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Monday, April 9, 2012

A Look Back: Sam Berger

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.

Sam Berger was the first Olympic heavyweight gold medalist in boxing history. After a stunted professional career, Berger still played a role in the San Francisco boxing scene.

Samuel Berger was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 25, 1884. He was raised in San Francisco, California and eventually took up boxing. He became a decorated amateur fighting out of San Francisco's Olympic Boxing Club. In 1901, he won the Pacific middleweight amateur crown and won the heavyweight version in 1902. Berger won virtually all of his amateur bouts by KO.

The 1904 St. Louis Olympics was the first time boxing was featured in the modern Olympics. Only American boxers took part in the competition and Berger proved superior in the heavyweight division, earning a gold medal. He turned pro immediately after the games.

His promising professional career lasted a scant two years. His most notable bout was against light heavyweight champion Philadelphia Jack O'Brien in 1906. The bout against the veteran champion took place in Philadelphia and was ruled a draw after six-rounds.

Berger was a crafty boxer puncher who happened to be the brother-in-law of the great Joe Choynski. Sam stood 6'2" and weighed 200 pounds. In Berger's next bout, he was thwacked by Al Kaufman. The scheduled 20 round fight was stopped in the tenth. That loss ended Berger's career as a boxer.

But Sammy stayed close to the sport. He became a promoter. When Jim Jeffries was in the midst of his comeback against Jack Johnson, Berger served as Jeffries's manager and sparring partner. Berger also sparred with Bob Fitzsimmons. In addition to work in boxing, Berger ran a clothing store in San Francisco, where he died on February 23, 1925 at the age of 40. Berger was elected tot he International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Somrack, Daniel F. Boxing in San Francisco. 2005.

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