial cleaners, 21 dealer, and cab driver. By rule, he had to display his cabbie’s license on the dashboard of his taxi. His name was prominently displayed on the license and some of his passengers made the connection that the fellow behind the wheel was actually The Joey Giambra, the former middleweight contender. Whenever this happened, Giambra would whip out a copy of his self-published book, “The Uncrowned Champion,” from under the front seat and try and sell it. (If you ever stumble on a copy, it will have been signed by the author as those are the only copies known to exist.)
Joey Giambra never had a title fight (ostensibly because he was never mob-connected), but he was a genuine champion in the eyes of many that knew him. R.I.P Champ.
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