Fighting among the world-class Philadelphia middleweights of the 1960s and 1970s - guys with colorful nicknames such as Willie "The Worm" Monroe, Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, and Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts - Bennie Briscoe simply was "Bad Bennie."
That said it all. Mr. Briscoe, who died Tuesday at age 67, probably was the meanest and toughest of the bunch, surely the most devastating hitter. Ring magazine in 2003 named Mr. Briscoe the 34th-greatest puncher of all time. He was among the best boxers never to have won a world championship - and maybe Philadelphia's greatest middleweight.
"Bennie Briscoe would have beaten Bernard Hopkins," J. Russell Peltz, Mr. Briscoe's promoter from 1970 to 1979, said at a ceremony to induct Mr. Briscoe into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007. (After Hopkins' recent performances, Peltz now says that middleweight fantasy might have gone either way.)
"He was the meanest man I ever saw in a boxing ring," said Harold Lederman, an HBO boxing analyst who sat at ringside for many Briscoe fights. "Bennie was just - oof - he had a left hook to the body that would just kill you.
"I honestly believe that half the guys he fought were scared stiff after the referee's instructions in the ring before the fight started. Bennie would stare you down with that bald, shaved head, and he would turn that left hook, and if he didn't get you in the body, he would get you down below. Bennie didn't care where it landed."
Mr. Briscoe had been at Temple University Hospital for about a week before being moved to hospice care. The cause of death has not been released, and funeral arrangements are to be announced.
In the ring, where he wore a Star of David on his trunks to honor his Jewish managers, Jimmy Iselin and Arnold Weiss, he finished with a 66-24 record, with five draws and 53 knockouts, and was stopped in a fight only once in 20 years.
Mr. Briscoe was born in Augusta, Ga., and moved to Philadelphia as a teenager. He turned pro at 19 in 1962, and won his first 12 fights, a streak that included knocking down every opponent.
After Stanley "Kitten" Hayward beat Mr. Briscoe by decision at the Philadelphia Arena in 1965, it was Hayward who went to Presbyterian Hospital.
"Bennie never considered himself to be a loser if a guy outslicked him and beat him by decision," Peltz said Wednesday. "What Bennie considered fighting was beating somebody up. He enjoyed imposing his will on people."
Outside the ring, Mr. Briscoe stayed out of trouble. "He didn't mingle a lot," said Cyclone Hart, who fought Mr. Briscoe twice. They both worked for the City of Philadelphia streets department, where Mr. Briscoe toiled for more than 40 years, even during his fighting career, starting in rat control.
From 1970 to 1972, Mr. Briscoe knocked out 11 consecutive opponents in Philadelphia, with Argentine world champion Carlos Monzon in his sights. In April 1972, Mr. Briscoe went to Scranton for a tune-up against journeyman Luis Vinales and lost with a punchless performance.
It turned out he had hepatitis, which sent him to the hospital for weeks. In bad timing, that's when he received an offer to challenge Monzon. Still not 100 percent healthy, after 54 fights and 10 years in the ring, he flew to Buenos Aires for his first title shot on Monzon's home turf. In Round 9, Mr. Briscoe had Monzon nearly out on his feet with a right to the champion's jaw.
"We were one punch away from the world championship," Mr. Briscoe's trainer, Quinzell McCall, said afterward.
"I look at the tape all the time," Peltz said Wednesday. "He took a step back when he should have stepped forward, then Monzon grabbed him, and the referee, an employee of the promoter, just let Monzon hang on, looking at the clock." Monzon won by decision.
Mr. Briscoe had two other shots at a world title, losses to Rodrigo Valdez in 1973 and 1974. He fought local rival Hart to a brutal draw in 1975, and beat Hart by knockout in 1976.
"Oh, man, it was so tough," Hart recalled. "It felt like you got hit upside the head with a brick. He could ruin your whole career."
As Mr. Briscoe's championship hopes, and skills, faded, his handlers begged him to retire. Peltz wrote letters to boxing commissions calling Mr. Briscoe a "deteriorated fighter," saying he shouldn't be allowed to fight anymore. Mr. Briscoe felt betrayed and said he still needed the money, much of which he sent to his mother in Georgia. "I still got fights in me," he said.
"The biggest mistake I made was sending those letters," Peltz said. "I didn't like the way he was walking. But I should have stayed with him."
Mr. Briscoe's final bout was against Jimmy Sykes at the Blue Horizon in 1982. He had battered Sykes in sparring days before, but after beating him up for two rounds at the Blue, the story goes, Mr. Briscoe got tired of punishing him and jabbed for the rest of the fight, dropping a decision. The fire was gone. He was 38.
In 2007, Philadelphia boxing historian John DiSanto created the annual Briscoe Award, which honors the city's best boxer.
Perhaps Mr. Briscoe's highest-profile fight came when he was 35, against future champion Marvin Hagler in 1978. There were 15,000 fans at the Spectrum chanting "Ben-nie! Ben-nie!" Hagler danced, uncharacteristically, and won by decision.
"I honestly believe Hagler was afraid of him," Lederman said. "If that fight was 10 years earlier, Bennie would have put him in the second row."