Tommy Paonessa was an active figure in the sport of boxing for over sixty years. He made an extraordinary contribution to the sport on many levels–as an athlete, coach, manager, builder and pioneer.

At the tender age of eleven, Paonessa learned the basics of boxing and at nineteen he captured the BC bantamweight championship. The following year, he turned professional and defeated many of his challengers including a draw against the sharp Pacific Coast champion Henry Wood. Paonessa also fought and defeated three Dominion champions in non-title fights and trained with world lightweight champions Tony Canzoneri and Barney Ross.

At the age of thirty, Paonessa retired from professional boxing, but his love for the sport propelled him outside the professional ring. He was instrumental in opening the South Vancouver Amateur Boxing Club. He was one of the founders and head coach of the Wallace Athletic Club, which later won an award for best athletic club in BC.

From 1948-55, Paonessa was head coach for the original Western Club. At the 1948 Golden Gloves tournament, he was awarded ‘Most Successful Coach’ and also ‘Best Club Award.’ He later won these awards four additional times. His dedication to coaching produced such champions as Bill Brenner, Bunty Andrews, and Elio Ius just to name a few.

The 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Vancouver found Paonessa in Canada’s corner. Many say that much of the credit for Canada’s tremendous performance of five medals lies with him. Following the Games, he set up the Northwest Eagles Boxing Club in North Vancouver.

In spite of the time that passed, Paonessa remained instrumental in the sport. Late in his life, he fielded calls from the younger generation about the early years of the sport. He was a legend in British Columbia boxing and a credit to our province.