(Original caption) 03/2/1948 – Newark, NJ – Holding on to the ropes, Rocky Graziano raises his right arm to fend off Tony Zale’s right punch, heading for a kill in the third round of their middleweight title fight. Zale regained the crown he had lost to Graziano by knockout in that round.
Three of his middleweight title fights were named Fight of the Year, and this is just one of the “trilogies” he is best remembered for. The great Tony Zale was born 110 years ago.
Anthony Florian Zaleski was born on May 29, 1913 in Gary, Indiana, in the town of Rust Belt near Chicago, at a time when steelmaking was booming in the area. Zale’s background and his ability to withstand punishment are the reason for his original nickname on the ring, “The Man of Steel”.
He made his debut in 1934 and had an uneven career for the next six years, wrestling for local clubs, developing a reputation for limitless endurance, a hard teak chin, and devastating punching power. He was already 43-14-2 when he faced Al Hostak for the NBA version middleweight title which he won by 13-round knockout and then made two saves (once in a rematch with Hostak) before adding the NYSAC version in a victory over Georg Abrams, which also earned him a vacant Ring magazine belt.
In the pre-ring title match with Abrams, Zale already made history when he defeated Billy Pryor in nine rounds at Juneau Park, Milwaukee in August 1941 in front of a live audience of 135,132, setting a record for the largest unpaid live crowd who ever witnessed a boxing match that continues to this day.
After becoming champion, Zale rejected a 12-round decision in a non-title fight against future light heavyweight champion Billy Conn on February 13, 1942. Zale enlisted in the United States Navy immediately after that fight, spending the next three years fighting in World War II.
Returning to the game in 1946, he had a string of victories before defending his title against Rocky Graziano at Yankee Stadium in the opening leg of their remarkable rivalry. Zale stopped Graziano in six rounds in the barn, but a year later Zale himself was stopped in the seventh round of their rematch on July 16, 1947.
On June 10, 1948, Zale and Graziano met for the third time, fighting for the title, and Zale regained the title after a third-round stoppage, thus ending one of the greatest trilogies of all time, with two of these fights. The Ring magazine’s fight of the year (1946 and ’47). In all three fights, both men rallied from behind to claim victory in remarkable back-and-forth performances.
Zale’s next fight would earn him similar honors, despite losing the belt to Marcel Cerdan of France. The fight took place on September 21, 1948, and Zale was stopped in the 11th.p round and announced his retirement after the fight.
Zale’s career record is 67 wins (45 by knockout), 18 losses and 2 draws. In 1991, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Diego M. Morilla has been writing for The Ring since 2013. Since 1993, he has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector member for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the annual BWAA writing competition and is the moderator of The Ring’s women’s ratings panel. He served as editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is now a writer and editor for RingTV.com.