“It wasn’t the money back then. It was the fans”. – Nicky Furlano
The name Nicky Furlano conjures up particular memories for me. I remember first reading about him after he managed to defeat the notorious Gaetan Hart for the Canadian lightweight title and thinking there must be something more to this cat given Hart’s reputation, experience and the fact that with the win was Furlano’s third national title in as many weight classes. In the early part of the eighties he would go on to even greater heights, winning the NABF lightweight title and ultimately sharing the ring with one of the most feared and respected world champions of the day, a man that will arguably go down as an all-time great.
For prizefighters there is no easy path, but the love of the craft is often the driving force behind the insurmountable odds, the pain and the heartbreak once truth sets its glare from the opposite corner. In the case of Furlano, he quietly slipped off into the shadows after a grand performance that made his country proud, capping a fine career of work in its own right. Having followed him through that period, both up close and from afar, I found myself pulling for him. He was that kind of fighter. There was no flash and no looming sense of danger, Just desire, grit, grease and world-class courage. He was the kind of pug that got to you and made you cheer, and when his big moment came he bared his soul for all to see, climbing off the deck to press onward, odds be damned. For me it was a distinct honor and rare opportunity to sit down with the former three-division national champion to look back at and discuss his foray through a mostly unforgiving sport and to get a sense of the man that for a moment made his country collectively hold its breath.
MP: Bring us up to speed on what you have been doing since leaving boxing in 1984.
Well, I invested the little bit of money I made from the fight with Aaron Pryor in a restaurant tavern. Actually, at 26 I retired. My people told me to retire, so I retired at 26 just when things were starting to go good. I mean nobody retires at 26. I guess they just weren’t into it anymore. The people that I was involved with were more of a street hustler type that I met when I was a kid. When I was young I was influenced by them to go out, picking-up girls and going out. Eventually I’d had enough and we all went our separate ways.
MP: Tell our readers how you first got involved with boxing.
I first became involved in 1971after watching Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. That’s what really motivated me, watching them in their big fight. After I started going to the gym, Sully’s Toronto Youth and Athletic Club down in the Ossington and Queen area. I started going there twice a day. I was training there from about age 12.
MP: Which fighters did you follow and who if any did you try to pattern yourself after?
Roberto Duran. Duran mixed in with Wilfred Benitez, you know, with his slipping and sliding; that type of style. I wasn’t much of a knockout puncher. I mostly got into countering, slipping punches and countering my opponents. I worked on my speed. That was my goal, to work on my speed and my eye sight; slipping punches and all that.
MP: Your first professional prizefight was on October 23rd 1976. You were matched with a more experienced fighter named Danny Stokes, winning by split decision. What do you recall of that night?
That was something else. I think he was a former Canadian champion or title holder, I forget. But it went from a four rounder to a six rounder, to an eight rounder up to ten rounds. At one point they were going to cancel the fight because my heartbeat was up to 150. You know, you get nervous and all that. You know, this guy he had 28 fights, I think he had lost three or four, Danny Stokes at that time. He was a man. Once I stepped in the ring I could feel his strength. I was only 18 years old. You can feel the difference strength-wise. Anyways, I did beat him but I think a year later we had a rematch for the Canadian junior lightweight title and I knocked him out in the 8th round in Winnipeg. (Editor – Furlano stopped Stokes for the Canadian super featherweight title six months after their initial encounter, his first of three national titles)
MP: You experienced your first defeat in your seventh fight, losing a twelve-round decision to Al Ford, a fighter with a 46-5 record. A little over a year later you avenged that defeat, stopping Ford in the fourteenth round for the Canadian light welterweight title. Recall those two moments.
Well, I was pissed off. First because I shouldn’t have lost that first bout; it was in his hometown. I thought that it was close, maybe a split decision, but anyway…. We got the rematch and I trained super hard for that fight. I knew I won the first fight and I just wanted to prove to him I was the better fighter. I didn’t lose the first fight.
Al was a really nice guy and we really became friends, plus he fought some good fighters back in his day.
MP: Later in 1979 you outpointed iconic journeyman Gaetan Hart for the Canadian lightweight title, a man known for his punching power and who had killed one man in the ring and disabled another. What are your recollections of winning your third national title and of Hart as a fighter?
That was one of my better wins. That fight was a better win than fighting Aaron Pryor because I trained for that like I meant to train. I trained the right way. Most of my fights when I trained, people who know would say I was only 60 or 70%. I never got into the training part of it because of all of the activities I was doing on the outside. Come time for a fight they’d tell me I had a match coming up and that I had three weeks to train. Meanwhile I had already blown up to 175, sometimes 180lbs., so all my work was about trying to lose pounds to get down to the weight, 135 or 137. But for the Hart fight I was really prepared. I never took no time off from defending my title, I just took a couple of days off and I felt superb. Those two fights, Hart and later Aaron Pryor, they were the only fights where I ever felt like a fighter.
MP: In March 1981 you outpointed Larry Stanton for the NABF light welterweight title and two years after that you won the NABF lightweight title with twelve round decision over Louis Loy. Did you feel you were closing in on something bigger after these wins?
Oh that one! That was a fight and a half! Yeah, I thought I was closing in, I don’t know, I don’t want to blame anybody but the way I see fighters being taken care of now, they really take care of them. They make them train, they take a couple of days off and they get a fight for them, and they are already prepared. Me, the guys that I had with me were just hustlers from the street. I don’t like to knock them but that’s the way it was. I didn’t know any better. I was naïve and I liked that limelight, the way they were doing things, but if I had to do it all over again, what would I do? I would train. That’s the only thing I would change. It would be the training part.
MP: In June 1983 top lightweight contender Davey Lee Armstrong took your NABF lightweight title. Years later in an interview with RSR, Armstrong said this about you; “It was for a title, but the name of it slips me. It was in Furlano’s hometown up in Canada and Nicky really fought hard and didn’t want to lose. He really came on strong at the end of the fight. Furlano was a decent fighter”. What do you recall of that bout and of Armstrong, a former ’72 and ’76 Olympian?
I thought I won that fight. I was the champion, the fight was close and there we go again. Chuck Williams, the judge, this is another one of them. For the Aaron Pryor fight, he’s the one that scored it far off from what was actually happening. His score was the farthest off, a guy from my own hometown that I grew up with, that should give me the benefit in a close decision. He did the same thing in the Davey Lee Armstrong bout. He’s the one that made the score so far off from what had actually happened that I lost the fight. This guy, Chuck Williams, if I ever see him, I think I would kick his teeth in. I’m sorry to say that. But if he’s from your hometown and you’re the champion and even if it’s a close decision you usually got it back in those days. Even now they give it to the champ. If it’s a close decision they either call it a draw or you get the nod. I kept watching it over and over and I couldn’t believe how I lost. As far as I can say, even to myself, that should have been called a draw or a split decision for me. That’s how close the fight was.
MP: On June 22nd 1984 you reached the highpoint of your career when you challenged the great Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor for his IBF light welterweight world title at Toronto’s old Varsity Stadium. Down twice in the 1st round, you rebounded well demonstrating a rare grit, losing a competitive fifteen-round unanimous decision making you the first man in 26 bouts to last the distance with the man who at the time was 34-0 and arguably the pound per pound best in the sport. What are your recollections of that night and the bout itself?
I was a little nervous but I knew what I had to do. Actually I didn’t know what to do; I wanted to go in there and just slug it out with him. The bout itself was chaos from the beginning. Aaron Pryor didn’t get paid. I don’t know if he got paid to this day. Nobody knew what the hell they were doing for that fight.
The fight itself, for me it was great, going fifteen rounds with the great Aaron Pryor. Going into it he was only out for nine months after the second Alexis Arguello fight and they were all saying he was all rusty, they were trying to knock me because I went the distance. I was slipping punches left and right, that’s my style and he had problems coping with that. People, they knock you for stuff like that, Pryor being off for nine months before we fought. Now they have sixteen months off, two years off and they go in and fight title fights. Aaron Pryor was just off nine months when he fought me. There was no ring rust. It was just me. I was very good at slipping the punches and taking a good shot.
MP: Were you aware that Aaron Pryor once made the following assessment of you relative to a match against Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini – “I think Nicky’s speed and swift movement would be too much for Mancini to handle”.
Yeah I heard that. We went down to Buffalo back when Mancini fought Livingston Bramble. Pryor was there too. I guess the winner was supposed to fight Pryor. They all figured Mancini was going to win and end up facing Pryor. That didn’t happen and that’s how I ended up getting the match with Pryor, because Mancini lost. Me? I wouldn’t have had no problems with Ray Mancini, in my opinion. Just because of his style, his style was made for mine. There are certain styles are that are made for certain fighters. I think his style was made for mine, if I got in shape. He trained like a horse. I don’t disrespect him at all. He just trained, trained, trained.
MP: What was your impression of Aaron Pryor as a fighter after having hung tough with him and how did his power compare with the fighters you had faced previously?
Here’s one thing about his power. In the beginning, the first round, that’s where I made the big mistake, sitting still and letting him hit me; that’s how he got his power off, he got to sit down on his shots. Aaron Pryor, he’s got to sit down on his punches. Once you make him slip and slide, make him miss punches, he can’t land those bombs, which is why he changed his routine and started boxing me, if you recall the fight. He wasn’t throwing much power behind his punches. He was trying to out-box me because he knew he couldn’t knock me down again. We were throwing words at each other. After he knocked me down, I told him you’re not doing that again! He changed his strategy; he was a very, very smart fighter. He changed up and he out-boxed me.
MP: The late Vince Bagnato was a colorful iconic figure that knew or promoted every boxer to come out of Toronto the last 60 years. He helped raise millions with his annual black-tie boxing exhibitions at the Shaw Festival and once had a part in the movie Title Shot, playing a fight manager opposite the late Tony Curtis. He promoted some of your bouts. What are your recollections of Bagnato?
Yeah, he was a beautiful man. You know what, I was in that movie. I think George Chuvalo was there too. It was called I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses. I was the guy in the corner. I think Elke Sommer was in it. I know it was Tony Curtis, we did it at Landsdowne Gym. I had this small part in the corner. I just winked at Tony because he was the mob guy or something like that. (Editor – according to the Internet Movie Database Nicky played opposite Tony Curtis in 1979’s Title Shot and appeared briefly in 1978’s I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses with George Chuvalo)
Vince Bagnato, he was beautiful guy. As far as I remember, back in the day when we were kids they were really putting on a lot of fights for amateurs for the Ontario Boxing Club. We fought on the old Friday Night Fights on City TV way back in 1970, I think. We were fighting there, it was televised locally. It was great back then, fighting amateur. I loved it.
MP: The Toronto boxing scene isn’t what it was a generation ago. Why do you think that is and what would it take to put our city back on the map of the fight game?
Here in Toronto? I don’t even know if it’s ever going to get back here in Toronto. It’s been going on, dead, for decades. I mean look at Montreal. What they are doing there, people are taking chances. In Montreal there are promoters that are sticking with it. That’s the whole key. We had one guy here years ago named Ungerman, Irv Ungerman. He was putting on the odd show. He was losing money but you need people who have the money and they have to keep putting and keep going with it to push the sport. There’s a bunch of guys trying to do it now, like Syd Vanderpool, over at The Hershey Center in Mississauga. They’re putting on regular amateur and pro fights every month. That’s the way to go. Every month they keep doing it and building it. Whether you get 2000 or 3000 people, eventually it will build up. You have to keep going. You can’t stop just because you didn’t get rich in one day. Boxing promoters usually don’t get rich unless they get television and cable involved. So they just gotta keep punching just like a fighter does. They gotta keep doing it.
If a fighter wants to move on with their career as a pro and make it, they have to go to Montreal. If they want to stay in Canada, they have to go to Montreal. Not here in Toronto, Not right now. I remember fighting in Montreal in front of 19,000 fans. It was something else. That’s what gave me the drive to fight. It wasn’t the money back then. It was the fans. It was just unbelievable fighting in front of so many people.
MP: You’ve been very vocal about Floyd Mayweather JR and his refusal to sign for a super fight with Manny Pacquiao. Back in your day the best fought the best. What is your impression of this ongoing non-signage saga?
