By Ron Lipton
RE: Nick Arcuri, Secaucus resident from 1959-June 2002.
The great former heavyweight champion of the world Rocky Marciano, coined a phrase which he used on his old TV show “The Main Event,” from the 1950’s where he showcased vintage fights. He would end the show by saying, “The bigger they are, the nicer they are.”
Never did this phrase fit a former pro fighter more than former Secaucus resident, Mr. Nick Arcuri.
Our paths crossed unexpectedly. I had run into Doctor Richard Weintraub, of Jules Vision Center in Newburgh, N.Y. The Doctor, a very nice man and a good friend, knew of my boxing background.
He mentioned to me that he had a neighbor in upstate Trout Creek N.Y. who used to be a former professional fighter and had been skilled enough to have once beaten a great boxer.. I asked the Doc what great fighter his neighbor had fought years before. He could not remember. He told me that his friend, Nick Arcuri was the pro boxer who beat this great professional and that Nick was one of the nicest guys he knew.
My curiosity was piqued, so I told the Doc I would look this up in the boxing archives. Later that night as his record came up on the Internet Boxing Archive website, my jaw tightened up with respect as the name of his former foe loomed off the pages of Nick Arcuri’s boxing record.. “JOE MICELLE, W PTS 4 RDS.” That verified that Nick Acuri won on points in a four round decision pro win. It was the young Joe Micelli’s 4th professional fight in a career that spanned a total of 110 professional boxing contests.
It turns out that Nick Arcui swapped punches with a legendary welterweight and handing him his first loss in a four round decision win in their professional fight at the former old movie theater, The Broadway Arena in Brooklyn on March 16, 1948.. Truly a real claim to fame! Two fights later in Micelli’s 6th pro fight, Joe Micelli got a technical knockout in 4 rounds over Nick, in a rematch on May 27, 1948, after almost four tough rounds, Nick finished on his feet with the referee stopping the contest.
Joe Micelli, is a well-known name to us boxing aficionados. It is synonymous with tenacity, punching power and someone who would go on to fight and conquer several world champions. I have many vintage films of Micelli, and he truly was the formidable mountain you had to climb to get anywhere in that division back in the 40’s and 50’s. He was there to fight anyone, anytime and any place.
In Micelli’s 110 professional fights he fought and beat former World Welterweight Champion Johnny Saxton by a fourth round KO. He twice beat perhaps the greatest Lightweight Champion of the World who ever lived, International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Mr. Ike Williams, by two 10 round decisions. Micelli even fought a draw with one of the toughest fighters who ever lived, Hall of Fame Middleweight Champion Joey Giardello on May 5, 1952, and beat the famous Art “Golden Boy” Aragon, from California.
Micelli fought them all, Welterweight Champion Kid Gavilan, the great Philadelphia fighter, Gil Turner, Johnny Bratton, Gene Fullmer the former middleweight 160lb champion who beat Sugar Ray Robinson, Micelli also fought Welterweight Champion Luis Rodriquez, Welterweight champion Curtis Cokes, and many more names that mean a lot to us hard core boxing fans.
But this story is about Nick Arcuri, and his irreplaceable win over Micelli which no one can take away. This amazing feat and how it happened is what defines boxing and the kind of men it produced back in the 40’s and 50’s. This kind of man does not inhabit this world anymore. It is a mold that was broken, one of a kind. The kind our fathers, and grandfathers were made of.
Undoubtfully, we have tough athletes today, but it is that inner thread that these old school warriors had, that make them shine, with a work ethic, and a clean athleticism that is laced with purity and sportsmanship that we need more of today. It is those wonderful elements that remind many of us of the way it used to be, a boxing haven full of fighters that paid their dues.
Nick Arcuri stood 5’6 ½” and in fighting trim weighed from 125-133 lbs. Nick trained in boxing gyms that were associated with the legends of boxing. The scrappy Secaucus lightweight could be found in Buffano’s gym in Jersey City, or in the gym owned by the “Russian Lion,” The great former Lightheavyweight Champion of the World Gus Lesnivich in Cliffside Park. Nick also frequented Joe Jeanette’s gym in Union City, where the 70 year old former foe of Jack Johnson, would be, passing on priceless pugilistic pointers to anyone who was smart enough to glean these gems from the man who fought Jack Johnson the heavyweight champion of the world numerous times.
