Born on this day: Tony Zale
Three of his middleweight title bouts were named Fight of the Year, and that’s only one of the “trilogies” he’s best remembered for. The great Tony Zale was born 110 years ago today.
Anthony Florian Zaleski was born on May 29, 1913 in Gary, Indiana, a Rust Belt town close to Chicago during a time when steel manufacturing was booming in the area. Zale’s origin and his ability to withstand punishment are the reason behind his original ring moniker, the “Man of Steel”.
He made his debut in 1934, and for the next six years he had an uneven career fighting in the local club circuit, developing his reputation of unlimited stamina, teak-tough chin and demolishing punching power. He was already 43-14-2 when he was matched with Al Hostak for the NBA version of the middleweight title, which he won with a 13-round knockout and then defended twice (once in a rematch with Hostak) before adding the NYSAC version in a win over Georgie Abrams that also earned him the vacant Ring magazine belt.
In the fight before his Ring title bout with Abrams, Zale had already inscribed his name in history when he stopped Billy Pryor in nine rounds at Milwaukee’s Juneau Park in August of 1941 before 135,132 live spectators, setting a record for the biggest live non-paying crowd ever to witness a boxing match that still stands today.
After becoming champion, Zale dropped a 12-round decision in a nontitle bout against future light heavyweight champ Billy Conn on Feb. 13, 1942. Zale enlisted in the U.S. Navy right after this bout, spending the next three years fighting in World War II.
Returning to action in 1946, he had a string of wins before defending his title against Rocky Graziano in Yankee Stadium, in the first episode of their extraordinary rivalry. Zale stopped Graziano in six rounds in a barnburner, but one year later Zale was stopped himself in the seventh round of their rematch on July 16, 1947.
On June 10, 1948, Zale and Graziano met for the third time with the title at stake, and Zale regained the title with a third-round stoppage, thus completing one of the greatest trilogies of all time, with two of those bouts being declared Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine (1946 and ’47). In all three fights, both men rallied from behind to become victorious in extraordinary back-and-forth performances.
Zale’s next fight would earn him similar honors, even though he lost the belt to France’s Marcel Cerdan. The fight took place on Sept. 21, 1948, and Zale was stopped in the 11th round and announced his retirement after the fight.
Zale’s career record was 67 wins (45 by knockouts), 18 losses, and 2 draws. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.