The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 26, 2014

Salango remembered as area boxing great, tough guy

BECKLEY — To those who knew West Virginia Boxing Hall of Famer Noah Salango, he had many names.

Trainer. Coach. Papa.

To longtime friend and boxing promoter Joey Herrera, he will always be something else.

“He was a tough sucker,” Herrera said with a laugh.

It’s true.

Anyone who ever met Salango knew just that. He was as tough as they come.

Salango, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 83, was a true tough guy in an era of tough guys.

Born in 1924, Salango grew up in Mabscott before joining the United States Navy during World War II. He also fought for the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.

Fighting was something Salango had done his entire life.

“He liked to fight in the ring and in the streets,” Herrera said. “He didn’t care where it was.”

Salango did a lot of boxing in the Navy, according to Herrera. Once he returned from service, he joined several boxing clubs in Beckley, fighting every Friday night at the American Legion.

It was there he made a name for himself in the mid-40s, along the way winning eight Golden Gloves and competing in countless exhibitions against some of West Virginia’s toughest challengers.

“He was a blown-up middleweight,” Herrera recalled. “He had a lot of great battles with Luther Harrison and some of the guys. All these guys were great fighters. There was a lot of great fighters.”

One of Salango’s most famous fights took place on July 7, 1947, on a card billed as “The Greatest Boxing Show Ever Staged in Raleigh County.” The stacked card took place at Woodrow Wilson Football Stadium where Salango took on Butch Harry. Noah’s brother, Tony, also fought on the card.

Admission for the bouts were $1.55 for general admission and $2.10 for reserved seats.

Salango and his family later settled in Baltimore, Md., where he worked with the Maryland State Police.

But for the fiery Italian, boxing was still in his blood.

“I really didn’t know much about his boxing career,” Noah’s son Vito said. “I know he would train some guys. He would go down to the rec center and teach lessons on how to box.”

Salango moved back to southern West Virginia in the ’80s, where he was inducted into the hall of fame in 1985. Once again, he connected with Herrera, who introduced him to Original Toughman Contest promoter Jerry Thomas.

“When I first came to Beckley in the early ’80s, Joey was one of the first people I met,” Thomas recalled. “He introduced me to several people, with Noah being one of them. Being an ex-fighter and helping train some fighters, we hit it off and he started helping us at the event.”

Salango became a constant figure at the Toughman, often working the corner and motivating his fighters with the fiery Italian demeanor he once used to intimidate opponents.

“He would really get into it,” Vito said. “He really loved doing it. He was really into training and helping those guys.”

Thomas recalled a moment when Salango, then in his 70s, and another trainer exchanged words during the Toughman.

The verbal fisticuffs came between Salango and Charlie Sensenbaugh when Sensenbaugh complained about a decision made during one of the night’s bouts.

“Charlie and Noah were about the same age,” Thomas said. “They were friends, but yet they were adversaries when they were younger.

“I remember one night, Noah put him in his place. He had enough. They almost went at it. Charlie sat down. Charlie had actually threatened (former Toughman champion and pro boxer) Butch McNeely, but Noah threatened to knock him down.

“Noah was a very, very, very nice guy, but he was always a fighter,” Thomas said with a laugh.

Even as Salango was beginning to fall ill, he kept fighting, Thomas said.

“I knew he was sick,” said the longtime boxing promoter. “One of the last conversations I had with him, I had actually tried to get him to sit down and rest, but he wouldn’t do it. He would not quit. There was no quit.”

Salango passed away on March 7, 2008 following a bout with cancer -- one, in true Salango form, he had fought and beat twice before.

Friday night, the Toughman will return to Beckley for the 35th time, and though he won’t be there, the spirit and influence of Salango will ring on.

“Noah was the kind of guy that with his personality and background, he had an impact on a lot of people over the years,” Thomas said. “He came across as a nice guy — a likeable guy, yet a tough guy and a knowledgeable guy. He had a great impact on how many dozens of people over the years with his personality and the way he handled himself.”

While Salango remained one of Raleigh County’s true tough guys, his heart was bigger than any championship or hall of fame plaque he may have received.

“When I think of Noah, I always see that big smile on his face,” Thomas added. “He was a real go-getter. He loved to be around boxing, loved to help the young fighters and working in their corners. He was also so upbeat and positive, always smiling and eager to do whatever he could do to help others.”

There was no mistake about it, Salango was a fighter.

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