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Briscoe to Have His Own Award Statue

by Bernard Fernandez
Philadelphia Daily News - May 23, 2007

THE MOVIE WORLD has the Oscar, the recording industry has the Grammy, television has the Emmy. Coming soon: the Briscoe.

Two of the highlights of the 73rd annual Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame awards banquet, held Sunday evening at Romano's Caterers in Northeast Philadelphia, were the induction of former middleweight contender Bennie Briscoe, who made an extremely rare public appearance, and the unveiling of a 14-inch clay prototype of the Briscoe, the brainchild of John DiSanto and creation of sculptor Carl LeVotch.

DiSanto was honored as Person of the Year by Ring One of the Veteran Boxers Association, which stages the banquet. He is a huge boxing fan, particularly of local fights and fighters, and toward that end he created his own Web site,, which is an unabashed celebration of our cheesesteak-and-scrapple-flavored version of the sweet science.

Several years ago, the proactive DiSanto realized that some deceased Philly fighters were buried in unmarked graves.

Believing they deserved better, he began raising funds for headstones to mark their burial plots. In 2005, a headstone was placed on the grave of Tyrone Everett, and, in 2006, another was placed on the grave of Gypsy Joe Harris.

Gypsy Joe's sisters, Arneta Miller and Daa'iyah Waheed, attended Sunday's banquet, in no small part because they wanted to be there for DiSanto, who has done so much to keep their brother's memory alive.

DiSanto, however, was not finished with his plans to ensure that this city's rich boxing past not fade away with the passage of time. A member of the VBA's Hall of Fame selection committee, he successfully pushed for the posthumous induction of the late Danny Dougherty, a Philadelphia bantamweight who fought from 1896 to 1911. Dougherty, who was recognized as this city's first world champion when he outpointed Tommy Feltz in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1900, finally became a Hall of Famer on Sunday.

DiSanto's latest labor of love is the first Philly Boxing History Awards, which will be held in October and at which the first Briscoes will be presented.

"We're going to honor a particular former Philadelphia fighter, and also a great fight in Philadelphia boxing history," DiSanto said. "I'm also considering honoring a current fighter."

DiSanto conceived the project about a year and a half ago, but he had a problem: He needed an award that would be special and distinctive. He immediately thought of Briscoe, now 64, who had been one of the great Philly fighters he had admired while growing up.

"Bennie's the guy," DiSanto said. "I could have named the award after any one of a long list of people, but Bennie's the ultimate Philadelphia fighter.

"I went to see Bennie and Karen [Briscoe's wife] and I pitched the idea. He and Karen gave me permission to use his name and his likeness, which was the first step.

"My initial idea was to get the art schools in Philadelphia involved, to create a contest to create the award. But I hit a lot of dead ends. I looked at some local artists, but once I talked to Carl, who already was a member of the VBA, I realized the answer was under my nose the whole time. He's the guy to do this because he's one of us. He's a fan."

LeVotch, who has created several boxing-themed pieces, most notably "The Spirit of Boxing," said DiSanto's enthusiam was contagious.

"John was so excited about the project, he seemed like an expectant parent," LeVotch said. "He said, 'I want to do this thing, and it has to be just right.'

"John was very familiar with my work, a lot of which is impressionistic. But I knew what he wanted. He wanted to capture the heart and soul of Bennie Briscoe."

LeVotch also admits to being an ardent fan of "Bad" Bennie.

"He's an interesting character," LeVotch said. "I saw him fight many times. I looked at the photo [upon which the prototype is based], but, as a sculptor, you have to reach inside to find the essence of the man. The photo is just a guide. I have to put my own spin on who Bennie is and what he was all about."

So, will the flesh-and-blood Briscoe receive the first bronze Briscoe?

"It's a real nice trophy," Bennie, who appeared to be enjoying the Hall of Fame festivities, told me. "I'd like to have one myself."

Philadelphia Daily News - May 23, 2007

Bernard Fernandez is the boxing beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, and this story was originally printed in his weekly boxing column.


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