"Tony Zale was one of the nicest men I ever met, and one of the toughest fighters I ever saw,"
Rounds : 501
KO %: 52
From the steel town of Gary, Indiana came the aptly named "Man of Steel" Anthony Florian Zalenski, more widely known as Tony Zale.
Zale came from a poor family with 4 brothers and 2 sisters.
After his father passed when Tony was a mere 2 years old, his mother became both mother and father to him.
He began boxing as a kid, which helped with the shyness he developed after losing his father.
Zale turned his therapy into a profession in 1934 while still working in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. He won the National Boxing Association Middleweight title by knocking out Al Hostak in the 13th round on July 19,1940.
Zale enlisted in the US navy in 1942 following a 15 round decision win over Georgie Abrams for the vacant world middleweight championship and a subsequent 13 round decision loss in a non-title fight against "The Pittsburgh Kid" Billy Conn.
"[In the ring]I'm thinking, 'It's just the two of us, he and I, and I'm going to get him out of the way.' I always felt I could do it and I did. When I'm in the ring I'm free.''
Aside from taking part in one of the most iconic trilogies in boxing history, Zale was known for bruising body punching, excellent conditioning, and a never say die attitude in the ring.
Zale was unusually shy outside of the ring but supremely confident inside it. This shyness led to Zale getting little recognition in his time despite his crowd-pleasing style.
His opponents, such as Rocky Graziano, received more media coverage in their bouts because of Zale's propensity for privacy.
The "Man of Steel" bested Graziano in 2 of their 3 encounters, all 3 fights ending by knockout.
A unanimous decision loss to Billy Conn, who was the world light heavyweight champion, a man who famously came two rounds from defeating Joe Louis for the heavyweight crown. Like many great fighters of the late 1930s, WWII interrupted his career at his peak as he did what he and fighters of his era saw as his military duty.
Zale and Graziano share a place in one of boxings five most notable ring photos, in which Graziano, screaming with fury, delivers a shattering right hand from a deep lunge that picks Zale up off his heels. While Graziano, a man of less character than Zale, was a “Hollywood” TV boxer, who would later loose in weak fashion to Ray Robinson, Zale was the prototypical working man’s champion, the Joe Frazier of his time.
For a complete biography read Clay Moyle's book, coauthored with Zale's son, Tony Zale: Man of Steel