PG South: Champion Duquesne boxer died from injuries in fight 73 years ago
January 28, 2010 3:00 PM
Bernie Marino, an Irwin resident, stands in front of a photo of his uncle, Tony Marino, who was a world champion boxer in the 1930s.
By Michael Sanserino Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Seventy-three years ago this Saturday, Duquesne's Tony Marino stepped into the boxing ring for the last time.
Marino, just months removed from losing his title as bantamweight champion of the world, had considered retirement as suggested by his mother and older brother, fellow boxer Tommy Ryan.
By Ryan's account, Marino was a shell of his former self, a capsule of a man whose soul was, literally, being beaten out of him.
During an August 1936 title fight against Puerto Rican Sixto Escobar, Marino was pummelled, knocked down five times in the second round alone only to rise each time, according to an account in The Pittsburgh Press from 1936. Doctors stopped the match after 13 of 15 scheduled rounds after a cut over Marino's brow had nearly swollen his eye shut.
Marino lost a lot more than a share of the bantamweight championship of the world that night at the Dyckman Oval in New York City. The blows he sustained in that fight eventually cost Marino his life.
A native son
Born in May 1912, Marino was a first generation American, a child of two Italian immigrants. He was a friendly and well-liked man who had 10 siblings -- five brothers and five sisters.
He followed Tommy Ryan, his older brother, into boxing at a young age. Tommy Ryan was born Charles Marino, but changed his name because he believed the only people who got good fights in Western Pennsylvania during that era were the Irish, said nephew Bernie Marino, who lives in Irwin.
The two grew up around the ring, often fighting at the McKeesport Palisades. Marino did not have the most skilled arsenal, but he had traits that made him tough to beat.
"Marino was one of those guys who could just take a lot of punishment," said Vernon Gravely, an amateur boxing historian who has written a couple articles -- including one about Marino in 1993 -- for Ring Magazine. "He had a pretty good chin and pretty good stamina. He could just take a beating."
Marino moved west early in 1934 because, as he told news outlets at the time, it was too hard to get good fights in the Pittsburgh area.
He found opportunity in San Francisco, sometimes fighting multiple times a month. He switched coasts in 1936, moving to New York City to try to get even better opponents.
He got his chance on June 2, matched against Lou Salica, a boxer many believed could contend for the world bantamweight crown.
Marino surprised many by claiming eight of the 10 rounds at the Queensboro Arena on Long Island, winning in a unanimous decision.
The upset win earned him a shot at Baltasar Sangchili, the European bantamweight title holder, on June 29, 1936.
Marino took a beating in the fight. He was knocked down before the fight was a minute old, according to an account in the Press. He fared better in the next couple rounds, but by most accounts, Sangchili thoroughly dominated Marino from the fifth through 13th rounds of a scheduled 15-round fight.
In the 14th, Marino struck, sending Sangchili to the canvas and ending the fight.
An article that appeared in the Press described Marino's combination that landed the champ on the ground: "In the 14th a short left hook to the stomach and two crashing rights to the head put Sangchili down on his hands and knees for the count of 10."
His reign did not last long, but that does not matter to nephew Bernie Marino, 67.
"I was really proud of the fact I had an uncle who was the bantamweight champion of the world," he said.
Bernie Marino's middle name is Anthony, and he named his first son Anthony.
Two months and two days after beating Sangchili, Marino returned to the Dyckman Oval to face Escobar in a unification title fight. Escobar owned the New York version of the world bantamweight crown.
Like in the meeting against Sangchili, Marino took a beating from the heavy favorite.
"The Puerto Rican floored Marino five times and butchered his face," wrote George Kirksey of the United Press. The match was stopped after the 13th round, at which point Marino was bleeding from the nose and eyes as his left eye had nearly swollen shut.
But, true to form, Marino did not want to quit. He protested the doctor's decision, believing that he could launch a comeback and knock out Escobar like he did Sangchili.
The fight that killed him
In the weeks and months after the fight, Marino was a different man, brother Tommy Ryan later recalled to reporters.
On Jan. 30, 1937 when Marino entered the Ridgewood Grove in Queens, N.Y., to challenge Carlos "Indian" Quintana, Ryan said Tony Marino was dead before he even took a hit.
Quintana pummelled Marino in the bout, knocking him down five times in a fight that went the full eight rounds.
But as Marino sat in his corner after the scorers awarded Quintana the win, he collapsed. He had to be carried from the ring to the dressing room, where a doctor ordered he be sent to the hospital.
That same doctor told the Associated Press he examined Marino before the fight and "found him in perfect physical condition."
Early in the morning on Feb. 1, 1937, Marino died at Wyckoff Heights Hospital in Brooklyn of a cerebral hemorrhage, caused by blows to the head. He was 24.
His father was en route to New York City after Marino's manager, Charles Cook, wired the family that he was in the hospital but doing "all right," according to an article in the Post-Gazette.
That same article reported that Marino told his brothers the fight against Quintana would be his last.
"Maybe I will have good news for you after this fight," he wrote in a letter to his mother, hoping to surprise her with his retirement after returning from Brooklyn.
An enduring legacy
The day after Marino's death, New York authorities launched an investigation into the events.
On Feb. 3, the New York State Athletic Commission met and created a new rule, giving referees the authority to halt a fight after a competitor has been knocked down three times in one round.
Today, the three-knockdown rule is universal in boxing.
"Sadly, most rules are created in sports because someone got hurt," said Gravely, who is also an English instructor at Southeast Missouri State University.
Bernie Marino, whose sunroom features pictures of his boxing uncles, said for his accomplishments in the ring and his impact in death, Tony Marino should be recognized by the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
"How many champs were there from Pittsburgh?" he asked before giving a nod to welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic.
Gravely said Marino may not be the most well-remembered boxer, but he did more for the sport than most because in dying, he saved the lives of many future boxers.
"That becomes his legacy," Gravely said, "a bittersweet one at that."