Dave Zyglewicz, boxer who fought for heavyweight title in Houston, dies at 79

A couple of old New Yorkers meet. Dave Zyglewicz, left, and, Doug Jones. Zyglewicz died recently at the age of 79.

A couple of old New Yorkers meet. Dave Zyglewicz, left, and, Doug Jones. Zyglewicz died recently at the age of 79.

Roger Powers/Houston Post

Dave "Ziggy" Zyglewicz, the heavyweight from Watervliet, New York, who fought boxing great Joe Frazier in 1969 at the Sam Houston Coliseum, died at 79 years old on Sunday night, the day before a street in his hometown was named in his honor.

"Something told me to go let him know Saturday, so I did, and he was so proud," said Nan Romano, his daughter.

Romano said her father passed away in a nursing home in Albany after suffering from dementia and stomach cancer that spread to his liver.

Born in Troy, Zyglewicz was raised in Watervliet and attended La Salle Institute in Troy, where he was a standout football player. After graduating high school, he entered the Navy and began his boxing career. He became the Navy and Armed Forces champion, according to his obituary.

He embarked on a professional boxing career and finished 32-4 with 18 knockouts. His most noteworthy fight came against Frazier in an April 22, 1969, title bout at Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston.

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"I'm just a guy from Watervliet," Zyglewicz told the Times Union in 2009. "I went into the Navy, got out and moved to Houston with $10 in my pocket. Four-and-a-half years later I was fighting for the heavyweight championship. I lived the dream."

Frazier knocked down Zyglewicz for the first time in his pro career 13 seconds into the fight and knocked him out 1:36 into the first round. But they became longtime friends and Frazier later visited Zyglewicz's bar, Ziggy's Corner, in Watervliet. They also went to Saratoga Race Course together.

"They were buddies from the weigh-in on," Romano said. "He would call my dad at Albany Airport every time he flew in. My dad would pick him up."

Heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Floyd Patterson and heavweight contender Gerry Cooney also visited Ziggy's Corner. But Zyglewicz remained the local hero.

"Everybody in Watervliet called him 'The Champ,' " said Watervliet resident Mike Reinfurt, a family friend. "We knew who he was."

Romano said her father remained humble about his boxing career right up until his death, as she found out during Monday's ceremony attended by about 100 people. Wiswall Avenue, on which Zyglewicz grew up, was renamed Dave Zyglewicz Way.

"He was such a proud man," she said. "He never did anything but encourage and love. He pulled boys off the street to go into his boxing club. My dad was not a braggart. I didn't even know half of this stuff (until the ceremony)."

Zyglewicz was predeceased by his wife, Fran, and his son Shane, a former Shaker High lacrosse standout and owner of Ziggy's Sports Bar on Latham Circle who died last August at age 50. Dave Zygliewicz lived with his son for 20 years until Shane's death.

Dave Zyglewicz is survived by three children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"He was a gentle giant who loved his city and loved people," Romano said. "He just loved everybody."

The wake will be held Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Parker Bros. Memorial Funeral Home in Watervliet. A service celebrating his life is at 10 a.m. Monday at Parker Bros., followed by the entombment of his ashes at Saratoga National Cemetery at 12:30 p.m.