In Philly boxing history there is the Legendary Blue Horizon and the Legendary “Bad” Bennie Briscoe. The famed Philly fighter started his career in 1962 and ended in 1982 after scoring 7 knockouts in his previous appearances at “The Blue” before ending it there losing by decision to Jimmy Sykes. That win propelled Sykes into the PA HOF upon retirement. HBO’s unofficial judge, Harold Lederman called Briscoe his all time favorite fighter and “the meanest man I ever saw in a boxing ring. Bennie was pure vicious….”
Briscoe’s last trainer/manager George James discussed the Sykes bout. “Bennie had dropped Sykes 4 times in the gym before knocking him out,” said James. I wouldn’t let them spar again. When the fight was proposed we took it. For 2 rounds Bennie beat him up but came back to the corner and told me he didn’t want to hit Sykes anymore,” said James. He encouraged Bennie to go out and just use his jab. The decision was received with jeers for Sykes. “Sykes came into the dressing room thanking Bennie for not hitting him like he did in the first 2 rounds,” said James. Without the killer instinct it was time for Briscoe to stop fighting.
Briscoe’s promoter J. Russell Peltz while introducing Briscoe’s during his induction to the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame some 25 years later made a bold statement. “Bennie Briscoe would have beaten Bernard Hopkins”, said Peltz. Briscoe’s career record in 96 fights was 66-24-5, 1nc with 53 knockouts while being stopped only once. Like most fighters near the end of their career Briscoe was 8-10 in his final 18 fights starting with a vacant title bout losing to Rodrigo Valdez, 59-6-2, for the third time in 1977. It was in their first vacant title bout in 1974 in Monaco that Briscoe failed for the only time going the distance when the referee stopped it in the 7th round. Their first bout was in 1973 in New Caledonia with Valdez winning the NABF title. Don’t ask me how Colombia’s Valdez qualified or how it ended up where it did for the North American title.
I remember Duke Dugent who ran the 23rd PAL talking about 3 of his favorite amateur fighters. One was “Smokin” Joe Frazier and how dedicated he was and another was “Gypsy” Joe Harris and how talented he was. When he got to Briscoe he simply said “Bennie was my killer”. Briscoe once stated “anybody I hit has got to go, and if they don’t, they’ll be fouled up for the rest of their career.” It was not unusual for Briscoe’s opponents not to fight again for about 6 months after a match with him. In going over his record it happened in 31 of his 96 fights with 10 of those opponents never fighting again. In 1967 Briscoe fought a draw in Bueno Aires with future champion Carlos Monzon. It wouldn’t be until 1972 after Briscoe had a bout with hepatitis that then champion (won title in 1970) Monzon agreed to fight Briscoe again. This would be his first attempt at a world title.
Briscoe posted a 70-3 amateur record before turning professional on September 10, 1962 when he defeated Sam Samuels, over 4 rounds. He won his first 15 bouts, 10 by knockout including recent PA HOF inductee Charley Scott, 33-26, with a first round knockout for the PA state welterweight title in March of 1964. He followed this up with a stoppage of fellow Philly boxer Percy Manning, 14-2, in the 8th round. After a couple of wins Manning would come back and defeat Briscoe in a rematch in March of 1965 for “Bad” Bennies first loss in his 16th fight. A couple of 1st round knockout wins would follow before dropping 2 straight to Panama’s Tito Marshall, 32-10-3 and Philly’s Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, 21-2-1, the latter by split decision. Briscoe would reverse the loss to Marshall almost 4 years later to the day scoring a 1st round knockout.
Briscoe was known to be able to get down and dirty so when he met fellow Philly dirty fighter C.L. Lewis it ended in the 4th round in a no-contest. I remember the story how “Gypsy” Joe Harris and Lewis went at it in the gym when Harris got thumbed in the eye and it lead to the discovery of his loss of vision in one eye at his next weigh-in. In a rematch Briscoe stopped Lewis in the 6th round as the referee saved Lewis from a “terrific beating” the newspaper stated. His next encounter was with one of Philly’s all time greats Georgie Benton, 54-11-1, who was on the downside of his career and didn’t answer the bell for the 10th round. It would be 10 months before Benton would fight again while posting 8 straight wins after this before a career ending loss.
In an unwise move the former welterweight champion and future Hall of Famer, Luis Rodriguez, 76-6, was brought in. Briscoe knew one way to fight and that was straight ahead. On the other hand Rodriguez was like the Energizer bunny who bounced all over the place never running down. Briscoe lost in 10. His first meeting with Monzon followed. Before the month was out Briscoe started a 4 knockout win streak ending with a Rodriguez rematch in Madison Square Garden losing in 10 again.
