9/9/08 - jewish boxers

In today's excerpt - the poor and disenfranchised, including Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants, in early twentieth century America often have disproportionate success in high-risk sports because these sports are seen as a way out of poverty:

"There had been a Jewish [boxing] champion as far back as 1791, when Daniel Mendoza, a native of London's poor Whitechapel neighborhood and only 5' 7" and 160 pounds, won the world heavyweight championship, which he held for four years. Mendoza, a Sephardic Jew, was a ring revolutionary in that during an era of roughhouse brawling, he introduced a scientific style of boxing, predicated on jabbing, counterpunching, and strong defense, qualities that were virtually unknown during the early days of the bare-knuckle era. After losing his title in 1795 when he was thirty-one, Mendoza became London's most renowned boxing instructor.

"By the second decade of the twentieth century, six Jews had won world titles and, in total numbers, Jews were third behind Irish and Italian professional boxers. That number continued to grow in the 1930s when seven Jews held world titles. The high point was in 1933 when Maxie Rosenbloom (light heavyweight), Ben Jeby (middleweight), Jackie Fields (welterweight), and Barney Ross (lightweight) held half of the eight world titles then recognized. ...

"For many young Jews, Italians and Irish-Americans, boxing for all its inherent risks, was seen as a way out of poverty. Also, Jews who grew up in crowded ghettos such as New York's Lower East Side or the Maxwell Street neighborhood in Chicago were disinclined to take up baseball or football because playing fields were virtually nonexistent. Boxing, by contrast, required little space, and settlement houses, where the sport was taught, abounded in Jewish ghettos.

" 'You did it for money, no other reason,' said Danny Kapilow, a good welterweight of the 1940s. ... 'It was very hard to get jobs before the war.' ... Some Jewish fighters of the era conceded that the street fights they got into after being attacked by Irish and Italian teenagers helped them develop into boxers. 'As a kid growing up in an Italian and Irish neighborhood in West New York, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan, I got into a lot of fights after being called a Jew bastard and worse.' "


Jack Cavanaugh


Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey


Ballantine Books


Copyright 2006 by Jack Cavanaugh


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