Nick would also take the bus from Jersey City to the famous Stillman’s gym in New York City where he would train with the great boxers of that era. One of the hardest hitting heavyweights who ever lived, Sid Peaks, trained there with Nick. Nick remembers, “Sid Peaks was a powerhouse, he could hit like a ton of bricks but he had a great heart and was always there to help people.”
Nick would whip himself into shape by jumping rope non-stop for a half an hour, then doing it again.
He would box with anyone, honing his craft, while sparring with men who outweighed him by 50 lbs. and testing his mettle against the best in the gym, using his great speed to survive, he would swap shots with the best of that era.
Nick was fortunate enough to have some of boxing’s best men in his corner for his fights. In the Arcuri corner were the team of Duke Stefano, who later became the assistant matchmaker for Madison Square Garden, also there was Jimmy Colotto, one of the nicest guys in professional boxing who went on to be a famous promoter of such great fighters as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
Nick recalls Duke Stefano and Jimmy Colotto fondly, “They treated me like family and were always looking out for me.” Nick also had at different times, the experienced cut men Johnny Sullo and the beloved Whitey Bimstein in his corner at the Saint Nicholas Arena. Bimstein is best remembered for gracing the corner of Rocky Graziano the former middleweight champion of the world.
The incidents leading up to Nick’s fight with Joe Micelli are typical of that era, a time when the boxing gyms were full of talent and a fighter had to take a bout at a moments notice for work.
Nick had a 19-2 amateur record, preparing for his bouts by sparring with tough fighters like Tony Pellone in Greenwood Lake, N.Y.
As an amateur Nick would sometimes end up fighting future professional legends, like Nick’s bout with Gil Turner the great welterweight destroyer of the 1940’s and 50’s, who stopped Nick in the 2nd round at the Winter Gardens in New York City. Nick beat tough Billy Carmichael in a second round TKO in North Bergen and after a distinguished amateur career decided to turn professional.
As a pro with a 13-3 record Nick went up several times against the well known Johnny “Red” DeFazio, winning a four round decision in the Sunny Side Arena. He then fought again in the ballpark in Newburgh, N.Y. where he emerged victorious.
Nick also beat the formidable Eugene Hairston in the Eastern Parkway Jamaica Arena in a four round bout, with the famous boxing announcer John Addie doing the honors that night. Nick knocked Hairston’s tooth out and weighing in at 132 lbs. while spotting Hairston over 8 lbs. in weight. Hairston was a deaf mute
whose hearing impairment was instrumental in Madison Square Garden installing ringlights over the ring posts to signal the end of the round. They are still used today.
Hairston ended up with a pro record of 45-13-5, beating Welterweight Champion Kid Gavilan, while fighting to a draw with the Raging Bull Jake Lamotta and winning a decision over Middleweight Champion Paul Pender.
Nick also fought a four rounder on the undercard of the Sugar Ray Robinson VS Billy Nixon bout on October 12,1947 in the old Elizabeth NJ Armory.
I have since obtained films of Nick’s former foes John “Red” DeFazio and Joe Micelli from the great boxing historian Sal Rappa of Freeport N.Y. and they were every bit as tough as I had envisioned them. Now realizing that Nick Arcuri beat them, It has given me a healthy respect for him as a fighter, who is on a par with these great athletes.
On the day of Nick’s first fight with Joe Micelli, Nick had no idea who he was fighting that night.
He had gone to the Broadway Arena in Brooklyn on March 16, 1948 to lend some moral support to his gym mates who were fighting on the card that night. It was Micelli’s 4th pro fight in a career that would end with 110 professional fights.
Nick was with Duke Stefano sitting in the dressing room, when they said to him,
“Hey kid, you want to fight tonight,?” They told him he would be fighting Joe Micelli, a 5’10” welterweight, who was a murderous puncher. They offered Nick $35 bucks. Nick said, sure I’ll fight him, and had to run around borrowing some boxing equipment to be ready in time. He borrowed someone’s foul proof protective cup, warmed up for a couple of minutes and down the aisle he sauntered, ready, willing and able to take his chances with one of the toughest up and coming fighters of that time.
When Nick got into the ring they announced him as Nick Arcuri from Union City, N.J with a smattering of applause echoing his name. Then when the announcer said, “In this corner from the Eastside of New York,. Joe Micelli, the applause was riotous for their hometown guy.
