Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Matthew Ward

Skate Parks and Skateboarders

During the 1980s, Philadelphia and its surrounding communities emerged as a mecca for the sport of skateboarding. The region developed more than twenty skate parks, and local professional skateboarders achieved international fame over the next four decades. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, approximately 105,000 of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residents skateboarded. Despite occasional opposition by city officials to skateboarding in public locations, the sport flourished.

Skateboarding began in 1958, when early pioneers of the sport attached roller skates to the bottom of boards. This allowed traditional ocean surfers to “sidewalk surf” in places where there were no waves. The following year, Roller Derby, a company with operations in Illinois and California, began to mass-produce skateboards with metal wheels. Between 1963 and 1968, manufacturers of surfboards, such as Makaha and Hobie, started making better-quality skateboards with clay wheels and trucks. This improved construction and distribution and opened the door for the increased popularity of the sport, prompting the advent of skate contests, the first of which was held in Hermosa Beach, California, in 1963. In the 1970s, skateboards could be purchased at mainstream retailers, such as JCPenney, throughout the United States.

[caption id="attachment_33040" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of the LOVE Statue at John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia. A crowd waits in line for their turn to take a photo in front of the statue. There is a fountain behind it. Skateboarders in the late twentieth century valued John F. Kennedy Plaza, better known as LOVE Park, for its rails and ledges. Considered a nuisance but defended by skateboarders and city planner Ed Bacon, the park lost these features when redeveloped by the city into the smoother landscape visible in this 2018 photograph. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Beginning in the 1980s, local skateboarders descended on John F. Kennedy Plaza (Love Park), at Fifteenth Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Center City. This park, designed by city planner Edmund Bacon (1910-2005) and architect Vincent Kling (1916-2013), had opened in 1965 between City Hall and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. In 1976, the iconic Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture became the park’s most distinctive feature. The park fell into disrepair in the 1980s, but it became a popular spot for local and visiting amateur and professional skateboarders because of its features, such as ledges, railings, stairs, and desirable landing spots. Skateboarders from around the world described the park as “Philadelphia’s skate spot,” “legendary,” and “the greatest skate spot ever.” Popular skateboarders such as Josh Kalis (b. 1976), Stevie Williams (b. 1979), and Kerry Getz (b. 1975) skated in the park as it rose to prominence in skateboarding circles.

The Bans of 1994 and 2000

To the displeasure of skateboarders, city officials formally banned skateboarding on two occasions, in 1994 and 2000. These bans led to conflict between skateboarders and police that often resulted in arrests and hefty fines. The friction sparked a debate between backers of the skateboarders and lawmakers over the rights of individuals and groups to use public space. Ultimately, the debate ended when renovations to the park in 2002 and 2016 resulted in destruction of some of the best spots to skateboard.

After city government attempted to end skateboarding in Love Park in 1994, a section of South Philadelphia’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park located beneath Interstate 95 was opened to skateboarders. The city contributed sixteen thousand square feet of unused public land beneath the interstate and added skate park features, including pyramids and a grind box for tricks. Local skateboarders created additional features to improve the terrain for better riding and for performing tricks. Over the years, through the efforts of volunteers and international attention caused by competitions and video games, the park evolved into one of the more popular and well-known skateparks in the world. The park hosted the Gravity Games, a multi-event extreme-sports competition, in 2005 and was featured in the 2007 video game Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. Local professional skateboarders such as Chuck Treece (b. 1964), Bam Margera (b. 1979), and Willy Akers (b. 1986) became regulars at this skate park and were photographed and recorded riding there on numerous occasions.

[caption id="attachment_33035" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a man executing an aerial stunt on a skateboard using a ramp made of brick and concrete. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is visible behind him. Prompted by bans and hefty fines, skateboarders advocated for safe places to practice their sport. Paine’s Skate Park opened near the Schuylkill River Trail in 2013 with the support of ad-hoc group Paine’s Skate Park Fund, later renamed SkatePhilly. (Photograph by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

As the young people who were once chased out of Love Park by the police became adults, they became activists for the sport they loved. Frustration from the Love Park debate emboldened local skateboarders to organize and lobby for the designation of public space for skateboarding. Josh Nims (b. 1975), a local skateboarder, founded an advocacy group called Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund (FPSF) to raise funds for a new park and to advocate the value of skateboarding for American cities that chose to embrace the sport instead of criminalizing it. After ten years of fund-raising, the organization raised enough capital to break ground in 2012 on a new facility, Paine’s Skate Park, at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Schuylkill River Trail and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With support from many individuals in the local skateboarding community, including Jesse Rendell (b. 1980), a skateboarder turned lawyer and son of Ed Rendell (b. 1944), former mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania, the multimillion dollar project opened in May 2013.

