PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                     November 29, 2010


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By Ken Hissner

Even at just 118 pounds, Philly's Joltin' Jeff Chandler was a giant of a man when it came to God-given talent. He walked into South Philly's Juniper Gym at age 19, and two amateur fights later he was on his way to becoming a world champion. "I fought on a Friday and a Monday in the amateurs.  I lost to Johnny Carter in the second one.  He had well over 50 fights.  I knew we would see each other again.  I turned pro figuring why fight for nothing,” said Chandler.       

Chandler came to the Juniper Gym in 1976 where future world light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad had started two years before him.  Both men would go on to become champions about a year apart (Saad in 1979 and Jeff in 1980).  

Chandler was managed by Arnold Giovanetti and trained by Pat Patterson.  But about seven fights into Chandler's career, when Giovanetti mysteriously disappeared, Saad Muhammad trainer Nick Belfiore took over the training duties, while the under-five-foot "KO" Becky O'Neill became Jeff's manager. Becky's husband, Willie O'Neill, filled the role of assistant trainer and advisor. “Becky and Willie were the greatest people ever.  My life was never the same when they passed,” said Chandler.

“As small as Becky was she would stand up for me in an instant if someone said something negative about me.  I told her I could stand up for myself,” said Chandler.  After five years in the professional ring, Chandler made Willie O'Neill his head trainer. 

“When I first started sparring in the gym Nick (Belfiore) would have the guys lined up on the bench waiting for me.  I had just come from my construction job and was really tired.  In time, I would walk in the door and yell to them to get ready,” said Chandler. 

Chandler, at five feet, seven inches, was a giant in the 118-pound division.  He made his debut in the coal mountain region of Scranton, PA, some two hours north of Philly.  His promoter was future hall of famer J Russell Peltz, and Eddie "The Clot" Aliano was his cut man.  “Eddie would be with me in every fight.  There were times he would run the corner,” said Chandler.

Scranton's Catholic Youth Center Gym was over a bowling alley, and a familiar venue for Philadelphia fighters. This was the same place Philly’s uncrowned champion Tyrone Everett started his career.  Philly’s Mike Dowling, 1-0, was Chandler’s first opponent.  The fight ended in a draw.  “I was 118 pounds, and I know they didn’t put weights down in those days because Dowling had to be 130.

Chandler was brought along slowly. His team knew they had something special in Chandler if he was brought along properly. In the 1970's, the east coast was not stocked with bantamweights. “Peltz put me in some of my first fights and when he saw something in me he signed me up,” said Chandler.     

I fought Michael Frazier who lived two blocks from me (his third fight).  I would use him as my sparring partner after I won the title,” said Chandler.  Places like the Blue Horizon, Convention Hall, in Atlantic City and Fournier Hall, in Wilmington, DE, would provide Chandler with the needed experience that would benefit him.

Chandler’s first bout at the Spectrum in Philly was in November of 1976 against Tony “Pee Wee” Stokes, of NY, in a scheduled 4 rounder.  Both Stokes and Chandler were 5-0-1.  The main event featured WBC champion Alfredo Escalera defending against unbeaten Philly super featherweight Tyrone Everett, 34-0.  “I had the walk out fight that night and only saw a couple of rounds.  Later I would see it in its entirety and Everett really got robbed,” said Chandler.  It was this writer’s opinion that the decision against Everett was boxing's worst ever. Everett was shot death six months later. [Note: Tyrone's brother Mike fought the walkout bout; Chandler fought earlier on the card.]

Chandler passed his first real test that night by beating Stokes.  It was the real start of his career, and still almost two years before his first 10-rounder. 

In another major bout, Chandler was under the main event of Marvin Hagler and “Bad” Bennie Briscoe.  “Briscoe would fill the arena to the rafters,” said Chandler. Chandler defeated Sergio Reyes, 12-6, over 8 rounds.  His brain trust, Peltz, was guiding him up the rankings slowly but surely.  There hadn’t been a 118 champ from the US since 1943.  “Maureen (Sacks, Peltz VP) takes care of you.  She’s a wonderful lady and I have nothing negative to say about Russell (Peltz),” said Chandler. 

In April of 1979, Chandler met former Olympian Davey Vasquez, 18-2, at the Spectrum and won in a 10 rounder.  “He had good stuff,” said Chandler.  In July, he faced one of the few other east coast bantam’s who happened to also be from Philly, Baby Kid Chocolate, 18-2.  The fight, at Upper Darby's Forum, was for the USBA bantamweight title.  “Before the fight, he said he was going to jump on me, but I jumped on him first, in the opening round,” said Chandler.  He stopped Chocolate in the 9th round.

