Brooklyn-born Carmine Tilelli grew up in the close-knit, predominately Italian neighborhood of East Passyunk in Philadelphia. Just after his 18th birthday, tough Carmine turned to boxing. He made his professional debut in Atlantic City, New Jersey using the name “Joey Giardello,” supposedly a cousin’s name he used in an attempt to join the army before he was of legal age. Joey won the bout with a knock-out. He went on to rack up an 18-1 record in his first 19 fights.
His career continued with ups and downs in the ring, including brushes with organized crime, which ran the sport in those days. Joey battled famed fighter Billy Graham to a decision declaring Graham the victor. Later, the decision was reversed in favor of Giardello, then reversed again, some time later, in favor of Graham. This fight is known in boxing lore as “The Reversed Reversal.”
In 1963, Joey upset boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, and at the age of 33, was named as the Number 1 challenger for the world middleweight title. Joey then defeated champion Dick Tiger and became World Middleweight Champion at the end of 1963.
In 1964, Joey famously fought controversial Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Joey overwhelmed Carter, winning every round but one and eventually maintained his title. However, in later years, Joey filed a federal lawsuit against Universal Pictures over his depiction in the 1999 film Hurricane. The film shows a punch-drunk, blood-spattered Joey being clearly beaten by Carter but winning a racially-tinged decision. Witnesses to the actual bout, however, say that Joey was the rightful and clear winner over a listless Rubin Carter. The case was settled out-of-court for an undisclosed sum and director Norman Jewison made a statement on the DVD version of the film that Joey was a great fighter.
After retiring from the ring, Joey became an insurance salesman and worked extensively with the Special Olympics and physically and mentally-challenged children. he passed away in 2008 at the age of 78. In 2011, a statue of Joey was installed in his East Passyunk neighborhood.
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