Harry “The Pittsburgh Windmill” Greb was one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time holding the middleweight title he won in 1925.
Greb, 107-8-3 (48) had over 200 fights but NWS decisions are not included in Box Rec bouts. He was the only fighter to defeat the heavyweight champion Gene Tunney then 47-0-2 at Madison Square Garden in May of 1922. Tunney ended up 65-1-1. They fought a second time in September of 1924 and it was a NWS draw in St. Paul, MN. In those days the reporters scored bout on “Newspaper Decisions”. In all they fought five times with Tunney taking three of the decisions. Greb’s overall record including NWS’s was 260-21-17 tied for the third most wins in the history of boxing.
Among those he defeated were Teddy Martin 81-41-31, Jack Blackburn 91-13-20 (famous trainer of Joe Louis), Willie KO Brennan 88-22-27, Mike Gibbons 88-6-8, Jack Dillon 173-18-24 (twice), Buck Crouse 100-17-10, Battling Levinsky 1468-32-39 (3 times), Willie Meehan 81-14-36 (Meehan twice defeated HW champ Jack Dempsey), Leo Houck 114-28-22, Soldier Bartfield 96-32-17, Mickey Walker 71-12-2 for the middleweight title. He was managed by James “Red” Mason and George Engel.
Greb was inducted into both the World Boxing HOF and the IBHOF (1990). Joe “Shannon” Schabacker knew Greg well. He once told this writer when Schabacker was painting billboards in Atlantic City, NJ, Greg was on the boardwalk talking to him when his glass eye discharged onto the boards. “Look at this the middleweight champion of the world dropped his eye,” said Greb. Schabacker was an amateur boxing champion and professional boxer and referee along with a President of the VBA Ring One out of Philadelphia. His trainer was Jack Blackburn.
Another boxer out of Philadelphia was “Gypsy” Joe Harris, who was blinded in one eye when he was hit with a brick by another neighborhood kid while “bag snatching” on Halloween. He kept the impairment hidden from state commission doctors by memorizing eye charts and reciting back the letters and numbers of the chart with the confidence of someone with 20/20 vision. Twenty-one of his twenty five fights were in Philadelphia.
Harris, 24-1 (9), won a non-title fight over then WBC-WBA welterweight champion Curtis Cokes at Madison Square Garden in March of 1967. Two months later Cokes defeated Frenchman Francois Pavilla who he was scheduled to meet prior to the “warm up” match with Harris. Cokes and Pavilla fought to a draw in January of that year in Paris. Harris defeated Bennie Bowser on the undercard. Waiting for that title fight Harris weight increased from 154-160 and no longer could make the welterweight 147.
Rumors were Harris had been sparring with another Philly boxer C.L. Lewis and there had been bad blood between the two of them. While sparing Harris knee to the cup dropped Lewis who was up and thumbing Harris in his bad eye. This was in preparation for a bout with Manny Gonzales. At the weigh-in with his bad eye discolored badly the doctors discovered he was blind in that eye. That ended the career of Harris.
This writer tried to talk him into getting a license in Canada or Puerto Rico but failed in getting Harris to show up after taking him to his physician’s office in Philadelphia that was not opened that day for medical records showing the condition of the eyes of Harris. After that he was nowhere to be found so this writer who was writing at the time gave up on the idea. With help from Duke Dugent who ran the 23rd PAL Gym which was the best in Philadelphia during the 60’s and 70’s had made Harris go along with me to the physician’s office.
Harris died at the age of 44 in March of 1990. His health problem was caused by several heart attacks. Drugs and deep depression caused the problems. He would kick the drug habit but the damage was done.
Harris was known as the boxer with “a bag of tricks” doing such things from the three stooges “Curly Joe” doing the back step several feet. He would wrap his arms around his body as a defensive move and spring out like a rattler at his opponents. This writer remembers southpaw “Irish” Bobby Cassidy having his right glove on the left shoulder of Harris who was backed into a corner yet couldn’t hit Harris with the left hand of his. That was in March of 1967 at the Philadelphia Arena.
After defeating Cokes Harris would go onto win his final seven fights. Included in that streak were wins over Teddy Wright, 46-15-10 (held a portion of the 154 title), Miguel Barreto, 15-1 (twice), Bobby Cassidy, 27-6-2 and in February of 1968 in his final win Harris defeated Dick DiVeronica, 38-8. In his next and last fight before a crowd of 13,875 Harris lost his only career bout to former world champion Emile Griffith, 55-9. Dugent told this writer “he disappeared from camp a week before the Griffith fight and married Atlantic City bar maid Gladys Cooper. He showed up several days before the fight at the gym and I put him through as much as I could knowing he hadn’t been training in almost a week.” The defense of Harris was there but not enough offense against Griffith to continue unbeaten. Harris in back to back fights defeated Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, 22-2-1 and Cuban Jose Stable, 27-8-2 who had defeated five of six Philly boxers up to then.
In June of 1967 Harris appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. After defeating Cokes he was asked “where’s the party?” He replied “ain’t no party here I’m from Philadelphia!” That was the legendary “Gypsy” Joe Harris! A book entitled “Gypsy Joe Harris: Don of Philadelphia” was written by Anthony Molock. One of the lines from the book was “Although showing phenomenal skill, had a penchant for distaining a regular training regime. Gypsy had no problem indulging in fast food, fast women and fast cars.
Dugent once told this writer “Gypsy and Joe Frazier were sparring in the gym (23rd PAL) with Gypsy having Joe pinned in a corner. When he stepped back for more leverage a Frazier left hook drove him backwards across the ring into the ropes. He immediately yelled out “okay you MF let’s get it on” and that is when I stepped into the ring to put a stop to it. Joe had about 50 pounds on the fearless Frazier.