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Ernie Pelaia

Boxing ∙ Monaca

 

 

 

 

In his prime, Ernie Pelaia stood 5’-9” and tipped the scales at 143 pounds – he wasn’t big, but never backed down from a challenge. In 1936, as the United States was mired in the Great Depression, Ernie (who was born in Italy) dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army at age 16. While in the service, Ernie inadvertently began a boxing career: one day while standing in the chow line, he dropped his mess kit, then stepped out of line to retrieve his utensils. When he attempted to get back into line, another soldier started pushing him back. The two men started to fight, and they ended up sparring for half an hour; turns out that the other guy was Steve Holociak, the post’s welterweight boxing champ. When the company commander heard of the incident, he asked Ernie to join the boxing squad. After a week of training, Ernie was ready for his first fight – and his opponent was Holociak! Ernie soundly whipped Holociak in a five round unanimous decision and went on to compile a 5-1 record in the Army until he was discharged in 1937 when it was revealed that he was too young to be in the military. Ernie returned home and played football for Monaca High School, but quit the team in 1939 to concentrate on the ring, amassing a 59-7 amateur record and winning the Pittsburgh Diamond Belt welterweight title. Although he never won a major professional championship, Ernie fought many of the best national and local fighters before retiring in 1948 with a 48-21-4 record. Ernie had an aggressive fighting style: he wasn’t a knockout artist, but had an outstanding left jab and left hook and constantly threw punches. Three of his most famous fights came against Tommy Yarosz. Ernie was inducted into the Beaver County Area Boxing Hall of Fame. He died on December 28, 2002.