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Monday, June 20, 2011

A Look Back: King Levinsky

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.

King Levinsky, sometimes referred to as Kingfish Levinsky, fought some of the best heavyweights of the 1930s. He usually didn't win, but he fought them. Well, sometimes he fought them; other times he just happened to be in the ring with them at the same time.

King Levinsky was born Harris Krakow on September 10, 1910 in New York, New York. The family moved to Chicago when he was very young. His father was a fishmonger in the Maxwell Street ghetto and King helped out in his father's shop. Levinsky had two brothers and four sisters, including Lena Levy, his manager. King dropped out of school in the fourth grade before learning to read.

Though he participated in street fights while growing up, Levinsky's choice to become a prizefighter was a bit curious. Hurting others wasn't in his personality. And he tended to exhibit clownish antics. His career began inauspiciously enough as his first fight was a decision loss to a previously winless boxer in 1928.

Things picked up to a degree and Levinsky faced future heavyweight champion Primo Carnera in 1931. Levinsky lost a ten-round decision. He lost two grueling fights- a ten round and then a twenty round decision- to Max Baer in 1932. But Kingfish defeated the great Jack Dempsey on February 18, 1932, in front of 20,000 fans. The bout was scheduled to be a four-round exhibition as part of Dempsey's comeback. On the advice on his sister Lena, Levinsky fought his heart out-unusual for an exhibition- and earned a decision victory. Dempsey never fought again.

The King was known for a wild right hand that was his trademark. It was a punch he telegraphed and yet it still managed to find the target on occasion. The 5'11" brawler used his left hand in the ring about as much as a Delhi native uses it to eat. But while the Delhiite has a good reason for not using his left- it is used for bathroom hygiene- only Levinsky knows why he didn't use his.

At the end of 1932, Levinsky lost to Carnera once again. But he handily beat former world champion Jack Sharkey on September 18, 1933. On December 28, 1934, Levinsky was scheduled to engage Baer is four round exhibition. His sister Lena devised the same strategy that had beaten Dempsey and had subsequently gotten her brother fights against notable opponents. Levinsky came out aggressive in the first round, even utilizing an effective jab. Baer was so furious he knocked the King senseless in the second stanza.

Levinsky was often criticized for flailing about and otherwise acting like a buffoon in the ring. Besides that dubious reputation, he is perhaps best known for his fight against Joe Louis on August 7, 1938. Levinsky was his usual brash self during the introductions, but put up little resistance once the bell rang. Some have accused him of fainting out of fright while facing Louis. In reality, he was severely overmatched. He succumbed to Louis's onslaught, going down, down again, and again, and finally for the fourth time before the referee stepped in and stopped the contest. Levinsky made it 2:21 seconds into the fight before the TKO came.

Levinsky finished fighting in 1939. After four straight losses and seven out of his last eight, the commission would not renew his license. Kingfish was famously a schlemiel and a terrible gambler. He was subsequently inducted into the army during World War II. The man who had grown up with Barney Ross and had been on friendly terms with Al Capone became a tie salesman in Miami Beach in his later years with his third wife. He died on September 30, 1991.

Max Baer vs. Kingfish Levinsky
December 28, 1934
Chicago Stadium
Chicago, Illinois

Joe Louis vs. Kingfish Levinsky
August 7, 1935
Comiskey Park
Chicago, Illinois

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

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