Suburban Skateboarding

[caption id="attachment_33018" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a skateboarder riding in a tall half-pipe. Two others stand by watching. By the 1970s, mainstream retail stores sold skateboards, and the sport’s popularity extended far from its birthplace in California. This 1978 photograph shows skateboarders using a half-pipe in the beach community of Wildwood, New Jersey. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Skateboarding also became popular in communities surrounding Philadelphia. In the suburbs, local governments succeeded in establishing partnerships to raise funds, build, and maintain skate parks. The borough of Ambler, Pennsylvania, partnered with local supporters and volunteers to open the Ambler Skatepark in 2011. Patrick Kerr Memorial Skatepark in Abington Township, Pennsylvania, took its name from the leading advocate of the project, who died in 2003. Supporters of this skate park also maintained an educational scholarship fund for young skateboarders from the Abington area. Other popular skate parks could be found throughout South Jersey in Brigantine, Maple Shade Township, Medford, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, West Deptford, and Williamstown. A $750,000 skate park in Ocean City was built in 2015 with $500,000 in Cape May County Open Space funding and $250,000 in city money.

The opening of skate parks throughout the region in the twenty-first century coupled with the abundant support of the skateboarding advocacy nonprofit organization Skate Philly, formed by members of the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund to promote the positive aspects of skateboarding in the region, demonstrated the resilience, organization, and dedication of the local skateboarding community.

Matthew Ward is a boxing historian and writer from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2007 with a B.A. in History and Culture, and Rutgers University—Camden in 2018 with an M.A. in History. He worked in financial services for over nine years and serves as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is also an Army veteran who served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2010 to 2011. He grew up on the Jersey Shore and runs a boxing blog and podcast called The Weigh-In.

Professional Skateboarders from the Greater Philadelphia Area

Willy Akers (b. 1986), Wilmington, Del.

Tom Asta (b. 1990), Langhorne, Pa.

Chris Cole (b. 1982), Langhorne, Pa.

Pete Eldridge, Pennington, N.J.

Kerry Getz (b. 1975), Lehighton, Pa.

Josh Kalis (b. 1976), Philadelphia.

Brandon Cole “Bam” Margera (b. 1979), West Chester, Pa.

Ricky Oyola, Pemberton, N.J.

Chuck Treece (b. 1964), Philadelphia.

Ishod Wair (b. 1991), Bordentown, N.J.

Stevie Williams (b. 1979), Philadelphia.

Police Athletic League

Since 1914, police officers in urban areas have seen the need for better relations between the police and local youth as a means of reducing crime and promoting wholesome play under proper supervision. In that spirit, the first Police Athletic League (PAL) in the greater Philadelphia area formed in North Philadelphia in 1947 “to build positive relationships between youth, the communities in which they live, and the dedicated men and women of the Philadelphia Police Department.” Since its inception, the organization has provided neighborhood youth with a sanctuary from the criminal activities that plagued major urban areas.

[caption id="attachment_27647" align="alignright" width="233"]A PAL officer hangs out with two PAL children in front of a PAL building. An off-duty officer talks with teenagers at a Police Athletic League center in 1971. Locally, PAL formed in 1947 to build relationships between youth, their communities, and the Philadelphia Police Department. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The Police Athletic League originated in New York City, but quickly expanded to other cities and towns over the course of the twentieth century. In New York, Police Commissioner Arthur Woods (1870-1942) and Captain John Sweeney (1879-1963) founded PAL in 1914. Seeing the need for better relations between the police and the city’s youth, Woods closed off city blocks to serve as “play streets” for urban youth, and Sweeney organized the Junior Police, an organization that taught discipline and good citizenship. PAL originally provided a forum for off-duty police officers to coach youngsters how to play various sports. In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of chapters, responding to changing times, added choir, dance, drama, photography, art, and poetry programs that continued into the 2000s.

