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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Look Back: Abe Attell

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will present monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

The legendary boxing promoter Tex Rickard once claimed that Abe Attell was the greatest boxer that he had ever seen. Allen Bodner asserts that Attell is the second best Jewish boxer in history, behind only the Great Benny Leonard. Bert Sugar ranks him in the top fifty fighters of all time. The Hall of Famer, nicknamed "The Little Hebrew" and "the Little Champ," held the featherweight title from 1901 until 1912.

Born on February 22, 1884, Abraham Washington Attell was the 16th of 19 children had by Russian immigrants. Attell was raised in an Irish neighborhood in San Francisco. He turned pro in 1901 after a brief but thunderous amateur career. The 5'4" youngster first engaged in a 10-round draw with the splendid former champion George Dixon in 1901, then a 20-round tie a couple of months after, and finally beat Dixon eight days later on points in a 15-round contest. When Young Corbett beat Terry McGovern and then failed to make weight, Attell laid claim to the featherweight championship at the age of 17.

It was in the final Dixon contest that Attell transformed from a knockout puncher into a cunning boxer. In complete control of everything in the ring, Attell often threw non-title fights in order to make the rematch more lucrative. An obsessive gambler, Attell would bet heavily on himself in the rematch. After winning, he was wont to throw his money away at the track. Attell KOed Harry Forbes in the 5th round in 1904 to leave no doubt as to the name of the featherweight champion. He had bet his entire purse that he would stop Forbes in that round.

Later that year, Tommy Sullivan knocked out Attell, but was deemed to be over the 122 pound featherweight limit, so Attell retained the title. At the start of 1908, Attell defended his title, no rare occurrence, this time against Owen Moran of England. Throughout the fight, Moran kept referring to the champ as a "dirty Jew." Attell was enraged and bit off a piece of Moran's nose. Moran begged referee Jim Jeffries for a disqualification. Jeffries refused and advised Moran to, "Bite him back."

Attell boxed circles around the featherweight division and, as a result, often took on heavier opponents. Battling Nelson and Jim Driscoll were the two best lightweights the featherweight champion faced and he fared well against both. After 11 years at the top, Attell lost a 20-round decision to Johnny Kilbane in 1912.

In addition to gambling, Attell also enjoyed retiring from boxing, something he did with a greater frequency than Sugar Ray Leonard. Attell finally retired for good in 1917. His record was an estimated 72-11-18 with 39 KOs, not including a 37-6-5 record with regards to newspaper decisions (a combined 109-17-23 record for the mathematically-challenged). Attell was alleged to have been an accomplice in Arnold Rothstein's attempt to fix the 1919 World Series, what became known as the Black Sox Scandal. Both managed to elude justice, but it involved a year exiled in Canada for Attell. Attell had two brothers and two nephews who were also boxers and remained a lifelong fan of the sport. He died on February 6, 1970 in New York.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Bodner, Allen. When Boxing Was A Jewish Sport. 1997.
Riess, Stephen A. Sports and the American Jew. 1998.
Somrack, Daniel F. Boxing in San Francisco. 2005.
Sugar, Bert Randolph. Boxing's Greatest Fighters. 2006.

1 comment:

  1. His brother Monte,I think held the bantamweight title for a little while.