In February of 1980, Chandler would add the NABF title to his USBA crown, meeting Javier Flores, 26-4-3.  Chandler drop Flores in the 9th round and stop him in the 10th to become the dual champion.  What he wanted was the world title - and by year’s end it would happen. 

In Atlantic City, Chandler defeated the Puerto Rican champion Andres Hernandez, 30-6-1, in defense of his two titles.  Hernandez had lost to knockout artist Carlos Zarate in  rounds 13 in a try for the champ's WBC belt.  The fight was under the Matthew Saad Muhammad vs. John Conteh light heavyweight main event.  “I would have liked to have fought Zarate,” said Chandler. 

After a couple of knockouts in July, Chandler was matched with WBA champion Julian Solis, 21-0, of Puerto Rico.  The fight occurred in Miami on November of 1980 with Solis' championship on the line.  On the undercard, Alexis Arguello defeated Jose Luis Ramirez by split decision.  Chandler said, “Can you imagine the great Alexis Arguello on my undercard?”  Chandler was well ahead on two of the scorecards when he stopped Solis in the 14th round to become the first world bantamweight champion from the east coast in 33 years.  “He was a good boxer with a lot of heart so I just kept being aggressive.  I felt great.  I knew what I had to do to win it (title) but I knew keeping it would be harder,” said Chandler.

Chandler vs. Julian Solis

Chandler’s first defense was in February of 1981 against former WBA champ Jorge Lujan, 22-3, who lost his title Solis in his 6th defense.  "In order to get the Solis fight I had to agree to fight Lujan if I won."  The clash with Lujan was held at the Franklin Plaza Hotel, in Philadelphia.  Chandler won on all score cards 148-143, 146-143 and 146-142.  Not only were all the judges Latino but so was the referee.

In April, it was off to Tokyo, Japan, to defend against the OPBF champ Eijiro Murata, 18-0-2.  After 15 rounds, the referee had it even, while the judges scored it 147-146 for Murata and 145-142 for Chandler, a draw.  “I was Jeff’s sparring partner even though I was 140 and supposed to go to Japan with him", said Vinnie Burgese (22-5-1 as a pro).  "I went to the nationals instead and won them at 16.  Jeff is the greatest and he made me a better fighter,” said Vinnie Burgese (22-5-1 as a pro).  “I thought I won the fight.  He kept coming in with his head causing a cut,” said Chandler.

Chandler with Vinnie Burgese

There would be a rematch before the year was out, but first a rematch with Solis, 22-1, was next.  Chandler made sure there would be no need for the judges after the Murata draw.  In Atlantic City rematch, Chandler stopped Solis in the 7th round, while ahead on all scorecards.  “He didn’t seem like the same fighter I first fought,” said Chandler.

Before the rematch with Murata in Atlantic City, “Belfiore dropped out as trainer and Willie O’Neill took over as trainer at this point,” said Peltz.  Well ahead on all cards, Chandler stopped Murata in the 13th round to deal the Japanese opponent his first career loss. 

In March of 1982 at the Philadelphia Civic Center, Chandler proved "what goes round comes round" in his rematch with fellow Philly fighter Johnny “Dancing Machine” Carter, 23-1, who Chandler had lost to in the amateurs.  “We were in the ring getting announced when Carter gives me the “tomahawk” sign and started dancing around.  I thought "you’re in the wrong spot this time".  We had gone to night school together so I clapped for him,” said Chandler.  

“He knew it was a lot different this time as early as the first round,” said Chandler, who was ahead on all scorecards going into the sixth round.  “I got off the stool for the sixth round and Willie slapped me on the butt so hard I thought I was having a heart attack.  He said "now go get him",” said Chandler.  Referee Frank Cappuccino stopped it at 2:28 of the sixth round in favor of Chandler.

In Chandler’s only other fight in 1982, he stopped Miguel Iriarte, 12-1-1, in Atlantic City to end the Panamanian's eight-bout winning streak in the 9th round. “He came out throwing bombs the whole fight trying to kill me.  I hadn’t fought for seven months but was able to avoid most of them,” said Chandler. 

In March of 1983, Chandler met a future WBA and WBO champion and a Hall of Famer in Gaby Canizales, 24-1, who was then USBA champion and winner of 14 straight.  “I said, where’s the easy one’s?”  He had defended against No. 1 thru No.4.  Canizales trainer Jesse Reid said, “Chandler was a great fighter.”  Chandler won the Atlantic City bout by scores of 148-140, 147-140 and 145-141. It was his seventh defense. 

