Boxer and trainer
Born in São Miguel, Azores.
Based in Toronto.
Sully’s Boxing and Athletic Club, 1024 Dupont St., Toronto
There are lots of different classes of people here. Almost all kids… I have a lot of women fighters… Immigrants I have lots. Portuguese too… They are really good. But when it comes to fighting, they don’t want to – Joe Manteiga
Sully’s is Canada’s oldest and most storied boxing gym, where Muhammad Ali, George Chuvalo, Lennox Lewis and other boxing legends trained. Since 1999, this non-profit socially-conscious gym has been owned and managed by the Azorean immigrant Joe Manteiga, a former amateur boxing champion.
Joe Manteiga was born in Fajã de Baixo, a village near Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel island, Azores. Growing up, he spent much of his time on or by the sea, diving, fishing, and hunting. It was also in São Miguel that he first developed his love of boxing, by listening to fight broadcasts on the radio or watching black and white films of Muhammad Ali. In 1966, when he was 17, he immigrated to Canada with his parents and six younger siblings. They settled near Humber St. and Ossington Ave., in Toronto, where they had family members living. His uncle had a job lined up for his father at CAMH; his mother worked as a homemaker. Manteiga declined his uncle’s job offer and instead found work as CN Rail track worker. He enjoyed working outdoors but decided to leave during a strike and returned to Toronto, where he enrolled in night classes to learn English.
The Manteigas lived near Sully’s Boxing Gym (previously Toronto Athletic Club), owned by the Irish-Canadian Earl Sullivan, who had bought it from its founder Deacon Allen in 1964. After moving the gym to 109 Ossington Ave. and changing its name, Sully transformed it into a non-profit club dedicated to helping troubled and underprivileged youth. Manteiga learned about it when Muhammad Ali trained there before his fight with the Croatian-Canadian George Chuvalo at the Maple Leaf Gardens on March 29, 1966. He tried to see his idol that day but was unable to get past the large crowd gathered in and outside.
After that, Manteiga started frequenting the gym almost daily to watch the boxers train. One day, Sully called him and invited him to train, to which Manteiga agreed enthusiastically. Later he competed as a lightweight and welterweight amateur boxer, and won the North American Golden Gloves in 1973. After this achievement, Manteiga decided to try professional boxing. But after three professional fights he decided to quit, in 1982, since he did not make much money from it. He then started coaching youth at Sully’s. In the meantime, Manteiga also worked as an upholsterer at the Maple Leafs Garden, where he was employed for most of his working life.
Manteiga has kept a strong connection to his homeland throughout his life, visiting São Miguel several times. In the 1980s, he sometimes visited twice in one month, thanks to his friendship with pilots and flight attendants who informed him of cheap flights. He also took his daughter, Danielle, for three months, during which she learned to speak Portuguese.
In 1999, when Sully passed away, he left the gym to Manteiga as a gesture of appreciation for his friend of thirty years, who had stayed by his side during the last four years of his life when he was fighting an illness. Manteiga kept the gym’s name and its socially conscious mission, and continued to train the widely diverse people that came into the age. Since becoming the owner and manager – a responsibility he has since shared with his daughter – he relocated the gym twice. In 2019, after they raised $31,000 through a GoFundMe campaign, the Manteigas opened their most recent location at 1554 Dundas St. West, in the Little Portugal neighbourhood.
Hora dos Portugueses