Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Schenectady Sluggers Part 2: Marty Servo, a Tough Little Fighter

Described by Sugar Ray Robinson as “one of the finest fellows I ever fought,” Schenectady’s Marty Servo had quite a boxing career. He was born Mario Severino on November 3rd, 1919 in Schenectady. Servo attended Nott Terrace High School where he ran cross country and boxing as an amateur. His career as an amateur featherweight was an amazing 91-4 and he received both a Golden Gloves and a Diamond Belt Featherweight championship. Servo’s pro career started in August 1938 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC where he fought and beat Jerry Hall.

 Lou Ambers (on the right), former world's lightweight champion, sparring with Marty Servo (on the left), well-known pro, as Eristus Sams, former Tuskegee football and track star, referees. All three are boxing instructors at the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. Courtesty of the Library of Congress.
Servo was guided to his pro career through his relative and fellow boxer Lou “Herkimer Hurricane” Ambers from Herkimer, NY. Ambers’ manager was named Al Weill and thought that it would be natural to bring Servo under Weill’s management.  Weill also managed Rocky Marciano and Joey Archibald. Weill was known for Americanizing his boxer’s names he even shortened his own as his full name was Armand but he went by Al. Lou Ambers was Luigi Giuseppe d'Ambrosio, Marty Servo was Mario Severino, Rocky Marciano was Rocco Marchegiano, Joey Archibald was…Joey Archibald.

Servo wasn’t the most powerful puncher, but he was quick and clever. From the start of his professional career till September 9th, 1941, he went undefeated (with 2 draws). Then he met Sugar Ray Robinson. Some of Servo’s most popular fights were against Sugar Ray Robinson who Servo fought twice during his career. The first fight occurred in 1941 and while Sugar Ray had never lost to a welterweight, Servo gave him a run for his money. Robinson managed to defeat Servo in a split decision. The rematch on May 28, 1942 was even closer but Servo lost in a disputed ten round split decision. Many in the crowd thought that Marty should have won this match.

Photo of the rematch between Sugar Ray Robinson and Marty Servo. Courtesy of The Ring.
The rematch against Sugar Ray Robinson was Marty’s last match for a while as World War II would force him to take a three year break from boxing. Servo was in the US Coast Guard from 1942 to 1945 and served under former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey as a physical training instructor. Servo continued his boxing career after returned from his war service.

“Schenectady has always rooted for me. The newspapers have always treated me fairly, and I want to win for everybody in the worst way." - Marty Servo

He only fought a couple matches before going on to challenge Freddie “Red” Cochrane for the Welterweight World Championship. The match was at Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of 17,000 people. It was reported that over 2,000 Schenectadians were in attendance.  Servo did not disappoint those that made the trip. In the 4th round Servo hit a bloodied Cochrane with a left hook and Cochrane went down. Although Cochrane did his best to try and get back up from the hook, he couldn’t quite get up. The ref called the match at 2:54 into the 4th round. Despite winning the Welterweight Championship, Marty and his manager actually lost money on the fight. Cochrane was guaranteed $50,000 and two months later, Weill and Servo still owed him.

Speaker of the House Oswald D. Heck shaking hands with Marty Servo
after he won the Welterweight Championship. Courtesy of the Photo
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library. This photo, along with other
photos of boxers can be seen on our New York Heritage Collection.

This debt led to the worst decision Weill and Servo made during his professional career, the decision to fight middleweight Rocky Graziano. Graziano was only 8 pounds heavier than Servo, but it was an important 8 pounds. The fight was quick and brutal with Servo being TKO’d less than 2 minutes into the second round. This was Servo’s first time being KO’d in his professional career. Graziano broke Servo’s nose so badly that doctors recommended he never fight again. When asked if he had something to say to his fans, Marty said, “Tell them I just forgot to duck.”

Fans welcoming Marty Servo after his 1946 Welterweight Championship win. Courtesy  of the Photo Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library. This photo, along with otherphotos of boxers can be seen on our New York Heritage Collection.
Servo went on to fight two more matches, but hung his gloves up after losing to Rocky Castellani. After he retired from boxing, he worked as a bartender, car salesman, and foreman at a steel mill in Colorado. He fell ill in the early 1950s and had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his left lung. Hospital expenses related to his cancer would cause his savings to dwindle over time and he died at the age of 50. Servo’s story shows just how difficult it could be to make it as a pro fighter. One bad decision ended his career. In Servo’s obituary, Ralph Martin, sports editor of the Knickerbocker News wrote “Marty, whose life was a study in hardship, triumph, pain and tragedy, will never be forgotten. Champions live on.”

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