Boxers pay homage to former fight club
By Bill Parry
More than a hundred people turned out on Saturday for the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to the boxers who fought at the Sunnyside Garden Arena that stood at the corner of Queens Blvd. and 45th St until 1977, where Wendy’s is now located.
Boxing stars, local politicians and dignitaries like the Honorable Melvina Lathan, chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission, attended. The event was put on by Ring 8 Veterans Association, an organization that helps former boxers with their medical expenses.
The Sunnyside Garden Arena hosted boxing events from 1945 to 1977 during the golden years of NYC boxing (see earlier story). Many famous fighters from that era got their start at the arena, and it was a stepping stone to the brighter lights of Madison Square Garden.
Bobby Baretels, Lou Mangiapane and Bobby Cassidy, Sr. were among the former fighters present to honor the amateurs and professionals who helped put the neighborhood on the map. Gerry Cooney, Emil Griffith, Jose Torres and Vito Antuofermo all fought here, as did the actor Tony Danza.
“It was his [Danza’s] second pro bout,” said ring historian Henry Hascup. “He got knocked out in the 2nd round.”
The old fighters appeared to be in great shape. “We were the winners,” said Bartels, a former welterweight. “It’s the other guys that Ring 8 takes care of.”
The Sunnyside Garden Arena had its gritty side. It’s where HBO Sports’ Harold Lederman got his start as a judge in 1967. “There was always some manager behind me with an ice pick questioning my scoring,” he said.
Tony Mazzerrella, the founder of the NYS Boxing Hall of Fame, said that on some nights, there “were more fights out in the parking lot than inside [the ring].”
Pat Dorfman, a Sunnyside resident, rang the bell that was used when the arena was in operation. She bought it on Ebay. “A mob capo named Ciro Perroni, of the Genovese Crime family, owned it,” Dorfman said.
The Master of Ceremonies was NBC Sports’ Dave Diamante, who will also be the voice of the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. He had the line of the day for the group gathered in Wendy’s parking lot: “We went from black eyes to biggie fries.” He believes that recognition of the venue was long overdue. “It didn’t get the proper sendoff in ’77 because of a gambling scandal. For the men who shed their blood here, we give them respect.”
Ring 8 President Bob Duffy observed that 60% of the neighborhood didn’t know Sunnyside Garden Arena ever existed. That’s why sponsor John Edebohls spent four years spearheading the project.
He was helped by Leonore Lanzilloti, whose family had deep connections to the arena. “Maybe people will stop and read the memorial and want to know more about the history of the neighborhood,” she said, “even if they just Google it.”