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Archdeacon: Saying goodbye to the ‘Italian Stallion'

Rick Condi holds a picture of his dad, Marian "Young" Condi, at Paisano Pizza and Pub in Dayton. DDN FILE
Rick Condi holds a picture of his dad, Marian "Young" Condi, at Paisano Pizza and Pub in Dayton. DDN FILE

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Rick Condi was my friend, though I did tick him off once.

First, the friend part:

Back in the 1990s, when his mother, Babe, was still with us, Condi brought me to her home for “some real Italian cooking.” She made quite a meal that was only outdone by her stories, especially about her late husband Marion, a local welterweight hero who had fought as “Young Condi.”

Over the years I visited Condi’s Brandt Pike tavern – Paisano’s Pizza Pub – on a number of occasions. The place was a Valentine to boxing. Mounted on the wall in one corner were dozens of photos of Dayton’s fistic heroes of the past, as well as pictures of some of the game’s legendary fighters. There were a couple of fight posters and Rick had his gold “North Dayton” fight robe from his glory days in the Golden Gloves displayed there, too.

The bar top contained boxing trading cards and the ceiling was Sistine Chapel like, though instead of Michelangelo frescoes, it was covered with the names of great boxers.

The Old Time Boxers Club of Dayton – thanks to Condi’s embrace – used to meet there.

And I was there 10 years ago when Rick honored his uncle, Frank Anello, who had survived the two kamikaze strikes on the USS Bunker Hill in World War II, an attack that killed 393 men on board and injured 246 more.

Anello – who had grown up on Chapel Street in Old North Dayton, and was now in his 90s, living on a farm in Waynesville and having memory issues – had had never gotten any of his service medals. Rick had made it his mission to get all five of them and he presented them to his uncle that day, along with a scrapbook he made.

And when this COVID 19 threat finally eases, we had talked about going to Louisville to visit the Muhammad Ali Center and then pay our respects at the heavyweight champ’s grave there.

Fifteen years ago though – at least for a while – it wouldn’t have been comfortable being with him for a 2 ½ hour car ride.

I’d written a story ranking the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time and I’d made Rocky Marciano No. 7. I might as well have dissed his mom’s cooking.

“What the hell was that?” he snapped.

To him I wasn’t just downgrading Marciano, who ended his career 49-0, I was disparaging all things Italian.

His parents had come to Dayton from Italy: His dad from Abruzzo, his mom, Strongoli.

And he had changed the bar’s name some years back to Paisano’s.

Saturday afternoon Rick’s daughter Patti laughed when she heard about his displeasure with me:

“Oh yeah, being a paison, Rocky Marciano was my dad’s all-time hero next to his own father.”

She sent me a photo of her dad at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. posed next to an exhibit of Marciano.

“Dad was 100 percent Old School Italian,” she said.

She made the same reference in the obituary she wrote that appeared in Sunday’s Dayton Daily News:

“He was a true Italian Stallion.” Rick died suddenly from a series of heart attacks last Wednesday, July 15, after working in the heat on the roof of the bar.

He was 75 and is survived by his wife Linda, daughter Patti, son Rick Jr., daughter-in-law Dionna, three grandchildren and many other family members and friends.

Visitation will be held Monday from 5-8 pm at Newcomer Funeral Home (4104 Needmore Road). The funeral service will be at the same place at 10 a.m., Tuesday, July 21, and burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery.

But the memorial service really began to rock Friday evening with an impromptu gathering at Paisano’s. It ended up drawing an overflow crowd that Patti said spilled out the front doors and back as social distancing sometimes gave way to a sense of togetherness as people told story after story about Rick.

Rick Condi at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in New York posed next to an exhibit of his all-time hero Rocky Marciano. CONTRIBUTED
Rick Condi at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in New York posed next to an exhibit of his all-time hero Rocky Marciano. CONTRIBUTED

A boxing town

“When I was growing up I had two heroes, my dad and Davy Crocket,” Condi once told me. “And I figured my dad could whup Davy.”

He’s probably right.

Young Condi, who fought around here from 1928 to 1941, met a bunch of colorful opponents from KO Jenkins, “The Fighting Blacksmith” and Max Kushover, “The Sensational Hebrew Slugger of Cincinnati” to Battling Kuzke, Battling Cranshaw, Sailor Baldwin, Kid Clemmons and Little Dillon.

Many of Young Condi’s fights were at the Dayton Gym Club, Memorial Hall, the Dayton Eagles Club and up in Piqua.

“Back in those days Dayton was a great fight town,” Condi said. “The Italians, the Irish, the Hungarians, every neighborhood had its ethnic heroes.”

Thirty six world champions fought in Dayton at some points in their careers – some fought here multiple times – and the city had its own hometown contenders in guys like heavyweight Joe Sekyra “The Bohemian Bobcat,” who fought seven world champs; Buddy Knox, a top 10 heavyweight, and flyweight Joe Marinelli, who beat two former world champs at Memorial Hall in 1940.

Condi’s dad was legendary, too, especially after an encounter following Sunday church service when he was in his golden years. Babe told me the story when I was there for dinner:

“We’d just gotten out of Mass at Holy Rosary and were driving on Hart Street when some guy comes flying out of the alley without stopping.

“He just misses us and Marion says: ‘Hey fella, watch what you’re doing!’

“The guy gets out of his car and says, ‘Yeah, what you gonna do about it old man?’”

This is when Babe’s face lit up:

“My husband was in his 70s and that guy was around 21. But Marion got out and socked him right on the chin. ‘POW!’ The guy went down like a pear!”

‘Heart of gold'

When the Old Time Boxers’ Club’s Hall of Fame photo collection – which used to be on display at the Dayton Gym Club – came up missing, the aging fight men were heartbroken. That’s when Condi stepped in and put together a new collection of old photos that he displayed in his bar.

“I didn’t want these guys to be forgotten,” he said. “They should be remembered for what they did.” And that’s what’s happening to him now, too.

“My dad had a heart of gold, but he could also be a hard ass, too,” Patti said. “There were some things he wouldn’t tolerate. At the bar, he’d befriend the troubled guys to a keep an eye on them and to show them what it’s like to be given respect.

“But he’d tell them, ‘I’m expecting it back from you.’ And it that didn’t happen – if guys crossed the line – he confronted them.”

She started to laugh and offered an example: “Last night there was this guy in the bar, he’s probably in his 30s now, but when he was 20 or 21, I thought he’d end up in prison. He was having a lot of trouble.

“He said my dad took an interest in him and who he was with. He laughed and said, ‘Your dad knocked out all my friends at least once!’”

The guy said he got the message and he told Patti:

“Your dad really changed my life.”

As epitaphs go, that’s pretty good.