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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Look Back: Jackie Fields

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.

Jackie Fields fought his way into boxing lore by winning the welterweight championship of the world twice and by grabbing Olympic gold in the featherweight division. Fields was renowned for his toughness and his superior boxing ability. He is widely considered one of the greatest Jewish welterweights of all time.

He was born Jacob Finkelstein on February 9, 1908. In the Maxwell Street ghetto in Chicago, Illinois, where he grew up, he was known as Yonkel, Yonk for short. His father was a butcher from Russia. Finkelstein took the name Fields from Marshall Field's department store when he was advised that Finkelstein wasn't a tough enough name for a boxer. The Maxwell Street ghetto was a gritty place where kids had to fight to survive. In later years, Fields recalled getting into fights with kids who rained anti-Semitic slurs upon him.

Sam Langford and Jack Blackburn taught him to box. Jackie's hero was Benny Leonard. When he was 13, the family moved to Los Angeles, where his father opened an ultimately unsuccessful restaurant. But Jackie continued to dream of being a boxer. Fields took his love of fighting and won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics in Paris when he was just 16 years old. He turned pro early the next year. On November 12, 1925, he fought a young Jimmy McLarnin. Both men would eventually win the welterweight championship. But on that night in Los Angeles, McLarnin knocked Fields to the floor four times in securing a second round KO.

Fields was a quick, skilled boxer, who lacked heavy hands. He taught Barney Ross, who was younger and also from the Maxwell Street ghetto, to box. Obviously, Fields was a good teacher, but also a hell of a fighter himself. The McLarnin fight would be the last time he was ever KOed. He strung together a number of wins in a row, including a decision victory over the reincarnation of King Tut. His losses were against the cream of the crop. Kid Kaplan beat him in 1927 and Sammy Mandel did so a year later.

After another winning streak, Fields won a version of the welterweight crown when he defeated Young Jack Thompson on March 25, 1929. In a unification bout, Fields became the undisputed champion after beating Joe Dundee. Fields was controlling the contest against Dundee when, in the second round, after being knocked down, Dundee crawled over to Fields and wailed away at his baby-maker. Dundee was DQed and Fields became the champion despite falling unconscious.

In a non-title bout, Fields fought and lost to Young Corbett III in 1930 by decision. After the bout, Fields was astonished when referee Jim Griffin raised Corbett's hand instead of his own. He figured the referee must have made a mistake. Two and a half months later, in May, Young Jack Thompson out-pointed Fields to take away his title.

Fields was a colorful character. He was friendly with Al Capone though he claimed the two never did business together. Fields was adept at squandering away his boxing paydays. He also lost sight in his right eye towards the end of his career, but continued fighting. He figured that, since he was an orthodox fighter, he only needed his left eye in order to see the opponent's punches coming. He passed the doctors' eye tests by memorizing the order of the letters on the eye chart.

On January 28, 1932, the 5'8" Fields beat southpaw Lou Brouillard by decision to win back his welterweight title. He lost it to Young Corbett III on points a little over a year later. Fields fought one more time, a win over Young Peter Jackson, which put him in line for a shot at the middleweight crown. But his mother died and with only one good eye, Fields figured it was time to hang it up at the age of 25. He finishes with a record of 72-9-2 with 31 KOs and 2 newspaper decision victories, according to BoxRec.com.

Fields tried his hand at a variety of different fields after boxing, including being a bookie and a film editor for MGM. By the 1970s, he was greeter at a Las Vegas casino. At that point, living with his second wife and her children, he was content. Fields died on June 3, 1987 in Los Angeles as a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Berkow, Ira. Maxwell Street: Survival in a Bazaar. 1977.
Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Century, Douglas. Barney Ross. 2006.

1 comment:

  1. The bibliography = three of my all-time favorite books..