Joey Giardello is fighting mad.
Forty years ago, when he was one of the top boxers in the world, on his way to the middleweight championship, that was bad news for the rest of the division.
Giardello was a tough guy who learned to fight on the hard streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., where the practice of his science was not always sweet. It was not a good idea to get him mad then, and it’s not a great idea now.
The man who won 100 fights in his career has been to the movies and he did not like what he saw.
The film is “The Hurricane,” Denzel Washington’s gripping story of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight contender who was convicted twice of murder and then freed after spending 19 years in prison.
Carter’s guilt or innocence is not an issue for Giardello. His own boxing reputation, however, is quite another matter.
A crucial sequence in the film shows Carter fighting for the middleweight championship on Dec. 14, 1964 against Giardello, who was making the first defense of the title he took from Dick Tiger a year earlier.
Giardello was 34 at the time. The Carter fight was the 127th in a career that began in 1948. He knew the ins and outs of his craft--stick the jab and then get away; get inside when you can; stay away when the other guy’s attacking. That’s what he did that night against Carter when he was rewarded with a unanimous decision.
Referee Bob Polis scored it 72-66 for Giardello. Judge James Mina had it 69-64 and judge David Beloff had it 70-67.
However, the movie tells the story of the fight quite differently, portraying it as a one-sided affair in which Carter put a substantial whipping on the champion and then lost the decision unfairly.
And that’s what has Giardello, a boxing Hall of Famer, so angry.
“I was a little upset and humiliated,” he said. “I beat him fair and square. There was no question about it. I beat him easy. I won the fight.”
And what about the film?
Giardello just chuckled.
“That was Hollywood’s version,” he said.
Giardello is suing, and picks his words carefully. He says he has no quarrel with Carter. He has one, however, with the moviemakers.
He has filed a federal defamation lawsuit in Philadelphia hoping to have the film add actual video footage of the real fight and seeking unspecified monetary damages. Universal Pictures has not commented on the suit.
Could Carter really have been robbed that night? Certainly, that’s happened before. Outrageous decisions are not unheard of in the strange world of boxing. Check out the 12-round draw between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis last March. Giardello’s victory over Carter, however, was hardly outrageous, according to those who saw it.
After the fight, Carter claimed he had won at least nine of the 15 rounds. That’s not unheard of, either. Holyfield said he thought he’d beaten Lewis, too, even though except for one judge, he was just about the only one with that opinion. Later, Carter amended his argument, admitting he wasn’t accustomed to going 15 rounds and that he had hung back and not attacked Giardello as vigorously as he should have.
The suggestion in the film is that racism played a role in the Carter-Giardello decision. But by then, boxing was well ahead of the rest of America when it came to equal opportunity. Black champions like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson were among the most popular athletes of their time. Skin color was never an issue for champs like Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, Kid Gavilan and Henry Armstrong. The Great White Hope era of the sport was long gone.
Carter got his shot because he was the No. 1 contender. And Giardello did not avoid him to fight less-worthy opponents like, say, Joey Archer, who beat Carter in 1963.
Giardello lost his share of fights, including a rematch against Tiger less than two years after he won the title. He knew how that felt. He also knew how it felt to win. And from all accounts, the Carter fight was one he won comfortably, Hollywood’s version of it notwithstanding.