the boxer who never heard the bell    The referee stopped the fight in the sixth round. American Robert Cohen couldn't take any more punishment. D'Agata was momentarily blinded by the flashing ringside cameras. The 38,000 thousand home fans that filled the "Foro Atletico Stadium" in Rome witnessed his triumph. The boxer, a 30 years old veteran, was lifted up onto the shoulders of some fans and celebrated his victory by waving his arms and hands in the air. The new featherweight champion of the world was a deaf mute. He became champion on the 29th of June, 1956. Mario D'Agata has so far been the only deaf mute to have become a world boxing champion. In order to discover how this small wiry man with disabilities came to be king of the ring, we need to go back in time to his days as a child. His is the story of a life written in silence.
Mario had a difficult childhood. Of seven brothers and sisters three were born deaf and dumb. The D'Agatas used their fists to silence the other jeering children in the small village of Arezzo. Their parents decided to leave the small village and the family moved to Rome in the hope of finding better medical attention for their afflicted children. Try as they did, the children were never able to pursue a normal education. Mario, though, was a quick child, and as well as working outside the family home, with the help of his parents he received a dignified schooling at home. As a teenager he came across a poster advertising a boxing club and he went along for a look. As soon as he saw other youths boxing, he knew it was what he wanted to do. Having been delayed by the Second World War, Mario had a late debut as an amateur. He was 20 years old when he fought his very first fight in ring. In the four years from 1946 to 1950 he won 90 of 110 bouts. His professional debut in 1950 was also celebrated with a victory. As a professional he won the National Italian Featherweight title in 1953 and following six straight victories he headed off to Tunisia in search of the world title. He fought against the American boxer Robert Cohen and lost the ten-round clash on points. After that he went to Australia in order to see a little bit of the world. While he was there, he also went on a long tour of fights against local boxers. After the third fight, he had a heated argument with his manager who shot the boxer the in chest.
The incident frustrated plans for a second shot at the world title and in 1955 he returned to Italy. At the time almost nobody believed that deaf and dumb D'Agata could make a comeback. But D'Agata won another 13 fights on the trot, became European Champion and thus won himself the right to another crack at the title.
This brings us back to the 29th of June, 1956. Robert Cohen, the boxer who made him eat Tunisian dirt, was once again the opponent. Mario got into the ring, the sacred home of the twelve ropes that separate heaven form hell. It can't have been easy for him to have 38,000 pairs of eyes glued to him. Even less so if you have to lipread the lot! But that night silence was destined to overcome roaring noise and in the sixth round he knocked the American out. He defended his title against the Algerian Alphonse Halimi in Paris the following year. As he was deaf he couldn't hear the bell ringing at the end of each round, so they had to put some special lights close to the ring. The lights went on for D'Agata at the end of each round. It was an open-air fight and due to a storm, the lights suffered an electricity overload. They blow up and fell on Mario, who received burns to his neck and back. Nevertheless, he decided to continue and lost the bout in the 15th round. He was immediately taken to hospital for treatment to his burns. Halimi never offered to fight him again. Mario retired in 1962 and he never went back to the ring. Do punches hurt as much if you can't hear them? How can you dance around the ring if you can't hear the music? The great Mario D'Agata, the deaf guy who became world champion, gave vicious silent answers to those two questions...