Angelo “The Bomber” DeFendis
By Richard D. Biondi
Angelo DeFendis was born as one of three boys to Marco and Mary DeFendis. His parents emigrated from Bari Italy to the Gravesend Section of Brooklyn. Marco worked seven days a week at his fruit and produce business located on Avenue U. As he was supporting his family, Mary raised their three sons Dominic, Angelo, and Joey.
As a teenager, Angelo worked hard at his dad’s store and he idolized his older brother Dominic. Angelo began to train at the Sixty Second Precinct Gym on Bath Avenue in Bensonhurst under Jerry Salica. Overall, he went 28-2 as an amateur, and Angelo won the P.A.L Sub Novice Middleweight Championship, the 1952 P.A.L Open and the AAU Metropolitan Titles. The following year, DeFendis captured the prestigious New York City Golden Gloves Title. As a professional, he registered a 25-5 record and he was ranked in the top ten by Ring Magazine in the light heavyweight division.
RB-Angelo how much of an influence did your older brother Dominic have on you to get involved in boxing?
AD-“I worshiped Dominic. He was being trained by the former world champion Lou Salica at a P.A.L gym in Bensonhurst. Salica was having a hard time getting Dominic sparring partners because he hit so hard. I sparred my brother a few times and hurt him. This encouraged me to box. In the early 1950’s, Dominic lost to Michael Maye in the Gloves. Maye shoulder butted my brother which upset me.”
RB-During your amateur and professional career you were trained by Jerry Salica. How would you describe him as a trainer?
AD-“At first I was also trained by Lou Salica. Lou was too busy so he did not have the time to work with me and my buddy Carmelo Costa. Jerry Salica was also a former professional fighter. He was a quiet person. As a trainer, he was good, he taught me a great deal about boxing”
RB-In 1953, you defeated Elzie Watson for the New York City Golden Gloves Championship. What do you recall from that fight at the Garden?
AD-“I am very proud to have won the Golden Gloves. My brothers were there and I had many friends from Avenue U there. I was dating my wife Yolanda at the time. She stayed at home with my mother. A few days after the fight, the Daily News took a photo of me on Avenue U. I still have that picture and I still wear my Golden Gloves necklace.”
RB-At the beginning of your career, Rocky Graziano and Whitey Bimstein visited you at your parent’s home on Avenue U. Why?
AD-“I was training in the basement of my parents home on a cement floor. Rocky said that I was crazy because I would ruin my shoes. They wanted me to leave Jerry and to go with them. I was loyal to Salica so I told them no. In that basement, I had a heavy and speed bag. Dominic would help to train me there.”
RB-Did you enjoy training?
AD-“I loved to train and I worked very hard. I would run five miles on the beach at Coney Island, often with Carmelo. We would then go to the Trinity Club on Clinton Avenue. It was a small boxing gym with a dozen fighters. I would hit the bags, skip rope, and play handball. My workout lasted about three hours. Carmelo lived on 18th Avenue and I met him at the gym. When we were fighting we were like brothers. He won the Sugar Ray Robinson Award while winning the Golden Gloves. Carmelo was a great boxer. Today, he lives in Florida and we still talk.”
RB-Ernie Durando was a tough Italian American from Bayonne New Jersey. You fought him on Christmas Eve in 1956. Were you nervous about fighting him given the fact that he had so many fights?
AD-“Going into the fight I was concerned because he had a good punch and great experience. I was in great shape and I knocked him out in the 1st Round. Afterwards, I left the ring and walked down the steps, my brother Dominic grabbed my arm and kissed me. It was a great night.”
RB-On April 22, 1957, you competed in the biggest contest of your career against Canadian great Yvon Durelle. In the end, the judges awarded the fight to Durelle by a close margin. Do you feel that you won the bout?
AD-“I trained very hard for that fight at St. Nicholas Arena. I put Durelle down in the 1st Round but the bell saved him. His trainer had to walk him back to his corner. It was a close fight but I believe that I had won it. I wanted to have a rematch but his camp would not set it up. I did like Yvon, he seemed like a good guy.”
RB-At the end of 1957, you briefly retired before launching a comeback with Johnny DeJohn and Joe Netro in upstate New York. Did you spar with Carmen Basilio and why did you finally retire?
AD-“DeJohn and Netro had great boxing minds. I trained for a month with them. I did not spar Carmen but we were in the gym together. He was an animal while training. While I was with Johnny and Joe I fought Bobby Lane in Miami Beach. During that fight, I broke my right hand and lost on points. It was the 4th time that I broke that hand and I was forced to retire. After the fight, Archie Moore walked into my locker room and he said, ” I want to fight DeFendis.”
RB-What if any was your biggest disappointment in boxing?
AD-“After I won the Golden Gloves and the AAU Championships, I went to Albany to fight in hopes of going to the Olympics in Helsinki. I won my first two fights but I broke my hand. I was scheduled to fight Floyd Patterson with the winner going to the 1952 Olympics. Patterson came into my locker room and he told me that he was happy that he did not have to box me. Other than that, I have no regrets. I was ranked 9th in the world by Ring Magazine in the light heavyweight division. I believe that if I did not re-injure my right hand, I could have fought for the title.”
RB-Lastly, Angelo are you still a boxing fan today?
AD-“I still enjoy watching the fights. I want to make a comeback.”