Bobby Czyz, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team, was prevented from competing that year in Moscow due to the U.S. boycott of those games. Passing up numerous college scholarship offers, the 18 year old high school senior from Wanaque, New Jersey instead turned professional, promptly winning his first 20 fights as a middleweight. After moving up in weight, Czyz captured the IBF World Light Heavyweight Title in 1983 and the WBA Cruiserweight Title in 1991. In 1995, Czyz added the World Boxing Union Super Cruiserweight title to his long list of ring accomplishments. He retired from boxing with an impressive won-lost record of 44-8, with 28 knockouts. Following retirement, Czyz worked for the next ten years as a highly respected boxing commentator for the Showtime network.
World Boxing Champion in Three Weight Classes
By: Frank Garza
Professional Boxing Referee
For Bobby Czyz, learning how to box wasn’t a choice it was a given. Given to him by a father who according to Czyz “Likened that young boys be like raw steel to be hammered and smashed into a blade like a knife.” At the age of four under the stern tutelage of his father, the tempering and honing process began for Czyz. When he had reached the age of ten Czyz’s father pulled him aside and reminded him, “It’s not that you want to box, it’s that you’re going to box.” then enrolled him at a local boxing gym. Recalling the event Czyz added, “He thought boxing would give me this character and maturity and teach me this discipline to do right.”
Initially having no choice to learn the sweet science, Czyz made it his choice in what he would do with his acquired education. “When I was ten years old I told one of the older kids at the school I was in, that by the time I was twenty-four, I would be world champion.” It should then come as no surprise that when the father gave the son a choice at age fifteen to quit boxing, the son chose to continue. There was no quit in Bobby Czyz.
During the next several years Czyz competed as an amateur winning the New Jersey State and the East Coast championships in his division. Czyz earned a position on the US Amateur team and was set to leave for a tournament in Poland but a car accident two days before Christmas of 1979 left him with a broken nose. What should have been a setback at a golden opportunity in reality turned out to be a lifesaver. “I couldn’t train in January and February because my nose had to set for eight weeks, so I withdrew.” said Czyz. In early March of 1980 LOT Polish Airline Flight 007 which carried the US Amateur Team crashed on its final approach into Warsaw killing all onboard including Czyz’s replacement.
A month later, turning down offers to attend several prestigious colleges Czyz left the amateur ranks and turned pro, having his first fight on April 24, 1980. Cable TV was rapidly becoming America’s newest entertainment outlet and Czyz found a fit on ESPN and NBC’s Champions of Tomorrow. Fighting with the nickname “Chappie”, the additional moniker of “Matinee Idol” was added due to his mass popularity and frequent TV appearances. Boxing fans literally were able to see on television the development of Czyz from a four round fighter to a world champion. By September of 1982 Czyz had built a ring record of 20-0, 15 KO’s and earned a reputation that former New Jersey referee Larry Hazzard described this way; “Going into the ring with Bobby Czyz as a referee meant you had to be on guard in protecting the opponent because Czyz was a lethal type of boxer who could finish his opponents.”
A chance at a world title first appeared on the horizon for Czyz in November of 1982 when he was matched against Mustafa Hamsho, who was34-2-2, with 21 KO’s. The winner of the bout was to be given strong consideration for a shot at Marvin Hagler’s world middleweight crown. In the fight Czyz broke his right hand in the second round and fought the remainder of the fight at a disadvantage losing the bout by unanimous decision. Czyz’s injured hand required a bone graft to repair.
After almost a year off to recuperate Czyz returned to the ring campaigning as a super-middleweight and clicked off eight straight wins. In 1986 just seven months past his twenty-fourth birthday, Czyz moved up to the light-heavyweight division and fulfilled his prophecy when he stopped Slobadan Kocar, a 1980 Olympic Gold Medalist at 1:10 of the fifth round to become the International Boxing Federation (IBF) light-heavyweight world champion. A true warrior, Czyz went on to quickly defend his title rather than sit on it as many other world champions have done. Within the first ten months of his championship reign Czyz successfully defended the title three times. In his thirteenth month as a champion and making his fourth defense Czyz lost the belt to Charles Williams. When asked about Bobby Czyz the champion, Marian Muhammad, President of the IBF reflected the following; “Bobby Czyz was a talented, intelligent and tough world champion. He was one of our premier champions, who as a fighter actually helped establish our organization in the boxing world when we were in our infancy.”
Czyz was unsuccessful in trying to regain the light-heavyweight world title on two occasions losing to World Boxing Association champion Virgil Hill and again to IBF champ Charles Williams. In 1990 he fought his last fight as a light-heavy and moved up to the cruiserweight division. There he stopped his second Olympian Gold Medalist, Andrew Maynard in the seventh round. Czyz defeated Robert Daniels to capture the WBA cruiserweight world title in March of 1991 winning his second world title in as many weight classes. Czyz successfully defended this title twice before vacating the belt.
On December 5, 1995 Czyz Stopped Robert Jackson in the sixth round adding the World Boxing Union super-cruiserweight world title to his list of ring accomplishments, as well as becoming a world champion in three different weight classes. Czyz moved up to the heavyweight division only to lose to Evander Holyfield. On June 12, 1998 Czyz fought his last professional fight as he challenged Corrie Sanders for the WBU world heavyweight championship but came up short.
Ending his 18-year professional boxing career with a record of 44-8, 28 KO’s Czyz considers his greatest athletic achievement to be the immortality attained when becoming a world champion. “If you ever look back to see who was the world champion in those years, in those divisions”, he told me, “my name will be there and no one can ever take that away.”
Following his boxing career Czyz remained close to the action, working as a boxing analyst for Showtime where he gained a favorable following with his vast knowledge of the sport and his superb ability to articulate it to the viewers. An honor student and a member of MENSA the transition from ring to broadcast booth was a natural for Czyz.
Czyz left the broadcast booth to pursue other ventures. Returning from an engagement in April of 2007, Czyz was involved in a fiery car crash in which he was a passenger. The impact knocked him unconscious. Trapped inside the burning vehicle he had to be rescued and pulled out by a firefighter and bystander. Czyz suffered severe damage to his body and internal organs as a result of the fiery accident. Czyz was airlifted to a nearby medical facility and in Czyz’s own word, “It didn’t look good.” Adding that, “They didn’t think I was going to survive because my body was too badly beaten up. My lungs were pretty charred and burned up on the inside and I was burned very badly on 18% of my body. They said I wasn’t going to make it and said if I ever did come out of the coma or if they brought me out of it, I would be on a respirator for the rest of my life.”
But Bobby Czyz has never been a quitter. Throughout his career and life and in spite of his many personal tragedies Czyz has always persevered. It is with this fortitude that he is here today as an inductee to the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, adding to his eternity.