Professional boxer Tony DeMarco, the pride of Boston’s North End and winner of the world welterweight championship in 1955, died Monday at the age of 89, according to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“Tony DeMarco was one of the standout stars of the Golden ‘50s and provided so many thrilling moments during his legendary career,” said Edward Brophy, director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in a statement. “The Hall of Fame offers our condolences to his family and joins the boxing world in mourning his passing.”
The International Boxing Hall of Fame flew its flags at half-staff in his memory.
In his old neighborhood everyone knew him as “Champ.”
DeMarco’s real name was Leonardo Liotta, and his family nicknamed him “Nardo.” His parents came from Sicily, and his father worked as a cobbler, and he was raised on Fleet Street, not far from Boston Garden. As a youngster, he worked as a shoeshine boy and delivered newspapers. When he first started boxing, he wasn’t old enough to compete legally. But he wasn’t about to let his age get in the way of launching his boxing career. He managed to convince his friend Tony, who was older, to let him use his name and his baptismal certificate so he could get his amateur boxing license. From that point on, he boxed as Tony DeMarco.
“Sometimes it gets confusing,” he said in an interview with the Globe. “People know me as Tony DeMarco. It’s been my professional name for so long it’s the same as my real name.”
DeMarco turned pro in 1948 at the age of 16 and went on to defeat many of the top lightweights and welterweights from that time, including Paddy DeMarco, Teddy “Redtop” Davis, Chris Christensen, Pat Manzi, and Johnny Saxton, whom he beat out for the welterweight crown in 1955.
His manager, Rip Valenti, recalled the night that DeMarco won the world championship.
“The night he beat Saxton for the title,” said Valenti, “he walked from Fleet Street to the Garden, then walked back home to the North End, carrying the belt. You know, ‘Rocky’ was a movie. Tony’s life ought to be a movie.”
DeMarco held the title for 69 days until he lost to Carmen Basilio in Syracuse, New York. Their highly anticipated rematch at the Boston Garden on Nov. 30, 1955 would later be named The Ring’s Fight of the Year.
“I have to go along with people who say it was the greatest welterweight fight ever,” DeMarco said in another Globe interview. “I’d love to say, `No, it was the night I beat Saxton for the title,’ because for me that was the greatest moment of my career, but it wasn’t. That Basilio fight was. I didn’t win that night but they said it was the Fight of the Year and some people say it was the Fight of the Century. How many guys are part of a Fight of the Year? I have to be grateful for that.”
DeMarco retired in 1962 with a record of 58-12-1, with 33 knockouts.
In 1998, the corner of Hanover Street and Fleet Street was renamed “Tony DeMarco Way” in his honor. In 2012, a bronze statue depicting DeMarco throwing a left hook was unveiled in the North End. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2019.
According to his obituary, visiting hours will be held Monday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the J.S. Waterman-Langone Chapel at 580 Commercial St. in Boston. The funeral Mass will be said Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Leonard Church at 320 Hanover St. in Boston. Donations in his memory may be made to The Liotta Family Scholarship and mailed to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, Massachusetts Chapter, 51 Pleasant St., Malden, MA 02148.