By John Bassetti
On Wednesday at 2 p.m., a service will be held at Calvary Cemetery Chapel for former heavyweight fighter Mike Koranicki.
The name of Koranicki, who passed away in Cleveland on May 14, probably won’t register in the minds of most people, but the Chaney High graduate had the attention of Youngstowners in April 1980 when he fought Gerrie Coetzee in Johannesburg, South Africa.
A first-round knockout by Coetzee in Rand Stadium was followed by eight more fights before Koranicki ended his 38-fight pro career 27-9-2 (15 KOs).
Coetzee’s fight against Koranicki was sandwiched between Coetzee’s loss (unanimous decision in 15th round) to John Tate in October 1979 and a loss (13th round TKO) to Mike Weaver in October 1980. Had Koranicki won against Coetzee, he would have been in line to fight Weaver.
The win over Coetzee was Weaver’s first title defense of his WBA heavyweight crown. It followed Weaver’s March 1980 win over Tate in Tennessee, where he won via 15th-round knockout.
In September 1983, Coetzee beat Michael Dokes in a 10-round knockout to win the WBA heavyweight title at the Richfield Coliseum.
Prior to the devastating loss to Coetzee, Koranicki KO’d Kallie Knoetze, also in South Africa, where Koranicki has a daughter who survives him.
After his loss to Coetzee, Koranicki lost a close 10-rounder to James “Quick” Tillis in Chicago.
“We went to Chicago and they called it a decision, but I’ll tell you that it was one of those hometown decisions and it would have put Mike right back into it,” said Bob Miketa, a former local trainer who was with Mike for the Coetzee fight.
Koranicki hooked up with Miketa after Koranicki’s contract with Joe Frazier expired.
Miketa relayed some unfortunate events prior to Koranicki’s fight with Coetzee.
“We should have postponed that fight because of all that pressure,” Miketa said of personal problems affecting the boxer at the time.
“I should have cut his hand with a blade and say it was an accident. Either that or go to [promoter Bob] Arum and tell him what’s going on,” said Miketa, without elaborating.
Miketa said that Arum’s right-hand man, Jay Edson, was working down in South Africa.
“Arum was sponsoring and Jay was taking care of things across the pond,” Miketa, 66, said of his regret not to make the call on Koranicki’s behalf the night before the Coetzee fight.
Niles’ Bernie Profato, Ohio Athletic Commission executive director, explained how Calvary entered the scenario.
“When Mike passed away, his body was in Cleveland and he was going to be buried in Potter’s Field,” Profato said. “Mike Dolan, who used to be the lottery commission chairman and is now an assistant prosecutor in Cleveland, remembers me from budget meetings in Columbus, so he gave me a call.”
Dolan put Profato in touch with Theresa Koranicki.
“She went through a lot,” said Profato, who also had the intercession of State Senator Joe Schiavone, whose father, Lou, was Koranicki’s stablemate as an amateur boxer.
“I’d been e-mailing Theresa because she wanted to do something to grant her Dad’s last wish to be buried with his mother. We don’t forget our own,” Profato said of those in the boxing realm.
“Mike is able to be buried with dignity,” Profato said. “I think that’s the last thing anybody can take to the grave with them.
“He’s not a number in some pauper’s grave in Cleveland. Now he can have a funeral service and be buried with his mother.”
Profato had praise for Theresa Koranicki.
“A lot of people wish they had a daughter like his. Instead of saying he’s in the USA, so let somebody else deal with him, she clawed tooth-and-nail for Mike.”
Profato quoted a Rocky Graziano movie by its title.
“ ‘Someone Up There Likes Me,’ ” Profato said of the Paul Newmanmovie. “The sequel is that someone up there likes Koranicki because the Good Lord looked out for Mike’s wishes in his final rest.”
Several years ago, I visited Mike at a local nursing home and he was tickled, not only to have a visitor, but to have someone who listened to him talk about his boxing days.
In his condition, highs and lows weren’t uncommon and seeing him cry was the emotion I can’t forget.
For the last few years, I had — and still do — pictures of him sitting with his mother and father on a sofa in their home during Mike’s heyday. I mulled bringing those photos to him during a follow-up visit to the nursing home, but never did.
What good are they to me now?