Inducted on November 15, 1991
Bayonne’s midtown area produced a host of talented pugilists in the first 40 years of this century. One of the leading lights was Peter (PeeWee) Bonito, who was born and raised in the 21st to 23rd and Avenue A area.
Among the others who rose to the heights in pugilism from that area were the Roman brothers, Carmen and Tommy and Ernie (The Rock) Durando.
Bonito, who launched his professional career at age 17 in 1936, already had six amateur bouts under his belt before making his debut in the fight-for-pay ranks. He weighed only 92 pounds and was matched with Cliff Keorkel in a fundraising event which was promoted by C.J. Murphy.
It was this exhibition bout which convinced Bonito that he had the tools to compete professionally and between 1936 and 1943, he engaged in 36 bouts. While training in New York City’s Pioneer Gym, Pee Wee met the father of the crowd pleasing Lenny (Boom-Boom) Mancini, and was the beneficiary of many important boxing pointers.
Among his many opponents were Maxie Berger, Maxie Farber, Maxie Fischer and Allie Stoltz and his neighborhood “wars” with Tommy Roman can still be recalled by many Bayonne fans.
Bonito was managed by Ghee Laico and later Abe Bressler became his co-manager. His trainers were Lou Laico and Allie Ridgway.
On six occasions his bouts were in New York’s Madison Square Garden and he also performed in Braddock Bowl, Oakland Arena, Westchester Community Center in White Plains: Newark’s Laurel Gardens and Brooklyn’s Broadway Arena.
He rates his Brooklyn battle with Joey (Baby Face) Fontana as his career’s greatest. Pee Wee was knocked down a n ~he first round but came back to win after eight rounds. Bonito recalls seeing his fater seated at ringside, but says he did not remember where he was untiI he hit the showers. He attributed his comeback to superior fight preparation and conditioning.
Pee Wee recalls being paid the sum of $17.50 to fight Eddie Brink and that his greatest purse was $1,100. Bonito also recalls with pride that he operated the gym over Jimmy Russell’s Tavern at 23rd street and Avenue C and sponsored many charity cards for Christmas baskets for the needy. Headliners who appeared were Sugar Ray Robinson, Lee Savold, Pat Cominskey and Steve Beloise. He also served as a manager to Ernie Durando, Tony Cimmino, Johnny McBride and Bobo Ferguson.
Bonito also is recognized as a fine basketball player and had talent as a dribbler and ballhandler. Coach Tom Hookway made him coach of the strong vocational School team and gave him a uniform with the number “0”. He also played with the Oreas and was coached by John Mancuso in tumbling. In 1941, he joined the Navy and after fighting many exhibitions at Great Lakes Training Center. He later was trained as a deep sea diver. He was among the divers who raised the liner Normandy from a water grave.
After being discharged from the service, Bonito fought several times and then retired from the right. He has since served as a boilermaker, steamfitter and iron worker and now is retired.
His current interest in managing Pat Cutaneo, a 20 year old welterweight prospect, who was born in staten Island, but now resides in Bayonne.
He plans to have his ring protege fight in Atlantic City, and in North Bergen’s Schuetzen’ s Park in the next few months.
Boxing Record – Pete Bonito