This handsome and poetically composed book is blessed with an extensive photo glossary of over 100 pages and is illustrated throughout with ringside photos, including the best boxing photo in ring history, which appears on page 166, with Zale being taken off his feet by the man he dropped in two out of three engagements, Rocky Grazziano. That famed trilogy forms the core of this history and a history it is, a history of Gary Indiana, of the Zaleski family’s immigration from Poland, to Hungary, to New York and ultimately to the Midwest, in 1911, where young Anthony’s father would be the first documented bicycle fatality, in 1915, at the hands of an automobile as two Model T Fords ran him over when his brakes failed, leaving his wife to provide for a large family. Fortunately, the brothers were industrious and made good.
Having learned to box from watching his brothers, little Anthony, in first grade, first KO’d a classroom bully and then soon after fought off an entire gang of older boys known as the Dawg Town Gang. From that point on it was known by all that this quiet and honest boy had an unusual drive. Zale is a well known ring figure. What I liked the most about this book was the story of his life outside the ring—including instructing boxing in the Navy. Figuring prominently in Tony’s life outside the ring was his decision loss to light heavyweight sensation Billy Conn, who nearly dethroned heavyweight king Joe Louis and his tragic loss to Marcel Cerdan, the best European champion in the 20th Century.
Tony went on to work as a referee, including supervising a wrestling versus boxing fiasco between a Cuban boxer named Omelio Agramonte and American show wrestler Marvin “Atomic” Mercer on 9/12/52 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Tony was not the lady’s man that many champions were and comported himself with a quiet dignity that impressed everyone but showy Billy Conn. He was sorrowfully separated from his children in a savage divorce, but maintained a keen sense of family and community through his life. Tony Zale believed in his neighborhood, his city, his heritage and his nation and gladly gave the prime years of his ring life as world champion for service as a physical education coach in the Navy. Any society in which most men had Zale’s character would be unbeatable.