PHILLY BOXING HISTORY

Venue: Convention Hall  

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  CONVENTION HALL  
     
 

 
     
     
 

Convention Hall was built in 1931 and originally named Municipal Auditorium. This large indoor arena could accommodate the city's giant events, and for decades that is exactly what it did. The site was used for many huge Philadelphia gatherings including the 1936 & 1948 Democratic National Conventions, and the 1940 & 1948 Republican National Conventions. In 1960, the NBA All-Star game was played at Convention Hall. In that game,

 
 

the East team beat the West 125-115 and Wilt Chamberlain was named MVP. When Pope John Paul II visited Philadelphia in 1979, the venue was used for a Catholic mass. Other events through the years included Atlantic Ten & Big Five college basketball games, concerts, professional wrestling, Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Warriors NBA games, commencement ceremonies for the University of Penn, Drexel and La Salle, and many other major assemblies. However, it is the historic list of boxing events that most interests us.

Herman Taylor & Bobby Gunnis promoted the first boxing card at Convention Hall on May 11, 1932. The main event that evening featured the a 10-round win by Steve Hamas over Tommy Loughran before more than 12,000 paying fans. This fight was the start of big things for Convention Hall boxing. More than one hundred boxing shows would follow.

Of all the fight-game headliners through the years, the great Sugar Ray Robinson starred in the most main events at the venue. The first of his seven Convention Hall appearances came in 1941 when he defeated Marty Servo over ten rounds. He also faced Al Nettlow (TKO3), Sheik Rangel (TKO2), Jose Basora (D10), George Costner (KO1), Bobo Olson (KO12), and Joey Giardello (L10), in his only Convention Hall defeat.

Harold Johnson headlined six times between 1948 and 1960. He won them all except for a 10-round loss to Archie Moore in 1949. Included in his victories was his decision win over Jimmy Bivins.

Fritzie Zivic and Ike Williams fought in five main events each. Zivic went 3-2 in his bouts, beating Mike Kaplan, Saverio Turiello, and Johnny Walker. Only Johnny Barbara beat Zivic here - and he did it twice. Ike

Convention Hall
(aka: Municipal Auditorium,
PA Hall, Civic Center)
Indoor Arena / 16,000 Capacity
West Philly - 34th & Spruce

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 VENUE KEY DATES

   1931 - Convention Hall built
   1932 - First boxing card - May 11
   1941 - Louis - Dorazio (att: 15,425)
   1944 - Montgomery - Williams I
   1946 - Montgomery - Mouzon II
   1954 - Saxton - Gavilan
   1959 - Charley Scott - Sugar Hart
   1960 - NBA All Star Game
   1962 - Gairdello - Hank II
   1962 - Benton - Giardello
   1963 - Giardello - Robinson
   1964 - Giardello - Carter
   1965 - Joe Frazier's pro debut
   1992 - Last boxing card - Jan. 18
   2005 - Venue demolished    
 

 
 

Williams lost his first main event at 34th & Spruce when he was KO'd by Bob Montgomery in one of the venues biggest events. 14,807 boxing fans paid to see the fight. It was the second best attendance for a fight card at the Hall. Williams won the rest of his main events including a close-call 15-round decision win over Freddie Dawson to defend his lightweight crown in 1949.

Joe Louis and Gus Dorazio are responsible for the largest fight ever held at the site. On February 17, 1941, Louis defended his world heavyweight championship by knocking out Dorazio in the second round. It was a stunning performance by a prime Brown Bomber. The match drew 15,425 paying customers who paid a gate of $57,553. Louis returned to the Hall in 1948 to headline a card in an exhibition bout! A strong supporting card featuring up-and-coming prospects Percy Bassett and Harold Johnson helped to sell tickets on that night. 

Bob Montgomery, Len Matthews and Joey Giardello all headlined four times. Montgomery scored two of his career-best wins here (KO12 Ike Williams & KO8 Wesley Mouzon). Len Matthews beat Orlando Zulueta and Ray Lancaster during the early part of his exciting career. Joey Giardello fought three legendary bouts at Convention Hall, including his only successful middleweight title defense. In that fight, Giardello edged Ruben "Hurricane" Carter on December 14, 1964. 7,652 fans paid to see the title match, but at least another 1,000 crashed the gate that night, which broke the heart of promoter Jimmy Riggio. Before winning his title, Giardello lost to George Benton in an all-Philly battle of wits in 1962. The bout was extremely close, but the 10-round nod went to Benton. Also in 1962, Giardello fought in one of the greatest all-time Philly bouts when de won his rematch with Henry Hank. The fight was named the "Fight of the Year" by Ring Magazine and was one of the bloodiest and most savage wars in the city's history. 

Perhaps the very best fight ever staged at Convention Hall occurred on October 19, 1959 when Charley Scott and Garnet "Sugar" Hart waged war before less than 5,000 spectators. Hart jumped out at the opening bell looking for a quick KO. But after he began to tire after a couple of rounds, Charley Scott began a savage beating that finally toppled Hart in round nine. It was Scott's career highlight and the beginning of the end for both fighters.

Probably the most notorious fight to be held at this arena occurred October 20, 1954 when Johnny Saxton took the welterweight title from Kid Gavilan with a very dull and controversial 15-round decision. The bout was considered a dog and many who witnessed the bout were suspicious of the official verdict.

Many other fine fighters headlined at Convention Hall, including Rocky Marciano, Gil Turner, Bennie Briscoe, Kitten Hayward, Joe Frazier, Willie "The Worm" Monroe, Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, Benny Bass, Eddie Cool, Sonny Liston, Greg Page, James Shuler, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Nate Miller, Rocky Graziano, Honeychile Johnson, Jersey Joe Walcott, Joey Maxim, Billy Fox, Jake LaMotta, Henry Armstrong, Al Nettlow, John Henry Lewis, Mickey Walker, and George Godfrey.

But the all-time king of Convention Hall was promoter Herman Taylor. He arranged more than half of the boxing shows at this venue. His first was the site's inaugural fight card in 1932 (Hamas-Loughran), which he promoted with his partner Bobby Gunnis. Taylor's final work at Convention Hall happened 41 years later in 1973. In between these two events, some of Taylor's most memorable and successful promotions happened here. Over the years, "Muggsy" Taylor sold at least 400,000 Convention Hall tickets.

The final chapter of Convention Hall's history was highlighted by shows featuring two of Philly's best boxers of the modern era. In 1982, bantamweight king Joltin' Jeff Chandler defended his title against his amateur and high school rival Johnny Carter with a sixth round TKO. It was perhaps Chandler's absolute peak in the ring. Meldrick Taylor made a pair of appearances, the second of which was his 1992 defense of WBA welterweight title. His opponent was Glenwood Brown. In the exciting match, Taylor was dropped twice but still managed to win the decision. However this victory was Taylor's last in a championship ring. He would lose his belt and two more title tries after fighting Brown. Further, the Taylor-Brown card was also the very last boxing event ever held at Philadelphia's Convention Hall.

Finally after more than ten years of silence, the building was carefully torn down beginning in 2005. In its place the University of Penn Hospital erected a new heath center which was scheduled to open in 2008. The city of Philadelphia built a new Convention Center at 11th and Arch. This new venue occasionally stages boxing matches.

 
     
     
 

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