It was one of the endless videos that hit a Facebook news feed on any given day, but when the title of a particular clip is “WORST BOXER EVER!!!!” it’s impossible to pass it by.
Upon hitting play, it’s clear, at least by looks alone, that the boxer of the title isn’t Tampa’s Tony Mosco. But when the camera pans to the red corner and the mulleted Jimmy Smith, well, sometimes looks do tell everything.
The December 13, 1991 fight only took 22 seconds, Mosco ending things with a right hand that left Smith staring up at the lights. It was just another knockout in the great scheme of things, but it was Smith’s impossible to describe style that earned him viral infamy. Worst boxer ever? If he wasn’t, then at least top five in the only fight of his professional career, according to BoxRec.com.
Tony Mosco – The Story of a Heavyweight Who Went Viral
But what about Tony Mosco? A click on his record on the same website shows three wins, three knockouts and no losses. That’s it. So what happened to the man who went viral 25 years after his last fight?
“I switched gears in my life,” he said. “I ended up getting married, had kids, went back to school, got my MBA, and I’ve been progressing in my career.”
The Vice President of Sales at Polymer Logisitcs, Mosco never looked back on what might have been in a boxing career that was ultimately ended by injury. But what a run Mosco was gearing up for before the end came in 1992.
A lifelong athlete who boxed and played football while growing up in upstate New York, Mosco won a New York State Golden Gloves title in the late 80s, but after getting his college degree in 1990, he moved to Florida to begin a business – not boxing – career.
Yet while staying in shape at the Safety Harbor Spa, a place that had been a training home for Sugar Ray Leonard, Terry Norris and John Mugabi, among others, Mosco found himself gravitating to the sweet science once more, and while doing some heavy bag work one day, he struck up a conversation with trainer Jimmy Williams, offering to spar with heavyweight contender Bert Cooper.
“Man, are you crazy,” said Williams. “He’s top ten in the world. That boy will kill you. This is for real.”
“I’m just trying to help you out,” countered Mosco, who went back to hitting the bag as Cooper smacked around a hapless sparring partner.
“The next day, I’m hitting the bag and he (Williams)’s watching me,” Mosco said. “I had a lot of power and I could hit with both hands, and he comes over and looks at me and says, ‘You’re for real boy.’ So he set up a sparring session with Bert.”
The New York kid dominated the three rounds.
“Jimmy Williams’ eyes lit up,” Mosco laughs.
Soon after, some of Mosco’s friends, who were local businessmen in Tampa, saw him train and encouraged him to take this boxing thing to the next level.
“They wanted me to turn pro and they looked at it as a business opportunity,” he said. “I was a white heavyweight, I could talk, I had a degree, and I had a punch.”
One of Mosco’s friends, restauranteur Malio Iavarone, had some important friends in his own right, namely Hollywood star Burt Reynolds, who was interested in getting in the Tony Mosco business. But there would be a couple auditions, so to speak, the first coming in the Florida Golden Gloves.
Trained by Dan Birmingham, a guru of the Florida boxing scene known for his work with Winky Wright, Jeff Lacy and Keith Thurman, Mosco made it to the finals of the gloves, where he faced Phil Tate.
“He knocks me down in the first round off the break,” he said. “I proceeded to get up and Brian Garry was the referee. Brian was one of those guys who let things go. (Laughs) He didn’t stop fights early. So I ended up knocking this guy down three more times in the first round and that was it. Then I decided to turn pro.”
Next it was Reynolds’ turn to see Mosco in action, and he flew the prospect and Birmingham out to California for an exhibition at the Goossen Gym.
“Three rounds and I beat the s**t out of the guy,” said Mosco, who impressed Reynolds with his performance and his future marketability.
“Sylvester Stallone had (Tommy) Morrison at the time, and I was going to be Burt Reynolds’ Morrison.”
Mosco turned pro on November 15, 1991, stopping Willie Driver in two rounds. Less than a month later, he was slated to face Smith, and from the day of the weigh-in, he knew something was off with his opponent.
“It was funny,” Mosco recalled. “At the weigh-ins, they told me I was fighting a big black guy, Jimmy Smith from Miami. So I’m in line, waiting for my name to be called and this guy is standing behind me and giving me dirty looks and staring me down. Then they say, “Tony Mosco and Jimmy Smith, come up,” and it was him. He was a little strange then. It was not what I expected.”
It got worse when Smith came out with a style that defied description. Yet if you focused on Mosco and not laughing at Smith, you could see a young man with poise and power.
“When the bell rang and he came out, the thing that flashed back to me was the old fighters like John L. Sullivan,” he laughs. “Then he came at me, I planted a straight right and knocked him out.”
It was on to the next one, and like clockwork a month later, Mosco made it three in a row with a first round knockout of Daniel Best.
Then it all came crashing down.
“My neck always sort of bothered me but when I stepped up the competition and started sparring guys like Alex Stewart and Bert Cooper, and I was also sparring Michael Bentt, it was just banging, banging, banging, and my neck got worse and worse.”
Mosco, just 24, went to a chiropractor, did whatever treatment was asked of him, but nothing helped. Finally, he visited a neurosurgeon who gave it to him straight.
“Man, you’re crazy,” he told Mosco. “You’ve got an education, you can talk. You get hit the wrong way, you’ll be drooling the rest of your life in a wheelchair.”
“That’s when I decided to hang it up,” said Mosco, who suffered from congenital fused vertebrae in his neck, leaving him with six vertebrae instead of seven. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.
“I lost something I loved, and I was forced to leave,” he said. “I believe in God, and I’m not an overly religious person, but he’s got plans for everybody and I just came to the realization that it wasn’t in my cards. He took me out of it for some reason.”
Whatever the reason was, Mosco went on to have success without getting punched in the face. He went back to school, got his Master’s degree in Business and started a family. He’s kept in touch with Birmingham and Lacy over the ensuing years, and many of the friends that he made through boxing have remained friends.
In other words, it’s the rare happy ending in boxing, and he was reminded of his time in the sport when the video of the Smith fight started making the rounds.
“Somehow one of the big websites picked it up somewhere and sent it out,” he said. “And in the last month or two, I’ve been getting phone calls and messages and people contacting me, saying they saw me. It’s not until recently that it really went viral.”
And when Mosco sees it, he smiles.
“I actually made CNN Play of the Day.”
He doesn’t play the “What If” game so many ex-fighters do. He visited Birmingham six months ago to watch welterweight champion Keith Thurman train, but he has no desire to put the gloves on himself.
“The only sparring I’ve done in the last 20 years was with my kid,” he said. “I can’t spar with him anymore. He hits too hard.”
Mosco beams with pride when talking of his son Nick, who earned a full scholarship to wrestle for the University of North Carolina, and he has no regrets about his own athletic career. Nor should he.
“If I had a good neck, I’d compare myself to a Lou Savarese,” Mosco. “He made a lot of money, he had some good fights and was pretty successful. That was sort of the game plan and I was trying to take that same route.”