Boxing legend dies at 76

DAVE FULLER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

Vince Bagnato, who knew or promoted every boxer to come out of Toronto during the past 60 years, died Friday at age 76, following a five-year battle with prostate cancer.

Bagnato, the man behind the highly successful Shaw Festival boxing shows for the past 23 years, was a legend, having worked with or promoted fighters such as Bobby (Pretty Boy) Felstein and Nicky Furlano.

"There hasn't been a corner in boxing in which he hasn't lived, including fighting, managing, training, matchmaking and promoting," the late Sun columnist Jerry Gladman wrote after the release of Bagnato's book, Half-a-Buck: Nobody and Me, in 1983.

The story, based on Bagnato's life, was transformed into a Toronto musical production, starring Stephen Walsh, at the old Columbus Centre.

Bagnato also played a fight manager opposite Tony Curtis in Title Shot, as well as writing some of that movie's boxing dialogue which included gems such as: "You're a piece of garbage wrapped up in a $300 suit ... The first time he gets hit on the button, you'll hear crystal cracking all over town ... I've got so many lawyers you'll get a law degree by association."

But Bagnato, who owned a winery and later in life started a small renovation/restoration company, claimed he never made much money in the boxing game.

"If there has ever been a decent buck to come out of it my way, I haven't seen it yet," he told Gladman. "It's a labour of love. I'm hooked on it like a guy mainstreaming on junk. But I love it because, indirectly, it's led to so many good opportunities for me."

Bagnato did, however, help raise millions for the Shaw Festival, with his annual black-tie boxing exhibitions at the Royal York.

VIM AND VINEGAR

"His last show was in April," Bagnato's wife, Sharon, said yesterday. "He was so full of vim and vinegar. He was determined to do it next year, but I knew he couldn't do it."

Although there were originally 24 Bagnato children, only 12 survived, seven of them boys -- most of them boxers.

"I witnessed a way of life people just won't see anymore," the always colourful Bagnato once said. "I grew up in a house with 12 kids. Dinner at our place was like some weddings -- only it went on every day."

While Bagnato's brother Joe was a Canadian lightweight champ, and Vic and Paulie held Canadian amateur titles, Vince was a born promoter.

While he didn't create a world champ, some of his boxers fought against the best, including Don Mogard, who went 10 rounds with Rocky Marciano, and James J. Parker, who boxed Archie Moore at old Maple Leaf Stadium. Bagnato later became a matchmaker for City-TV's Fight Night shows, and originated the hugely successful but controversial walk-on street fighter tournaments -- So You Think You're Tough -- at the St. Lawrence Market.

"They were the most amazing things I ever saw," Bagnato's wife said of the So You Thing You're Tough promotions.

"People were climbing up on the roof and crawling through those high windows just to get into the St. Lawrence to see the shows. The lineups went up and down the street."

While Bagnato's brainchild was said to be the inspiration behind two movies -- Tough Enough and The Amateur -- the Ontario government moved quickly to shut him down.

Bagnato, who was Irv Ungerman's longtime partner with All-Canada Sports , held numerous prestigious positions in his sport, including president of the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame and president of the Canadian Professional Boxing Council.

Visitation will take place today from 1-9 p.m. at the Glen Oaks Reception Centre in Oakville (9th Line at Dundas).

A funeral will be held tomorrow, 10 a.m. at St. Matthew's Parish in Oakville.


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