Sal "Rocky" Cenicola was born Salvatore Cenicola, III at Holy Narne Hospital in Teaneck, NJ. Sal was always a high-spirited young boy where he competed and loved to play in all sports. He was a wrestling standout and champion for Pascack Valley Regional High School where he wound up wrestling for the state championships at Princeton University. Although he was offered full wrestling scholarships in college, he always seemed to return to his first love of boxing.
During his teens, Sal continued to talk to his father about boxing and how he wanted to pursue the Golden Gloves Tournament. He asked his father to find a suitable gym. His father found a gym and a trainer in Dumont NJ. That trainer was Eddie Helbig. Eddie gave Sal the early tools on how to fight and the confidence to win. Sal entered and won the 1976 NJ Golden Gloves. Sal went on to win the 1977 NJ State Blue and White Gloves Championships and the 1977 State AAU Championships. It was then when Sal went to compete in the 1977 AAU National Championships and where the Army Boxing Tearn spotted him. Sal did very well and won the early rounds of that national tournament until he was disqualified in the next round of the tournament for fighting with his head in front of his hands.
August 31, 2021
Boxer, Actor, Restaurateur Sal “Rocky” Cenicola dies at the age of 62 in St. Simons Island, Georgia
8/31/21 St Simons Island, GA
Sal “Rocky” Cenicola passed away peacefully today in St Simons Island GA. Cenicola, born Salvatore Cenicola III, who founded, owned and operated the legendary and highly successful Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria was a South Georgia legend who attracted N.Y. Style Pizza lovers from all over the world who visited the Golden Isles area for the past 15 years. Many sports celebrities dined at the iconic landmark over the years including Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells, former NY Giants receiver Plaxico Burress as well world champion boxers Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer and Nate Campbell amongst the many. Cenicola also hosted many “Fight Night” live TV specials during major boxing matches.
Prior to Cenicola’s successful foray into Italian food he was a big time amateur and professional boxer. In 1976 he won the New Jersey Golden Gloves Tournament and went on to win the 1977 N.J. State Blue and White Gloves Championships and the 1977 State AAU Championships. Cenicola made his name as a professional fighter in New Jersey in the mid-eighties for Main Events under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame trainer Lou Duva. Cenicola’s nick name, “Rocky” was given to him by Hall of Fame middleweight legend Rocky Graziano in his locker room after a 1983 fight. Cenicola retired in 1988 effectively ending his career and went on to run several successful businesses including a hair salon amongst other businesses. In 2013, long after moving to St Simons Island and opening Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria, Cenicola decided to make a comeback in boxing for one final fight. On April 13, 2013 Cenicola came back at age 53 and won a 3 round unanimous decision over 34 year old Nathan Petty in a fight dubbed “Comeback to Reality”. The fight set an official Guinness Book of World Records mark for the longest comeback ever by a professional boxer: 25 years and 66 days. Cenicola ended his boxing career with 19 wins, 2 Losses and 11 knockouts.
Cenicola, post boxing, decided to embark on an acting career landing a small part in the 2016 Ben Affleck film: Live by Night. He was also active in local theatre playing the lead role as Samuel Katz in the St. Simons Players Production of The Cemetery Club. In 2017 Cenicola portrayed a police officer in Neil Simon's "Rumors" which was produced by Island Players in St Simons Island, GA.
Cenicola in recent years became a successful play by play broadcaster for LDLTV Boxing Webcasts working with Boxer Hall of Famer Christy Martin on several shows. He was also a regular guest on the Talkin’ Boxing with Billy C show for many years.
In 2019, Cenicola was diagnosed with stage four cancer which he battled for more than two years. Cenicola is survived by his two sons Nick and Sal Jr.
Subsequently, Sal enlisted into the Army where he won the "Outstanding Soldier of the Cycle" for his Basic Training. He would go on to represent the NJ Gladiators/USA Boxing Team in international bouts. Among his most notable wins was against Ireland's Sean Doyle, Ireland's National Champion. Unfortunately, Sal's dreams of going to the Olympics were dashed. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics that year however an Injury to his shoulder may have in fact saved his life. Sal was hurt just weeks before the US Olympic trials team was set to fly to Warsaw Poland March 14, 1980. Sal never made the trip and LOT Flight 7 crashed that day killing 14 members of the US Boxing Team. After that, Sal had to make a pivotal decision that would change his life. He could wait while he was healing a separated shoulder and look forward the '84 Olympic trials or turn professional after his shoulder healed and fight professionally. His ultimate goal was to turn professional and that was his decision.
Sal turned pro the fall of 1982 on the undercard of a Howard Davis Jr. fight against Gary Gamble on the fledging cable sports network we now know as ESPN. It was a disappointing loss that was later ruled a no contest as a result of a head butt and cut on Sal's head. Sal shook off that loss/no contest and went on to win his next 18 professional matches, with 11 knockouts. His first defeat came at the hands of Lightweight Contender Bryant Paden on a split decision. He then was given an opportunity to fight the #1 ranked contender in the world named Louie Lomeli. The winner of the fight was promised a shot at Lightweight Champion Pernell Whitaker. Sal lost that fight and decided after 18 years he would walk away and retire from the sport that he had dedicated his entire life up to that point. It was time to pursue other successes in life and establish himself in the business world. After running several successful businesses in New Jersey and then as as Financial Manager Sal took his talents to St. Simons Island, GA where he opened the now World Famous Sal's Neighborhood Pizzeria and Ristorante.
After more than 26 years in retirement with much regret Sal set out to do the impossible: At 53 years of age comeback and fight another professional fight. After a lot of bureaucratic rangling and a rejected boxing license application from the State of Georgia Boxing Commission, the Florida State Athletic Commission granted Sal Rocky Cenicola a boxing license in January of 2013. On April 13, 2013, 25 years, 2 months and 7 days after he retired, Sal Rocky Cenicola notched his 19th and most historic win over 36 year old Nathan Petty at the Peck Center in Fernandina Beach, Florida by Unanimous Decision. Later that year with help of Historian Henry Hascup, The Guinness Book of World records officially recognized Sal's achievement as a World Record calling it "The Longest Interval Between two Professional Boxing Fights: 25 Years and 66 Days"
Sal Continues to run the most popular restaurant in South Georgia -Sal's Neighborhood Pizzeria and Ristorante Italiano. He was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of fame on November 8, 2012. Sal also does color commentary for fights on LDLTV which broadcast world wide. Sal often accompanies Talk Show Host Bill Calogero on remote broadcasts of the Talkin' Boxing with Billy C Show and is a frequent guest on the Talkin' Boxing with Billy Show Live. Sal also donates time to the Find Dream Foundation having hosted charity events in Tampa and St Simons Island, GA. Sal is very proud of his two sons: Salvatore IV and Nicholas and continues to raise them in St. Simons Island, GA
Cenicola vs Pickett 10/24/84
Sal Interview 9/1/2012
Cenicola vs Magnifico 4/6/86
Cenicola vs Elbaum 12/27/83
Cenicola vs Petty 4/13/13
Cenicola vs Dixon 9/2/86
Cenicola vs Petty Presser 2/22/13
Cenicola vs Sample 11/3/83
Sal Cenicola Workout 12/10/12
SAL WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU.
WHY NOT DROP HIM AN EMAIL AND WE WILL GET BACK TO YOU.