R.I.P. Phil Alessi, the Tampa Promoter Who Hired and Fired Michael Buffer

Longtime Tampa, Florida, promoter Phil Alessi Sr., who was reportedly involved in more than 300 professional boxing events, passed away on Sunday, May 6, at age 74. Alessi, who suffered from diabetes, had been in poor health for a long time. Funeral arrangements are pending.

In Tampa, Alessi is best known for the bakery that bears his name. The bakery, which distributes products to national supermarket chains, has been in the Alessi family since 1906. The flagship bakery and deli on West Cypress Street is considered as much a local institution as the Columbia, Tampa’s oldest Cuban restaurant.

Alessi dated his interest in boxing to his boyhood when he and his father attended closed circuit showings of Rocky Marciano’s title fights. When he got involved in the business of boxing, he was mentored by Tampa native Lou Viscusi, best remembered as the manager of Willie Pep.

Among the fighters who appeared on Alessi’s Tampa shows were John “The Beast” Mugabi, Cornelius Boza-Edwards and, more recently, Ronald “Winky” Wright. A 2018 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, Wright made his pro debut on an Alessi show and had 13 fights in Tampa as he was coming up the ladder. Alessi’s matchmaker was Brad Jacobs who would hold an executive position at Top Rank. Many of Alessi’s Tampa shows aired on the USA cable network.

Michael Buffer’s first assignment as a ring announcer came on Oct. 1, 1982, on a show that Phil Alessi co-promoted at the Playboy Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. By his own admission, Buffer was atrocious. Alessi let him go but Buffer, needless to say, persevered.

Alessi lost his New Jersey boxing promoter’s license because of his alleged ties to unsavory characters. Santo Trafficante, the reputed Florida mafia boss, was a regular at Alessi’s Tampa bakery. Trafficante was partial to the cannolis.

The allegation was at odds with Alessi’s reputation within the boxing fraternity. He was known as a hard worker who ran a very clean operation.

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