Joey Maxim, a former light-heavyweight champion whose greatest ring triumph was a sweat-drenched victory over Sugar Ray Robinson in a title fight in 1952, died Saturday in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 79.
The Hall of Fame boxer, who suffered a stroke four months ago, had been hospitalized in Cleveland but went to Florida to be with his two daughters, a Veterans Affairs hospital official said Monday in West Palm Beach.
Born Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli, Maxim got his ring name from boxing insiders who said his constant left jab reminded them of the Maxim machine gun.
He won the 175-pound world title by knocking out champion Freddie Mills in the 10th round in London on Jan. 24, 1950.
After making an unsuccessful bid for the heavyweight championship against Ezzard Charles in 1951, Maxim successfully defended his 175-pound title against Robinson on June 25, 1952, in front of 47,983 at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Robinson, considered by many to have been boxing's greatest champion, seemed to have the bout in hand before withering in the 104-degree heat under the ringside Klieg lights.
Well ahead on the cards of all three officials, Robinson was unable to answer the bell for the 14th round because of heat prostration, and Maxim was declared the winner by technical knockout. It was the only time in 201 fights that Robinson failed to go the distance.
The outcome, though, rankled Maxim for years afterward.
"The heat, the heat, all you heard was the heat," the former champion told an interviewer in 1989. "Let me tell you, there was no air-conditioning in my corner. If he'd come out in that round, I'd have knocked him out. He quit in the corner and made me look bad."
A skilled tactician who was not considered a strong puncher, Maxim had only 21 knockouts in 115 professional fights.
He lost his title to Archie Moore later in 1952 and failed to reclaim it in two bids.
Maxim, who defeated future heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson in 1954, retired from boxing in 1958 with a record of 82-29-4. He was knocked out only once.
A Cleveland native, Maxim told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1993 that he started boxing--illegally--when he was 13, accumulating 200 amateur bouts. "I was 16 for four years," he told the newspaper.
After winning the national Golden Gloves championship in 1939, he turned professional in 1940, eventually fighting nine world champions in 18 bouts. He fought the best of his era, among them Gus Lesnevich, Jersey Joe Walcott, Willie Pastrano, Moore and Charles.
"I couldn't punch at all," he told the Associated Press in 1975. "I never knocked anybody out, but I made 'em do funny things standing up. I had heart. I went into a fight knowing I'd have to last 15 rounds, and I always did. The best bombers tried to hit me and couldn't."
After retiring, Maxim worked a variety of jobs--salesman, construction worker, cabdriver--and owned a bar in Hollywood, Fla. He also worked in burlesque shows and spent nearly 20 years as a greeter at Las Vegas hotels.
He returned to the Cleveland area several years ago to live with his mother, Henrietta Berardinelli, 97.
Besides his mother, he is survived by daughters Charlene Bagnall and Maxine Murphy, both of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., six grandchildren, three brothers and a sister.
Maxim will be buried Thursday in Florida.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated Saturday in Cleveland.