PAL of Philadelphia originally consisted of only one Philadelphia Police Department sergeant, August “Gus” Rangnow (1892-1972), who oversaw PAL’s sandlot baseball program. By the 1960s, with the help of prominent athletes and coaches as volunteers, the Philadelphia PAL had nineteen centers across the city offering a variety of after-school programs, including ceramics, arts and crafts, baseball, football, basketball, and boxing. The Twenty-Third district PAL at Twenty-Second Street and Columbia Avenue served as a training facility  for well-known Philadelphia professional boxers such as Bennie Briscoe (1943-2010), Joe Frazier (1944-2011), Gypsy Joe Harris (1945-90), Jimmy Young (1948-2005), Bobby Watts (b. 1949), and Tyrone Crawley (b. 1958). Frazier, a 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist and former World Heavyweight Champion, received his first boxing lesson in a PAL ring.

Mayor Frank Rizzo’s Support

[caption id="attachment_27646" align="alignright" width="253"]Joe Frazier poses with his fist raised opposite of PAL kids. In the background of the photograph is Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neill. Joe Frazier (right), who received his first boxing lesson in a Police Athletic League ring, poses with PAL members and Police Commissioner Joseph O’Neill in 1972. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Philadelphia Police Commissioner and Mayor Frank L. Rizzo (1920-91), who saw the organization as a valuable tool for promoting good citizenship and deterring juvenile delinquency, strongly supported PAL. As commissioner, he assigned some of his top officers to serve as coaches and mentors. During Rizzo’s term as mayor, PAL served as many as thirty-five thousand children, generating donations of financial gifts and tickets to professional sports events. In Rizzo’s first year in office, a delegation of local PAL youth met President Richard Nixon (1913-94) in the White House. PAL of Philadelphia also became well-known for promoting patriotism through pledges of allegiance to the United States. Young people involved in PAL signed oaths of allegiance, which were sent to the mayor’s office, and at times, on to other state and national politicians.

Although concerns about liability forced PAL of Philadelphia to shut down its boxing program in 1986, the organization continued to offer other after-school programs to the city’s youth. In 2017, with a Philadelphia headquarters at 3068 Belgrade Street and an additional eighteen PAL centers throughout city, the organization offered twelve athletic programs, including baseball, basketball, indoor soccer, and wrestling. After-school education programs included mentorship, homework clubs, and literacy programs. PAL also offered a number of special events such as  PAL Night at the Phillies and PAL Day at City Hall.

[caption id="attachment_27644" align="alignright" width="233"]A black and white photograph of a Police Athletic League officer standing over the shoulder of a teenage woman, as she paints a ceramic sculpture. A Police Athletic League officer instructs a teenager in ceramic sculpting, part of an expansion of PAL programs into arts programs during the 1960s. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The greater Philadelphia area was home to a number of other PAL locations. The Atlantic City PAL, opened in 1972, housed one of the East Coast’s finest boxing programs, which produced numerous amateur and professional champions such as Leavander Johnson (1969-2005) who held the IBF World Lightweight Title in 2005. This Atlantic City PAL gained notoriety as the temporary training grounds for out-of-town fighters such as Evander Holyfield (b. 1962), Mickey Ward (b. 1965), and Mike Tyson (b. 1966) leading up to marquee bouts at Boardwalk Hall. Besides boxing, the Atlantic City PAL ran a variety of athletic and educational programs for city youth such as Foosball and a computer lab. Police Athletic Leagues also sprung up in urban areas around Philadelphia such as Camden (founded in 1973) and Wilmington (founded in 2002).

In the Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, area, former professional boxer and Schuylkill Township police officer James “Jimmy” Deoria (b. 1970) founded a PAL in 1999. Like many police officers before him, Deoria was inspired to give local youth a place to go and stay off the streets. Former welterweight boxing contender Ronald Cruz (b. 1986) trained in this gym before being forced to retire due to an eye injury. Although the Phoenixville Area PAL began with boxing, it expanded to other programs such as golf and babysitting classes.

