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Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Look Back: Joe Choynski

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.

"Chrysanthemum" Joe Choynski is often called the greatest heavyweight never to win a world title. Allen Bodner considers him to be the best Jewish heavyweight of all time and the ninth best Jewish fighter ever. In the outlaw days of boxing, he fought the likes of Jack Johnson, Jim Corbett (who was from the same neighborhood), Bob Fitzsimmons, James J. Jeffries, and Marvin Hart. Many of those fights were stopped prematurely by the police. But despite facing so many men who at one time held the world championship, Choynski never even fought for the belt himself.

Joe Choynski was born on November 8, 1868 in San Francisco, California. He grew up in a middle class household, working in a candy factory before he went into boxing. His father, who was an immigrant from Poland, graduated from Yale and his mother was a writer. Choynski (pronounced coy- EN-skee) began boxing at the age of 16 and turned pro in 1888.

Early in his career, he faced a young Jim Corbett. Their first bout in 1889 was stopped by the police in the fourth round. Corbett KOed Choynski in the 27th round of their second match, which took place a month later. That bout was one of the most brutal in the history of the sport according to ringside observers. It took place on a barge outside of San Francisco in oppressive heat. In 1891, he fought in an exhibition against John L. Sullivan. An 1894 fight with Bob Fitzsimmons was stopped by police in the fifth round. In 1897, Choynski battled James J. Jeffries. Though he gave up five inches and fifty pounds, and was knocked down in the fifth round, Choynski salvaged a draw when the bout was called to a halt after the twentieth round.

Standing only 5'10", Choynski never weighed over 172 pounds for a fight. Yet, he was considered a devastating puncher. Jack Johnson contended, "Choynski could paralyze you even if he didn't catch you flush." In retrospect, his greatest victory was over a young Johnson on February 25, 1901 in Galveston, Texas. Choynski knocked out the future legend in the third round. Much later, Johnson claimed that Choynski was the hardest hitter of the previous fifty years, stating, "I think his left hook was much more effective than Dempsey's or Louis's." Both Choynski and Johnson were arrested after the fight and spent 28 days locked up in prison before making bail.

Choynski retired from the ring in 1904. According to Boxrec.com, "The California Terror" finished with a record of 55-15-5 including 36 KOs (1-3-1 in newspaper decisions), although records from that era are notoriously sketchy. He was elected to the Ring Hall of Fame in 1960 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998. Choyinski died on January 24, 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Bodner, Allen. When Boxing Was A Jewish Sport. 1997.
Century, Douglas. Barney Ross. 2006.
Riess, Stephen A. Sports and the American Jew. 1998.
Somrack, Daniel F. Boxing in San Francisco. 2005.

1 comment:

  1. I bid-and lost-on the Johnson/Choynski photo
    on Ebay in the joint for their mixed race fight in Texaswhere they boxed exhibitions for the inmates.