One thing needs clarifying before revisiting the turbulent
boxing career of Joey Giardello: "My name is Carmine Tilelli,"
says the man who slugged his way through 133 professional bouts
over a 19-year span and wore the world middleweight belt from
1963 to '65. "Everyone who knows me calls me Mr. Tilelli."
The son of a Brooklyn sanitation foreman, Tilelli lifted the
name Joey Giardello from a friend's birth certificate in 1946 so
he could sneak into the Army at age 16. At 17 he confessed his
identity to the Army and then shortly afterward went AWOL from
the 82nd Airborne to pursue a career in the ring. He chose Joey
Giardello as his fighting name in case Uncle Sam, who now knew
him as Carmine Tilelli, tried to track him down.
Tilelli's knack for finding trouble made the threat of
court-martial the least of his worries. "To me the world was a
playground," he says. "I just didn't care." A title fight with
Bobo Olson in 1954 was scratched after Tilelli was arrested for
helping to rob a filling station. He served 4 1/2 months in
jail. In '57 the New York Athletic Commission stripped Tilelli
of his license because he had paid off a wager on his beloved
Brooklyn Dodgers by borrowing $200 from a reputed mobster called
On Dec. 7, 1963, 15 years after his pro debut, Tilelli finally
earned the world title, at age 33, by upsetting Dick Tiger in
Atlantic City in a 15-round decision. The championship didn't
change his carefree attitude. His lax training regimen, said to
consist of macaroni-and-cheese dinners and beer, drove his
handlers berserk, and his prefight dressing room was often
crammed with chums from South Philly. "I was a natural," Tilelli
says. "I wouldn't train. I just fought."
October 26, 1998
Tilelli lost the title to Tiger on Oct. 21, 1965, and retired
two years later. Today, at 68, he works as an inspector for the
New Jersey State Weights and Measures Department and lives with
his wife, Rosalie, in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill,
N.J. Much to his relief, his four children--Joseph, 46, Carmine
Jr., 44, Paul, 36, and Steven, 33--have not repeated the
mistakes of their dad's youth. "The only time I worried about
one of them was when Paul boxed when he was 21," says Tilelli.
"He went 8-0. Then I said, 'That's enough.' I just didn't like
it." The name Paul boxed under? Joey Giardello Jr.
"To me the world was a playground," says the champ. "I wouldn't
train. I just fought."