Archdeacon: Finding a new home for Dayton’s boxing ‘heroes’

He wore an ill-fitting suit with pants short enough that they showed the white socks he wore with his black work shoes.

But you couldn’t see the curvaceous “naked gal” — as Eddie Brant described the tattoo on his calf — a fading ink remembrance he’d gotten after quitting Stivers High School at age 17 and joining the Navy to serve in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

The breast pocket of his coat held his glasses, a comb, and a few pens. His tie was a clip on, a precaution, he said, that came with his job at a Drexel salvage yard in case a rowdy customer grabbed him by the necktie.

He had an old, faded ball cap atop his square, Irish mug and a nose that had been flattened in the ring. In his thick-knuckled hand, he held a bible.

A journeyman lightweight who’d fought across North America after being a champ in the service, he was being inducted into the Dayton Boxing Hall of Fame that day in 1989 and he was nervous. He said he’d “just got religion” and he wanted to quote some scripture to his pugilistic pals.

But when thumbed through the Bible and couldn’t find the passage he was looking for, he muttered a cuss word. Then another and another.

Finally, with his “religion” down for the count, he backpedaled into familiar territory, told a boxing story, and soon had the crowd roaring.

I thought of that moment as I stared at a photo of Brant — and ones of several other Hall of Fame boxers — for one last time the other day.

After initially being displayed at the Dayton Convention Center, the photos of the Dayton Boxing Hall of Fame members were moved to the Dayton Gym Club in the early 1990s and remained there several years until the collection mysteriously was “lost.”

Many of the old boxers were dismayed and that’s when Rick Condi — the son of the late Dayton boxer Marion “Young” Condi — made it his mission to reassemble the Hall of Fame gallery with replacement photos, many of which were hard to come by.

It was an act of reverence and love — a real valentine to boxing — and he displayed the collection in the Brandt Street bar, now called Paisano’s Pizza Pub, that his family had run since 1972.

The boxing display and other fight remembrances have remained there since and been as much of a staple of the place as have been the pizza and the dart boards.

But Rick died of a sudden heart attack in 2020 and Danny Coder, the general manager who was a fixture at the bar for nearly three decades, died March 24.

Even though Rick’s wife Linda and the two children, Patti and Rick Jr., made several improvements to the place after Rick’s death — and since then, Rick Jr. and his wife Dionna have done “a wonderful job running the bar,” Patti said, — the stress has increased, and the family made the difficult decision to shut Paisano’s doors after a big farewell party Friday night.

They are working on selling the place, but not the Hall of Fame exhibit which has anchored a corner of the club.

It’s thought that all but one or two of the nearly 50 Hall of Famers are dead, and Linda said, although she wishes otherwise, she knows of no one who wants to display the gallery. So the family planned to take the photos down Saturday, pack them in boxes and store them in her garage.

Rick once explained to me why he cared so much about the old fighters:

“These guys shouldn’t be forgotten. A lot of them were heroes in this town.”

On Saturday mornings, the Old Time Boxers Club of Dayton — many of whom were in the Hall of Fame — would meet at Paisano’s.

Linda laughed at the memory: “The old guys used to flirt with me when I was tending bar.”

Patti laughed, too: “Really, it was an old boxers’ hen party.”

I went to a few of those Saturday gatherings, and I visited some of the guys at their homes. Later I wrote about them at their funerals.

No matter what the occasion, it was the old stories that stood out.

Brant’s real name was Roy Call, but he said he changed it when he embraced boxing in the Navy:

“Once I came out of the Pacific and got stationed back at the naval base in San Diego, I heard that any pro athlete participating in a sport would get booted from the service. I told the commander, ‘I got a chance to make $75 a week fighting pro!’

“He told me to go ahead, but first change my name. My uncle Eddie Branscomb was a boxer, so I made my name Eddie Brant. Next thing I know, my commander is refereeing my bouts.”

After the service Brant had a 16-year pro career that took him across North America.

One of his most memorable bouts came in 1957 when he fought Ubaldo “Chiques” Ramirez in Matamoros, Mexico.

“Toward the end of my career, I went down to Mexico to fight the golden boy of the town,” he once told me. “They said their boy was just 17, but he had twice as many fights as me.

“Well, he started hitting me low, so I spit on him and then backhanded him twice. Finally, I put him down. I won the fight, but as they’re announcing it, the Mexican guy with me said, ‘That was a big mistake!’

