ON MAY 1 final yr, Irish Johnny Turner was inducted into the New York State Boxing Corridor of Fame. This author has identified Turner from when he first walked right into a boxing fitness center over 50 years in the past and was one in all his sparring companions within the amateurs. On the afternoon of the occasion, I had the honour of presenting him his award.
Chances are high, the vast majority of you studying gained’t know Turner, nor what he completed throughout his profession. That in itself factors out the merciless, all or nothing mentality which engulfs not solely our sport however life generally. Until a fighter is a world champion or perennial prime contender who has been in some memorable encounters, their legacy shouldn’t be as robust because it deserves to be. Turner falls into that class.
Within the January 1979 World Boxing Council scores, the Brooklyn welterweight was listed as a High 10 contender. The champion on the time was Wilfred Benitez. The highest 4 contenders, so as, had been Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard, Carlos Palomino, and Thomas Hearns. All future Corridor of Famers. A murderers’ row to get previous for any welterweight trying to get to the very prime of the mountain. Turner by no means fairly did, however nonetheless was one of many extra common fighters in New York Metropolis through the Seventies and 80s, ending his profession with a greater than respectable 42-6-2 (32) document.
At one level it regarded like Turner would field Leonard when each had been on the best way up, however for no matter motive by no means materialised. Turner did meet up with Hearns as soon as and so they had a respectful dialog about signing to field however, once more, nothing got here of it. Ultimately Turner obtained his huge combat, versus Benitez, however the timing of it was simply not proper, he says.
Turner received his begin on the Sweeney Heart Police Athletic League within the Flatbush part of Brooklyn. The boxing facility was completely devoted to the amateurs. On the time Turner arrived in 1971, the undisputed king of the fitness center was Vito Antuofermo, who would quickly flip professional. Then 15 years previous, Turner was simply one other child with aspirations, but it surely quickly grew to become obvious how gifted he was.
Turner’s profession as an newbie mirrored Herol Graham’s as a professional, in that he couldn’t fairly recover from the hump and win the titles that had been projected for him. Between 1971 and 1974, Turner entered the distinguished New York Golden Gloves event, being eradicated within the semi-finals thrice and he was as soon as a shedding finalist. The frustration of not fairly having the ability to put all of it collectively was evident within the light-weight remaining in opposition to Dominic Monaco in entrance of a offered out crowd at Madison Sq. Backyard in 1973. Turner had overwhelmed Monaco within the quarter-finals the earlier yr and was favoured to take action once more. But he couldn’t get untracked over the primary two rounds and misplaced each. A livid rally by Turner within the third spherical had the Backyard crowd on their toes. Monaco fired again, turning it into one of many nice rounds within the event’s historical past. Each got a standing ovation on the finish. These in attendance discuss it to at the present time.
Turner’s newbie profession was intensive. He represented the USA, travelling to Eire, Venezuela, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Considered one of his matches was telecast on ABC’s Broad World of Sports activities in the USA and resulted in Howard Cosell, who was doing the commentary, having a row with Turner’s newbie coach Joe LaGuardia. “I used to be boxing a southpaw,” recollects Turner. “Throughout a business break between rounds Cosell stored urging me to throw proper arms. He was additionally telling Joe the way to instruct me. I didn’t thoughts, however Joe did. Lastly he informed Cosell to close up or he would knock off his toupee. Immediately I can snicker about it, however on the time it was heated.”
Turner turned professional in 1975 and boxed 10 occasions that yr. The lone blemish was a six-round draw in opposition to Randy Milton in Albany. Turner would avenge this 4 years later when he dropped Milton twice and stopped him in three rounds. A formidable end result contemplating that lower than a yr earlier than that, Milton had lasted into the eighth spherical in opposition to Leonard.
Turner was stored busy, however moved alongside rigorously by his supervisor Vern DePaul, boxing in small membership venues in opposition to opponents with modest information till the time was proper to step up. That occurred on March 25, 1977 in Milwaukee, when Johnny, by now 16-0-1, was matched in opposition to powerful Tony Petronelli in a nationally televised bout. Petronelli, a stablemate of Marvin Hagler’s, had unsuccessfully challenged Wilfred Benitez for a 140lbs title in his final outing, being stopped in three rounds. He was the most effective and most seasoned opponent Turner had boxed to that time. In a troublesome and spirited 10-rounder, Turner discovered himself on the brief finish of a break up choice.
Undeterred by his first setback, Turner was again within the ring just a little over a month later and proceeded to win his subsequent 4 earlier than being upset on a majority 10-round choice by Larry Stanton on October 27, 1977 at Madison Sq. Backyard. A ninth spherical knockdown of Turner proved to be the distinction.
As newbie and professional, Turner boxed a complete of 25 occasions contained in the Madison Sq. Backyard constructing, by no means being in a nasty combat.
Turner returned to motion shortly, gained his subsequent two after which on Could 15, 1978 was matched with Frankie Benitez, the brother of Wilfred. The eighth spherical stoppage of Benitez had further significance in Turner’s profession. “I used to be at my greatest that evening,” mentioned Turner. “He did damage me within the seventh spherical, however I got here again to knock him out within the eighth. I used to be at my peak. Round that point there was discuss of matching me together with his brother Wilfred who was imagined to problem Carlos Palomino for the world welterweight title. They had been going to make use of me as a tune-up.”
On the time, Dick Younger the influential sportswriter of the New York Every day Information, quipped “Turner would possibly give him [Benitez] some bitter notes.”
Turner believes the stoppage of brother Frankie, Younger’s comment, and one different issue led to Wilfred not going via with the match that was tentatively scheduled to happen at MSG.
