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Web site packs a Philly punch

by Tim Zatzariny, Jr.
Courier Post - May 12, 2005

John DiSanto's heroes aren't just the champions who came out of Philadelphia. He has equal admiration for the scrappy fighters who had plenty of heart but were never quite able to slug their way to glory outside the city. 

Through his Web site,, DiSanto honors Philly's long boxing history by making sure all those who made it a premier fight town aren't forgotten. 

"I'm always in pursuit of learning about fighters I don't know about or only know a little about," said DiSanto, 42, a township resident. 

Now a year old, the site includes photos, biographies and ring records of roughly 200 boxers, along with vintage fight posters and programs. Some fighters, such as light-heavyweights Richie Kates and Mike Rossman, were based in South Jersey but often had bouts in the city before big fights moved to the Atlantic City casinos in the late 1970s. 

The site also makes room for promoters, trainers, corner men and ring announcers. 

DiSanto's childhood love of baseball led to his passion for pugilism. In the sports magazines he devoured looking for articles about his favorite ballplayers, he found stories and photographs featuring the great fighters of the 1970s - Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. 

The first live title fight he attended was Rossman's bloody sixth-round technical knockout of Aldo Traversaro at the Philadelphia Spectrum on Dec. 5, 1978. 

Over the past few years, DiSanto has interviewed a number of former Philly fighters, hoping to produce a documentary series. While that project inches forward, gives fans immediate access to information, said DiSanto, a marketing consultant.  

All the obvious greats get a mention on the site: Joe Frazier, Joey Giardello and Bernard Hopkins. But DiSanto also makes space for the stories of local legends such as "Gypsy" Joe Harris, a Camden-born welterweight whose unorthodox style made him a fan favorite. 

Harris was forced to retire at the peak of his career in the 1960s after doctors discovered he was blind in his right eye. He died in poverty in 1990 at age 44. 

DiSanto's favorite Philly fighters of all-time are light-heavyweight Matthew Saad Muhammad and bantamweight Jeff Chandler. 

"I'd run into fighters in the city, and I'd be thrilled," recalled DiSanto, who moved back to Mantua two years ago after a decade of living in Philadelphia. "It always struck me that here were these guys who were at the peak of their profession." 

Chuck Hasson, a Philadelphia boxing historian, said DiSanto's site will help cement the city's place in boxing history. 

"We feel Philadelphia is one of the most interesting and exciting boxing cities in the history of the game," said Hasson, who has signed on as the site's assistant editor. Hasson is a co-author of the 2002 book Philadelphia's Boxing Heritage, 1876-1976. 

DiSanto said he wants the site to keep growing until it covers every aspect of the tough guys who made Philly a knockout. 

"The more I get into it," he said, "the more it feeds itself."


Tim Zatzariny wrote this article for the Courier Post. It was originally printed in that newspaper in May 2005.


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