Niagara boxing legend Rob Fortuna
Thirty-five years after his boxing career ended in controversial fashion, Rob Fortuna will be honoured at the St. Catharines Amateur Boxing Club’s Niagara Legends Boxing Show July 19 at the Merritton Community Centre.
The 54-year-old Niagara Falls native won a silver medal at the 1983 Canadian senior championships, losing to Dale Walters who would go on to win a bronze medal in the welterweight division at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
“He had a ton of experience and I was just new,” Fortuna said. “He was really good.”
Fortuna was hoping for another crack against the talented Walters, but it never materialized. As Ontario champion, a challenger had to beat Fortuna twice to go to the Olympic trials and that’s what happened.
“It was two good fights but I thought I had won both so I decided that was enough,” Fortuna said.
He was only 20 years old at the time, but knew he had had enough of the sport.
“It’s a great sport, but it’s a rough sport,” said the former inductee into the Niagara Falls Sports Wall of Fame.
Fortuna never returned to boxing in any capacity, but former Olympic boxer Mike Strange credits Fortuna with introducing him to the sport.
“He recognized me when he got inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and I was kinda surprised,” Fortuna said.
Although he was never involved with boxing, the bartender at the Fallsview Niagara Casino found other ways to give back to his community. He was a member of the executive with the Niagara Falls Minor Hockey Association for 17 years, including a stint as vice-president.
In his boxing career, Fortuna was a four-time Ontario boxing champion, winning three times at the intermediate (17 and under) level and once at the senior level.
The high point of his career was winning the Canadian intermediate championship in 1982 at age 17. He fondly recalls having his arm lifted in triumph in Montreal at the Olympic boxing venue.
“It was a good fight against a good guy who ended up going to the Olympics,” he said.
His favourite part of boxing was the camaraderie.
“It was the guys I hung with and my brother fought too.”
Fortuna boxed out of the Niagara Falls Boxing Club and was coached by Ray McGibbon and John DeGazio, Sr.
“They were both great coaches for me,” he said. “They were always there for me and they gave me lots of support.”
Fortuna is honoured to be recognized as a Niagara boxing legend:
“It’s exciting,” he said. “He (organizer Joe Corrigan) called me last year and the year before but I work nights and I’m always busy, It just so happens this year that I am off.
“I am going to see ELO the night before and I booked the Friday off thinking I might be in rough shape. Now I can’t be in too rough of shape.”
Also being honoured along with Fortuna are Doug Dobias, Rob McGregor and Vinnie Ryan.
The card is being held at the Merritton Community Centre with the boxing starting at 7:30 p.m.
Local boxers scheduled to compete on the card are Daniel Ryan, Stephen Ryan, Gerry Ryan, Matt Ryan, James Hughes, Chris Hughes, Rene Chavez, Eric Cote, John Caughlin, Kevin Lamb, Jojo Napolitano and Jake Isenor.