Remembering Paul Ferreri

First published in the Fightful Boxing Newsletter, which you can check out every Thursday at Fightful.com!

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Paul Ferreri, long one of Australia’s best pound-for-pound boxers in the 1970s and 1980s, passed away on July 14 at the age of 69.

Ferreri was a scrappy fighter who competed in numerous weight classes all over the world, was a mainstay in the Commonwealth and Australian title scene, winning their respective bantamweight titles as well as Australia’s featherweight and super featherweight. Known for his defensive prowess, Ferreri was only ever stopped twice in his career: once against Carlos Zarate after suffering a really bad cut near his eye and once in Ferreri’s last professional fight.

Ferreri was born in Aidoni, Sicily, Italy on January 1, 1948. Ferreri and his family moved to Australia in 1952, settling in North Melbourne. He first began boxing at a gym run by Snowy Sullivan in a loft near where Ferreri lived but after Snowy died, he turned pro under the watchful eye of Ambrose Palmer. Palmer was a celebrated boxer in Australia in the 1930's who was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003. At Palmer's gym at the bottom of Festival Hall in Melbourne is where Ferreri would hone in on his skills and become the fighter he became known for. He said Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali were his favorite fighters.

Ferreri started his pro career on August 2, 1968, defeating Pietro Granata, also making his pro debut that day, on points. Ferreri would spend the next two-and-a-half years unbeaten, mostly fighting at Festival Hall, one of Melbourne’s largest concert venues as well as a historic sports venue, being one of the host venues for the 1956 Summer Olympics, where it was used for boxing, basketball and gymnasium events.

Ferreri had a 15-round battle on October 17, 1969 against Alan Pressnell for the Australian bantamweight title. Ferreri had already beaten Pressnell twice in August of that year on points, but the third encounter would be the first time in either man’s career had fought a scheduled 15-round bout, so a Ferreri win was not a guarantee at that point. The most rounds Ferreri had fought in his career prior to that fight was eight rounds in his first battle with Pressnel. The Italian-Australian would hold the title for several years and had numerous reigns with the title, never losing a fight with that specific title on the line.

Four years into his professional career, Ferreri would get a chance to fight for the then-vacant Commonwealth (British Empire) bantamweight title. He defeated John Kellie on September 16, 1972 to win his first of several Commonwealth titles.

As Ferreri kept fighting opponents with more experience each time out, Ferreri started to garner the attention of boxing fans all over the world. After spending the first several years of his career fighting in Australia, Ferreri would fight in countries such as Italy, South Africa, Spain and the Philippines.

The highlight of Ferreri’s career came in the late summer of 1976 when Ferreri got his first, and only, world title opportunity. Zarate, considered arguably the greatest bantamweight boxer in history was his opponent. Ferreri had never fought in the United States prior to this point, but he and Zarate headlined a boxing card at the world-renowned Forum in Inglewood, California. The venue, which could seat 13,000 at the time, was filled and the five-fight card was filled with other world champions such as Lionel Rose ad Alberto Davila.

Despite the massive jump in level of competition for the Australian boxer, Ferreri held his own against Zarate. Ferreri suffered a bad cut near his eye in the 12th round and the fight was stopped late in the round.

“I was told to pace myself. I wanted to go at him from the start and make him work hard. I could feel him tiring when it was stopped. Had I got right at him from the first round I would have stopped him. He had trouble hitting me and I was getting to him. He had a lot trouble making weight. The plan was to wait until the later rounds before I picked it up but they stopped it because of the cut” Ferreri said in a 2010 interview. “Jack had a bad leg and after a few rounds couldn’t even get up into the ring and he was just giving me instructions from the floor. But that is how it goes. I had my chance. I can’t worry about it now.”

Ferreri would end up beating former world champions Venice Borkhorsor and Roland Navarette. He has also scored notable wins against the likes of Rocky Gattelari, Stix McCloud and John Feeney.

Fittingly, Ferreri finished his career holding the Australian bantamweight title 17 years after first capturing it.

“I never relinquished it or lost it in the ring," Ferreri said. "They (powers that be) took it from behind my back when I was overseas in 1975” he protested. He ended up regaining it and retaining Commonwealth laurels by beating Brian Roberts, the new champ in 1976. “I am the longest reigning Australian champion in history. I believe it is a world record also (for national champions).”

Since retiring in 1986, Ferreri spent the remainder of his years running a boxing gym in Avondale Heights, Victoria, Australia, but the gym did not produce a boxer that would garner similar career accomplishments. He retired from work at the age of fifty, being a youth worker with juvenile justice since the later stages of his fighting days.

In 2006, Ferreri was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame, joining a class including former Australian heavyweight champion Joe Goddard, former Australian lightweight champion Pat Ford, former Commonwealth light heavyweight champion Bob Dunlop, Johny Lewis, Jackie Green and Bob Fitzsimmons, the sport’s first-ever three-division world champion.  

Simon Block, the current Commonwealth secretary, released a statement on Ferreri’s death.

"I am very sorry to learn this morning of the death of our distinguished former double Commonwealth Champion, Paul Ferreri of Australia.

Paul was born in Sicily in 1948 but grew up in Australia. His professional boxing career commenced there in 1968 and he remained undefeated until 1971. He won our Commonwealth Bantamweight Championship first in 1972, holding that Title until 1977. After that loss he then won the Commonwealth Super bantamweight Championship that same year, a Title he never defended, winning the vacant Bantamweight Championship again in Denmark in 1981 against Kenyan Mike Irungu. That Title he held until 1986, losing it in his last ever contest to rising Bahamian star, Ray Minus Jr.

Paul was represented internationally by the late former CBC Director, Dennie Mancini, in whose honour an award is made each year to the Commonwealth Champion or former Champion who the board of the CBC has made a particular outstanding contribution to the sport in that year. He lost his only World Championship challenge in 1978 to the outstanding Mexican, Carlos Zarate, but defeated former and future World Champions, Venice Borkhorsor and Roland Navarette. The majority of his contests took place in Australia but he boxed with varying success all over the World. As well as Los Angeles, he boxed in Wales, Denmark, Oregon, Italy and the Philippines.

Not only was he a double Commonwealth Champion, but he also won the Australian Bantamweight, Featherweight and Super featherweight Champions. His record between 1972 and 1986 was a very creditable 78 wins, 13 losses and 5 draws.

Although Paul never won a World Championship he will be remembered as one of Australia’s finest boxers. I never met him myself but have a particular fondness for him and his career, which was so active when I first took over as the Commonwealth Championship’s Hon Secretary in 1980, and I can recall many conversations with my friend, the late Dennie Mancini, about future Commonwealth Championship opportunities for him.

May this fine Champion rest in peace."

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