1985 Bout at Hammond Civic Center Remembered as one of the Region's Best Sporting Events
HAMMOND – Some moments in time are so well documented that there can be no disputing the facts. We know exactly what happened. And if we don’t, we can check the tape. When it comes to historical reference, the tape trumps all. Conversely, moments that weren’t well documented leave room for debate. Did Babe Ruth really call his shot in the 1932 World Series being one such example.
A local event which falls into the latter category, rather than the former, was perhaps the most memorable night of boxing in Region history; March 22, 1985 – the night Hammond’s Carlos Tite fought Calumet City’s Mike Landini at the Hammond Civic Center.
Back in the day the fight was billed as the Midwest Middleweight Championship. Nowadays, it’s referred to as the “Rumble in the Region.” And what a rumble it was. But was it however, truly a local version of Zale-Graziano, Ali-Frazier or Hagler-Hearns as we Region Rats like to tell it? Was it even the best fight on the card that night? The problem here is that each of us remembers it in our own way.
No doubt it was a bruising conflict, both fighters have admitted as much. But was it really Rocky and Apollo at center ring, wobbling and bloody, trading blows one after another as has been romanticized? Some say yes, others say no. Whether or not the fight itself stands the test of time is a matter of opinion, but the aura surrounding that night will go down in Region sports history.
Over time this battle of brain vs. brawn has taken on a legend of its own. So much in fact, it can be hard to find someone who doesn’t lay claim to being inside the Civic Center on that early spring night all those years ago. But does the actual bout itself live up to its own reputation? You be the judge.
Landini, the 25 year old from TF North High School, would enter the fight as the Illinois middleweight champion with a 22-1 record. Tite, the 27 year old Gavit grad, with a career mark of 27-2, held the same distinction for Indiana.
The build-up for this fight started in the newspapers as both men jabbed at one another from opposite sides of the state line. Landini told reporters he “was going to shine” and that he was “a young chicken waiting to spring on someone and Tite would be the one,” causing Hammond’s blonde bomber to fire back “Landini’s going to fall. He’ll take a beating til he can’t take it no longer.”
The Boulevard bad boy also chipped in with this little nugget for good measure; “I know he’s a Cal City policeman and I’m glad about that. It will give him something to fall back on when I knock him out.”
Weeks of hype ensued in the smoke filled taverns of the two neighboring cities, helping to fuel an already brewing rivalry between the former sparring partners and their hometowns, not to mention generate ticket sales.
How much bad blood had been spilled by fight night? Ask former Cal City mayor Robert Stefaniak next time you see him – he was refused entry into the sold-out venue despite having plans to watch the fight with then Hammond mayor Tom McDermott Sr.
Hammond Fire Department officials estimated a crowd of 6,000 or more entered the building, many without tickets, while some with tickets were denied access by the city fire marshal.
Fight promoter Dexter Tite, head of Force Productions and the older brother of Carlos, said at the time that of the 5,332 tickets printed, only 4,900 had been sold. If these numbers are accurate, and many will argue they aren’t, although there's no evidence to the contrary, it means that more than 1,000 people gained free access into the arena while others who paid for tickets were left out in the cold and stuck looking for a refund.
Because there was no television or local radio broadcast of the fight, many fans waited outside, getting round by round updates from ushers and security personnel. For those lucky enough to get in, a special night awaited.
Inside the building, gamblers wagered even money as fans argued over who should be favored. Because the crowd was evenly split, neither fighter had the hometown edge. One local newspaper picked Tite to win by KO in the seventh, Tite’s trainer Chuck McGregor said with a hint of sarcasm that Landini was the favorite.
With Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” blaring through the loudspeakers, the boxers emerged from their locker rooms and made their way to the ring. First came Landini, known as the “Choir Boy”, then Tite, his moniker – “The Force.”
Soon chants of “Car-los! Car-los!” began from the fans of the Hammond boxer. Not to be outdone, the Calumet City faithful cheered on their favorite son with calls of “Lan-din-i! Lan-din-i!” The chants would continue on throughout the fight.
Once inside the ropes, tensions rose between the combatants as did the crowd noise and some pre-fight pushing and shoving ensued. Thirty minutes of no holds barred warfare, broken down into 10 three minute battles, was about to commence. All of it inside a musty old hall better known for basketball and roller derby than classic pugilism.
The two local fighters were set to give the overflow crowd its money’s worth. The jam packed house readied itself for a street fight.
Jack Callahan, a retired local boxer who is now a referee, was the official timekeeper of the match. Having sat ring side, Callahan has vivid memories of that night.
“It was so loud in there, we could hardly hear each other talk,” he said. “The place only holds about 5,000 but they had at least 6,000. It was jammed, plus they had to turn people away at the door, everyone was trying to get in, it was something I’ll never forget.”
Finally after all the banter and ballyhoo (and a five minute delay to clean up beer some moron threw into the ring) came judgment day. Landini would get the better of Tite early on, connecting with a couple of left jabs in the first, then using a solid right in the second to open up a cheek wound Tite suffered while training for the fight in Florida. Tite scored with a right to the head, but the “Choir Boy” answered with a right of his own, ending Tite’s momentum.
In the fourth, a left by “The Force” staggered Landini but the normally aggressive slugger didn’t go in for the kill. “He let him (Landini) get away instead of jumpin’ on him,” brother and corner man John Tite said recently. “He could have ended it right there.”