Since its inception, the Philadelphia PAL had a direct impact on decreasing crime in areas of traditionally higher crime in the city. From 2010 to 2012, juvenile arrests decreased by 39 percent near the Harrowgate PAL and 16 percent near the Oxford Circle PAL.

From 1947 to 2017, residents of the greater Philadelphia Area witnessed the expansion and evolution of the Police Athletic League throughout the region. Despite changes in programs over its long history, the organization maintained its central commitment to providing a safe place for children to hone their athletic, academic, and social skills, thus living up to PAL motto, “Cops Helping Kids.”

Matthew Ward is a graduate student in History at Rutgers University—Camden. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2007 with a B.A. in History and Culture. He has worked in financial services for over seven years and serves as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is also an Army veteran who served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2010 to 2011.

Boxing and Boxers

For over one hundred years, Philadelphia neighborhoods, for better and worse, played a significant role in molding fighters. Over two dozen world boxing champions throughout various weight classes called Philadelphia home. Nearby communities such as Camden, New Jersey, and Easton, Pennsylvania, also produced world champions. Over time, Philadelphia-area boxing was supported by a wide network of more than fifty gyms into the twenty-first century. Thousands of young people who sought a better life trained in those gyms, where, frequently, they found escape from the hazards of gang violence, local rivalries, criminal activity, and drugs.

[caption id="attachment_23934" align="alignright" width="300"]The auditorium of the Legendary Blue Horizon. The auditorium of the legendary Blue Horizon, no longer open, gave spectators a bird's-eye view of the action. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

The greater Philadelphia area embraced the sport of boxing as far back as the days of bare-knuckle boxing, with great fighters becoming champions of their neighborhoods. In 1876, two Philadelphia bare-knuckle fighters, “Philadelphia” Jimmy Weeden (1846-77) and Billy Walker (1857-76), fought before a crowd of gamblers on a barge near Pennsville, New Jersey. Walker lost the fight and died from injuries sustained in the contest. Weeden was arrested for his participation in the bout and died one year later in a Trenton prison. Public and legal outrage from this bout resulted in the establishment of the Philadelphia Rules for boxing. This regulation, created by Philadelphia City Councils in cooperation with the county sheriff’s office, included new rules on the location and duration of fights in the city. Boxing matches were required to take place within the city limits and contests could last no longer than four rounds, a restriction that was later changed to six rounds for scoring purposes.

Weeden and Walker were only two of the bare-knuckle boxers from Philadelphia who had lasting impacts on the sport. John Clark (1849-1922) and Arthur Chambers (1846-1923), both of whom immigrated to the United States from the British Isles, opened boxing schools (early boxing gyms) in the late nineteenth century and developed local talent in Philadelphia. As the twentieth century approached, Philadelphia began to emerge as a leading world fight center.  Throughout the early 1900s, the sport of boxing was especially popular with poor immigrant groups from Europe. Members of the city’s African American population, which jumped from 34,000 to 480,000 between 1850 and 1950, also played important roles in developing the sport and its popularity. In the later decades of the twentieth century, the sport of boxing became a fixture in the city’s Hispanic communities, which more than doubled between 1990 and 2010.

Boxing Hall of Famers Jack Dempsey (1895-1983) and Gene Tunney (1897-1978) fought the first of their two world heavyweight title bouts at Sesquicentennial Stadium in South Philadelphia on September 23, 1926. Tunney defeated the Manassa Mauler in ten rounds via unanimous decision in front of a crowd of over 120,000 fans in one of the best-known fights of the 1920s, a decade when boxing was considered the king of sports. The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce estimated that spectators brought in an additional $3 million in revenue to the city around the time of this bout.

1940s: Eight Championship Matches

Philadelphia hosted eight championship boxing matches in the 1940s, more than in any other decade in city history. Leading up to this decade, black fighters with few exceptions were typically denied entry into mainstream bouts. Those who were able to fight on boxing’s main stage were often confronted with racism and had little control over their careers. Despite being confronted with social and racial obstacles, black boxers performed with distinction during the period. Black lightweight champions Ike Williams (1923-94) of Trenton and Bob Montgomery (1919-98) of Philadelphia both fought several times. On December 5, 1947, Homesteadville, New Jersey, native Arnold Cream (1914-1994), better known as Jersey Joe Walcott, squared off against heavyweight champion Joe Louis (1914-81) at Madison Square Garden. The final decision from the judges was two-to-one in favor of Louis over underdog Walcott, a result considered by many historians to be one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history.

