AROUND THE COUNTY – I always wanted to tell Dave Zyglewicz just how special the night of Oct. 1, 1982, was to me.
I had watched and covered a few boxing matches by then, and would go on to cover many more, including Mike Tyson fights in the Capital Region as well as Atlantic City and Las Vegas. But that October night in 1982 in front of a home crowd that adored him, Ziggy, a Watervliet native, knocked out Clyde Mudgett at 1:44 of the second round, igniting a roar from his nearly 3,000 supporters that raised the roof of the old Colonie Coliseum.
He had actually retired from the sport in 1975 after losing to Bobby Walker by TKO in the fifth round, and in 1977 I did a feature story on him for the Gazette, reminiscing on his career and the fight with heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in 1969 that didn’t go well, lasting only 96 seconds.
But he decided to make a comeback at some point that year, the second one in his career, and after a lot of hard work climbed into the ring at the age of 39 and knocked out Mudgett, allowing him to finish his boxing career with a win. If you got to know Ziggy a little bit, you couldn’t help but like him, and I always wanted to tell him that as an objective sportswriter – well, we all couldn’t help but quietly root for Ziggy that night – it was perhaps the most exciting sporting experience I had ever witnessed or ever would.
Yes, I wanted to tell him that, and when I thought about contacting him just last summer I heard he wasn’t doing too well. And then his son Shane died of a heart attack in August and I just didn’t want to bother him or the family.
Then last month I heard the news that Dave Zyglewicz, after battling dementia and other health issues for some time, had passed away at the age of 79. After lasting less than two minutes in the ring with Joe Frazier, it was easy for some to poke a little fun at Ziggy, but when you take a closer look at the man and his career, there’s plenty to be impressed by.
A football standout at LaSalle Institute in Troy, Zyglewicz joined the U.S. Navy after high school and became both the U.S. Navy and Armed Services boxing champion. He moved to Houston to begin his professional career, and had put together an impressive 28-1 record when he entered the ring that night against Frazier. Having lost his first fight a year earlier, a 10-round decision to Sam Wyatt in Los Angeles, Ziggy came back from that loss by soundly defeating his next four opponents, three by knockout, before meeting Frazier. He wasn’t a big heavyweight, shorter by two inches than the 6-foot-0 Frazier and 10 pounds lighter at 190. And Zyglewicz had never been knocked down in his professional career, and would never be off his feet again in the ring after Frazier put him there twice in their matchup.
And the story goes he did hurt Frazier, who told reporters after the fight that Zyglewicz had “stung” him a few times. In Ziggy’s version; “He [Frazier] told me he didn’t want to get to know me… that I punched too hard. He knew he had to get me out of there.”
Zyglewicz fought three more times after the Frazier bout and won two of those fights. Then, within a year after losing to “Smoking Joe,” Zyglewicz was injured in an industrial accident. Employed by Golf Coast Refactories because he needed the extra income – his biggest boxing payday was the $22,000 he received for fighting Frazier – Zyglewicz was burned and suffered smoke inhalation during a chemical waste fire inside a smokestack he and another worker were in. Tragically, the other employee died, and while Zyglewicz survived, he had a month-long hospital stay and would deal with some serious respiratory issues the rest of his life.
Although he did fight a few more times, he was never the same after the accident, and called it quits, or so we thought, in September of 1975 when he lost by TKO in the fifth round to Walker, a Florida heavyweight.
“Ziggy cut pretty easy and that’s the only reason they stopped that fight,” said Danny Ferris, a Latham welterweight who had a pretty impressive career of his own, going 28-2-1 before retiring in 1986. “The guy wasn’t a banger like Dave was. He was the wrong guy for Dave to fight.”
The Walker fight had been Ziggy’s initial “comeback,” and that’s why it was such a special night for local boxing fans when seven years later he prevailed against Mudgett. Ferris was on the undercard that night.
“He was a great fighter and a great person, and I was so happy he got the opportunity to fight again and went out with a win,” said Ferris. “Ziggy never was gonna be the world champion, but if it hadn’t been for that industrial accident, he would have stayed in the top ten for a long time. I liken him to a Jerry Quarry. He was a banger and tough as nails, and before the accident he was in phenomenal shape. His doctors said he would never fight again, but he did. He told me how working out for a fight was hard because he would do it for two days, and then he had to take a day off because he couldn’t breath. He never trained again the way a fighter should because of that, but he was so tough and had such passion for boxing, he was able to fight a few more times.”
As an amateur, Ferris was trained by Zyglewicz, but after he became a professional the two sort of drifted apart due to Ferris’s handlers.