Briscoe would make his second trip out of the country going to Paris in1968 losing to former European champion Yoland Leveque, 30-7-1, by disqualification. After a pair of wins he lost to future light heavyweight champion Venezuela’s Vicente Rondon, 14-3-1, in Puerto Rico. In his next fight again in Puerto Rico he would stop Cuban Pedro Miranda, 40-8-1, in 7. Two fights later back in Puerto Rico Briscoe would reverse the loss to Rondon with an 8th round stoppage.
Briscoe would lose by split decision to Brazilian champion Juarez DeLima in New York. Two years later Briscoe would reverse this loss stopping DeLima in 2 in Philadelphia. It would be 4 years since losing his very first fight to Percy Manning but this time Briscoe stopped him in 4 ending Manning’s career. “Bad” Bennie might get fooled the first time around but was even more dangerous the next time around. This happened again in his next fight as he lost to former Olympian Joe Shaw, 31-8-3, by majority decision only to come back and stop Shaw with wicked body shots that Briscoe was notorious for even if some “slipped” south of the border every once in awhile. Shaw would never fight again.
He had a jab like a miniature Sonny Liston as it would come from the floor and stun his opponents. Including the win over Shaw, Briscoe would score 11 straight knockouts including a war with Mexico’s Rafael Gutierrez, 41-6-3, that had Briscoe on the floor twice in the 1st round. Gutierrez would hit the canvas also in the round before being knocked out in the 2nd. Briscoe went south of the border with the south of the border fighter setting him up for the finish.
In April of 1972 Briscoe went upstate to Scranton and lost a shocking split decision to Luis Vinales, 18-17-5. Briscoe was listless in this fight. This is when the hepatitis was discovered. He spent 2 months in the hospital. In a return bout 6 months later in his next fight Briscoe had Vinales down twice in the 7th round before the referee stopped it. The rematch with Monzon was set knowing Briscoe hadn’t regained his full strength yet. Monzon was now champion of the WBC and WBA middleweight division and would defeat Briscoe over 15 rounds in Bueno Aires. Briscoe staggered Monzon several times in the fight and suffered a small cut on his eye lid. Monzon claimed it was his toughest fight to date. Briscoe’s end was only 15k to the 100k Monzon was paid. You do the arithmetic.
Three fights later Briscoe would stop Billy “Dynamite” Douglas (Buster’s father), 27-6-1, in a NABF title defense. He had won the title in his previous fight over Art Hernandez, 47-16-2. Douglas had been unbeaten in 6 fights in Philadelphia when stopped in 8. Next up would be the first of 3 meetings with Rodriguo Valdez, 47-4-2, with Briscoe losing his NABF title. Three knockouts would follow including Australia’s Tony Mundine (Tony, Jr’s father), 44-2-1, in Paris in 5 rounds.
This brought about a rematch with Valdez for the vacant WBC title in Monaco. Briscoe was working the body of Valdez when he got hit with a right hand in the 1st round that staggered him. In the 3rd round Briscoe would land a 4 punch combination with 3 to the body and the last right hand to the head of Valdez. In the 4th Briscoe’s nose was bleeding but Valdez had a cut over his left eye. In the 6th Briscoe was hit with a low blow but the referee Harry Gibbs didn’t allow him any rest. Briscoe came back to win the round re-opening the cut over the eye of Valdez. In the 7th Briscoe was having his best round rocking Valdez with rights to the head on several occasions before getting hit by a right hand and followed by a left on the way down. Briscoe got to his feet but was in no condition to continue for the only time in his career Briscoe was stopped.
There would be no “breather” for Briscoe as his promoter had him right back in with the former two-division champion Emile Griffith losing by majority decision. In April of 1975 Briscoe would battle to a draw with contender Vinnie Curto, 18-2. Next would be his rematch win over Hayward followed by a split decision win over future world champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, 13-1-1. The latter was 4-0 in Philly and like “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, gained his way into the top 10 by fighting in Philly.
In his very next fight Briscoe met Philly’s knockout artist Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, 28-5 (26), who was fresh off a win over Olympic champion “Sugar” Ray Seales, 26-1-1. I remember my brother attending the fight saying it was a “war” ending in a draw. In a rematch with one knockout win in between, Briscoe would destroy Hart in 1:49 of the 1st round. Of course this one I attended with anticipation of another “war”.
Two months later Briscoe was in a rematch with Griffith, 82-20-1, in Monaco, battling to a draw in June of 1976. Briscoe would go unbeaten in 13 fights including 4 draws. Two of those draws were in France with Willie Warren and Frenchman Jean Mateo, 32-5-1, who would never fight again. Next was Briscoe’s meeting Valdez for the third time in Italy, losing in 15 for the vacant WBC and WBA middleweight title. This would be his final try at becoming a world champion. Just 3 months later he was at Madison Square Garden losing to Vito Antuofermo, 40-3-1, who was a year away from winning the world title.
