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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Look Back: Harry Harris

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.

Harry "The Human Hairpin" Harris became the first Jewish world champion under the Marquis of Queensbury rules when the slender pugilist took the bantamweight crown on March 18, 1901.

Harry Harris was born in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 1880. His twin brother Sammy popped out on the same day. The brothers were given their first pair of boxing gloves as a Chanukah present. Harry was artistic and attended drawing school. A boxing gym stood next to the drawing school and Harry decided to give it a try. There he met welterweight legend Charles Kid McCoy, who taught the skinny lad his famous corkscrew punch.

Harry turned pro at the age of 15. Standing nearly 5'8", he weighed 96 pounds and fought in the bantamweight division which had a limit of 116. Harry lacked muscle, but was shifty and able to utilize his unusually pronounced height for his weight. Harris was 7-0 on December 14, 1897 when his brother Sammy, who had also become a professional boxer, came up sick. Harry took his twin's place and fought John Whitecraft and knocked him out in three. When asked if Whitecraft wanted to fight Harry's brother, he replied, "One meeting with the Harris family is enough for me."

Harris, also nicknamed the Stringbean Kid, notched a key victory over the tough Charles Roden by way of ninth round TKO, after Roden suffered a broken jaw, on November 22, 1898 in New York. In 1899, Harris suffered the first of his two career losses, a six-round decision loss to Steve Flanagan. During the summer, Harris beat a Chicago Jewish star in Sig Hart twice. That same year he drew with the undefeated former bantamweight champion Jimmy Barry in a six round bout. Even Barry admitted he had lost the fight at retired afterward.

In 1900, Terrible Terry McGovern vacated his world batamweight crown and Harry held a claim. But so did the British champ Harry Ware. Harris prepared to travel to London in order to battle Ware, but Ware backed out. Instead, Harris fought Pedlar Palmer on March 18, 1901 in London for the bantamweight championship of the world.

Sammy, Harry's twin, died the day before the fight. But the Human Hairpin was not told until just prior to the start of the contest. No one would have blamed him if he had forfeited his chance at the title. But he courageously decided to fight on.

Harry beat the light-punching boxer from Britain in the latter's hometown by decision in 15 rounds to capture the crown and thus becoming the first Jewish boxing champion of the twentieth century. His reign didn't last long as the lanky lad had grown into his height and could no longer make it under the bantamweight limit afterwards.

Harris rose from a knockdown against eventually bantamweight champion Danny Doughery in 1902 to pull off a six-round newspaper decision before retiring. Harris made a brief comeback in 1905 and fought for the final time in 1907.

Harry Harris died on June 5, 1959. He became a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Riess, Stephen A. Sports and the American Jew. 1998.

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