Always humble, Venti, the long-time Jersey City boxing fixture, wanted to know how he was considered to receive induction into the Hudson County Hall of Fame.
"I don't know if I've done enough to be considered as a Hall of Famer in Hudson County," Venti said at the time. "I mean, I'm honored, but I don't know about being a Hall of Famer. There are so many other great athletes who have come out of Hudson County."
While Venti might have started out as a boxer in his younger days, he will not be remembered for what he did as an athlete. But his contributions to the sport of boxing - in every way possible - are certainly worthy of all kinds of merit and praise. Venti was a highly respected referee and judge in the pro boxing game, officiating in about 70 or championship fights during his 41-year career.
Venti was also respected for his work with the Ring 25 organization that helped retired boxers with an assortment of assistance, as well as remembering immortal fighters with memorials in their respective hometowns.
So Venti's credentials were more than simply worthy for consideration for the Hudson County Hall of Fame, as the organization plans to honor its 17th induction class later this month.
Very unfortunately and very sadly, Venti will not be able to accept his award as a Hudson County Hall of Famer. Venti, born Paul Ventimiglia eight decades ago, died last Friday, a few days after suffering a fainting spell and a fall in his Kearny home.
The late Paul Venti will still be inducted into the Hudson County Hall of Fame on Thursday night, March 22, at the Casino-in-the-Park in Jersey City, joining a strong contingent of standout sports figures who will receive the award that evening.
Now, so will Venti, after his untimely passing Friday, just a few weeks shy of the induction dinner and ceremonies.
Venti was born in Manhattan and moved to Jersey City about a half-century ago, living for 35 years in the Jersey City Heights. He was introduced to the sport of boxing when he was a youngster in the 1940s, when his older brother, Sammy, encouraged him to get involved in AAU boxing.
"I was 115 pounds soaking wet," Venti said a few weeks ago. "My brother was a pretty good fighter. I wasn't that courageous. I was just a skinny kid with a pretty big heart. The first time I put on gloves, I was pretty scared. But I knew once I got involved in boxing, I wanted to make it a part of my life forever. I have a lot of mileage on me."
Venti said that he got involved with officiating and running boxing shows with the legendary Al Bundies in Jersey City, running the weekly amateur boxing cards that were produced by the Jersey City Lions Club.
"I was Al's assistant and we worked closely together," Venti said. "He picked me up almost every night and we always had some place to go together. He was a great guy and he encouraged me to get more involved in boxing."
During that time, Venti started a long-standing friendship and working relationship with Jersey City Councilman Bill Gaughan.
Venti said that he first climbed into the ring as a referee in the 1960s, working the Lions Club boxing shows. Venti then said that he was encouraged to try his hand at refereeing professional fights by the legendary trainer Al Certo of Secaucus.
"Al was working at the Secaucus PAL and I got involved there," Venti said. "Al was developing good talent back there and he noticed that I was a pretty good referee. He introduced me to the state boxing commissioner Joe Walker. I put in an application and started working as a pro referee."
In his 25 years inside the ring, Venti worked many big fights, including an exhibition bout between lightweight champions Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler, gained national attention by refereeing the fights that middleweight James Scott fought while still an inmate at Rahway State Prison in 1979 and was in the ring when Matthew Saad Muhammad won the WBC Light Heavyweight championship in 1981 and when Jersey City's Mark Medal won the IBF Middleweight title in 1984.
Through the 1980s, some of boxing biggest names fought under Venti's jurisdiction, like Rocky Lockridge, Johnny Bumphus, Iran Barkley, Mark Breland, Michael Dokes, James "Buddy" McGirt and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. In 1987, Venti officiated the Hector "Macho" Camacho-Howard Davis fight at the Convention Center in Atlantic City. In 1988, Venti refereed a heavyweight fight in Atlantic City that featured the one and only George Foreman.
In 1989, Venti climbed out of the ring, but remained ringside, where he became a respected judge for the last 17 years. Venti judged more than 200 fights during that span and was still active as a judge in recent months, having worked the November card at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany that featured Jersey City's Dennis Sharpe and North Bergen's Danny McDermott.
Venti's last bout was in December, when he judged the fight between Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito in Atlantic City.
Henry Hascup, the director of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and a proud historian of the boxing game, was a close friend to Venti.
"Paul was a man that would do anything to make a person happy," Hascup said. "He took Ring 25 over when it was just about done and hardly anyone left. In the first meeting, we had six people show up, but he wanted to continue when nobody else did. With very little money in the bank, he tried several different ideas to draw the people in. Finally after almost a year, he started to get more people."
Added Hascup, "He would run an Annual Picnic for the Orphans of St. Peter's and later on, he would do the same thing for the kids of COMBATT (Community Organization Making Boxing Alternatives Today for Tomorrow, based out of Newark, that provides alternatives activities for troubled teens). Just before Christmas, he would give them a Christmas Party, giving them several gifts.
Added Hascup, "Every year, Paul ran the Annual Ring 25 Dinner Dance and he would bring the COMBATT kids. We even drove all the way down the Jersey Turnpike to bring the COMBATT kids to see a rodeo and he and his wife made all the food and drinks for all of them."
Hascup recalled Venti's love for boxing history.
"For the former boxers and boxing fans he would run trips and led in putting up several monuments of many great boxers such as Joe Borrell, Tippy Larkin and Ike Williams and he was working on one for Jersey Joe Walcott. Back in 1996, Paul led the city of Jersey City in remembering the 75th anniversary of Dempsey-Carpentier fight, and 10 years later he did it again. He even had the street named Jack Dempsey Plaza. He would ask me if I could get some championship belts and he would give them to several New Jersey State Champions that never received one."
Hascup had a funny story to share about Venti.
"The only thing Paul loved more than boxing was his family, especially his wife, Hilda," Hascup said. "A few months ago I was ring announcing and Paul was one of the judges. We had a 15-minute break, then I asked everyone to come back to ringside and I also called the boxers to the ring. Just when I was going to announce the next bout, the timekeeper called me over and said Paul wasn't back yet, so don't start the bout. I looked over at his chair and it was empty. I then looked in the back of the place where Hilda was sitting and there was Paul, giving the love of his life something to drink and eat."
Hascup said that he could continue with favorite stories about Venti.
"Paul will be missed so much that I can not even begin to tell you," Hascup said. "I can honestly say that I loved that man."
From a personal aspect, Paul Venti became a friend in recent years after I appeared at some of his Ring 25 events and after I wrote a book two years ago about the life of former heavyweight champion James J. Braddock. Paul made sure that I was always included in everything he did involved with boxing and would call on a regular basis just to talk about sports and what I was doing.
Last May, Paul presented me with an award at his Ring 25 dinner dance. I was greatly moved by the gesture and will be forever grateful. Gaughan also received an award that day.
In July, Paul and I both spoke, along with Hascup, at the 85th anniversary of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight at the Jersey City Library. He truly was a great man with a big heart and will be sorely missed.
Paul Venti was 86 years old. He leaves behind a wife, Hilda, a daughter Maria, a son Michael, and four grandchildren.
And now, the Hudson County Hall of Fame dinner will be so totally different without having him there to receive his award.