Briscoe was back on the road in Kansas City trying to rejuvenate his career stopping Tony Chiaverini, 21-3, in 8. After another knockout, future champion Hagler was brought in. Briscoe chased him all over the ring that night in August of 1978 only to lose by decision. Hagler’s corner wanted him to go after Briscoe but Hagler knew better. This fight was followed by another loss to David Love, 30-15, who was 3-0 in Philly including scoring knockouts over Philly’s Willie “The Worm” Monroe and Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts. Three wins would follow for Briscoe including Teddy Mann, 18-1. Then it was off to Belgium, losing to Clement Tshinza, 42-13-5, of the Congo who was fighting out of Belgium. Briscoe was 4-8-3 outside of the country and tired of being sent overseas and having little chance of winning except by knockout.
The word on the street was Briscoe would not renew his promotional contract. He was put into his last fight under contract knowing it would take a knockout to win. He would meet local tough guy Richie “The Bandit” Bennett, 21-2-2, in his home area at the Forum, in Upper Darby, just outside the Philly limits. Bennett was given the decision. The local writers were saying Briscoe was washed up.
There were allegations pertaining to a conspiracy against the fighter. It was told Briscoe said he would not re-sign with his promoter Peltz or manager Weiss after the Belgium bout with Tshinza. Trainers Benton and Quenzell McCall along with cut-man Milt Bailey all approached James and told him that Briscoe was through and not to train him. James thought it was very unusual and defied all. He took Briscoe to the gym and ran him through a series of exercises and to a physician in New York to have tests run on him. He passed both to the satisfaction of James.
Briscoe got a rematch with Bennett 7 months after their first fight. This time the fight would be held in Philly at the Arena arranged by James. They needed an attraction and they got it. Briscoe won a decision in the rematch. Briscoe next lost a rematch with Curto in Boston. Then he lost in New York in a rematch by split decision to Nick Ortiz, 21-8, in January of 1981. He had beaten Ortiz in 1979 in D.C. Both decisions were controversial. He didn’t fight again until the end of the year in December stopping Rick Noggle, 14-2, in Canton, Ohio. The promoter even tried stealing that fight by calling for a hearing and asking Briscoe and James to attend due to Briscoe landing low blows and should have been disqualified. Both Briscoe and James refused to attend and the decision stood.
In March of 1982 Briscoe stopped Norberto Sabater, 20-2, in Atlantic City in 5. James had received a death threat on a paper slipped under his hotel door before the fight. He then lost in Nova Scotia to Ralph Hollett, 16-6-1, by split decision. “Hollet ran so much he even had his back toward Bennie at times,” said James. We all know if you lose by split decision on the road in your opponent’s backyard you got robbed. Six months later at the age of 39 in his 20th year as a professional he lost to Philly’s Jimmie Sykes, 11-6-1, by decision ending his career.
It was reported Briscoe made 225k in one of his Valdez title fights. It was estimated in his 96 fights he made well over a million. When he had his first fight under James he made an amazing statement after being handed his purse. “Wow, I haven’t seen my purse in 10 years,” said Briscoe. “They (millionaire promoter Peltz and his brother-in-law Arnold Weiss, who was the manager of record and a CPA) pay my bills and put the rest into the banks,” said Briscoe. When the accounts were checked by James there was a total of 30k in 3 banks.
Briscoe after retirement was working for the city of Philadelphia doing trash removal. Former boxer Joey Traitz said “when Briscoe was working he would run from house to house when some young wise guy said get my trash can old man.” Seems the person was quickly on his back out cold. They say the punch is the last thing to go.
It took Briscoe over 10 years and 55 fights to get his first title fight with Monzon and without the previous draw decision with him it probably would have never happened. By Briscoe’s account he made about 1.5 million. He was told in more than half of his last dozen fights he would have to take the short end of the purse in order to get someone to fight him.
Briscoe doesn’t come out much these days. Outside of his appearance in 2007 at the PA Hall of Fame ceremony few have seen him. John DiSanto of Philly Boxing History started the “Bennie’s” which is a small bronze statue symbolizing Briscoe that go to the “Fighter of the Year” and the two people who make up the “fight of the year” each year in Philly. Renowned artist Carl LeVotch created the original sculpture. Like the statue, the bald, bronze and expressionless Briscoe was a work of art. It’s people like DiSanto who are a breath of fresh air who have helped the Veterans Boxing Association (Ring One) to catch up to those worthy such as Briscoe who should never had to wait 25 years to enter the PA Hall of Fame.
In 2003, he was named #49 to the Ring’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time and #34 in their top 50 greatest of all time. Willie “The Worm” Monroe who did roadwork with Briscoe once told him “you should learn to run backwards”. What for? “Bad” Bennie Briscoe never took a backward step for anyone!
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