Remembering Joey DeJohn
He helped create the heyday of boxing in upstate New York and was idolized in his native Syracuse, even without ever winning a title. Don Stadley takes a look at the life of Joey DeJohn.
Originally Published: May 14, 2008By Don Stradley | Special to ESPN.com
Joey DeJohn didn't like to talk about his past.He told the Syracuse Herald in 1992, "The old days, I don't like to hear about them, really. I like to hear about the horse to pick at Finger Lakes, or what's biting at Otisco Lake. That's what I like." His real name was Joseph Di Gianni, his nickname, "Golden Boy," and as the most popular of the fighting DeJohn brothers of Syracuse, Joey DeJohn helped create the heyday of upstate New York boxing. DeJohn died last Friday at Oswego Hospital in upstate New York. He was survived by longtime companion Patricia Corp, two children and several grandchildren. He was 81. During the 1940s and '50s, DeJohn was a walking legend of almost Babe Ruthian proportion. There were stories of DeJohn knocking opponents 10 feet into the air and healing sick children with his phone calls. In his prime he drove shiny, fin-backed cars and swaggered the way contenders swaggered in the 1940s, when America was tough and boxing was front-page news. His professional record, 74-14-2 with 52 knockouts, barely hints at his explosive ring style. Upon learning of DeJohn's death last week, boxing historian Don Hamilton told the Syracuse Post Standard, "He's one of the few fighters who could sell a place out and lose, and then a month later, take another fight and sell the place out again. He was an incredibly dynamic fighter to watch, win or lose." DeJohn's career came to a violent climax when he was matched with Jake LaMotta in 1949. The State Fair Coliseum in Syracuse, a concrete barn full of cigar smoke and bloodthirsty fans, was packed the night DeJohn and the Raging Bull tore into each other. DeJohn was ahead on points when he grew exhausted and collapsed in the eighth round. That's how it goes when you smoke a pack a day and would rather drink than duck. By his own admission, DeJohn's career would've been better if he'd trained a little. Or at all. Along with cigarettes, he had a weakness for Scotch, and a gambling habit that kept him up long past the hour that is good for a pug.
I disappointed a lot of people here on the North Side, a lot of people believed in me. I let 'em down, I guess. I could've done the right thing, and I didn't. I have to live with that.
-- Joey DeJohn, on regretting not living up to his potential