“I loved the guy, but my father and my manager wanted to take me in another direction,” remembered Ferris. “I was dumb as rocks back then. I didn’t know what was going on. I’m sure my father thought he was doing the right thing, but Ziggy kind of got kicked to the curb. It was awkward. I always felt bad about it.”
Ferris sought out Zyglewicz just last year, and fortunately they reconnected, smoothing things over at a Stewart’s Shop on Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham.
“I had heard he would hang out reading the newspaper at a Stewart’s, so I stopped in there a few times and I always missed him,” said Ferris. “Finally the woman who worked there told me to give her my phone number and she would call me when he came in. So one day she does call me and I ran up there with some old scrap books and we ended up reminiscing for three or four hours.
“I always loved him, I always respected him, but after that day I respected him so much more,” continued Ferris. “I told him how I was never happy with the way things went down and he told me, ‘Danny, you know sometimes that’s just the way things go.’ He made it easy for me to feel better about the whole thing. I am so happy I got to have that moment with him.”
Zyglewicz made friends easily and the relationships lasted. He was visited at his bar in Watervliet, Ziggy’s Corner, by such notables of the fight game as Frazier, Tyson, Gerry Cooney and Floyd Patterson. And former heavyweight champ George Foreman, who once sparred with Zyglewicz, was also a good friend.
When Ferris was still an amateur, Zyglewicz took him to Utica in 1976 to watch Foreman knock out Scott Ladoux in the third round. After the fight, Ziggy and Ferris approached Foreman’s dressing room, only to be stopped by a security guard.
“The guy wouldn’t let us in, but then we heard this booming voice from inside, ‘Ziggy, Ziggy, let him in here,’” remembered Ferris. “It was Foreman. He was so happy to see him and he said, ‘Ziggy, you hit so hard. You hit so hard.’ It made me feel good to have a guy like Foreman treat Ziggy that way. It was a great moment.”
Ferris said Zyglewicz was always happy to talk boxing, but never in a boastful way.
“He never brought up his own career,” said Ferris. “He was a very humble guy. But if you wanted to get into a conversation with him about boxing he would definitely engage with you. But he wasn’t the kind of guy to just start talking about himself.”
I didn’t see Ziggy that much after the Mudgett fight. Our paths crossed at an occasional Shaker High football game when his son was playing. And there was also the one time back in the early 90s I stopped in at Ziggy’s Corner on the spur of the moment to say hello.
“Hey Champ, how ya doin?” he shouted at me, reaching across the bar to shake hands.
It was a short stay and i can’t remember exactly what we talked about. And yes, he used to call a lot of people “Champ.” It wasn’t just me. Still, it was a nice visit. He fought 36 times as a heavyweight, almost always against men bigger than he was, and he won 32 of them. And Joe Frazier is the only guy to ever knock him off his feet. So let’s give Ziggy his due. He joked how “Ziggy shocked the world,” when he knocked out Mudgett, and while that was an obvious exaggeration – he laughed along with us when he said it – he certainly did inspire the 3,000 fans inside “the Tent” that night in Colonie in 1982. It was a very special moment.
AMERICAN REVOLUTION 250
Historical sites around New York are getting ready to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, and in the Mohawk Valley nobody does that better than the Fort Plain Museum.
The museum’s annual event on the war, this year titled “The Revolutionary War Conference 250 in the Mohawk Valley,” will be held June 9-11 in the Arts and Communications Building on the campus of Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
There will be 12 different speakers from around the country – all experts on the Revolution – presenting at the conference, including Benjamin L. Carp, who will address “The Boston Tea Party at 250: Reflections on the Radicalism of the Revolutionary Movenment. Carp, an award-winning author who produced the 2010 book, “Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America,”teaches history at Brooklyn College and CUNY.
Among the other speakers will be Saratoga National Park and Battlefield ranger Eric Schnitzer, a Rotterdam native, and Fayetteville historian and re-enactor Terry McMaster. Schnitzer will discuss artwork from the American Revolution, “Picturing History: The Images of the American War for Independence,” and McMaster’s presentation is entitled “A Revolutionary Couple on the Old New York Frontier: Col. Samuel Clyde & Catharine Wasson of Cherry Valley.”
Also included in this year’s conference is a series of bus trips throughout the Mohawk Valley, while New York State Historian Devan Lander and Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts will discuss plans for America250, a state program designed to help communities commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War.
Tickets for the conference run between $120 and $100. For more information check out the Fort Plain Museum page on Facebook.
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