Joe Rein Writings


Killer Instinct... No Patience!

In the early '70s in New York, I watched a stocky young welterweight in the Novice finals of the Golden Gloves in the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden. His name was John Nittolo. With his thick spiky hair and a head that promised a much bigger body, he put me in mind of a lion cub that hadn't grown into his paws.

All Nittolo wanted to do was crack with his overhand right that he threw from the floor. He had no style -- street fighter that wanted to follow punches with kicks.

He fought with fire. He excited the fans the way Graziano did, but was in no condition and running out of steam.

His opponent was a trained boxer, in good shape, and landed enough to earn a decision, even though John shook him every time he got home with that right.

After the decision was announced, Nittolo leaped into the middle of his boys who rushed the ring. They carried him on their shoulders to the dressing room.

As the Forum emptied, I spotted Nittolo smoking in an old sweatshirt and jeans on the main floor and approached. I told him he could be a helluva pro and I wanted to train him, and if he was interested to look me up any afternoon at the Gramercy Gym.

As we spoke, I could see he was 16 goin' on 40, with a voice that sounded like Jake LaMotta. He looked at me sideways, trying to figure my angle. His words came like shoves before the right hand.

A couple days later, he showed up at the gym in the same sweatshirt and jeans, but he was still leery and ready to lash out. All he got from our talk was: "helluva pro" = money.

After seeing me work with some fighters and checking me out, he agreed to give it a try, with little enthusiasm.

For several months, I worked him very hard in the gym; and I was sure, from the look in his eye, there were more than a few times he wanted to clock me with that right. The only thing that kept him in the gym...and me from being drilled was: He started learning moves... and liked it.

But, he was a major pain in the ass -- nothin' but attitude. Everybody wanted him out of the gym. They were convinced I was wasting my time: he was a thug, had no future but jail.

He couldn't control his temper. Wouldn't listen to anybody but me...barely. Only wanted to do things his way. And most of the time he didn't wanna do anything, if I didn't push. He was more interested in crap games, the over-and-under, the horses, and selling sweaters out of the trunk of his car.

I took him to a bunch of smokers all over the city. He was greener than most of the competition, but when he landed that right, he hurt people, stopped them, or knocked them out. The refs had a tough time tearing him away from anyone he hurt.

Once, I took him to a smoker at a church in Brooklyn. He was matched with a kid from the parish named Duffy who'd already won the Gloves and had a big reputation citywide. The entire neighborhood came to cheer him.

Nittolo couldn't wait to knock him out so he could party. His attention span was shorter than his temper.

Duffy was a classic standup boxer, with all the practiced moves of hours and hours in the gym. So he landed jab after jab. Nittolo walked through them, stalking and winging that right. Whenever he landed, Duffy did a Zab Judah dance. The priest awarded the decision to Duffy, who was out on his feet at the final bell.

In the locker room, while I was removing Nittolo's wraps, a Duffy supporter, gloating, came over talking trash. BOOM! John flashed the right, leaving him in a heap.

We grabbed our stuff as quickly as we could and tried to get to the car. Outside, an army of Duffy fans barely held in check by Security -- screamed for Nittolo's blood. John challenged the mob, giving them the finger. How we got out of there... I'll never know.

John sparred with some top pros, and was beginning to lose some of the rough edges and use angles. But his mind was always into hustling: how to turn a buck.

He didn't have patience to learn how to fight. He just wanted to knock people out and make money now...and it wasn't happening fast enough for him. Nothing did.

So, he drifted away from the gym. When I'd speak to him, I encouraged him to go to a gambling school to become a dealer in a casino. He did...and took to it like a duck to water.

When he graduated, he went to Vegas and got a job as a dealer. Eventually, became a pit boss.

But John lived on "Action"... he loved the "Juice;" the bigger the gamble the better. So, he started promoting fights and rock concerts in Vegas and Atlantic City. He added touring shows, like WEST SIDE STORY.

Numbers were John's thing. Nobody short-changed him. Unions didn't pad crews...if they tried, he spoke to 'em in a language they understood -- needed no lawyers.

In the last 20 years, John's become one of the leading concert promoters in the country. And he still wants more.

He's now in his early 50s... still has the same swagger he had as a kid but now he's dressed in Hugo Boss and weighs over 200.

He still has the killer instinct and no patience, but he does his fighting in boardrooms.

He's a lion that's grown into his paws.

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