“Sure enough, the crowd started throwing bottles and chairs. The policemen disappeared and I had to hide under the ring for four hours while the crowd waited for me outside my dressing room.”

Hometown greats & world champions

Dayton was once one of the best fight towns in the nation. Several boxing gyms were in operation and there were weekly fight shows at the Dayton Gym Club, the Eagles Hall on South Main and other places. Once a month there were bigger cards at Memorial Hall.

At some point during their careers, 36 world champions — from Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Benny Leonard to Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Aaron Pryor — fought here.

But the city’s real boxing stars were the hometown guys like heavyweight Joe “The Bohemian Bearcat” Sekyra, who fought seven world champs, and featherweight Joe Marinelli, who defeated two former champs within a four-month span at Memorial Hall in 1940.

“Back in the Depression era everybody was looking for some type of hero and these guys were the celebrities in town,” Marinelli’s son Mike once told me. “They fought all over the country and back home here, they walked into the Metropolitan and got a tie or maybe a suit. Somebody else might pick up their dinner tab at the Biltmore and over on the East End, they were big hits at some of the clubs like the Twinkle Inn.”

Hall of Famer Tony Usas, the son of Lithuanian immigrants who became a light-heavyweight and heavyweight of some note in the 1930s, recounted his glory days some 60 years later:

“Back in the Thirties people had it tough, but my boxing got me a new car every year. Always got a Studebaker Commander and I had it painted tulip-cream. Cost me $50 for those special pant jobs, but I liked the color.

“I’d wear a green gabardine suit. A tie. Shined shoes. Those were the times.

“I liked this song – “Sunrise Serenade” – and sometimes I’d walk into a club and the band would stop and then start playing my song. After fights I can remember taking a lot of guys out to a club and buying drinks. And the girls, they’d all want pictures…”

But his career was KO’d by World War II.

Drafted into the Army and assigned to a tank division, he was hit by shrapnel when a German artillery gun riddled his vehicle, killing one crewman and maiming another.

He eventually returned to the front, only to suffer severe frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge.

Although brought to a German hospital near Aachen that had been taken over by Allied Forces, he said he was forced to flee when Nazi troops recaptured the region:

“We fled with one blanket each and for a week we were lost. We had no radios, no lights., The snow was deep. We’d hide during the day and move at midnight.”

‘These guys shouldn’t be forgotten’

Marion Condi and his wife Babe came to America from Italy and fell in love here as teenagers. Although he boxed from 1928 to 1941, some 40 years later, when he was in his 70s, he still packed a punch.

“I was tending bar and a young guy, maybe 21, came in here drunk and I cut him off and told him to leave,” Linda said. “Every other word from him was a cuss word and there were some women and a couple of other guys here.

“Finally, Dad (her name for Marion) came out and said, ‘That’ll be enough of that, there are ladies here.’ The guy made a crack and said, ‘Ladies? Yeah right!’

“Dad said, ‘I’m not telling you again.’ But the guy kept it up and finally Dad came back out and told him he’d have to leave.

The guy laughed and said, ‘Yeah? Who’s gonna make me, old man?’

“And BOOM! Just like that, Dad knocked him out cold.

“When the guy finally woke up, the other guys dragged him out the door.”

Although the Hall of Famers are getting better treatment — there’s being boxed and there’s being put in a box — they too are leaving Paisano’s.

Linda hopes someone comes forward to give them an appropriate home.

And that brings us to one final Eddie Brant tale.

Becky, his sixth ex-wife, told me the story at his funeral in 2005.

She said a decade and a half earlier, his boss at Al’s Auto Parts sent him to an auction to buy a particular work bench and vise, no matter how high the bids went.

But when he got there, Eddie started talking boxing with someone and didn’t hear the announcement that a truck load of used clothing was going to be auctioned off before the bench.

Eddie kept bidding and ended up with the truckload: 150 coats, 3,000 pairs of pants and 3,000 work shirts.

“He had to pay for it all himself,” his son Roy told me. “But it was right before Christmas, so he donated all those clothes to the Salvation Army so people got gifts.”

That was Eddie Brant.

Like Rick Condi said:

“These guys shouldn’t be forgotten. A lot of them were heroes in this town.”

About the Author