In a city famous around the world for producing champion boxers Philadelphia maintained a peculiar slight of its legendary fighters. For decades the only statute honoring a boxer in Philadelphia praised the fictitious movie pugilist ‘Rocky.’ That slight of local boxing heroes ended recently with the dedication of a statute to a real life fighter.
On Saturday, May 21, 2011, about 400 people gathered on a small strip of cement in South Philadelphia to honor and remember local boxing icon Joey Giardello. During that ceremony for Giardello a brand new bronze statue of the former world middleweight champion was unveiled. In attendance at the event was Giardello’s widow, Rosalie Tilelli, their four children and others who just wanted to share in the moment.
The statue, sculpted by artist Carl LeVotch, sits on South 13th Street between Mifflin Street and East Passayunk Avenue. It towers over visitors, standing between eight and nine feet tall and is decorated with ornate fixtures including a recreation of Giardello’s former middleweight championship belt. All around the circular base reads the names of friends, family and admirers who donated funds to help support construction of the statue including the Veterans Boxers Association, PhillyBoxingHistory.com and the Harrowgate Boxing Club.
Giardello had a legendary boxing career. He was born on July 16, 1930 in Brooklyn, NY under the name Carmine Orlando Tilellli, but spent most of his youth living in South Philadelphia.
No one is really sure why Giardello changed his name but local legend says that he attempted to enter the army under his future ring name because he was underage.
Giardello quickly picked up boxing and immediately made a name for himself amongst some great Italian-American boxers who also lived and trained in Philadelphia. He started off fighting lowly ranked competition. He got into some trouble when he jumped to the professional ranks in 1948 loosing a bout to a seasoned but lackluster opponent.
But Giardello learned quickly. He improved his fight-game and soon after beating boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson in 1963, Giardello became the top challenger for the World Middleweight Belt.
A few months later, the South Philly hero got his championship shot. He took full advantage of his opportunity and won a decision bout over Dick Tiger to become middleweight champion of the world during a clash in Atlantic City. Giardello held the championship belt for two years until 1965 when he faced off with Tiger again and lost in decision.
Giardello fought only four more fights in his career before retiring in 1967. He spent the rest of his days as an insurance salesman while he and Rosalia raised their four sons.
On September 4, 2008, Giardello died in his home in Cherry Hill, NJ. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 101 wins, 25 losses and 7 draws.