Landini’s strategy to jab and move worked effectively against the brawler Tite, who had hoped to get inside on his counterpart. Short, compact punches were the plan according to McGregor. Work the body, wait for the opening and end the fight with a big left hook.
As the fight moved into the middle rounds, the two combatants traded punches with neither landing the big blow. Tite would connect with a couple of lefts, but the powerful southpaw was unable to land his trademark haymaker.
Landini, ever the dancer, continued to stick and move, scoring points with quick jabs and getting just enough of Tite’s cheek wound to keep doing damage to that left eye. A right-left combo by Tite buckled the knees of his opponent and brought the crowd to their feet in the eighth, but just as he did earlier in the fight, the kid from Cal City used his quick feet to slip away and his quick hands to score points with shots to the blood covered face of the Hammond fighter.
By the ninth round, Tite could no longer see out of his left eye, a result of Landini’s constant jabbing. The ringside physician Dr. Albert Willardo checked the eye after the eighth round before giving the go ahead. The fight doctor again took a look at if after the ninth before pronouncing Tite fit to fight on.
In the 10th, both fighters came out aggressive, trading punches in the middle of the ring. About halfway through the round another exchange took place as the two boxers sensed the end of the fight. By this time, the crowd was standing and cheering wildly. Although no serious damage was done, several punches were traded during the melee which lasted until the final bell.
Afterward, the divided crowd stood waiting for the judge’s decision. The minutes ticking away like hours for those inside the Sohl Street facility, especially the two bloody warriors. How would the judges score it, who would they favor?
A hush fell over the crowd when the ring announcer grabbed the microphone. The moment of truth had arrived, “Judge John Taylor scores it 98-97 in favor of Landini. Judge Gary Merritt scores it 96-95 in favor of Tite,” he tells the crowd.
It’s a split decision, but to who? The frenzy around the ring reaches a fever pitch as the announcer pauses for effect before making it official when he tells the crowd, “Referee Sean Curtin scores it 98-95, in favor of the winner……..from Calumet City, Illinois……..Mike “The Choir Boy” Lannnn-deeeeeee-neeeeee!”
Bedlam follows as fans of both fighters react to the controversial decision. Landini, who was sporting two black eyes and a bloody nose, proclaimed himself none the worse for wear, “I feel like a million bucks,” he told sports reporters after the fight.
Meanwhile, Tite was in his corner with an ice pack on his face, explaining that he was fine despite having only one good eye for most of the match. “It was swollen shut the last two rounds, I couldn’t see out of it at all,” he told the newsmen. “But I feel great. I thought I scored enough to win.”
Callahan doesn’t want to add to the controversy but said he had the fight scored a draw. “To me it was even, but I can understand why Carlos thinks he won the fight. He definitely got some good shots in,” said the man with a ringside view. “How can one judge be so far off (in scoring) than everybody else?” he still wonders.
Even after all these years he smiles when the subject of Tite-Landini comes up. “It was a great fight, that’s how I remember it,” he said. “Both guys left it all in the ring. The fans definitely got their money’s worth.”
One person who says it wasn’t the fight many claim it to be is John Tite, younger brother of Carlos, who was in the corner that night in Hammond. “We’ve always been disappointed because Carlos didn’t fight his fight, he never unloaded and that’s what he needed to do to win,” said John. “It was not his best fight.”
To this day, Carlos doesn’t make excuses, but thinks he won the fight, “All he did was jab and run the whole time. He never hurt me,” says Tite. “I was the aggressor, I buckled his knees with a jab, I had more good shots and I chased him all night, but I didn’t knock him out,” he said.
Maybe the judges gave the edge to Landini simply because he was the less bloody of the two fighters, maybe there was another factor, or maybe that’s the way they saw it. Regardless, it’s a decision Tite, more so than Landini, has had to deal with.
“I still have people come up to me and ask ‘How did you lose that fight to Landini, you should have beat him.’ It gets kind of old,” he said. The slugger from south Hammond added that those comments only come from people who weren’t at the Civic Center that night, “Anyone who saw it knows he got the decision but he didn’t beat me. He won because I didn’t knock him out.”
Whether the fight lived up to the expectations at the time or whether or not it lives up to history’s larger than life image doesn’t matter; what does is this – Carlos Tite vs. Mike Landini on March 22, 1985 is the measuring stick for a boxing match, and quite possibly a sporting event, in the Calumet Region. Regardless of who won and who didn’t.
Twenty-seven years have flown by since that night in 1985, yet nothing can dull the razor sharp images any one of us who really were in attendance surely carry to this day.
It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That being the case, how great the fight actually was is up to you. Remember it the way you want. Only one known videotape of the event exists, and I have it my possession, so who’s going to argue with you?
Editors Note: In the course of my interviews and discussions for this story, I came across many people who had this bout confused with the Tite-Vampire Johnson fight in the same building more than a year earlier. Tite won the slugfest with ESPN televising the match nationally. Even local radio showed up, unlike the “Rumble” where the only local media to be found were the daily newspapers.
There is no doubt that because of television exposure, more people saw the Johnson fight than the Landini fight. So perhaps, by virtue of all the hype, the night you remember may be Tite-Landini, while the fight you remember may be Tite-Johnson.
All “Rumble in the Region” photos courtesy of Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest.