“I was given a good talent and I never really took care of it.”—Jack O’Halloran
Most people know Jack O’Halloran from his movie career. His portrayal of the mute super villain “Non” in Superman and Superman II may be his most memorable performance, but before he was fighting the “Man of Steel,” he was in the boxing ring, facing some of the biggest names that the pugilistic world has ever seen. In 1966, the journey would begin, and O’Halloran would destroy Joe Pinto in one round. At a towering 6 feet, 6 inches, and weighing in typically in the 240 pound range, O’Halloran presented an imposing site and was a very promising heavyweight in a time that was considered the golden age for the division.
In his first sixteen professional bouts, he compiled a record of, 15-0-1, 7 KO’s, and had the size and durability to be a force in the division. He would lose a decision to the former European Heavyweight Champion, Joe Bugner, and then went toe to toe with the 2-Time Heavyweight Champion, George Foreman before it was stopped in the fifth round, in a questionable call. At the time of the stoppage, O’Halloran was actually ahead on the scorecards.
In 1971, he would defeat the former World Heavyweight Title Challenger, Cleveland Williams by a ten round decision before facing two of the best fighters of the time, Ron Lyle and Ken Norton. Both were losing efforts, but he did give Norton a run for his money and, in the eyes of many, he won the bout. Amazingly, he would have won the bout had he not let his temper get the best of him in one of the more unusual moments in boxing.
The boxing life of Jack O’Halloran was a mixed bag. At times, he showed greatness, as he did in the Norton fight, as well as a dominant decision over top ten contender, Alvin “Blue” Lewis. At times, he would show up unprepared and lose to unranked an unknown opposition. The defining fight of his career would have been a crack at “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali, which both fighters wanted, but the politics of boxing never allowed. O’Halloran would end his boxing career with a, 34-21-2, 17 KO’s, and would leave the game partially due to a medical condition that may have had something to do with his ebb and flow career.
RSR had the opportunity to speak with Jack O’Halloran. In this first part, we discussed his boxing career, the on again, off again bout with Muhammad Ali, the incident in the Ken Norton fight, and the medical condition that should have probably kept him away from the ring from the beginning.
GM: You began your boxing career in 1966. What got you into the sport?
I was going to play pro football, and there’s a guy that they hired in Philadelphia, and I didn’t like him. I didn’t like things that were going on. Football wasn’t fun anymore. So, Muhammad Ali had just won the title, and I said to my friend, “I can beat him.” I was twenty-three years old and I was a professional athlete, and I couldn’t box amateur. So I had to go right into the pros. I spent six months in the gym training. It was like the beginning of 1966, or late 1965. I had my first fight, I think, in October of 66, in Reading, Pennsylvania with a guy named Johnny Pinto and I knocked him out in 97 seconds of the first round.
GM: How much of a thrill was it to get him out of there so early?
It was pretty exciting. It was an outdoor ring and there were a lot of people from Philadelphia that came up to see the fight. I had trained a long time to do this four round fight career, and then I had a couple more fights in Philadelphia, knocking out a couple, and going the distance with a couple. Then, I think that it was Christmas time…December of 66 that I got into a beef in Philadelphia. I got into a bad street beef, and they sent me up to Boston, and I started training in Massachusetts with Johnny who was a guy that trained Terry Downes and a few other world champions at the Front Street Gym.
I lived in Boston and half of the fights that I had that following year were not even recorded. I used to fight every week, or every two weeks, and there was a guy named Sam Silverman that was Promoting up in Maine and somewhere else in New England and I boxed for a guy down in Boston and they didn’t record fights. Sam Silverman and his partner, Rick Valenti, a well connected guy in Boston and they would say, “Hey, you want to fight…” And in those days, you got paid ten dollars a round, so when you go eight rounds, you get eighty dollars. It was a joke, but because they were the people that I was fighting for. So I would take these fights, and banging guys out…it was like gym work, you know, and learning the trade, and then they go on to never record the fights!
GM: How many fights do you think that you have had, unrecorded?
I remember counting one time, and I had twenty six fights in one year. I think on record, I had fourteen, and things were going well. I was banging guys out of there right, left, and sideways. I was also a street guy…I hung around with a lot of street people. I have a book coming out, which tells the truth about who I really am. My father was a famous guy from New York, called Albert Anastasia. He was murdered in 1957. He was shot in a barber’s chair. My father ran a company known as Murder Incorporated. He was one of the most feared Italians in America. So I hung around with that element, and nobody could really tell me what to do. I was a bit of a smart ass, and the problem was that God had given me a great talent. I can fight eight rounds on a day’s notice. I could do eight rounds on my head. I could fight ten rounds on my head. When I got into my career and I went through a period where I was bouncing around all over the place and I wasn’t paying attention to what I was supposed to be doing, and I wasn’t listening.
