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Who Was Tommy Ryan, Really?

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Who Was Tommy Ryan, Really?
Photos courtesy Xavier Eboli, Eboli family

Xavier Eboli is standing at the edge of Greenwood Lake in New Jersey. It's December, so the lake is quiet and empty.

The water ripples gently by. The boats, covered in shrink wrap, are stored on racks for the winter.

As he looks out over the water, Eboli's thoughts drift back to his childhood. The silence is broken only by cars zooming past on a nearby road.

Eboli turns and says, “There were a lot fewer people living here in the 1940s.”

Greenwood Lake in the 1940s (and Greenwood Lake today) was a bucolic summer vacation destination.

The main difference between now and then is the boxing presence. No longer do main event fighters set up training camp at Greenwood Lake for their upcoming fights.

But in the 1940s, it was one of the premiere spots – along with the Catskills – for fighters to train.

“On the south end of the lake, you had Brown's Hotel, which was the training camp for many championship fighters” said Eboli. “On the north end there was Long Pond Inn, another great location for training camps.”

Thomas Eboli Had Friends In Different Circles

Xavier's father was Thomas Eboli, also known as Tommy Ryan.

Thomas “Tommy Ryan” Eboli spanned the American Mafia landscape like no other individual.

He worked closely with Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Carlo Gambino and Vincent “The Chin” Gigante.

Tommy (Ryan) Eboli with Tony Pellone and trainer Baby Saban

Tommy (Ryan) Eboli with Tony Pellone and trainer Baby Saban

He helped establish the foundation of the Genovese crime family and as a member of its hierarchy helped build it into the single most powerful criminal organization in the world.

At the time of his assassination in 1972, Eboli was the street boss of the Genovese Family.

Xavier is a former U.S. Marine and successful businessman. He built thriving companies in both insurance and debt collection.

He has never been associated with an organized crime family and admits that he is unaware of many facets to his father's life.

A quick Google search of Thomas Eboli returns a litany of results, detailing a life spent on the other side of the law. But Xavier Eboli knows a different man, particularly when it comes to the sport of boxing.

According to Xavier, Thomas Eboli wanted to be a fighter himself but his father didn't approve.

So, to keep his boxing career hidden, he took the name of Tommy Ryan, the welterweight and middleweight champ of the late 1800s.

He also thought it would be more appealing to the local promoters who favored Irish fighters.

Tommy Ryan Fights And Wins, But Then…

Fighting as Tommy Ryan, Eboli won his first 10 fights before his father found out.

He promised that after his first loss, he would retire. As it turned out, Eboli lost his very next fight. He stopped boxing, but stayed in the fight game as manager.

The first fighter of note that Eboli managed was “Tough” Tony Pellone, from Greenwich Village.

He also managed the 25-fight career of Gigante, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Pellone and fought on several of his undercards.

Pellone was a neighborhood shoeshine boy and one day Eboli stopped for a shine and noticed he was sporting a black eye.

Pellone explained that he would often have to fight to secure the best spot on the corner and that he usually won.

Eboli asked, “Do you want to make money fighting?”

Pellone answered in the affirmative. His career began shortly after, also with a change the name.

At 16, Jerry Pellone was too young to turn pro, so his took his older brother Tony's name.

The Eboli family lived in a cottage at Greenwood Lake and Thomas Eboli would invite his fighters to stay with the family during training.

For the young Xavier, the experience of having pro fighters live in the house was exhilarating. At the time, the primary fighters managed by Eboli were contenders Tony Pellone and Rocky Castellani.

“My father wanted to keep them out of the city, away from distractions,” said Xavier.

“And he knew they were getting their steak every night because my mother was cooking it. My mother used to cook liver and then ring the juice out of it so they could drink the juice. That would give them the protein without getting the cholesterol from the solid meat. I used to get a kick out watching them drink raw eggs.”

Son Xavier Eboli Recalls The Quality Time With Solid Pugilists

Xavier was in the age range of 6,7 and 8 when Pellone lived with them.

Tough Tony hung the first pro losses on Charlie Fusari and Billy Graham.