It did not matter to Nick, nor did the money, what mattered was being in that ring and competing for the love of it. That’s why he put all those long hours in the gym, on the bus from New Jersey to New York to Stillmans for this moment in time. When they brought the fighters and their seconds into mid-ring for the referees instructions, the Brooklyn fans thought it would be an easy night for Micelli as he had all the advantages going his way. Height, weight, experience, and not to mention Nick was a last minute substitute.
Micelli had a dangerous left hand, he used it in later fights to KO Wallace Bud Smith the lightweight champion of the world. He would throw that left up the middle in a half hook, half uppercut under the jaw.
But that night Nick had his number.
Everytime Micelli would step in with his left foot to throw that punch,.he would drop his right elbow and Nick would throw fast reaction punches before Micelli could get set, and then Nick would move out of the way. In the last round Nick was jabbing him fast, sticking and moving outpointing the rugged future welterweight star.
When they announced the decision, “The winner is Nick Arcuri,” Nick’s place in boxing history was secure.
He had handed Joe Micelli his first professional loss. He said he saw Joe after that fight while Nick was getting off of a bus to walk across to the gym. Micelli walked across the street with him. They exchanged polite greetings, no hard feelings. Two real pros, old school. Nick Arcuri exemplifies this as does Micelli.
Nick said of Micelli, “He was a hardworking man, who respected everyone and was a gentleman at all times and a good sport.”
In 1948 Nick went into the Army and he served with the 7th Infantry with distinction in Korea and received the Infantry Badge. He got out of the Army in 1951. Nick’s life had been an athletic one as he was good enough to play second base for the Saint Louis Browns in Tarboro, N.C for one year and the Cleveland Indians for another year in Drummerville Canada, but boxing was his real love. Nick’s mother used to mail him newspaper articles about Joe Micelli’s fights while Nick was overseas in Korea.
Nick is 73 years old now, born in Jersey City, NJ but his roots were in Secaucus where he lived from 1959 to June of 2002, before moving to upstate New York.
Nick drove a truck for a living and is now retired. The former lighting fast lightweight walks a little slower now with the help of a cane, after suffering an injury on his farm, from being kicked by a cow in an accident.
He lives with his lovely wife Joan of 23 years in beautiful Trout Creek N.Y.. His three children Nicolas 47, Linda Ann 45 and Dominick 39, have blessed Nick with 5 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren.
I got in touch with Joe Micelli and gave Nick his phone number. Nick called him up and told me it was wonderful speaking with him again. It made them both feel good to touch bases with each other.
They are inexorably linked to each other in boxing history. No one will forget Joe Micelli that knows anything about professional boxing.
Nick Arcuri, no one will forget you either. No one can take away your achievement, the day you handed a boxing legend his first professional loss.
But I remember you both for something else, your gracious sportsmanship, your love of the sport and the fond way you both remember each other as brother warriors when the world was young and boxing was full of pride and neighborhood rivalry.
Nick Arcuri sounds like he is 17 years old on the phone, his laugh is contagious and he seems like he has a heart of gold. Talking with Nick reminds me of my uncles and my father, the way things used to be, when you never had to lock your door, and you could shake hands after a fight and mean it.
They are pretty lucky to have a neighbor like Nick up in Trout Creek N.Y. The kids up there could learn a lot from him.
They don’t come any tougher than Nick and Joe Micelli, and they don’t come any nicer either.
Rocky Marciano would have approved. Old School guys are just fine with me too.
Writer Ron Lipton's Background
Former 3 Time New Jersey Golden Glove Champion, Retired Police Officer, International Professional Boxing Referee, refereed 26 World Title Fights on HBO, Pay Per View, In the United States, Ireland and Italy.
Boxing Instructor for Marist College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Refereed Holyfield, DeLahoya, Roy Jones Jr, Tommy Morrison, Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitiker, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Razor Ruddock, Alex Stewart, Bobby Czyz, Ray Mercer, Ivan Robinson, Tracy Patterson, Montel Griffin, Joey Gamache, Jeff Mayweather, Merqui Sosa, Prince Charles Wiliams, and many others.
Boxing Writer for The Ring, Boxing Illustrated, World Boxing and Boxing International
Award Winning Boxing Choreographer for Film and Stage - Won Audelco Award in 1992 for Boxing Choreography for the play “Ali” in New York City and London.