By Thomas Gerbasi
When you hear of writers gravitating to boxing because of the unique people that you will find nowhere else in the sports world, they likely had Al Certo in mind.
A New Jersey boxing legend who participated in all aspects of the sport throughout his storied career, Certo passed away Wednesday afternoon at the age of 90 following complications from a recent surgery on a broken femur.
“He did everything from amateur boxer to pro boxer to cornerman to trainer to manager to promoter,” said his nephew, renowned cutman Danny Milano. “He did it all. And the knowledge he had, I owe my whole boxing life to him. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Born Al Certisimo in Hoboken on September 28, 1928, Certo won a Golden Gloves title as an amateur and went 9-1 as a pro from 1953 to 1954. And though a hand injury cut his career short, he remained with the sport he loved, most notably as the trainer for Buddy McGirt, Andrew Golota, Mustafa Hamsho, Vinny Maddalone and the Viruet brothers.
“He didn’t do it for the money, he just loved it,” said Milano, of his uncle, who always kept Certo’s Custom Tailors open in Secaucus for more than half a century, during which time he made suits for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Roselli and Bobby Vinton. “He was best friends with Joey Giardello, Willie Pep, Jersey Joe Walcott – as a matter of fact he was the godfather to Jersey Joe Walcott’s son. All these guys would come down to the tailor shop and I would just sit there and feel like I was at the Boxing Hall of Fame. It was one after the other. And he was a regular guy. He was a man’s man and everybody loved him. He wore his heart on a sleeve and would tell you just how it is. And tell you to go “f” yourself and turn around and take you out to dinner. He had a heart of gold.”
“Gold” was the word boxing writers would most associate with Certo over the years, as he wouldn’t just give them quotes for days, but when you sat down with him for any length of time, you got a master class in the sweet science. Having access to that knowledge was priceless and a reminder that there aren’t many of Certo’s class left in the fight game.
“He taught me everything, between him and Howie Albert, who was a dear friend of his,” said Milano, who celebrated his 30th anniversary in the sport in April. “And he always made time for the writers, for everyone. He would stop in the middle of making a suit when it came to boxing and he would help fighters out. We would go to the amateur fights and he would give the poor kids from Jersey City money. He would goof on them and at the same time hand them some money. He was just a jokester. And people just loved to be around him from all walks of life – white, black, Spanish, everybody loved him.”
There was only one Al Certo. You don’t need to tell Danny Milano that.
“I adored him since I was a kid and I just wanted to be around him all the time,” Milano said. “He was like a second father to me. He was my idol.”