“The Benitez folks all got here all the way down to the Gramercy Gymnasium to see me spar,” says Turner. “Benitez’s supervisor Jim Jacobs noticed how good I regarded and determined it was too dangerous a combat for them.”
The Wilfred Benitez match would wait, however Turner’s victory over Frankie would ceaselessly alter his life. Within the crowd at MSG, had been a pair of celebrities who had been filming a film and had been impressed with what they noticed from Turner. “After I finished Benitez, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci got here into my dressing room and requested, would I be thinking about auditioning for a component in Raging Bull,” says Turner. “In fact I mentioned sure. They requested me to go all the way down to the Gramercy Gymnasium that Monday to spar with DeNiro.”
What transpired in that sparring session went off script when Turner dropped the actor with a physique punch. “I used to be almost fired on the spot,” he laughs. “Peter Savage who was a author and producer of the film informed me I used to be a clever man. I apologised and went out of my strategy to make DeNiro look good after that.
“I’ve to offer DeNiro a whole lot of credit score. He by no means complained after I dropped him. He received again on his toes and was able to have a go at it once more, by no means asking me to ease off. He was a competitor, fairly athletic, and might need turned out to be an excellent fighter had he carried out it for actual.”
It was off to Hollywood for 9 weeks. Turner was solid within the position of Laurent Dauthuille, who LaMotta – behind on factors – had stopped with solely 13 seconds left. Turner could be tasked with duplicating the thrilling end, which means he could be on the receiving finish of a bombardment of blows earlier than touchdown on his again through the underside ropes. Though the scenes had been staged it was powerful bodily work with an excessive amount of repetition and a level of threat.
Through the taking pictures of one of many scenes the Dali that was imagined to ease Turner’s fall broke and he landed arduous on his again. There was concern among the many crew that he had gotten severely injured earlier than Johnny alleviated it by getting up. Later in life, Turner developed again bother he attributes to the autumn.
Turner loved the time spent in LaMotta’s firm. “We stayed on the similar resort. Jake was in an awesome temper as a result of they had been making a film about him,” says Turner. “He would come downstairs and ask who was paying for dinner. I used to be getting a thousand {dollars} every week for my position within the film which doesn’t sound like a lot, however in 1979 was a good payday. We’d purchase LaMotta dinner and he would inform us tales.
“I had affords to remain in Hollywood and pursue an appearing profession, but it surely wasn’t for me. I used to be at my peak as a fighter and there was discuss of matching me with Leonard.”
That discuss intensified when Turner stopped his subsequent eight opponents, however then inexplicably was halted in two rounds by journeyman Santiago Valdez. In Valdez’s subsequent match he could be iced by Hearns in a single spherical.
Turner shortly rebounded, successful three straight over the subsequent three months, which lastly received him the massive match he craved in opposition to Wilfred Benitez.
“The yr earlier than I used to be at my peak. I lived and breathed boxing. There have been no exterior distractions. Mentally I used to be prepared. I do know Benitez is a good boxer, however I actually thought I might beat him. I used to be so mentally prepared at the moment.”
On March 16, 1980 in Miami, Turner was not prepared. He squared off in opposition to Benitez in a day contest that was nationally televised on the CBS Sports activities Spectacular program in the USA. It was Benitez’s first match since shedding the world welterweight title to Leonard lower than 4 months earlier than. “I had misplaced the combat mentally earlier than I even received into the ring” says Turner. “Angelo Dundee, who was doing the commentary for the combat, informed me to drag out when he noticed what they had been attempting to do. They held the weigh-in three days earlier than as a result of Benitez was having bother making weight. My drawback was that I couldn’t acquire weight. Should you watch the combat once more you may hear Dundee saying it appears to be like like a middleweight in opposition to a welterweight.”
Turner damage the previous champion with a proper hand early within the combat, however for essentially the most half Benitez dominated and was comfortably forward on factors when Turner was pulled out attributable to cuts at 2-57 of the ninth.
Turner bounced again considerably from the Benitez setback in successful his subsequent three. Of particular satisfaction was his sixth spherical stoppage of Alfonso Haymon on September 10, 1980 in Scranton. The prior yr Haymon had gone the 10-round distance with Hearns. “After the combat he informed reporters I punched simply as arduous as Hearns did,” says Turner.
The Haymon victory was the final hurrah. Turner was 5-2-1 the remainder of the best way. A waning need and the belief that he would by no means turn into a world champion satisfied him to hold the gloves up in 1984 on the age of 30.
Like so many earlier than him, Turner was initially misplaced with out the game he had devoted his life to. Boxing was the one full time job he had ever identified.
Turner took the take a look at to turn into a New York Metropolis Sanitation employee, however failed the bodily due to a nasty again ensuing from the autumn whereas filming Raging Bull. Though the again would periodically trouble him, Turner felt he may deal with the trials of the job. It couldn’t be more durable than his days within the ring, Johnny surmised.
Turner put in a name to Dr Edwin Campbell, the top doctor of the New York State Athletic Fee. As luck would have it, that very same day there was a combat present at MSG. Campbell spoke to Younger about it. Younger then wrote a narrative within the newspaper criticicing the sanitation division. Days later, Turner was retested, handed, and shortly launched into a 30-year profession with them.
“I don’t know the place I’d be with out that job,” says a grateful Turner. “It supplied me with a pension and well being advantages.”
Turner, 69, resides in Staten Island together with his beautiful spouse Roseann. The couple has two daughters and three grandchildren, to not point out a ton of fond recollections from Johnny’s years within the ring.
Johnny Turner alongside Jack Hirsch

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