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Boxing fan gives dignity to fighters

Mantua resident is making sure
their gravesites are not forgotten

by Tim Zatzariny, Jr.
Courier Post - January 23, 2006

COLLINGDALE, PA - For 28 years, only a number - 430-2 - identified boxer Tyrone Everett's grave.

A bullet curtailed the popular Philadelphia junior lightweight's career in 1977 at age 24, and he was buried in an unmarked plot at Eden Cemetery.

But then John DiSanto, a South Jersey resident and lifelong fight fan, decided he couldn't rest with one of his heroes interred in anonymity.

DiSanto, who runs the Web site, spent $1,500 of his own money to buy a headstone for Everett's grave. The headstone was installed last month.

Now DiSanto is raising money to buy markers for the graves of other Philadelphia-area boxers so time doesn't steal their legacies.

"It bothers me that a lot of guys are out there in their final resting place and they'll b forgotten once their immediate families are gone," DiSanto, 43, said last week during a visit to Everett's gravesite, just outside Philadelphia.

DiSanto, a Web designer who lives in Mantua, believes there are dozens of Philadelphia boxers buried without a proper marker. Some of them died destitute and alone or their families couldn't afford a headstone, DiSanto said.

Once a year, DiSanto will use the money he raises to buy a headstone for a deceased fighter and hold a public memorial service.

DiSanto said that the next recipient of a gravestone will be "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 from a childhood injury.

Harris died in poverty in 1990 at age 44. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Merion Memorial Park in Bala Cynwyd, PA, DiSanto said.

DiSanto said the fund also will be used to help needy families buy gravestones for boxers who die in coming years.

While they may not have been household names outside the boxing world, tough local fighters such as Everett and Harris made a permanent impression on DiSanto.

Everett was a slick, handsome southpaw from South Philadelphia. Nicknamed "The Mean Machine", he fought his way up to a world title shot.

On November 30, 1976, he battled Alfredo Escalera for the World Boxing Council 130-pound title before a sellout hometown crowd at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Everett lost a close 15-round decision. Many ringside observers thought he won the fight and a near-riot ensued after the ring announcer read the judge's scorecards.

He fought for the last time on the under card of the Muhammad Ali-Alfredo Evangelista bout at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. on May 16, 1977. Everett scored a fourth-round knockout of Delfino Rodriguez.

Ten days later, Everett's girlfriend shot him in the face with a rifle during a domestic dispute inside her South Philadelphia home, police said. She was later convicted of his murder.

Everett had four children and a fifth was born after he died. He had been in negotiations for a rematch against Escalera when he was killed.

DiSanto never met Everett and has only seen him fight on tape.

As he compiled information for his Web site two years ago, DiSanto visited Everett's grave to pay his respects.

"I'm walking around and I'm thinking, where's the stone?" DiSanto recalled. "It wasn't there. It was just grass."

He eventually tracked down Everett's mother, Doris, in South Philadelphia and offered to buy a headstone for her son's grave.

"I was surprised," Doris Everett recalled in an interview last week. "I was overwhelmed. There's not many people who would do that."

Doris Everett said that as a single mother of five boys, she didn't have the money to buy a gravestone for her oldest child.

Tyrone Everett's brother, Mike, a junior welterweight contender of the 1970s, said that when his mother visited the cemetery a few years ago, she couldn't find her son's grave.

"It hurt me too that he didn't have a headstone," Mike Everett said. "Now she can go out there and know where he is."

At a banquet honoring Philadelphia fighters last month, Mike Everett presented DiSanto with a trophy originally given to Tyrone Everett when he won the North American Boxing Federation junior lightweight championship in 1976.

"He's part of my family now," Mike Everett said of DiSanto.

His brother, he said, would be thrilled to know he's still remembered - and revered - by die-hards like DiSanto.

"I think right now, if he's looking down on us," Mike Everett said, "he's happy for that kind of fan."


Tim Zatzariny wrote this article for the Courier Post. It was originally printed in that newspaper in January 2006.


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