Although Walcott lost to Louis in a controversial decision, his participation in this bout proved to have a deeper impact on race, sports, and society as the first time a black boxer broke the color line. Prior to this bout, boxing promoters and writers were at times skeptical of the willingness of white fans to pay to see a black man fight. Ticket sales at the Louis-Walcott fight proved that white boxing fans were willing to attend a bout featuring a black champion defend his title against a black challenger. Ticket sales of $216,477 broke a record that had stood for twenty years at the Garden. Furthermore, when Walcott returned to Camden he was given a hero’s welcome by a crowd of over 100,000 South Jersey fans, of all social classes and ethnicities. Camden Mayor George Brunner (1896-1975) called Walcott’s welcome home gathering the “greatest single event in Camden’s history.”

[caption id="attachment_23935" align="alignright" width="281"]Two Members of the PAL Boxing Program fighting in 1969. Two members of the Police Athletic League boxing program fight during a 1969 exposition. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Also in 1947, members of the Philadelphia Police Department founded the nonprofit Police Athletic League (PAL) to provide North Philadelphia’s youth with after-school sports, a refuge to escape the dangers of the streets, and educational and cultural programs. The Twenty-Third District PAL boxing program, located in a traditionally high crime area of North Philadelphia, served as the training grounds for numerous professional boxers including Joe Frazier (1944-2011) and Bennie Briscoe (1943-2010).

In Philadelphia, rivalries from the streets often came into the gyms. Neighborhood rivalries could become violent sparring sessions known as “gym wars.” Considered by many fighters to be far rougher than the bouts they were training for, these sparring sessions caused some champion fighters and their trainers to refuse to train for bouts in the area.

The Hollywood film Rocky, released in 1976, captured the sense of pride and the power to overcome adversity that emanated from those hardscrabble neighborhoods, many of which were burdened by high levels of poverty and crime. The fictional character Rocky Balboa was a tough fighter from an Italian immigrant family who rose from the streets of Philadelphia to capture the World Light Heavyweight championship. Fighters from the Greater Philadelphia region often came from poor or working-class neighborhoods.

Joe Frazier’s Gym

[caption id="attachment_23931" align="alignright" width="275"]Photograph of Joe Frazier holding a trophy. As an amateur boxer, Joe Frazier won the Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship in 1962, 1963, and 1964 as well as the Gold Medal for boxing in the 1964 Olympics. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Joe Frazier provided a real-life parallel to the Rocky story. In 1975 he purchased the gym on North Broad Street that he had used since the 1960s from an investment group and reopened it to the public as Joe Frazier’s Gym, where he trained future generations of Philadelphia fighters. Frazier’s facility served as a safe haven from the dangers and distractions of the streets for the city’s inner-city youth. Frazier dominated the Philadelphia boxing scene throughout the 1970s, holding the World Heavyweight Title from 1970-73. He became best remembered for his trilogy of fights against Muhammad Ali in 1971, 1974, and 1975, including his victory over Ali (1942-2016) in 1971 at Madison Square Garden. 

In 1961, the legendary Blue Horizon opened its doors to professional boxing shows on North Broad Street in North Philadelphia. For most Philadelphia boxing fans who packed the hall, the former Moose Hall was Mecca. Fight fans sitting in the balcony of the Blue Horizon were right on top of the action. 

In 1976, after gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, casinos became prime boxing locations, often at Philadelphia’s expense. The city’s Boardwalk Hall had been available for sports events from the time it opened in 1929, but the presence of the casinos attracted numerous title fights to the oceanfront city from the 1980s to the 2000s. Among them were Undisputed Heavyweight Champion title defenses in Boardwalk Hall by Mike Tyson (b. 1966) and Evander Holyfield (b. 1962).

