Kearny’s Liaci gets proper place in NJ Boxing Hall of Fame

Cosmo Liaci didn’t know how he was going to handle his induction into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.

After all, Liaco, the long-time Kearny resident, had known he was going into the Boxing Hall of Fame since April, so there was plenty of time to prepare.

“But I was nervous throughout the whole evening,” said Liaci, who was the last of 14 inductees to be presented at the 47th Annual Hall of Fame Induction dinner last Thursday night at the Venetian in Garfield.

“I didn’t know what I was going to say,” said Liaci, the former standout boxer and later trainer. “But then once I started speaking, the nervousness went away.”

Liaci enjoyed earning his place of prominence in the Boxing Hall of Fame.

“It was just an unbelievable night,” Liaci said. “I was honored to be with the best of the best.”

Liaci was in the presence of some greats, like Kearny resident Tomasz Adamek, who was in attendance, as was famed heavyweight contender Chuck Wepner, whose life is being turned into a movie starring Liev Schrieber of “Ray Donovan” fame.

There was only one problem.

“Once I was up on the dais, I couldn’t move,” Liaci said. “I couldn’t socialize. I saw (Chuck) Wepner and he congratulated me and then he was gone.”
Liaci wanted to introduce Wepner to his grandson, whom Wepner helped when Liaci’s grandson was in grade school.

“My grandson told me that he was writing a story about Muhammad Ali,” Liaci said. “I told my grandson that I had a friend who fought Ali. I called Chuck on the phone to see if he would help. He sent my grandson pictures and articles about the fight. It helped so much that my grandson got an ‘A’ on his paper.”

New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame president Henry Hascup, who has kept that organization alive for the past 30 years, served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. Hascup, who has been a ring announcer in the past with his booming voice, made sure that his friend Liaci was the last inductee.

“Henry said that he saved the best for last,” Liaci said. “That’s how he got away with that one.”

Liaci was born and raised in Newark, but settled in nearby Kearny soon after having children.

“I really didn’t know what was going to happen next,” Liaci said. “I liked boxing. I remember watching the Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Walcott fight on television in 1947. Back then, everything was about boxing. I liked it because of the recognition I was getting.”

Liaci became a top amateur.

“The Newark YMCA was my sponsor,” Liaci said. “I didn’t have to pay for anything. They bought me a robe with my name on it.”

Liaci went to the semifinals of the New Jersey Golden Gloves in 1953. In 1954, it was another trip to the Golden Gloves semis as well as the AAU Champion that year.

Liaci won 28 fights as an amateur. In 1956, under the guidance of managers Sam Rose and George Schiner, Liaci made the decision of his lifetime. He was turning pro.

“I was going to get 75 bucks for my first fight,” Liaci said. “Back then, that was a lot of money.”

Liaci never saw any of that money, because a dislocated shoulder forced him to drop out of his professional career before it ever began.

“I was very upset,” Liaci said. “I couldn’t believe my career was over before it started. I was one of the best left hook guys around.”

But it wasn’t meant to be.

“I thought I was going to be the lightweight champion of the world,” Liaci said. “But every time I tried to come back, I felt the soreness in my shoulder. As the years went by, it was harder to try to come back.”

At the tender age of 20, Cosmo Liaci’s boxing career was history.

“I got a good job, raised a good family,” said Liaci, whose four children after his sudden divorce decided to stay with their father. “I wanted to stay close to the sport.”

So the spry octogenarian has remained active in boxing outside the ring. He helped out with organization and Rings 20 and 25, serving as president of both veteran boxing organizations for years. He took his management skills with him and became a trainer for such great fighters as heavyweight Conrad Tooker and Kearny native and lightweight John Sullivan.

“Sullivan ended up having a good career,” Liaci said of Sullivan, who won 15 pro fights and lost in an attempt to gain the New Jersey lightweight title in 1978.

Liaci has remained active in boxing for the last 50 years, training and working with a handful of boxers both on the amateur and pro levels. Liaci would train with the boxers at the old Kearny PAL on Devon Street.

Liaci was one of 14 boxing greats to be inducted this year, including boxing judge Debra Barnes, boxers Scott DePompe, Derrick Graham and Rodney Price, attorney Pat English, broadcaster Nelson Fernandez, managers Pat Lynch and Leon Muhammad and timekeeper Ray Ryan.

Boxers Jimmy Anest, Phil Berman, Gerald Hayes and Herschel Jacobs were also inducted posthumously.

“It’s was the highlight of my life,” said Liaci, who is a retired owner/operator truck driver but remains active driving part-time today. “I thanked everyone. I thanked the committee for nominating me and for the people who helped me get in.”

Most of the people that were involved in boxing, which was truly in a golden age when Liaci broke in, are now unfortunately deceased. Liaci, an absolute treasure, won’t be around forever.

“It was emotional for me when I was introduced by some of my grandchildren,” Liaci said. “That’s something I’ll never forget. I never realized it until I heard my name called.”

Liaci wasn’t only active in boxing. For 25 years, he was a coach in the Kearny Little League and Kearny Recreation football. He was the famed coach for Shop-Rite in the Kearny Little League, a team that won several championships. He coached famed goalkeeper Tony Meola during Meola’s Little League days.

Liaci raised his five children, John, Celeste, Stephen, Renee and Michael, alone as a single dad in Kearny. He has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“I raised all five of them right here in Kearny,” Liaci said. “It kept me pretty busy.”

Liaci credits boxing for making him what he is today. Getting the Hall of Fame award caused Liaci to stop and smell the roses a bit.

“When you get an award like this, you always take the time to reflect back 60, 70 years ago,” Liaci said. “You reflect on your childhood and where you grew up. You recall that, the luckiest time of my life.”

Liaci owes a lot of his success in life to the sport.

“Boxing helped me in life,” Liaci said. “It made me more responsible. I was able to raise a family on my own. I met some of the nicest people in my life through boxing. My best friend was Lou Centi and I met him through boxing. It taught me a lot about life. Some of the friends I hung around with back then ended up in jail. I could have as well.

Added Liaci, “This award puts a capper on my life. I can’t ask for anything more than this.”

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”