Thursday, November 12, 2015

Johnny Risko Part 1

Many people undoubtedly pass Risko's on Lake Road in Sheffield Lake without realizing that the business has been there for decades, and has its roots in a restaurant and gas station there owned by Heavyweight Boxer Johnny Risko.

An interview with Jim Mahony conducted by librarian Sheila Ives in December 1987 that is available on the Lorain Public Library website includes a few reminices of Johnny Risko.

Mahony was discussing professional fights that were held at the Hotel Antlers in the mid-1920s, and recalled, "They featured Johnny Risko, heavyweight from Cleveland who lived in Sheffield Lake. In fact, two of his sisters, two of Johnny Risko’s sisters, still live in Sheffield Lake. They have many scrapbooks of Johnny and his achievements in the boxing ring.

"One of Johnny’s main bouts was when he fought his first professional bout. Johnny Risko had 52 amateur bouts and, as I recall, his record was something like 52 wins and 2 losses. So at that time he was encouraged to step into the professional ring and get a little money, ­so he did. ­ He stepped into the professional ring. He fought his first professional fight at the Antler’s Hotel. He fought a man from Columbus, Ohio. It was unusual for an amateur boxer in his first tryout as a pro to go ten rounds. The normal procedure is that you warm-up in the pro-ranks. You go four rounds, six rounds… but Johnny said, "No, I’m going to go classy. I’m going to go ten rounds." And he went ten rounds. And he won the decision. He whipped the man from Columbus, Ohio six rounds to four. So, the final judging on the bout was Johnny Risko six rounds, and the Columbus man four.”

A sports column (at left) written by Ernie Braden that appeared in the Chronicle-Telegram on October 20, 1934 was very complimentary regarding the professional ethics of Johnny Risko and Danny Dunn, his manager.

Braden wrote, “When it comes to down-right honesty in the prize-fight game, one has to take his fedora off to Johnny Risko, Cleveland heavyweight, and his able little manager, Danny Dunn... Not once in his many years in the game has the Cleveland “Baker Boy’s” name been linked with any dealings not strictly on the up-and-up... The same goes for Mr. Dunn, who incidentally is the only manager Johnny has ever had, Danny picking up “Jawn” when the latter was a raw rookie and building him into a leading heavyweight contender...

"Unlike the average “pug,” Risko will not be broke when he decides to hang up the mitts – Daniel Dunn saw to that when he first took the “Big Fella” under his wing... He took out a trust fund for the “Risk,” so Johnny is set financially for the rest of his life... What the fisticuff sport needs is more Riskos and more Dunns...”

When Johnny Risko did “hang up his mitts,” Sheffield Lake ended up being his home.

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