In Philadelphia, locations such as Joe Hand Gym in Northern Liberties continued to play an important role in the community in the 1990s. Founded in 1995 by promoter Joe Hand Sr. (b. 1936), this gym provided local children and teens with a place to not only train in boxing, but also to train in academics. The gym provided members with access to a computer lab and stressed the importance of brains and brawn.

Boxing Persists in Philadelphia

[caption id="attachment_23928" align="alignright" width="300"]Two men boxing at the Juniata Park's Harrowgate Boxing Club in 1977. Juniata Park’s Harrowgate Boxing Club remains a reservoir of boxing tradition for the neighborhood. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Although once one of the most popular sports in the United States, along with baseball and horse-racing, boxing by the twenty-first century had been surpassed by other sports including football, basketball, ice hockey, and auto racing. Even as interest in boxing declined nationally, however, it maintained a hold in the Philadelphia area. Twenty-eight-year-old Juniata Park native Danny Garcia (b. 1988) captured his first world championship in 2012 in Houston and was celebrated as the city’s first Hispanic world champion. When Garcia was just ten years old, his ex-convict father, Angel, introduced him to Juniata Park’s Harrowgate Boxing Club, a reservoir of boxing tradition for the largely Puerto Rican neighborhood. Green shamrocks over the gym’s entrance served as a reminder of working-class, Irish-American fighters who called the neighborhood home before the late 1980s. In the Philadelphia fashion, Garcia opened a gym in his neighborhood in 2013 to give back to his community and mentor fighters in the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican population.

Philadelphia rarely attracted major fights in the twenty-first century due to the continued popularity and lure of nearby Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and numerous Native American-run casinos around the country. In April 2008, the legendary gym and staple of North Philadelphia, Joe Frazier’s Gym, closed due to Frazier’s health issues, unmanageable debt, and back taxes.  Philadelphia's popular boxing venue the Blue Horizon closed in 2010 because of the deterioration of the building, tax issues, and the decline of the surrounding neighborhood. The loss of the Blue Horizon also caused numerous local boxing promoters to move their cards to Atlantic City venues.

Still, other Philadelphia boxing landmarks survived the challenges of the twenty-first-century. Since the 1950s, boxers, including numerous world champions, trained in Front Street Gym on the border between largely white, working-class Port Richmond and primarily Hispanic Kensington. The gym was featured in the sixth installment of the Rocky series, Creed (2015), which co-starred Gabriel Rosado (b. 1986), a popular fighter of Puerto Rican descent from North Philadelphia. Owner Frank Kubach and his staff spent over twenty-five years motivating youth from the surrounding areas to not only be better boxers, but also better citizens. He refused to collect dues from members under the age of eighteen to ensure that they had a place to train. The gym’s role in the community and its presence in the film instilled a renewed sense pride in the neighborhood for area residents and continued Philadelphia’s boxing tradition.

Matthew Ward is a graduate student in History at Rutgers University—Camden. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2007, with a B.A. in History and Culture. He has worked in financial services for over seven years and serves as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is also an Army veteran who served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2010 to 2011. He grew up on the Jersey Shore and resides in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. He runs a blog and monthly podcast called The Matt Ward History Experience.


Copyright 2016, Rutgers University


Greater Philadelphia Area’s Boxing Champions

Danny Dougherty (1876-1931), Philadelphia: World Bantamweight Champion.

Philadelphia Jack O'Brien (1878-1942), Philadelphia: Light Heavyweight Champion.

Harry Lewis (1886-1956), Philadelphia: World Welterweight Champion.

Battling Levinsky (1891-1949), Philadelphia: Light Heavyweight Champion.

Benny Bass (1903-75), Philadelphia: World Featherweight and World Junior Lightweight Champion.

Tommy Loughran (1902-82), Philadelphia: World Light Heavyweight Champion.

Midget Wolgast (1910-55), Philadelphia: New York World Flyweight Champion.

Johnny Jadick (1908-70), Philadelphia: World Junior Welterweight Champion.

Ike Williams (1923-94), Trenton: NBA World Lightweight Champion.

Bob Montgomery (1919-98), Philadelphia: New York World Lightweight Champion.

Jersey Joe Walcott (1914-94), Camden: National Boxing Association (NBA) World Heavyweight Champion.