It was an era when Ali had taken over boxing and Don King was coming in, and it made it a white/black situation in boxing. A lot of things were either one way or the other, and I wouldn’t play the game. Every time that I wanted to prove a point, I would fight somebody like Manuel Ramos and I would knock him out, and he was ranked like, number one in the world. What I did that nobody knows is that I took a fight in Johannesburg, South Africa, and I fought eleven days before I fought Ramos in L.A.
I went down to South Africa to get off streets and get into shape, and I trained every day, and when I came back to fight Ramos in L.A., I was the way that I should have been for all of my fights. I had knocked Ramos out in the seventh round, and he had never been off of his feet before. Then, nobody would fight me. I went to London, and fought Joe Bugner, and they robbed the fight by a quarter of a point, and they knew it. Again, it was my own fault. I was out drinking the night before. I abused a great talent. I was given a good talent and I never really took care of it.
GM: You did have some decent wins on your record that proved your talent though.
Like I said, I would prove a point to people. I would go out and beat Cleveland Williams, and there was a kid, Terry Daniels, up and coming out of Ohio, and he was supposed to be a world beater and I destroyed him in Houston. I beat Williams and they said to me: “Well, if you beat one more good fighter, you can have the Joe Frazier fight.” I said, you name the fighter and the place and I will show up. Send me a ticket. Now, I beat Daniels who was really never defeated, and they give him the fight with Frazier. Then, Cleveland Williams fights George Chuvalo on the same card, because Chuvalo wouldn’t fight me.
GM: You faced George Foreman in 1970. What are your memories of that bout?
I believe that that fight was in 1969. The Foreman fight…we opened the new garden and I think that I trained three days for the fight. And actually, according to the scorecards, I was beating Foreman. He caught me with a pretty good shot, and they stopped the fight very fast, and he would never fight me again. You know, it really pissed me off. That was the first fight after the Ramos fight. I think that I fought Foreman in February or March of 69.
I then went into a tailspin. I got mad, and just took fights anywhere, and was taking fights on a day’s notice, and I would go the distance with this guy and that guy, and you’re fighting out of town and you’re fighting in other boxer’s back yards, and they robbed a fight from me in England, and I came back and beat Danny McAlinden, and Carl Gizzi, who was the Champion of Wales. He was a hell of a fighter, actually. You know, I would get angry and go into the gym for a few days, and it went like that for a while.
In 1972, I was in New Jersey, and they called me up and said: “Do you want to fight Ken Norton?” And I said, when? They said next week, and somebody had dropped out of the fight and they needed somebody to step in, and I told them to send me a ticket. I was in New Jersey, and I had a lot of indictments for union problems, and I had a lot of problems (laughs) and I said that California is good. So, I got onto a plane and I think that I trained four days and gave Norton the worst beating that he’s ever gotten in his entire life.
GM: If I’m not mistaken, they gave the decision to Ken Norton. Is that correct?
Yes, they gave the decision to Norton, but in the ninth round, people were standing on their chairs and I had cut him up pretty good, and we were standing in the middle of the ring, toe to toe, and they rang the bell three times, and we never heard it. The referee finally separated us, and I was going back to the corner and he ran across the ring and hit me in the back of the head, and drove me into the ring post.
GM: Why didn’t they disqualify him right there?
Well, the commissioner came up to me and said: “If you can’t continue, you just won the fight.” But I was angry as hell and said: “Won the fight? I’ll kill this guy!” I was really kind of peeved and went out in the tenth round and said to myself: “What am I, crazy? This is his hometown…am I out of my mind?” I actually should have knocked Norton out then. I had him hurt several times, and he won the decision, but I won the town. The crowd just went nuts. So, I shook my head, and said, I think that I will stay a while. Bob Byron and his managers came to me and said: “My God! We didn’t think that you could fight that well and so on and so forth.” So I stayed in San Diego, and I knocked out several guys in a row, and then I fought for the California Heavyweight Championship, and took it off Henry Clark, who nobody would fight, and I kept on trying to get a rematch with Norton but he wouldn’t fight me.
GM: So, after Norton refused a rematch, what was next?
I just flopped around out there for a little bit and then I fought a guy named Alvin “Blue” Lewis. Well, they took my license away for six months for organized crime out there, and they called me up to fight Blue Lewis in Detroit, and they were building him up for a title fight. He fought Ali…went thirteen rounds, and he lost to Ali, but he came back won a fight, and they were building him up to a title fight and was ranked like number one in the world, and they said: “Do you want to fight this guy? And I asked if I could get a license, and they checked it and said: “Yeah, we can get you a license.” He was supposed to fight Buster Mathis, SR., but Buster couldn’t get a license.
