Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mike (Socko) Sarko, Lawrence's Golden Era Journeyman

This picture is on loan courtesy of Al Pappalardo

Salvatore M. Saccuzzo (record here) was born in 1908. He fought under both names, changing Sarkis to Sarko when he left Massachusetts for the bigger boxing world of New York. Mike’s professional career overlapped with that of Lawrence’s more famous fighter, Andy Callahan. That and the fact that his biggest fights were outside of Massachusetts most likely led to Mike's remarkable accomplishments being underplayed within the community.

He fought the iron of his era and was only stopped five times in 86 fights. Placed within historical context, his record says a lot about his toughness and skill level. Mike was a solid journeyman and sometimes described as a Trial Horse – the kind of fighter that up-and-comers had to meet before going to the next level. He was a good opponent for the top ranking fighters because he was competitive and hung in there until the last round.

Mike Sarko fought world champions. He met Benny Leonard three times and Kid Chocolate twice and Jack “Kid” Berg. He fought many contenders such as Ray Miller, Baby Joe Gans and Joe Glick. While he may have lost to these top men, he always gave a good account of himself. 

He stood for nearly three rounds against devastating puncher Ray Miller, the only fighter to stop Hall of Famer Jimmy McLarnin. Mike Sarko didn't back down from any match and earned praise from reporters with words like "tough" and "rugged." 

Mike came back to Lawrence in the summer of 1929. In a bid to win a match with Callahan, Mike lost to another hometown fighter, Lawrence’s Henry Janco. His fight with Janco was very popular within the different factions of Lawrence’s Italian community with Sarko representing the Sicilian community and Janco the Neopolitan one. The match up was compared to the previous battles between two other boxing Italians from Lawrence: the Neopolitan Mike Castle (Cassella) and Sicilian Kid Lewis (Louie Laudani).

A few years back I spoke with Mike’s widow Irene who told me that Mike thought he could make some money with boxing and wanted to give it a try. She hated to see cuts and bruises on her husband’s face and wished the travel would end. Mike did quit at age 24 and eventually became an in demand plasterer.  He and Irene raised very talented athletes of their own, sons Robert and Ronnie. Many who knew Mike in his later years remembered him as a very soft-spoken gentleman who enjoyed staying fit with daily walks. Thanks to his exemplary defensive skills his face didn't bear evidence of his time in the ring and many were surprised to learn he’d ever been a boxer.

While fighters like Mike Sarko didn’t get a lot of fanfare, they were the lifeblood of boxing.

I was told that the orignial photo hung in Stillman's Gym 

I got to thinking about Lawrence fighter Mike Sarko after reading this wonderful article by Carlos Acevedo on Al Singer. Mike was both Singer and Tony Canzoneri's sparring partner and Carlos's article beautifully captures the era.


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