Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Rising South Philly boxer Sonny Conto hears the Rocky comparisons — and he’s embracing them

Conto, a real-life Rocky Balboa, is a Philly native who loves the movie series. He hopes to be more active in the coming months and climb the heavyweight rankings.

Philadelphia boxer Sonny Conto (right) is off to an undefeated start through seven career fights.
Philadelphia boxer Sonny Conto (right) is off to an undefeated start through seven career fights.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Rocky feels like a movie with events that are impossible to reenact in real life. A boxer couldn’t last after taking that much punishment in the ring, right?

But 45 years after the film’s debut, Sonny Conto — a rising Philadelphia boxer — shares enough similarities with Rocky Balboa to call that thinking into question. Conto is an Italian heavyweight boxer from South Philly, and Balboa even runs down the street Conto grew up on in the film.

“It’s awesome to have that comparison,” Conto said when broached with the topic.

“That’s funny,” Sylvester Stallone said. “Another Rocky? Who knows. He may be.”

Stallone, who recently released Rocky IV: Rocky Vs. Drago: The Ultimate Director’s Cut, just hopes Conto takes fewer punches than Balboa. Power wise, Conto is on the right track. He hasn’t taken much damage with five first-round stoppages in seven career fights.

Conto has remained relaxed for a boxer who hasn’t had much action since 2019.

Right outside Marian Anderson recreation center’s boxing gym is a pizza box with large slices stuffed with pineapples and bacon. He wants everyone who comes in the gym to make sure they eat.

Inside the gym, timeless Michael Jackson tunes from the 1970s and beyond blast on speakers while Conto shadow boxes and prepares for a workout.

Jackson’s No. 1 hit Beat It plays, and it puts an extra pep in Conto’s step. He sings along as he follows the song’s instructions and hammers the boxing bag.

Conto hasn’t had much time to beat anyone as of late. He debuted with five fights in 2019. Since then, he’s had just two matches: one fight in January of 2020 before the pandemic and one in April of 2021.

Conto will return to the ring at 7 p.m. Thursday at the new Live! Casino & Hotel in South Philadelphia. He’ll headline the card and face Joel Caudle in a six-round scheduled heavyweight contest.

“I feel good, just ready to showcase my skills,” Conto said. “All my hard work is going to show for itself.”

Neither of Conto’s last two fights lasted more than a round. Only two of his seven fights have gone multiple rounds. Standing at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he’s on the smaller side as today’s crop of fighters features giant heavyweights, but you can’t tell by his punching power.

Conto practices in 20-ounce boxing gloves, so 10-ounce mitts feel like feathers. His assistant coach, Quilly Hughes, joked that one day of pad work with Conto made his elbows and arms hurt for three days.

“Punchers are born,” Conto’s father and trainer, Frank, said. “They are not made, and he has been born with it.”

Frank believes his son can stack up with the bigger heavyweights. Conto also got valuable experience in Las Vegas while sparring and living with Tyson Fury ahead of the Fury-Wilder III.

“That was a life-changing experience,” Conto said. “He shared some of his knowledge with me. It was motivational.”

What Hughes and Conto have worked on most is head movement. Hughes is a disciple of Pennsylvania Hall of Fame trainer Derek “Bozy” Ennis, who is known as one of the best defensive coaches in the area.

“We have really just been sticking to the fundamentals,” Frank said. “He’s been doing well with that. I’m really happy with where he’s at.”

Conto will be the first to tell you.

“I ain’t did [expletive] yet,” he says.

But he’s heard the Rocky comparisons and he’s embracing them. Conto was in attendance last week at the Philadelphia Film Center for the one-time theater showing for the director’s cut Rocky IV.

“It’s definitely scripted pretty crazy,” Conto said.

» READ MORE: Sylvester Stallone reintroduces Rocky IV with never-before-seen footage and a new ethos

The first crowd at Live! Casino & Hotel is expected to seat a little more than 1,000. It will be a pro-Conto crowd. He’s born and raised in South Philly. That combined with the long layoffs between fights are motivating factors for Conto’s return.

“I got a lot to prove for South Philly and I got a lot of people counting on me,” Conto said. “I embrace it. I’m not running from it. Pressure does two things to people: it makes diamonds and busts pipes. I’m one of the people that rise to the occasion.”