He also beat Bob Montgomery and became the No. 1 rated welterweight in the world.

“I remember Tony living with us and sometimes we'd entertain his fiancee Lucy, who later became his wife,” said Eboli.

“Tony was a fine addition to the house. He was very astute and religious about his training. He did not create or look for distractions. My father used to treat him more like a son. It was more than a business relationship. They were best friends.”

A few years later, Thomas Eboli began managing Rocky Castellani, who would go on to be a top 10 middleweight contender.

While Castellani spent time with the Eboli family in Greenwood Lake, he also stayed with them while they lived in Teaneck, New Jersey. Xavier was a bit older and spent more time with Castellani.

“When I was 11, 12 we used to walk together, a mile and a half, two miles, after dinner,” said Xavier.

“I would do roadwork with him in the morning. I would go to Stillman's Gym with him if I wasn't in school. He was a kid himself, as well as being a professional fighter. He wasn't that much older than me. Seven, eight, ten years. He had enough youth in him to be willing to spend time with a 12-year-old kid.”

Xavier Eboli with mom and dad

Xavier’s parents were immensely proud of his accomplishments, such as the Marines stint

It was after the Castellani-Ernie Durando fight at the Garden in 1952 that Eboli was given a lifetime suspension by the New York State Athletic Commission.

Durando won by TKO in the seventh round and Eboli thought the stoppage was premature.

He felt that Durando's manager, Al Weill, had influenced the referee Ray Miller, a former lightweight contender.

When Miller stopped the fight, Eboli charged into the ring and began throwing punches at Miller.

Later, in the dressing room, Eboli knocked out Weill.

Although he could never hold a manager's license again, FBI records indicate that Eboli remained Castellani's manager.

Xavier said that there were times that he and his father had to “sneak” into fights.

But ringside seats were always still available. In fact, Xavier and his father sat ringside for the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight in 1971.

The era in which Eboli managed fighters was rife with corruption.

The primary Mafia figure most readily identified with boxing corruption from that time period was Frankie Carbo, who owed allegiance to Thomas Lucchese, a different family from the one which Eboli belonged.

Like many aspects of his father's life, Xavier has no knowledge of his father fixing fights.

What he does know is that he was very close with his fighters.

Of the relationship with Pellone, Xavier said, “He treated him like a son .. they were best friends.”

Thomas Eboli stood as best man at the weddings of both Pellone and Castellani. He is also godfather to Pellone's oldest son, Neil.

“There is no question that Tommy Ryan was a big part of our family's history, he certainly helped my father to navigate the big time and certainly knew how to manage fighters,” said Neil Pellone. “In later years he actually seemed obligated to people who he knew well. If you went to one of those social clubs in the Village, it was similar to visiting the local district leader of the Republican or Democrat party, those leaders were there to help you.”

In the book, “Only the Ring was Square,” by hall-of-fame matchmaker Teddy Brenner, he wrote of Eboli, “I have to say here, Ryan treated Pellone pretty good. He gave the kid a clean deal when they split up purses.”

Xavier cites two examples of his father's fondness for boxers.

Salvi “Baby” Saban was a promising middleweight in the 1930s. When his leg had to be amputated at the hip after a truck accident, Eboli hired him to train fighters, including Pellone and Gigante.

Then there is Wayland Douglas.

A welterweight, Douglas was a club fighter who once went eight-rounds with contender Bernard Docusen.

He retired in 1947 with a 26-13-3 record. In the mid-1960s, Douglas reached out to Eboli and told him he was going blind, the injury a result of his boxing career. Eboli paid for the operation that restored his vision and then he provided him with a job. In 1972, Douglas had one of his boxing gloves bronzed and mounted on a plaque.

The inscription read:

To The World's Greatest Manager
And My Best Friend
Tommy
From Wayland Douglas, March 1972.

Thomas Eboli was killed in July of 1972.

“There is a lot that people don't know about my father and you can't believe everything you read,” said Xavier. “My father was always passionate about the sport. He loved boxing and he loved his fighters.”


Writer Cassidy is a boxing lifer, and longtime staffer at the Long Island NY newspaper Newsday