Levittown Boxing Legend Bobby Cassidy Remembered

0
419

Levittown’s Bobby Cassidy was a boxing pioneer, the first Long Island fighter to become a world-rated contender. He boxed professionally from 1963 to 1980 and fought main events in the old and current Madison Square Garden. A southpaw, Cassidy had a record of 59-16-4 with 27 knockouts.

Bobby Cassidy, posed shot.

Cassidy moved from Queens to Levittown at the age of four and never left. He graduated from Division Avenue High School in 1961. He died peacefully at his Levittown home on December 11. He was 78. He had been suffering from dementia for more than a year.

“Bobby was a kind soul that helped a lot of people,” said his wife Becky Cassidy, who was married to the fighter for 10 years. “Being married to Bobby made me a better and a stronger woman.”

Cassidy was ranked in the top 10 of the junior middleweight, middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions. He fought a plethora of champions and contenders, including Gypsy Joe Harris, Isaac Logart, Luis Rodriguez, Don Fullmer, Tom Bethea, Rodrigo Valdez, Jimmy Dupree, Tommy Hicks, Christy Elliott and John Capobianco. He was willing to fight anyone, anywhere. His boxing record is filled with destinations such as Sweden, Italy and South Africa. Even in the United States, he traveled to Philadelphia, Miami and Worcester to take on the local champions.

Although Cassidy beat four men who challenged for the world title, Cassidy was never given a title shot.

“Bobby came up tough,” said Gerry Cooney, the former heavyweight contender from Huntington. “He didn’t get any breaks. People weren’t always looking out for your best interests. Bobby did it the hard way. But he always had a great disposition. It never affected who he was. I loved Bobby.”

According to many news accounts throughout his career, Cassidy was one of the biggest ticket-sellers of his era. Fans flocked to Sunnyside Garden, Commack Arena, the Felt Forum and Madison Square Garden to see him fight. His appeal was simple – Cassidy was tough and always made for exciting fights.

“Bobby was boxing on Long Island, he paved the way,” added Cooney. “He was very tough and people recognize that. He always came to fight and he always came to win. And he won most of the time.”

In the late 1960 and early 1970s, Scranton, Pennsylvania, was also considered a boxing hotbed. Cassidy fought there nine times. On one of those cards, in 1973, heavyweight champion Larry Holmes made his professional boxing debut.

“Bobby Cassidy was a top fighter in those days,” said Holmes. “He was the main event, the one people came to see in Scranton. He was a really good fighter.”

Cassidy twice fought on the same card as Muhammad Ali and the two became friends training at Miami’s 5th Street Gym. Cassidy appeared on the second Ali-Joe Frazier card at the Garden and the Ali-Chuck Wepner card in Cleveland.

Cassidy’s style appealed to a wide cross-section of people and earned him admiration from all corners of life. He counted among his friends actors Robert DeNiro, James Caan and Burt Young, U.S. Congressman Peter King and former mob boss Sonny Franzese.

Cassidy worked for a time as DeNiro’s boxing trainer. It was Burt Young who helped launch Cassidy’s brief acting career. He landed roles for Bobby in the Academy-award winning film Rocky as well as Uncle Joe Shannon. The actor and fighter maintained a close friendship. Young worked in Cassidy’s corner for several of his fights and the pair often sparred together.

While Cassidy never earned that coveted title shot, he guided two fighters to world championships. He trained Donny Lalonde who won the WBC light heavyweight title in 1987, knocking out Long Island’s Eddie Davis to win the belt. Then in 1995, he trained Lonnie Bradley to the WBO middleweight crown. He also trained Peggy Donovan Ward to the 1995 Golden Gloves titles. It was the first time the tournament allowed women to enter.

Cassidy in the ring training Donny Lalonde. (Photos courtesy of the Cassidy family.)

“Bobby Cassidy was just an incredible human being,” said Lalonde. “He gave me love, support and confidence. He was a father figure with a background in the boxing ring that you can’t buy. You had to have experienced it. He was so generous and willing to give me everything he had to help me succeed. I would definitely not have become a world champion without Bobby Cassidy.”

Cassidy trained many other fighters, including Uganda’s Godfrey Nyakana, Lenny LaPaglia, Lennard Jackson, Kevin Collins, Joey Winters and Jamie Drubin. He coached with Pete Brodsky at the Westbury PAL Boxing Gym in the early 1980s and tutored countless fighters.

Cassidy’s second act in life was equally impressive. He experienced a few legal woes immediately after his career but quickly righted his ship. In addition to training fighters, he worked as a counselor at the Nassau County Correctional Center and helped inmates who were battling addiction. He would often do charity work with Congressman King and former Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon.

“Bobby Cassidy made a great comeback,” said Bob Duffy, a former promoter and the president of the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame. “What I can say, everybody wanted to be Bobby Cassidy’s friend, his charm and legacy will never be forgotten. His legacy will be carried on by his two sons, Chris and Bobby Jr. They turned out to be his greatest victories.”

Cassidy was a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

“One thing I’ll always cherish is that as crazy as my Dad’s schedule was as a fighter, he always managed to make it to me and my brother’s ball games,” said Chris Cassidy. “It meant so much as a kid to have your dad there cheering you on from the sidelines. We loved it.”

Cassidy has been inducted into three boxing halls of fame, New Jersey (2001), New York (2013) and Florida (2018). He was also the subject of an Off Broadway play, Kid Shamrock, which was written by Bobby Jr.

“Sometimes when two people come together, they complete each other’s lives and you wind up with a soulmate forever,” said his wife Becky. “Bobby may not be present but he will never be forgotten.”

Leave a Reply