Percy Bassett (1930-93), Philadelphia: Interim World Featherweight Champion.

Harold Johnson (1928-2015), Philadelphia. NBA World Light Heavyweight and World Light Heavyweight Champion.

Sonny Liston (1932-70), Philadelphia. World Heavyweight Champion.

Joey Giardello (1930-2008), Philadelphia: World Middleweight Champion.

Joe Frazier (1944-2011), Philadelphia: New York World Heavyweight and World Heavyweight Champion.

Bennie Briscoe (1943-2010), Philadelphia: North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Middleweight Champion.

Larry Holmes (b. 1949), Easton: World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight and IBF World Heavyweight Champion.

Mike Rossman (b. 1955), Philadelphia: WBA World Light Heavyweight Champion.

Matthew Saad Muhammad (1954-2014), Philadelphia: WBC World Light Heavyweight Champion.

Jeff Chandler (b. 1956), Philadelphia: World Boxing Association (WBA) World Bantamweight Champion.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi (b. 1953), Camden: WBC World Light Heavyweight, WBA World Cruiserweight, WBC Continental Americas Cruiserweight Champion.

Charlie “Choo-Choo” Brown (b. 1958), Philadelphia: IBF World Lightweight Champion.

David Bey (b. 1957), Philadelphia: United States Boxing Association (USBA) Heavyweight Champion.

Tim Witherspoon (b. 1957), Philadelphia: WBA World Heavyweight Champion.

Calvin Grove (b. 1962), Coatesville: USBA Featherweight and IBF World Featherweight Champion.

Tyrone Crawley (b. 1958), Philadelphia: NABF Lightweight Champion.

Gary Hinton (b. 1956), Philadelphia: USBA Super Lightweight, WBC Continental Americas Super Lightweight, IBF World Junior Welterweight Champion. 

Buster Drayton (b. 1954), Philadelphia: International Boxing Federation (IBF) World Junior Middleweight Champion.

Robert Hines (b. 1961), Philadelphia: USBA Super Welterweight and IBF World Junior Middleweight Champion.

Bert Cooper (b. 1966), Sharon Hill: NABF Cruiserweight and World Boxing Federation World Heavyweight Champion.

Fred Pendleton (b. 1963), Philadelphia: USBA Lightweight and IBF World Lightweight Champion.

Meldrick Taylor (b. 1966), Philadelphia: IBF World Junior Welterweight and WBA World Welterweight Champion. 

Nate Miller (b. 1963), Philadelphia: NABF Cruiserweight and WBA World Cruiserweight Champion.

Ivan Robinson (b. 1971), Philadelphia: USBA Lightweight and NABF Lightweight Champion.

Bernard Hopkins (b. 1965), Philadelphia: IBF World Middleweight, WBC World Middleweight, Linear World Light Heavyweight, WBC Light Heavyweight, IBF Light Heavyweight, and WBA Light Heavyweight Champion.

Bruce Seldon (b. 1967), Atlantic City: IBF Inter-Continental Heavyweight and WBA World Heavyweight Champion.

Leavander Johnson (1969-2005), Atlantic City: NABF Lightweight, USBA Lightweight, and IBF World Lightweight Champion.

Charles Brewer (b. 1969), Philadelphia: IBF World Super Middleweight Champion.

David Reid (b. 1973), Philadelphia: WBA World Junior Middleweight Champion.

Jackie Frazier-Lyde (b. 1961), Philadelphia: WIBA World Light Heavyweight and WIBF World Super Middleweight Champion.

Zahir Raheem (b. 1976), Philadelphia: WBA-NABA Featherweight, WBC International Lightweight, and WBO-NABO Super Lightweight Champion.

Terrance Cauthen (b. 1976), Trenton: NABF Super Lightweight, WBA-NABA Super Lightweight, IBU World Super Welterweight, USBA Super Welterweight Champion.

Yusaf Mack (b. 1980), Philadelphia: USBA Super Middleweight, WBA-NABA Light Heavyweight, NABF Light Heavyweight, and USBA Light Heavyweight Champion.

Demetrius Hopkins (b. 1980), Philadelphia: USBA Super Lightweight and USBA Super Welterweight Champion. 

