After the pellets were removed from his left lung by a shot in the chest, in 1956 the Italian was a hero in his country by defeating the Frenchman Robert Cohen in Rome.
Ending a fight with your arm raised and hearing cheers from a crowd is a recurring dream for any boxer. Mario D’Agata it could never make it come true in its entirety. And not because in his life situations like that have been lacking, but because he was deaf. That fact did not prevent him from developing a remarkable career and becoming the only fighter with that disability that came to win a world title.
Wood carver, ceramic decorator or draftsman. Those seemed the most promising paths for this son of Sicilian parents who had been born on May 29, 1926 in Arezzo, in the Tuscany region, and who had been educated in a specialized religious institution in Siena, along with his brother Carmelo, affected like him because of a prelinguistic deafness.
However, at 18 he fell in love with boxing after attending a fight in his city and began to practice it. After six years and more than a hundred fights as an amateur, he obtained a professional license, something that someone with this pathology had never done in his country. But the Italian Boxing Federation (FPI) rejected the request because D’Agata I was not able to hear the bell at the beginning and end of each round.
That initial “no” was insufficient to break him. A petition presented and endorsed by thousands of Arezzo citizens and promoted by the Christian Democrat deputy Amintore Fanfani, then president of the country’s Council of Ministers for six periods, between 1954 and 1987, finally convinced the FPI. Thus, D’Agata was able to debut as a rental on October 14, 1950, at age 24, with a points victory against Giuseppe Salardi in Siena.
They were times of eight categories, of one champion per division, with few intercontinental travels and a difficult post-war period for Italy, so the chances of accessing a chance for a world title were extremely limited and demanded a long road.
For D’Agata, the first step was the national bantamweight championship. He did so on September 26, 1953, when he overcame Gianni Zuddas, a silver medalist at the Olympic Games in the ninth round, by disqualification. London 1948 and potential challenger of the then planetary monarch, the Australian Jimmy Carruthers.
With little refined technique, but with remarkable intensity and aggressiveness, the Tuscan fighter achieved 9 victories in his next 11 appearances, including two in Melbourne against Australian champion Bobby Sinn and former American champion Billy Peacock. He earned the nickname of Little Martian (referring to the unbeaten king of heavy Rocky Marciano) and was at the gates of a capital opportunity.
This was understood by the Executive Committee of the National Boxing Association (predecessor of the current World Boxing Association), which in January 1955 appointed him to face Raúl on March 9 in San Francisco. Mouse Macías for the bantamweight title that had been vacated after Frenchman Robert Cohen was stripped for not agreeing to a confrontation with the Mexican.
But on February 12, eight days after his return to Arezzo from Australia and less than a month before his World Cup opportunity, the boxer visited with his parents, Luigi D’Agata and Rosa Laurenzi, and his sister Mara a laundry in which the family was co-owner with Giovanni Petitto, a 59-year-old Sicilian from Fiumefreddo, like Luigi.
An argument over the purchase of washing machines, which had generated a debt of two million lire, escalated until Petitto drew a revolver and shot the family, although it failed to hit the target. Mario struggled with him and managed to snatch the gun from him.
Petitto did not give up. Already stripped of the revolver, he looked for a rifle in the back room of the premises and this time he aimed better: the first shot hit the boxer’s chest and the second hit Rosa, his mother, who had jumped on him to cover him.
D’Agata was taken to the Santa María hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to extract the pellets from his left lung. The first medical part referred to a “serious, but not desperate” situation. The next day, he registered an improvement. In any case, the doctor who had operated on him assured that the recovery would take approximately three months and He flatly ruled out that he could box again.
Little more than three months had elapsed when MariolinoAgainst all odds, he went back into the ring: on May 25, he knocked out Frenchman Arthur Emboule in Turin in the eighth round. It was the first of 13 consecutive victories that allowed him to get the european title (He won it from Andre Valignat in Milan in October 1955) and was once again positioned as a contender for the world crown.
The test would be before Robert Cohen, with whom he had lost on points in Tunisia in May 1954, with “a decision that was roundly booed,” as reported by the magazine. The Ring. “I know him well. He is a good boy and a good boxer. But I already beat him and I don’t see why I shouldn’t beat him now that my title will be at stake ”, predicted the Frenchman.
The fight scheduled for June 29, 1956 at the Olympic Stadium in Rome generated enormous expectations, as it was the first duel for a world title in post-war Italy. The only antecedent dated back to October 22, 1933, during the fascist dictatorship, when First Carnera he had defeated the Basque Paulino Uzcudun in the Piazza di Siena. That time, 70,000 people had gathered to see the heavyweight champion.
The morning before the confrontation, a crowd received the challenger at Termini station in the capital, who arrived by train from Siena along with his partner Luana Bacci, deaf like him, with whom he had married six months before in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, and with whom a year later he would have a daughter, Annamaria.