Leading up to his April 26, 1973, bout with Ernie Burns, Licata posted an overall mark of 16-0 in the city of Tampa, with three of those wins coming as an amateur. Pretty impressive, but not nearly as impressive as his overall career numbers at the time: 30 wins, zero losses, and three draws.
Burns, whose career mark at the time was just 14-7, would have his hands full against Licata in their bout at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. Although trained by the legendary Angelo Dundee, Burns’ record seemed to indicate that he would serve as little more than a tune-up for the undefeated Licata.
Licata, in fact, had his eyes on a target much more formidable than Burns: a title shot at middleweight champion Carlos Monzon of Argentina.
“I hope it is this year,” Licata said.
Although his crack at Monzon would not come until June of 1975, Licata had no intention of looking past Burns, a converted southpaw from Miami who earned the nickname “The Upset Kid.”
As fighters, Licata and Burns could not have had less in common. “Two Gun” Tony, as he was known for his quick combination use of left and right punches, relied on speed to compensate for his lack of a power game. Burns, on the other hand, came in with ten knockout victories to his credit and a reputation for being hard to intimidate.
His manager, Lou Fleischer, described Burns as a “fighter who can go into a strange and hostile ring, meet the opposition and bring home the bacon.” He added that Burns would not be intimidated by Licata or the Armory setting because “he (Burns) carries his own referees – his fists.”
In 33 fights, Licata had tasted the canvas only one time. In a match in Tampa against Santiago Rosa on June 8, 1970 – almost a full three years earlier – Licata took a vicious right when expecting a left, going down for a mandatory eight-count. Licata captured the bout on points and learned a valuable lesson in the process: never discount a fighter’s “lesser” hand. Still, Licata entered the fight knowing where Burns could hurt him the most. “I know his hardest punch,” Licata said, “will be in his left hand.”
His left, as it turned out, was the hand Licata used to the greatest effect in the match. A judicious use of jabs and hooks with his left, while keeping his right hand mostly holstered, allowed him to register enough points with the judges to cruise to a comfortable decision. The fight lacked any knockdowns, although one of Licata’s rarely-used rights buckled Burns’ knees in the tenth round. Licata took his share of shots from Burns during the briskly moving affair, though the punches seemed to have little impact on the tough Licata.
Still undefeated after 34 fights, Licata continued his run of success with 18 more wins to improve to 52-0-3. He lost the first match of his career on points to Ramon Mendez in Milan, Italy, but returned the favor against Mendez just one month later in New Orleans.
This set the stage for his long-awaited tilt against Carlos Monzon at Madison Square Garden for the WBA Middleweight title. Although he would go down in defeat as a result of a TKO in the tenth round, Licata’s place in Tampa boxing lore would remain secure.
After a decade-long career, Licata retired in 1980 with an overall mark of 61-7-4. His record in Tampa, however, was a dominating 22-0. He may have hailed from the Big Easy, but Licata couldn’t have felt more at home in the ring anywhere else.
Note: Rounds 9-10 of the Monzon-Licata fight can be seen on YouTube at the address. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VLyabYhiNQ.