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It's hard to imagine that the boxer in the publicity photo with the Everlast trunks, coiled body, and baleful glare is the same Ronnie DiNicola sitting in the Lowell House dining room wearing a brown herringbone vest and smiling impishly.
"My uncle was a fighter and my cousin was a fighter so in a lot of ways I got the seed planted when I was young." DiNicola said Tuesday.
The ebullient native of Erie, Pa.,took up boxing when he was 16 years old, did a stint in the Marines after graduating from high school, and then enrolled at Harvard last year after winning the Marine Corps flyweight championship.
A month out of high school, the aspiring pugilist found himself in boot camp at Paris Island, N.C. DiNicola was eventually stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, where he attended East Carolina University before receiving his discharge and journeying up to Cambridge.
At Camp LeJeune. DiNicola entered a series of "smokers." Marine slang for intramural boxing tryouts. Never losing a fight, he went on to become the intramural champ.
DiNicola's fistic fireworks impressed LeJeune's coach, Art Redden. Redden, an artillery gunner who boxed on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team with George Foreman, invited DiNicola to try out for the varsity.
DiNicola made the squad and found himself among a fraternity of seasoned amateur fighters, one of whom was Leon Spinks. Spinks won a gold medal as a light heavyweight at the Montreal Olympics and has since become a professional heavyweight.
"I knew Leon Spinks about as well as it's possible to know Leon Spinks." DiNicola quipped. "It's funny because I always told him he was going to be a heavyweight when he turned pro and Spinks always told me 'no'."
DiNicola made the team as a flyweight, which means he had to keep under the weight limitation of 112 pounds. He went through grueling workouts wearing a rubber suit and spent a lot of his free time in a sauna. "It was a tremendous ordeal," he said, "but that's the way it is in a mateur boxing today. Each class is filled with guys who are tremendously built for their weight category."
DiNicola embarked on his first road trip with the Camp LeJeune gladiators to Charlotte, N.C. to compete in the North Carolina Golden Gloves. He advanced to the finals and was slated to oppose Willie Adams.
The night before the bout DiNicola was out on the town with a friend and he remembers, "I looked at the newspaper in a drugstore window and there was a full page story on the guy I was going to fight. You know. 'Willie Adams has eyes on Olympics and is 52-8.' I was all flipped out but I knocked him down in the second round and won the Carolina Golden Gloves so it was O.K."
Although the K.O. was O.K. by DiNicola, his career peaked when he won the All-Marine Corps flyweight crown, outpointing Joe Rodriguez in 1975. The win made him eligible to represent the Marines at the AAU and Olympic boxing trials. He also ended up with a broken nose after getting in front of a Rodriguez haymaker.
A month after polishing off Rodriguez DiNicola fought in the Inner-Service Championships and the bubble burst-- "I lost and that took a lot out of me. I'd never been beaten before."
Ron's next big event was the Nationals, held at the Louisiana State Fairgrounds at Shreveport. He lost to J.D. Seales, who at that time was the fifth ranked flyweight in the nation. After sustaining his second straight loss, a disgruntled DiNicola decided to throw in the towel, and he quit the team to rejoin his unit.
After receiving his discharge and arriving at Cambridge, DiNicola decided to resume training at the New Garden Gym on Friend St.
Fighting as a lightweight last spring, he beat the Massachusetts Golden Gloves winner. A week later, his occasional sparring partner and best friend at Harvard. Pat Melendez, was killed in the ring. "That blew my mind and I quit boxing naturally," recalls DiNicola somberly. "He had a lot of charisma and everyone who knew him loved him."
DiNicola resumed boxing in August and will undoubtedly fight again in the near future. Right now he's working for State Sen. Frank Mastricolo and he hopes to go to law school after graduating.
Like all boxers, Ronnie is a seagoer--he's had his share of ups and down. At 21, though, he can still look forward to the biggest crest in his career. When his Marine teammate Leon Spinks fought in the Olympics, he was called. "The Wild Bull of Camp LeJeune." If Ronnie DiNicola were ever to make the Olympic boxing team, he might be known as "The Italian Stallion of Camp Harvard."
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