Chandler had a return bout with Murata scheduled in September so he took a couple of non-title bouts to stay busy.  In Atlantic City, he dropped Hector Cortez, 39-11-3, of Ecuador, in the 1st, 2nd and 7th rounds easily winning over 10 rounds.  “I was really cracking that night,” said Chandler.  To this writer’s pleasure Jeff got up in his kitchen and started throwing jabs and left hooks.  He’s still very trim and quick at 54. 

Chandler wasn’t so fortunate in his next fight, losing a split decision to L.A.’s Oscar Muniz, 36-3-3, the NABF champ who had won his last 10 fights in a row. “I was offered $100,000 to fight Muniz with one week's notice.  I couldn’t turn it down and though I had only been in the gym one day, I thought I did all right, all things considered,” said Chandler. 

They promised to give Muniz a title shot after a September defense in a rubber match with Murata.  Once again Chandler travelled to Japan with knockout on his mind.  Murata, 24-1-3, went down in round 2, round 3, and 3 times in the 10th before the referee Isidro Rodriguez stopped the one-sided fight in the 10th round. 

In the December rematch with Muniz, it was a different fight.  Chandler came in at his lowest weight in almost three years.  “Every time he had an itch, I scratched it,” said Chandler.  Muniz, 38-3-3, was no match for Chandler the second time around.  Ahead on all scorecards Chandler, cut Muniz and then stopped him at the :23 mark of round 7.  He had avenged the only draw and the loss marring an otherwise perfect record.

Next for Chandler would be the well regarded Richie Sandoval, 22-0, of CA, in an April Atlantic City in April of 1984 being Chandler’s 10th defense.   “I had hurt my left shoulder several weeks before the fight.  The day of the fight I got an injection for the pain.  By the third round I told my trainer I felt like I was drunk. That shot really affected me,” said Chandler.  Why he didn’t get it earlier for re-action purposes he didn’t know.

Chandler got dropped for the first time in his career in the 11th round.  “I didn’t think it was a real knockdown,” said Chandler.  Referee Arthur Mercante stopped it at 1:20 of the 15th and last round, declaring the end of an era - and the end of a career for “Joltin” Jeff Chandler.  Two years later, Sandoval would lose the title (in his third defense) to Canizales and retire.  It was his only loss in 30 bouts.   

At the age of 27, Chandler announced his retirement with a 33-2-2 (18 KO) record with nine successful title defenses.  “I was told I had cataracts on both eyes just prior to the Sandoval fight and knew it would be my last fight,” said Chandler.

Chandler was inducted into the IBHOF in 2000.  “I knew I was that good,” said Chandler.  He now resides in Newark, DE.  He has three sons - Tarik, Jeffrey Jr. and Julius who live in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. 

This writer caught up to Chandler at the PA HOF in May and at the Briscoe Awards in October.  We made arrangements to meet in November through John DiSanto who runs the Briscoe awards.  “Jeff Chandler was probably the best fighter to come up at the Spectrum, and he’s on the list of all-time Philly greats,” said DiSanto. 

Fellow Doghouse Boxing writer Dave Ruff , accompanied me on the interview. He asked Jeff if he would speak to the kids where he works in Wilmington, DE, at the Frains Boys & Girls Club.  Chandler said to call him anytime and he will be there. 

“Ali was the reason I got started in boxing.  Joey Giardello (former world champ) told me how dangerous the sport was.  That is why I always kept my hands up high - to take care of myself down the road.  I couldn’t believe how guys like Giardello and Carmen Basilio would fight so many times and against so many tough opponents,” said Chandler.

“I loved my mom and she was great.  She would put something away for me after my fights.  When I was young she said you will be in jail before your 21 if you keep doing what you’re doing.  That always stayed with me.  God is always with me and looking out for me.  Even when I was champ I tried staying away from people that were not good for my boxing career,” said Chandler.  The family attended the “Light of the World Chapel” in South Philly.

Chandler brought out a beautiful portrait of himself wearing the Ring Magazine belt.  He also showed us his picture on the cover of the July 1983 Ring Magazine. He signed a boxing Hall of Fame card for Ruff.  Both Ruff and I agreed after talking and laughing with “Joltin” Jeff Chandler that he was a very modest person and a lot of fun to be with.  Being one of the all time best Philly champions and a boxer who was tops in his field, it was our pleasure that he took so much time to talk with us.  

Philadelphia’s J Russell Peltz, the IBHOF promoter of Chandler’s who has worked with many world champions and contenders for over 40 years summed it up by saying, “Jeff was the most talented fighter, physically and mentally, I ever promoted.”




Ken Hissner - November 30, 2010