Yes, that just disgusts me. I mean, Mayweather has turned him down twice. What does that tell you? Is he scared? To me, it looks like he’s scared. I mean twice! You want to be known as pound for pound king, you have to take that shot, and Manny Pacquiao is the guy that’s there. Back in the old days, guys just went in there looking to be the best, to be recognized as the best. Never mind Mayweather’s 41-0. That 41-0 doesn’t mean nothing. Many of the fighters that he fought were you know, I don’t want to say they were on the way down or not very good, but there was an angle. That’s what I think. That’s my opinion.
MP: Just kicking it some – how do you think Mayweather and Pacquiao would have done with Aaron Pryor?
Those are two different eras there. First of all Aaron Pryor would have been too strong and thrown too many punches for Floyd Mayweather I think, in his prime. Manny Pacquiao would be too small. A Pacquiao/Mayweather super fight would be something else. I couldn’t even pick it. I couldn’t even tell you who would win. I just want to see it.
MP: In closing is there anything you’d like to say to your fans and those that supported you?
I just want to thank them, everybody that’s been there and stuck by me. I just want to thank all of them for sticking by me through it all.
Division: Light Welterweight
Professional Record: 29-8-1, 10 KO’s
Date Opponent Location Result
1976-10-23 Danny Stokes Toronto, CA W SD 8
1976-11-01 Richie Moore Toronto, CA W TKO 5
1977-01-18 Chuck Spicer Toronto, CA W KO 2
1977-03-07 Ralph Racine Toronto, CA W UD 8
1977-03-25 Danny Stokes Winnipeg, CA W TKO 8
Canada Super Featherweight Title
1977-04-28 Tony Johnson Toronto, CA W PTS 8
1977-05-24 Al Ford Winnipeg, CA L PTS 12
1977-11-01 Al Franklin Toronto, CA W PTS 8
1977-12-08 Larry Moore Toronto, CA W KO 3
1977-12-13 Jim Henry Toronto, CA W PTS 8
1978-01-24 Jean Lapointe Montreal, CA D PTS 8
1978-04-28 Leo Marsh Toronto, CA W PTS 10
1978-06-06 Jean Lapointe Montreal, CA L MD 10
1979-02-09 Al Ford Winnipeg, CA W TKO 15
Canada Light Welterweight Title
1979-04-20 Freddie Harris Winnipeg, CA W UD 10
1979-05-25 Jose Gonzalez Montreal, CA W UD 8
1979-06-26 Gaetan Hart Montreal, CA L MD 8
1979-08-21 Gaetan Hart Montreal, CA W MD 12
Canada Lightweight Title
1979-10-02 Jean Lapointe Montreal, CA W TKO 6
Canada Lightweight Title
1980-02-12 Chuck Spicer Montreal, CA W TKO 3
1980-03-25 Gaetan Hart Montreal, CA L PTS 12
Canada Lightweight Title
1980-05-26 Danny Jones Toronto, CA W PTS 12
Canada Light Welterweight Title
1980-06-05 Benny Marquez Winnipeg, CA W UD 10
1980-07-25 Phil Batie Smith Falls, CA W KO 4
1980-08-27 Al Ford Edmonton, CA W UD 10
1980-12-09 Ricardo Camoranesi Montreal, CA L SD 8
1981-03-06 Larry Stanton Niagara Falls, CA W PTS 12
NABF Light Welterweight Title
1981-03-24 Johnny Lira Montreal, CA W UD 10
1981-04-28 Al Ford Montreal, CA W UD 8
1981-05-22 Quentin Blackman Peterborough, CA W PTS 10
1982-04-06 Mario Cusson Montreal, CA L UD 10
1983-01-11 Cedric Barkley Montreal, CA W TKO 1
1983-03-08 Michael Reid Montreal, CA W UD 10
1983-04-13 Louis Loy Toronto, CA W UD 12
NABF Lightweight Title
1983-06-09 Davey Lee Armstrong Toronto, CA L PTS 12
NABF Lightweight Title
1984-04-27 Trevor Evelyn Toronto, CA W UD 10
1984-06-22 Aaron Pryor Toronto, CA L UD 15
IBF Light Welterweight Title
1984-08-23 Rick Spencer Winnipeg, CA W KO 3