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Killer Instinct... NO Patience!By John Garfield
In the early 70's in New York, I watched a stocky, young welterweight in the Novice finals of the New York Golden Gloves in the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden. His name was John Nittolo. With his thick spikey hair and a head that promised a much bigger body, he put me in mind of a lion that hadn't quite grown into his paws.
All Nittolo wanted to do was crack the other kid with his overhand right that he threw from the floor.
Nittolo had no style; he just wanted to get the guy in front of him and kill him, like a kid in a street fight that wanted to follow his punches with kicks.
He fought with fire. He excited the fans...the way Graziano used to, with that same fury, but he was in no condition and running out of steam.
Nittolo's opponent was a trained boxer, in good shape, and he landed enough punches to earn a decision, even though Nittolo shook him every time he landed that right.
After the fight was over, Nittolo leaped into the middle of his boys, and they carried him on their shoulders to the dressing room. He was a ringleader.
As the Forum was emptying, I spotted him smoking in an old sweat shirt and jeans on the main floor and went over. I told him he was a natural. He could be a helluva pro and I wanted to train him. If he was interested, to look me up any afternoon at the Gramercy Gym.
As we spoke, I could see he was 16 going on 40, with a voice that sounded like the grinding of a cement truck. His words came like shoves before the right hand. I could almost hear Luca Brazzi saying, "Don Corlieone...may your first child be a masculine child." He looked at me sideways, trying to figure my angle.
A couple days later, he showed up at the gym in the same sweat shirt and jeans, but he was still leery and ready to lash out. All he got from our talk was: "helluva pro" = money.
After seeing me work with some other fighters and checking me out, Nittolo agreed to give it a try, with little enthusiasm.
For several months, I worked him very hard in the gym, and I was sure, from the look in his eye, there were more than a few moments, he wanted to whack me with that right. The only thing that kept him in the gym...and me from being drilled, was: He started to learn moves... and he liked it.
But, he was a pain in the ass. Everybody wanted him out of the gym. They were convinced I was wasting my time: he was a thug and had no future but jail.
Nittolo couldn't control his temper. He wouldn't listen to anybody but me...barely, and he only wanted to do things his way. And most of the time, he didn't want to do anything, if I didn't push him. He was more interested in crap games, the over-and-under, the horses, and selling sweaters out of the trunk of his car.
I took him to a bunch of smokers all over the city, and he was still greener than most of the competition, but when he landed that right, he hurt people, stopped them or knocked them out. The refs had a tough time tearing him away from anybody he hurt.
Once, I took him to a smoker at a church in Brooklyn, and he was matched with a kid named Duffy from the parish, who'd already won the Gloves, had a big reputation all over the city, and brought the whole neighborhood to cheer for him.
Nittolo couldn't wait to knock him out so he could go and party. His attention span was shorter than his temper.
Duffy was a classic standup boxer, with all the practised moves of hours and hours in the gym. So he landed jab after jab, and Nittolo would walk through them and hunt him down and wing that right. And whenever he landed it, Duffy did a Zab Judah dance. The priest awarded the decision to Duffy, who was out on his feet at the final bell .
In the lockerroom, while I was I was taking the tape off Nittolo's hands, a Duffy supporter came over talking trash to Nittolo. BOOM! Nittolo flashed the right, leaving him in a heap on the floor.
We grabbed our stuff up as quick as we could and tried to get to our car. Outside, we were greeted by hundreds of Duffy fans--barely held in check by the police-- who were screaming for Nittolo's blood. Nittolo challenged the mob and gave them the finger. How we got out of there... I'll never know.
Nittolo sparred with some top pros, and was beginning to lose some of the rough edges, and use angles. But his mind was always into hustling: how to turn a buck.
He didn't have patience to learn how to fight. He just wanted to knock people out and make money now...and it wasn't happening fast enough for him. Nothing did.
So, he drifted away from the gym. When I would speak to him, I encouraged him to go to a gambling school to become a dealer in a casino. He did...and took to it like a duck to water.
When he graduated, he went to Vegas and got a job as a dealer. Eventually, became a pit boss.
But Nittolo lived on "Action"... he loved the "Juice." The bigger the gamble the better. So, he started promoting fights and rock concerts in Vegas and Atlantic City. He added touring shows, like WEST SIDE STORY.
Numbers were Nittolo's thing, so nobody short-changed him, and unions didn't pad their crews...and if they tried, he spoke to them in a language they understood. He needed no lawyers.
In the last 15 years, Nittolo's become one of the leading concert promoters in the country. And he still wants more.
He's now in his late 40's... still has the same swagger he had as a kid, but now he's dressed in Hugo Boss, and weighs over 200.
He still has the killer instinct and no patience, but he does his fighting in boardrooms.
He's a lion that's grown into his paws.
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