Every writer seeks positive feedback and this writer is no exception. Whether it comes in the form of remuneration, e-mail messages, “likes” and “hits,” long threads on Facebook, praise from other writers, or in other ways and combinations, it is greatly appreciated. This story is about a reward that came out of nowhere but made things all worthwhile for me, a simple acknowledgment of a story I had written years ago about Bobby Tomasello, a fighter who was given the birth name of Robert Benson but fought under the same ring name adopted by his father.
I first saw Bobby fight on April 1, 2000 when he stopped one Jose Carlos Beato in four rounds at the Roxy in Boston (where every seat is a good seat and the beer is foamy). He would win his next three fights, improving to 14-0, before taking on the highly talented Steve “The Destroyer” Dotse (18-3 coming in) on October 20, 2000. This fight was also held at the Roxy and was televised on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
This was the immensely popular Tomasello’s first 10-round bout, and while most of his opponents had losing records, 14 in a row is 14 in a row. Bobby was not about to fear Dotse, who was wrongly cast as the underdog despite having fought far superior opposition and having a great amateur pedigree, having represented his native Ghana in the Barcelona Olympics (although Bobby, a three-time New England amateur champion, also had a sparkling amateur resume).
Against the Ghanaian, Bobby fought his heart out. Engaging in fierce, head-snapping, back-and-forth exchanges; he built up an early lead but faded against the physically stronger Dotse who came on late and meted out extremely heavy punishment during the last round. Bobby kept swinging back thus preventing the referee from halting the action; his fighting heart would not allow him to quit and that may well have been his downfall.
The bout was initially scored a win for Dotse, but after some confusion it was changed to a draw when it was discovered that a judge’s scorecard had been read incorrectly. The change drew a big smile on Bobby’s face and a roar from the partisan crowd. Everything seemed fine at that point. Bobby was still undefeated.
After going to the locker room, he told his father, who had worked his corner, that he didn’t feel good. Bobby’s father said, “I was yelling at him, `Bobby, don’t you fall asleep,’ …I know what happens to boxers who do. . . . Oh God. I knew. I knew.” Bobby then experienced moments of nausea and complained of a headache to his manager Norman Stone and then suddenly collapsed and was immediately rushed to New England Medical Center where he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot, relieve swelling, and stop the bleeding in his brain.
“We’re just hoping for a miracle now, he is in very grave condition,” said the well-known criminal defense attorney Anthony Cardinale, Bobby’s heartbroken promoter and mentor. “He would hold his crucifix if he ever uttered a curse so Jesus wouldn’t hear it,” added Cardinale. A devout Roman Catholic, Bobby went to church almost every day.
The long vigil ended at 11:45 AM on Wednesday, October 25. After five days on a respirator, the young fighter was declared dead. Bobby Tomasello Benson, born in the hardscrabble town of Somerville, Massachusetts (and a resident of equally gritty Saugus, MA), was just 24 years old.
The death stunned the boxing world and rocked the Boston area’s boxing community to its core.
“I was at that fight…I went to the hospital afterwards, walked over from The Roxy. I didn’t even know Steve very well but as a fellow fighter I felt I should go. I never got to see him. That was the second bout I attended in person where a fighter ended up passing away from his injuries. I hope I never have to go through that again, trust me.” – Iceman John Scully
“He was in the fight of his life and then he fought for his life…It’s an awful, awful tragedy to all involved. His father was in the corner with me. His trainer, Bobby Covino, is beside himself. You start wondering, should I have done this, should I have done that? It’s too late. It’s too late. The fight went on and I thought he was winning the fight. Even in the 10th round…”—Norman Stone, Bobby’s manager
“I remember him saying before the fight that he’d rather die than lose this fight.”—Bob Benson Sr.
Steve Dotse would be KOd in June 2001 by undefeated Tim Austin in a bid for the IBF bantamweight title. A year later, he lost to Marcos Badillo (15-22-1), a terribly limited fighter. Dotse’s career ended badly in April 2003 when he was stopped by Cruz Carbajal in two rounds in Las Vegas. After that, he reportedly became penniless living in a dingy room above Jarrell’s Boxing Gym in Savannah, Georgia. A short but revealing documentary produced by Skylight Cinema titled “Ring of Fire,” describes his terrible fall, much of it attributed to aftereffects arising from the draw with Tomasello.
Fast Forward to April 2018
Recently, the following message was sent to me via Facebook:
“Hi Ted. My name is Jawn Mallon and I was Bobby Tomasello’s best friend. He was more like a big brother to me. His dad and my dad were best friends and we grew up next to each other and I idolized him for as long as I can remember. We trained together for 10+ years daily….well, more accurately put, he kicked my ass daily for 10+ years but we went to every fight together and I’d be in his corner from the Golden Gloves to the Dotse fight. My oldest is named after Bobby and I have a scrap book that I would love to send you some pics of if you’re interested. I think of him daily and my kids know all about their uncle Bobby even though they never met him. He was literally the best and most genuine person I’ve ever met.”
“His sister sent me your latest and I believe second article about him and I just wanted to thank you for revisiting his legacy and writing such a beautiful and accurate piece on him. Thanks for allowing him to live on through avenues like that. Much love, Jawn”
“Much love…” What more reward could one possibly want?
I’m a Boston guy (via Chicago) and I came to love the Boston fighters who earned local glory—men like Bobby Covino, Tony Petronelli and others too numerous to list here. Bobby would have been one of them. To myself and many others, he will never be forgotten.
Ted Sares is one of the oldest full power (raw modern) lifters in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. He also is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame.
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