A PASSION FOR BOXING – THE ROSSY COLOSIMO STORY

It was during the mid-sixties that Channel 7 announced the arrival of a brand new Monday night program – T.V Ringside.

The young fellas in our footy club took to it straight away and it became a must-see. The entry-fee to someone’s place was usually a couple of long-necks ( Monday night being the mandatory cut-off time for drinking before Saturday’s game). We would prop ourselves in front of the telly and cheer on all of the fighters who appeared on the bill at Melbourne’s Festival Hall.

Seven’s chief, Ron Casey, the rotund, highly-respected head of ‘World of Sport’, was the host. His off-sider was Merv Williams, an old pug who developed a cult following.

Merv, ‘whose black-rimmed glasses were pinned by ears thickened from boxing’, would describe tired and beaten boxers who “couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night”, and “swayed like jelly in a wind”, or “had less chance than a crippled prawn in a flock of seagulls”.

There was a cast of hundreds who climbed into the square ring. For some, it was the launching pad to careers which took them to national, Commonwealth and even World titles.

For others it was their opportunity for exposure. They slugged away in four and six-round prelims and the roar of the crowd and a shower of coins was evidence that they had given fanatical fight fans their money’s worth.

We reserved a special cheer for the local hero, Ross Colosimo, who was one such pugilist to strut his stuff in the ‘House of Stoush’.

 

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Rossy has long been the standard-bearer for boxing in Wangaratta. I call out to renew acquaintances with this 74 year-old, 5 foot 2 inch pocket-rocket and find that he’s still as lively as ever.

His welcome to me is to get down on his haunches and do about 20 push-ups. His record is 450 in a touch over 14 minutes.He would have kept going, had I not suggested we relax and sit down for a yarn.

The Colosimo gym, complete with boxing ring, is situated at the rear of his Tone Road home, It’s a sort of monument to his past, although he still works out with anyone who’d like to go a few rounds.

He loves training youngsters, but warns them that the boxing game involves plenty of hard work. The main prerequisite is to learn to skip. Sadly, he says, these days, all they want to do is get in and start throwing punches. They drift off……..

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Rossy’s from Calabria, in southern Italy. His family – mum, dad, 7 boys and 3 girls – packed into a van when they arrived in Melbourne in 1953. The destination ? Beechworth.

Dad got a job picking hops at Panlook’s in Eurobin. At week’s end, when the pickers would sit down to have a meal and a few wines, they would conduct boxing contests. Little Ross would sometimes have three fights a night.

He was entranced by the Noble Art. When Jimmy Sharman brought his boxing troupe to the Beechworth Show, Ross, a mere whippersnapper, put up his hand when the spruiker pleaded for a local to ‘take a glove’.

“Who’d like to fight the little Italiano”, Sharman bellowed. They found someone around Ross’s weight and it turned out a real crowd-pleaser. He earned £1 for his effort and used it to get a couple of sheep cut up. Mamma was very happy when Rossy arrived home with the week’s meat.

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He moved to Melbourne in 1958, when he was offered a job as a bootmaker. Late that year he had his first official fight, at Festival Hall – the first of 21 he would have over the next 12 months.

His mum was against boxing. ” I’d had 15 pro fights before a workmate of my dad happened to ask him if the Colosimo mentioned in Merv Williams’ reports in the Sporting Globe was a relative. She got used to it eventually.” Ross recalls.

It was the classy Les Dunn who inflicted his first defeat, after 9 straight wins. Dunn, who later fought Johnny Famechon for the state Featherweight title, was good opposition and they were well-matched.

He also beat Ross on points in the re-match two months later, but the little dynamo exacted his revenge in their third clash, which was hailed by the Sporting Globe, as a ‘rip-roaring contest’.

It led to his being rated number 4 lightweight in Australia and number 2 super-welterweight. One of the biggest thrills of his life was pitting his skills against an idol of his – the durable and highly-rated Italian import Aldo Pravisani – in an exhibition bout.

Ross was back in Wangaratta, operating the Merriwa Cafe in Ford Street, by 1961.

He was working away one morning, whilst mentally preparing for his fight against Melbourne’s Brian Kane, at Beechworth that night. A stranger called in and, after the pleasantries, offered him a healthy bonus if he could ride his bike to Beechworth, and then win the fight.

“I thought it was strange, but I accepted the challenge, which was stupid, because, once the fight started, I had no energy, ” Ross recalls.

They met again, three weeks later, at St.Patrick’s Hall in Wangaratta. It was a brutal 10-rounder, in front of a near-capacity crowd, which included a large contingent of Kane supporters.

‘……….One of the most sensational bouts ever held in Wangaratta’, was the media description of the fight. ‘……..When the last round finished and referee Bob Rose put his hand on Colosimo’s head, dozens of people leapt into the ring. Elements of the crowd were critical of the verdict……’

‘…….Kane, with blood pouring from several face cuts, had difficulty in getting through Colosimo’s fans to congratulate the Riverina champion…..’
It was the same Brian Kane, who, 20 years later, was gunned down in Brunswick’s Quarry Hotel by two balaclava-clad hit-men ; another victim of the gangland wars.

Ross became known for his fast two-fisted punching and relentless aggression. It made him a real crowd-pleaser and a favourite of audiences, from Melbourne, throughout country Victoria and in Sydney, where he had several fights in 1963.
One of them was against highly-rated Canberra lightweight Billy Ebsworth, at Sydney Stadium. Ebsworth started a 6/4-on favourite with the bookies, but was unable to withstand a torrent of punches, and Colosimo flattened him with a low-looping right in the third round. He tried to get off the canvas, but slumped back and referee Vic Patrick completed the count.

Rossy appreciated his regular appearances on TV Ringside. Many of the boxers he tangled with became firm friends and he meets some of them when he and his wife Eileen attend Past & Present Boxers Re-unions.

The record book shows that he had 62 official pro bouts, but you can more than treble that amount if you count his amateur and tent fights, exhibitions and unofficial contests.

His only regret was that he didn’t have a manager. Opportunities presented themselves at times, when his career was really flourishing. He perhaps needed someone to push his case; to clinch that vital bout which would help him climb the ratings ladder.

He had his last fight, at the age of 39, when he knocked out Dale Beer at Wagga, but has never really parted from the game he loves.

He played a couple of seasons with Beechworth, and spent 16 years, on and off, working with the Wangaratta IMG_1022footballers. From 1974-’88 he helped Greta with their conditioning.

When he retired, he was the reigning Riverina lightweight title-holder – a belt he first won in 1961.

He’s not sure who the incumbent is – it could still be him for all he knows !

My bet is that the feisty Rossy Colosimo would willingly take on anyone who wished to challenge for that crown – he‘d enjoy another good stoush……

 

One thought on “A PASSION FOR BOXING – THE ROSSY COLOSIMO STORY

  1. cuppers

    As someone with a passion for Aussie boxing history, I dip me lid to you KB. These sort of stories aren’t often told and as the boxers of the era get older their stories unfortunately get lost one way or another. Keep doing what you’re doing, I really enjoy both your writing style and your subject matter. Well done, sir.

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