So, I said OK, and I get on a plane and I go to Detroit and they thought that I wasn’t training because I haven’t fought in a few months. They knew that I had a problem in California. I go out to the Kronk Gym, and Lewis is training there with Emanuel Steward. I was at a gym on the other side of town and Steward had come over to watch me train one day, and he watched me skip rope for an hour, and he knew that they were in trouble (laughs). Then, I got on the speed bag for an hour and that is how I used to get myself into shape, and I ran every day.
So I fought Lewis in 1974, I think…somewhere around there, and I beat him ten out of ten rounds and he never fought well again. He fought two more fights and he retired. I beat him up so bad that it was pathetic.
GM: After the victory over Lewis, there was some talk about you fighting Muhammad Ali. Why didn’t that bout come off?
Ali and I were signed to fight four times. When Ali fought Norton the first time in San Diego, that was supposed to be my fight. I had won five or six fights in a row, and then I won the state title, and Ali and I had talked on the phone. He actually sent me a telegram, arranging with the guys at the sports arena to fight in San Diego. We gave him a hell of a deal and he agreed to it, but Bob Byron and Art Rifkin owned Ken Norton, and they went to Chicago with three million dollars and Herbert Muhammad took the money and they got the fight. Ali cried, and called me on the phone. He said: “I feel so terrible. I don’t know how to tell you this, but one day we will fight.” And this was before I beat Blue Lewis, and he said: “One day, I promise you that we will do it.” In fact, I took him to the hospital the night that he fought Norton and he broke his jaw.
GM: So there is no doubt that Ali wasn’t ducking you. He wanted to fight you, but it was just the politics of the game that stopped it.
Well, yeah. You see, he didn’t have a say. One day you should talk to Gene Kilroy because he was there when Ali called me on the phone and he felt terrible. It all started one day on the phone, when he called and said: “You gotta do me a favor.” I said, I’ll do you a favor…fight me! Ali said: “No, you’re fighting my brother next week, Rahman Ali. He is my brother, and I want you to get him out of boxing. Just hurt him and get him out of the game. He’s an embarrassment.” I said, are you kidding me? He said: “You do me this favor, and I will give you a fight.” So I fought his brother, and I said, I better get back to the gym (laughs). I was shooting pool when he called me in some bar.
I went and fought him and he was very quick. He wasn’t nearly the fighter that his brother was. He was fast and ran around, and they were trying to steal the fight because he was running and holding onto you. My trainer said to me: “They’re going to steal this fight from you.” I wasn’t in any great shape to be fighting the way that I should have been fighting. Like I said, I could walk off the street and go ten rounds. I had a God given talent. So, I told my trainer not to worry about it. He’s not going one more round. The fight is over. He then said: “You better do something.” So I told him not to worry about it and I went out there and hit him so hard that it looked like he wasn’t going to wake up. I was like, oh my God! I went into his dressing room after the fight, and he said: “Oh my God, you hit hard,” and he’s a Muslim and I said, joking around: “What do you know about God?” We had a chuckle.
Ali called me and said thanks, and we were putting together this fight in San Diego, and Norton’s people went and all of a sudden, he was fighting Ali. After I beat Blue Lewis, I was up at Ali’s training camp, and I was going to fight him in Australia and they gave the fight to Bugner. We were set several times, and I just got very despondent and doing a lot of things, and then it was discovered in San Diego, a doctor discovered that I have this disease called Acromegaly, which I shouldn’t have been boxing at all.
GM: What exactly is Acromegaly?
It’s a tumor in the pituitary and it’s like Gigantism…it puts a lot of growth hormone in your body and it drains you. It also causes depression and all this other stuff. So they wanted me to quit boxing and get this fixed, and I said no way. I waited and waited and waited and got it fixed in 1974. I was at a point where I had to get it fixed. I was fighting ten round fights and losing decisions to guys that I should have whupped in the first round. I was bad and I just didn’t give a shit and I went to Florida and lost to a guy named Jimmy Summerville, and I went back and knocked him out.
GM: Was your TKO loss to Summerville a good stoppage?
Well, he was an Angelo Dundee fighter. So, when I went back and knocked him out, Dundee wanted to manage me. I guess it was a time for me to stop, and I wouldn’t stop. So, it got to a point when a doctor friend of mine said: “Either you get this thing fixed, or we will revoke your license.” I went and got it fixed, and I was in the hospital in Boston in 1974, and they performed this laser surgery. They had to drill four holes into my head to bolt me to this machine and I was in the hospital for four to five days, and I checked myself out because I had a fight scheduled with Larry Middleton in Baltimore, Maryland, and I went down and trained two days and I still had the scars on my head from the surgical procedure and still went nine rounds with Middleton. Like I said, I had this ability. I had too much balls for my own good.
In “From the Boxing Ring to Hollywood: Superman Star Jack O’Halloran Speaks to RSR About His Remarkable Life, Part II,” we will discuss the transition from boxing to a successful acting career, an upcoming book, and the Superman Franchise.