Lajuan Simon (b. 1979), Philadelphia: USBA Middleweight Champion.

Steve Cunningham (b. 1976), Philadelphia: IBF Cruiserweight Champion.

Mike Jones (b. 1983), Philadelphia: North American Boxing Association (NABA) Welterweight Champion and WBO-NABO Welterweight Champion.

Danny Garcia (b. 1988), Philadelphia: WBC Junior Welterweight, WBA and Ring Junior Welterweight, and WBC Welterweight Champion.

Teon Kennedy (b. 1986), Philadelphia: USBA Super Bantamweight and WBA-NABA Super Bantamweight Champion.

Hank Lundy (b. 1984), Philadelphia: WBO-NABO Lightweight, NABF Lightweight, and WBC Continental Americas Lightweight Champion.

Gabriel Rosado (b. 1986), Philadelphia: WBA-NABA Super Welterweight and WBO Inter-Continental Super Welterweight Champion.

Karl Dargan (b. 1985), Philadelphia: NABF Junior Lightweight Champion.

Julian Williams (b. 1990), Philadelphia, WBC Continental Americas Super Welterweight Champion.

Jason Sosa (b. 1988 ), Camden, WBA World Super Featherweight Champion.

Notable Bouts in the Greater Philadelphia Area

Jack Johnson (W) vs. Joe Butler (May 11, 1903), Washington Sports Club, Philadelphia.

Mickey Walker (W) vs. Lew Tendler for the National Boxing Association World Welterweight Title (June 2, 1924), Shibe Park, Philadelphia.

Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney (W) for the National Boxing Association World Heavyweight Title (September 23, 1926), Sesquicentennial Stadium, Philadelphia.

Joe Louis (W) vs. Gus Dorazio for the World Heavyweight Title (February 17, 1941), Convention Hall, Philadelphia.

Ike Williams (W) vs. Beau Jack for the World Lightweight Title (July 12, 1948), Shibe Park, Philadelphia.

Sugar Ray Robinson (W) vs. Kid Gavilan for the World Welterweight Title (July 11, 1949), Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia.

Kid Gavilan (W) vs. Gil Turner for the World Welterweight Title (July 7, 1952), Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia.

Jersey Joe Walcott (W) vs. Rocky Marciano for the World Heavyweight Title (September 23, 1952), Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia.

Joey Giardello (W) vs. Rubin Carter for the WBC World Middleweight and WBA World Middleweight Titles (December 14, 1964), Convention Hall, Philadelphia.

Joe Frazier (W) vs. Oscar Bonavena for the New York World Heavyweight Title (December 10, 1968), Spectrum, Philadelphia.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi (W) vs. Matthew Saad Muhammad WBC World Light Heavyweight Title (December 19, 1981), Playboy Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi (W) vs. Matthew Saad Muhammad for the WBC World Light Heavyweight Title (August 7, 1982), Spectrum, Philadelphia.

Mike Tyson (W) vs. Tyrell Biggs for the WBC World Heavyweight, WBA World Heavyweight, and the IBF World Heavyweight Titles (October 16, 1987), Convention Hall, Atlantic City.

Mike Tyson (W) vs. Larry Holmes for the WBC World Heavyweight, WBA World Heavyweight, and the IBF World Heavyweight Titles (January 22, 1988), Convention Hall, Atlantic City.

Aaron Davis vs. Meldrick Taylor (W) for the WBA World Welterweight Title (January 19, 1991), Convention Center, Atlantic City.

Evander Holyfield (W) vs. George Foreman for the WBC World Heavyweight, WBA World Heavyweight, and the IBF World Heavyweight Titles (April 19, 1991), Convention Hall, Atlantic City.

Bernard Hopkins (W) vs. Wayne Powell for the vacant USBA Middleweight Title (December 4, 1992), Merv Griffin’s Resorts, Atlantic City.

Arturo Gatti (W) vs. Mickey Ward – 2003 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year (June 7, 2003), Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City.

Jermain Taylor vs. Kelly Pavlik (W) for the WBC World Middleweight and WBO World Middleweight Titles (September 29, 2007), Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City.

Bernard Hopkins (W) vs. Karo Murat for the IBF World Light Heavyweight Title (October 26, 2013), Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City.

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