The People, The History, The Culture
Johnny LoBianco; Referee in Controversial Duran Bout, Deat at 85
By Richard Goldstein, New York Times
July 21, 2001 - - LoBianco, a native of Sicily, raised in Queens, won 52 of 54 fights as a Lightweight Boxer, and Referee for three plus decades, including a host of championship bouts. LoBianco, a boxing referee in New York for three decades who worked a host of championship bouts, most notably Roberto Duran's controversial knockout of Ken Buchanan in 1972, died last Monday at Southampton Hospital on Long Island. He was 85.
The cause was congestive heart failure, his family said.
A onetime lightweight boxer, LoBianco was a presence on the New York fight scene as a referee from 1954 to 1986, handling as well as scoring Friday night fights at Madison Square Garden and bouts at clubs like St. Nicholas Arena in Manhattan and Sunnyside Garden in Queens.
Among the championship fights LoBianco worked were Muhammad Ali-Zora Folley, Nino Benvenuti- Emile Griffith, Jose Torres-Willie Pastrano and Duran's dethroning of Buchanan as world lightweight champion on June 26, 1972.
After the bell ended the 13th round of Duran-Buchanan at the Garden, the fighters continued punching, and then Buchanan was on his back, holding his groin in agony. He wobbled to his corner about 20 seconds later and was willing to continue, but LoBianco awarded the victory to Duran, who had dominated.
Gil Clancy, Buchanan's trainer, maintained afterward that Duran had leveled Buchanan with a blow from his knee that lifted Buchanan's protective cup.
LoBianco said Duran won with a legal punch. "The punch that put Buchanan down was in the abdomen, not any lower," LoBianco told reporters. "It was impossible for him to continue. But it wasn't that punch alone. It was a culmination."
LoBianco, a native of Sicily, came to the United States as a youngster and grew up in Corona, Queens, where his father was a barber. He began to box as a teenager and went on to win 52 of 54 professional fights.
He was on the scene of unscheduled mayhem as a referee in some otherwise forgettable bouts.
In an April 1963 fight at Sunnyside Garden, LoBianco awarded a fifth- round technical knockout to Lou Anderson when his opponent, Joey Mangiapane, suffered a deep cut on his nose. Mangiapane tore loose from LoBianco's grasp and threw another punch at Anderson. Then Mangiapane's twin brother, Len, also a boxer, emerged from the crowd and tried to pummel Anderson. The state athletic commission later suspended the twins.
In August 1965 LoBianco was the referee at the old Garden in Flash Elorde's split-decision victory over Frankie Narvaez. The crowd hurled chairs and bottles and fighting spilled onto Eighth Avenue and the subway.
LoBianco, a liquor salesman when he was not refereeing, is survived by his wife, Frances, of Wading River, N.Y.; three sons, Al, of Wading River, a former referee, Thomas, of Northport, N.Y., and John Jr., of Fort Myers, Fla.; a daughter, Maria Theresa Lazaras, of Bricktown, N.J.; a sister, Pauline Ida, of Lansdowne, Pa.; 11 grandchildren; and a great- grandchild.
Buchanan, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame last year, was still angry over his loss to Duran. Last month, while preparing for a visit to the Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., from his native Scotland, Buchanan maintained that "had a better referee been in charge," he would have made Duran "look stupid."
But Buchanan was far behind on all three cards, and as Red Smith put it in his Sports of The Times column, "LoBianco had no choice but to declare Duran the winner" despite a possible low blow because on the American boxing scene "anything short of pulling a knife is regarded indulgently."
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