By NICK MANCINI
Writers who put the words “Youngs-town” and “boxing” in a sentence are likely to put the names “Kelly Pavlik” or “Ray Mancini” in that sentence, too.
They would be less likely name to include “Michael Koranicki,” although he was one of the most powerful fighters to come out of the city of steel. Weirdly, he is better known in South Africa than he is in the town where he was born and where he died.
Koranicki (27-9-2) graduated in 1970 from Chaney High School and was a heavyweight boxer from 1973-83.
He died May 14 and was buried Nov. 7 in Calvary Cemetery in Youngstown. He was 60. His only child, Theresa Koranicki of South Africa, couldn’t come to the funeral.
Mike Cefalde, a local promoter, said Koranicki was a “tough kid, a true throwback fighter in the ring.”
“It was almost like you had to kill him to beat him,” Cefalde said. “He was that tough.”
But there isn’t much visual evidence to prove it.
Search for “Mike Koranicki” on YouTube and it will turn up 11 videos: one of the Coetzee fight and 10 of a musician named Mika.
An Internet search includes some articles from The Vindicator and a lot of random boxing websites. Looking for fight pictures? There are three grainy ones from the Coetzee fight.
But some people do remember him.
Patrick Andrews of Niles remembers Koranicki’s Golden Glove fights.
“He really beat some guys pretty good,” he recalled. “I tried to follow his career when he turned pro, but it was tough. He didn’t really get much publicity in the area. But he could definitely box with the best of them.”
Koranicki fought out of Miami in the early part of his career. There was a stop in Philadelphia before he moved to South Africa. He returned to the U.S. in 1985 because of health reasons.
Paul Bosela, an engineering professor at Cleveland State who was Koranicki’s best friend since ninth grade, believes that traveling explains why Youngstown never claimed Koranicki for its own.
“His initial manager was in the Pittsburgh area, but he sent him to Florida to train with Chris Dundee,” Bosela said. “Things didn’t work out with this manager and he ended up going to Philadelphia and was managed by [former heavyweight champion] Joe Frazier.”
Dundee is the younger brother of Angelo Dundee, former trainer of Muhammad Ali.
“I know he was a pretty popular fighter in South Africa when he went there,” Cefalde said. “But otherwise, you had to be a true boxing fan to know about him.”
On April 19, 1980, he faced Gerrie Coetzee in Rand Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was the biggest fight of his career.
Koranicki was coming off an upset victory over the then-No. 1 contender Kallie Knoetze. A win over Coetzee would have put him in the thick of the world title picture.
It wasn’t to be. Coetzee knocked out Koranicki in the first round.
“I know personally he was not ready to fight,” said Bosela. “The one thing was when he fought Coetzee, there were too many things going on in his life; that was alluded to in some things that have been written.”
Bosela didn’t offer details, but his comments coupled with stories from others paint a picture of a former champion who stumbled and spent his latter years homeless, penniless and without the glory or support he had in his younger years.
The toughness his fans remember may have contributed to his decline as he aged. In 2010, researchers in Germany concluded that the severity of “punch drunk syndrome” is linked to a boxer’s stamina early in his career and the length of that career.
In Koranicki’s case, the former 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound heavyweight power-puncher spent the latter part of his life in a wheelchair and in nursing homes.
Bosela visited Koranicki in halfway houses and homeless shelters. It’s not the way he likes to remember his friend.
“When he was younger, he was tall and thin. You don’t think a guy like that can fight,” Bosela said. “You wouldn’t think he could punch, but be more of a technical boxer. Not Mike.”
Bosela said it was a tough life to endure.
“Mike’s mom died when she was 54 years old and at the same time, his first wife was filing for divorce,” he said. “He was married three times and it was just a hard life. He paid his consequences.”
When told about Koranicki’s life after boxing, Andrews just shook his head.
“Boxing is a rough sport,” he said. “I can’t say it is shocking to me, especially back then when there wasn’t the awareness about concussions like there is now. It is just so sad to know he lived like that for so long.”
Christine Davidson, the electronic news director at the News Outlet, was a classmate of Koranicki’s at Chaney. She didn’t know him well, but definitely remembers him.
“I am going to take you to 1982 or 1983,” Davidson said. “I was working at CNN and I was in a place called ‘The Horseshoe.’ They had big monitors everywhere and it was being announced that Michael Koranicki had just won this huge fight in South Africa; I was on the floor. It was quite stunning.”
Davidson also met up with her former classmate later in his life.
“I was so sad to see him like that,” she said. “Here he is, living in a homeless shelter when years ago he was close to becoming a world champion. It was so disturbing on so many levels.”
In the late 1990s, Koranicki enrolled at Youngstown State University, his second time giving college a try. The first time was after high school when he enrolled as an accounting major.
This time, he was taking telecommunications courses and Davidson was his professor.
“There was a student outside my classroom — older guy, bent over with wrinkles. I looked at my class roster and it was Mike Koranicki. He was old, he was shriveled,” Davidson said.
It was a far cry from how she remembered him.
“Clearly nobody is later in their life, but I was stunned with his appearance,” Davidson said. “He never finished the class and I was told he was punch drunk. I just felt like he was so forgotten.”
In a way, Youngstown did forget him.
“He got much more publicity in South Africa than he ever got in his hometown,” Bosela said. “That’s the way it went. He wasn’t fighting in his hometown and wasn’t managed by a local guy.”
In South Africa, he was considered to be one of the best heavyweights ever, Bosela said. He was even in a celebrity romance.
“When he was dating his wife there, they were both always in the newspaper together, not just when he was fighting,” Bosela said. “I was very happy that he received that kind of fame, as South Africa’s adopted son. It bothered the hell out of me that he never got that kind of attention in his hometown.”
But Bosela knows Koranicki never had any regrets about his career.
“He turned professional in 1973,” he said. “He kind of had the feeling of, ‘If I didn’t turn pro and try, I’ll never know if I can become a world champion.’”
Davidson said she can picture it now, a made-for-TV movie.
“It is just one of those stories,” she said. “A kid from Youngstown, Ohio; 6-foot-4, a handsome kid, graduating a Golden Glove champ in a big class in 1970.”
Koranicki had all the talent, but never the local recognition, Cefalde said.
“If he would have stayed in the area and hooked up with a good promoter, who knows what could have happened?” he said.
Maybe there would be another world champion from Youngstown.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).