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Bobby Tomasello: March 23, 1975 - October 25, 2000
By JD Vena

October 26, 2000
Boston, MA

O ne evening last year, while I was chatting with an acquaintance from Saugus, Massachusetts, I asked him if he had ever heard of a local undefeated featherweight boxer named Bobby Tomasello. To my surprise, he not only heard of the young prospect, he also made me aware of some things I never knew about Tomasello. "Everyone knows who Tomasello is. He's such a tough kid," he said. "His father is known as one of the toughest guys in town. Their real last name is Benson."

While working out at the Somerville Boxing Club a few days later, I approached Bobby Tomasello in between rounds while we were both hitting the heavybags. I told him about the fellow I was talking to and asked him if Tomasello was indeed his last name.

"Benson is my real last name," Tomasello responded.

"What's wrong with fighting under your real last name?" I asked.

"Nothing. Tomasello is the maiden name of my grandmother and my father used it to honor her when he boxed as an amateur," said Tomasello. "What else did this kid tell you?"

"He told me that your father is the toughest guy in Saugus," I replied.

Upon hearing this, Bobby's face filled with pride as he turned away and tore into the heavybag as if it were an opponent. It was the same expression of pride that his father had when he'd watch his ambitious son work out every day. It was this pride that meant more to Bobby and his father than anything else.

"They were like best friends," recalls Norman Stone, one of Tomasello's trainers. "But believe it or not, they use to spar with each other and you wouldn't be able to tell they were father and son because they had wars together. Once people found out they'd be sparring, the gym would fill up to watch them."

That's probably the reason why Tomasello fought without fear. He had already been in the ring with his father; the man he respected the most. Bobby wasn't about to fear Steve Dotse, a world-ranked fighter from Ghana.

In what would be his first and last televised boxing match this past Friday night, Bobby Tomasello incurred an injury to his brain during his fight with Dotse, an injury that kept the young 24 year-old fighting for his life at the New England Medical Center until yesterday. The brave Tomasello was pronounced dead at 11:45 AM on October 25th, after five tumultuous days on a respirator at the facility's intensive care unit.

"I miss him very much because we did everything together," said Bobby Benson Sr.

"He fought his heart out up until the very end of his life," said Stone. "He was so excited to be fighting on TV for the first time. It was everything he dreamed and talked about."

It was also the first major test for Tomasello. Having never been the ten round limit, Tomasello and his team decided that it was time to be matched with a tougher opponent. That opponent was to be James Baker of Washington D.C., until Baker pulled out with an injury and was replaced with Dotse.

"What makes it more shocking is the fact that Bobby prepared very hard for this fight and the other guy came in here on one day's notice," said Gabe Mari, another longtime trainer at the Somerville Boxing Club who worked with Tomasello. "It's just a freak accident, a one in a million thing that I can

(Photo by Angelo Carlino)
't understand."

From the opening bell of their fight at the Roxy in Boston, Tomasello fought fiercely and competitively with Dotse, who had already been the 12-round limit on two occasions. At some point of their fight Tomasello absorbed one blow, a blow that would not only cause irreparable damage to his brain but one that would leave those in his heart in pain.

"It was simply a tragic accident," explained Tony Cardinale, Tomasello's attorney. "We were told that his injury was caused by one blow, not a series of blows. There is no way of knowing when that blow landed. It happened when his head was positioned in such a way that his brain somehow twisted and a blood vessel burst."

"If we thought we saw Bobby really hurt, then we would have stopped the fight," said Robert Covino, another of Bobby's trainers.

"He never complained of his head hurting during the fight," said Stone. "Before the 10th round he was saying that he was going to get him. About ten minutes after the fight, he complained of headaches so I had Dr. (Patty) Joffe look at him and she said that he might be dehydrated. As soon as I got back from calling an ambulance, he collapsed in the dressing room."

Though Tomasello's corner and the medical staff at New England Medical Center reacted quickly, it wasn't in time for Tomasello to make it through his final fight. The miracle that all had prayed for would not arrive. Instead of fulfilling his ultimate dream of winning a world title, Tomasello died trying.

"That was the kind of spirit he had and that's how we want to remember him," said Cardinale.

"It's a tragedy that we're going to have to live with," said Stone. "We've known Bobby since he was coming here at the age of 9. He was just an unbelievable kid. Always polite, never swore and very religious. This is a tragedy for us. God will never give me something I can't handle but at this point I feel like he is."

Getting into the boxing ring is a risk that a boxer like Tomasello acknowledges before he steps into the ring.

"I remember him saying before the fight that he'd rather die than lose this fight," said Bob Benson Sr. "If there is a place he has gone to, he's probably saying 'I did it man. I paid the ultimate price: I fought to the death.'

If he has gone to another place, you can bet that he's wearing that face full of pride he so often carried around.

God Bless You Robert Benson. We'll miss you.
Material from CBS and NECN televised reports were used in this article
[The Cyber Boxing Zone wishes to express its hearfelt sympathy to the family of Robert Benson.]
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