Bob Matthews Staff writer
Democrat and Chronicle
June 30, 2011 ET
Ross Virgo, arguably Rochester's all-time best boxer and owner of one of Rochester's best-known restaurants, died Wednesday morning at his home. He was 81.
"All due respect to Charles Murray and the other top local fighters, but Ross Virgo was the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in this city's
"He was 46-2 as an amateur, a combined Army/Air Force champion, made the 1948 Olympics in London as an alternate on the U.S. team, and had a 32-2-2 record as a pro, including a victory over Carmen Basilio (Sept.
Mr. Virgo and Basilio, an Irondequoit resident and International Boxing Hall of Famer who won the welterweight title in 1955, entered the ring as friends that night and remained friends forever. The sportsman Virgo always pointed out that Basilio had suffered two cuts above his eyebrows in a fight nine nights earlier, was vulnerable to precision punches, wasn't in top shape and was only approaching his prime when they fought. Mr. Virgo made $3,000 and Basilio made $1,800.
In Mr.Virgo's final pro fight in 1952 (aside from a very brief comeback in 1953), the Franklin High School dropout was leading Johnny O'Brien in New Orleans when the referee dropped dead in the ring and the bout was called off. At the time, he was the No. 5 world welterweight contender (the champion was Sugar Ray Robinson). He then abruptly quit boxing at age 22, partly because he was weary of the politics in outside the ring and mostly at the urging of his fiancée.
"That's true," Joyce Virgo confirmed Wednesday. "I saw Ross fight once, and that was more than enough. I walked out before it ended. I couldn't stand watching him get hit. I wanted him to quit boxing. He also agreed it was time to concentrate on our restaurant."
Construction of the Can of Worms forced relocation of The Dickens to 1501 University Ave., where from 1959 through April 1994 it was a popular meeting place, particularly for sports-minded patrons.
"We specialized in jumbo shrimp cocktails, veal Virgo and prime rib on Saturday nights, and other restaurants tried to duplicate our recipe for lobster bisque," Joyce recalled. "They couldn't then, and they still haven't."
For years, Mr.Virgo was chairman of the Walter Hagen Golf Tournament at Midvale Golf and Country Club, to benefit the American Cancer Society. In 1974, with Bob Hope as the top celebrity, the one-day event raised $44,000 to fight cancer. Mr.Virgo is a charter member of the Rochester Boxing Hall of Fame and was elected to the Frontier Field Walk of Fame in 2004.