By Anthony Cocks
Paul Ferreri would be world champion if he was boxing today.
That is the consensus opinion of those who saw this dynamic bantamweight, who passed away over the weekend, box at his brilliant best in the 1970s.
“I truly believe Paul would be a world champion today, without doubt,” said Brad Vocale, a former super featherweight boxer and now leading Australian referee who sparred many rounds with Ferreri when they trained out of the same Melbourne gyms in the 1960s and ’70s.
“When you consider the many regional title belts which offer a good path through to higher world ratings and then eventually a world championship fight.
“I believe it would be a certainty he would have won numerous regionals, which would have put him in line to challenge some of the higher rated fighters because he was good enough and could have beaten most of the better fighters today.
“With the opportunities available today, I genuinely believe he would have won a WBO, IBO and no doubt fought for either WBA or WBC bantamweight titles.
“Sadly, he fought in an era when one of the very best bantamweight fighters ever reigned.”
Born Paolo Ferreri in Aidone, Sicily in 1948, his family migrated to Australia in 1952 and settled in North Melbourne. His boxing career began when he walked into Snowy Sullivan’s gym, but when Snowy died he found his way to the legendary Ambrose Palmer’s workout studio under West Melbourne Stadium, now Festival Hall. Palmer, who guided Johnny Famechon to the WBC world featherweight title, told Ferreri that if he wanted to be an amateur fighter he would have to find another trainer. As a result, Ferreri turned pro without any amateur bouts, just like ‘Fammo’.
As a 5-foot-9 career bantamweight, Ferreri was a lanky, smooth boxing southpaw. A defensive genius, Ferreri had an awkward style and while he wasn’t recognised as a puncher, he did have some pop and could hurt you if he struck you cleanly.
Ferreri won his first Australian title in the bantamweight division in 1969, just fourteen months after turning pro, and was barely without a national title for the rest of his fighting career. For a period in the 1970s he held the Australian bantamweight title, Australian featherweight title and Australian super featherweight title simultaneously.
Vocale, who credits the always smartly dressed Ferreri as teaching him the value of being a snappy dresser, has fond memories of the time he spent as a gym-mate of Ferreri’s in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“We sparred hundreds of rounds at Ambrose Palmer’s gym under Festival Hall and we fought on the same card a couple of times,” said Vocale. “I was in his corner – I was 14 years old – when he beat Alan Pressnell for the Australian bantamweight title at Festival Hall.
“Plus Paul, Rocky Mattioli, Frank Bianco and me all ended up training together in Brunswick with Gilberto Biondi, under the management of Oscar Minari, who was the photographer for Fighter magazine.”
Over his 96 fight career Ferreri boxed a remarkable 857 rounds and finished with a highly commendable record of 78-13-5 (26). To put that in perspective, modern day veterans like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather have only boxed a total of 807 professional rounds combined.
In 2006 Ferreri was inducted into the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame.
Later in his career Ferreri changed trainers to go with Jack Rennie, who famously molded an impoverished teenager from Jacksons Track in the Gippsland bush to become the bantamweight champion of the world. The 19-year-old kid was Lionel Rose, who bashed the formidable Fighting Harada for 15 rounds to claim the WBC and WBA world bantamweight titles in Tokyo, Japan in 1968.
Ferreri was learning from the best.
In June 1976 Ferreri would travel to Cebu City in the Philippines to outbox the talented Rolando Navarrete over 10 rounds. Navarrete would go on to win the WBC super featherweight championship of the world by knocking out Ugandan Cornelius Boza-Edwards in five rounds five years later.
“There were few easy fights,” said Vocale. “But he wasn’t fazed and fought whoever they put in front of him.”
The biggest fight of Ferreri’s career came against heavy-handed Mexican hotshot Carlos Zarate. The undefeated WBC bantamweight champion of the world held the formidable record of 42-0 (41) going in to the fight at the Forum in Inglewood, California in August 1976. Zarate, who weighed in right on the limit at 118 pounds to Ferreri’s 117 pounds, was paid $50,000 to the challenger’s $10,000.
Ferreri’s gameplan was to box Zarate early and take him deep into the later rounds when he would pile on the pressure and finish over the top of him. As luck would have it, a cut over Ferreri’s right eye in the eighth round worsened as the rounds progressed and a second cut over his left brow left him leaking blood into both of his eyes. The fight was cruelly cut short by a young Richard Steele refereeing his first world title bout, resulting in a TKO12 win for Zarate and robbing Ferreri of his one and only chance to win the world title.
Ferreri maintains that the Mexican champion was beginning to fade when the fight was stopped.
“I was told to pace myself,” Ferreri told The Fist magazine at the time of his 60th birthday. “I wanted to go at him from the start and make him work hard. I could feel him tiring when it was stopped. He had 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.”
It wasn’t the end of Ferreri’s career though. He fought on for another decade, winning the inaugural Commonwealth super bantamweight title the following year against Brian Roberts.
In 1978 Ferreri pitched a virtual shutout over 10 rounds against former flyweight world champion Venice Borkhorsor of Thailand at the Town Hall in Melbourne.
Later in the same year he dropped a 15 round points decision to the ill-fated Welshman Johnny Owen, who passed away after being knocked out by Lupe Pintor in the 12th round of their 15 round WBC world bantamweight title fight two years later.
Former national champion Rocky Gattelari made an ill-advised comeback in 1979 to challenge Ferreri for the Australian featherweight title, lasting just three round before being stopped. It was Gatterlari’s first fight in over decade.
Despite slowing down by the early 80s, Ferreri was keen to fight a young upstart from the mean streets of Sydney’s Marrickville. He was confident that he could best the young Jeff Fenech. The fight never eventuated.
In his last year as a pro, Ferreri still had enough in the tank to give Tony ‘Mad Dog’ Miller all he could handle over tough 12 rounds at the Preston Town Hall in defence of his national featherweight title, losing a close decision by scores of 117-114 twice and 115-114. Miller was 15-1-1 at the time.
Ferreri wasn’t quite done though. He bounced back to defend his Commonwealth title against Junior Thompson by TKO5 in his preferred division of bantamweight in April 1986. It would be the last win of his career. Five months later Ray Minus, 18-3-1 (14), a 22-year-old puncher from the Bahamas, was too young, strong and fresh for Ferreri, eventually stopping him by TKO10 in Nassau in the Bahamas.
Minus would go on to challenge for the WBC, WBO and IBF bantamweight titles on three separate occasions, coming up short each time. If Ferreri was afforded the same opportunities, there is little doubt that he would have joined the elite and illustrious list of Australian world boxing champions.
By the time he hung up the gloves Ferreri had faced no less than six world champions and campaigned all over the world. In his 18 year professional career he fought in in the Bahamas, New Zealand, USA, South Korea, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Ghana, Italy, South Africa, French Polynesia and of course all over the length and breadth of his native Australia.
Paul Ferreri was a champion in and out of the ring. He will be fondly remembered by all who met him.
FUNERAL DETAILS: Paul Ferreri passed away in the small hours of Saturday 15th July. He was 69 years old. His funeral will be held at 10:30am on Thursday 27th July at St Martin’s Church in Military Road, Avondale Heights, Victoria. A public burial will follow the church service at the new Keilor Cemetary, Ely Court, Keilor East. A wake will be held back at St Martin’s Church in their function room after the burial.