Boxer Johnny Lira donates brain to help raise awareness for head injuries

During National Head Injury Awareness Week, Nina Santiago, daughter of Chicago’s former boxing champion Johnny Lira, tells the story of her dad’s contributions to the cause before and after his death in December.

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Ernesto Espana ducks a punch from Johnny Lira during a WBA lightweight title bout, August 4, 1979. (Tribune photo by Phil Mascione)

11 comments

  • Sergio

    According to Johnny Lira, his last name should have been Barzini, when great grandpa came into America, he made his last name simple to Lira, so Johnny would have been named Giovanny Barzini
    Sergio

  • Joanne

    Johnny always had his boxing family in his heart and now he has given his brain. that's just like johnny thinking of other people and how he could help them.

  • Sean Curtin

    I still can't believe Johnny is gone because he was always full of life.
    I traveled with him all over the country for many boxing events and he was always the life of the party.
    God bless

  • Harv Roman

    Johnny did so much for so many through his work and volunteering at the Union League Boys and Girls Club Two in West Town for most of his life, without asking for anything in return. Just as boxing helped Johnny to turn his life around, Johnny was the reason that many other also became better youth and adults. I was fortunate enough to be a friend, a co-worker, and even a host for several of his radio interviews. Johnny truly was a character extraordinaire, whose personality and work will be felt for years in Chicago.

    Harv Roman

  • Betty Spinks

    I had the pleasure of meeting Johnny Lira, he will be truly missed. I were shocked to learn of his death. We work together trying to get a pension fund started for boxers.

  • Deborah Willies

    Years ago my Mom told me my Grandfather was a boxer. That gave me the inspiration to get into the same thing. It’s true we share the love for it. You’ll never know it but you’re my role model. Now we’ll never get the chance to meet. I’ve been slacking off lately but finding out you passed gives me the motivation to get back at it.. Now comes the work.. You’ll remain in ny heart.. Even though we’ve met I love you Grandpa Johnny ♡♥♡♥ Nina if you read this please email me.. You may or may not remember my brother & I but Levarge is our father.. We’ve been trying to find you guys for years… Sad but true..
    -Zebulun & Deborah

  • Mauro Di Fiore

    In the 1970's I had had enough of boxing after breathing, eating, sleepingand dreaming of boxing for 5 years, I gave it up. Johnny Lira came to my house and said he was starting a boxing club (ULBC) the Union League Boys Club and needed help training these kids because he was too busy with his pro career to do it justice. I gave in after his 3 hour convincing speech and we managed to build one of the most successful amateur team in the State. Once at a regional Jr. tournament we took 9 out of 11 titles, which even today it's unheard of. Right after that, I was included in his pro boxing career as one of his backup trainers along with the legendary Johnny Tocco of Las Vegas and Angelo Dundee. In the next 30 years we had some very interesting experiences traveling all over the country. I will not reveal much more than that, if you know what I mean. Today, I still think he'll show up somewhere and his passing was just one of his crazy April fools day. Believe me, he's capable of it.
    Anyway, RIP John.
    Mauro (Mario) Di Fiore.

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