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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Look Back: Charley White

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.

Charley White is regarded as having one of the best left hooks in the history of the sport. He fought ten legendary champions over the course of his career. Three times he came within a whisker of winning a world championship. But his slow wit may have cost him each time. Nevertheless, The Ring's Nat Fleischer once ranked him as the tenth best lightweight of all time. In 2003, the same publication ranked him as the 100th best puncher ever.

Charles Anchowitz was born on March 25, 1891 in Liverpool, England. His parents were from Russia and the family moved to the Maxwell Street ghetto in Chicago, Illinois when Anchowitz was seven years old. He contracted tuberculosis from the dirty air of the ghetto when he was 13. His parents sent him to William O'Connell's gym to increase his strength. It happened to be the same gym that world champion Harry Harris learned his craft. Anchowitz had two brothers who also trained there.

Though skinny and sickly, Charles was so adept at boxing he turned professional at the age of 15. He used the surname White in the ring to honor former featherweight champion and Chicago-native Tommy White. The younger White won his first 21 bouts according to BoxRec. He had started out his career as a boxer, but realized he had knockout power after an incident that took place outside of the ring. A truck driver splashed mud on his new pants, so White yelled at him. The big fellow stopped the truck and came after White. One punch laid out the truck driver senseless.

White fought the great featherweight champion Abe Attell twice in successive years beginning in 1909. Neither was for the title. Attell outboxed Charley soundly in both affairs. Afterwards, the 5'6" White fluctuated between lightweight and welterweight for the rest of career. Over the next few years, White fought several future champions, losing to Jimmy Duffy, Jack Britton, and splitting two bouts with Johnny Dundee.

Charley didn't mind eating a punch or three if it meant he could give one back. Often times, the one he gave back was more powerful than anything he received. While his toughness can't be questioned, his intellectual quickness can be.

On May 26, 1914, White took on Willie Ritchie, the lightweight champ. White battered the champion, nearly knocking him out in the first with a left hook, a right, and another left hook. But White inexplicably took his foot off the gas. Charley continued pounding Ritchie and won a ten-round decision. However, this was the era of newspaper decisions, meaning that the title could only changed hands if the fight was stopped inside the distance. White got the win, but Ritchie kept the belt.

A year later, White took on a new lightweight champ, Freddie Welsh, and lost a ten round newspaper decision. Afterwards, he lost a newspaper decision to Leach Cross and drew with Ted Kid Lewis. Charley went undefeated in his next nine bouts. That led to a return match against Welsh on September 4, 1916.

Winston Churchill once said, "All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes." Apparently, Charley White wasn't a fan of Churchill. Welsh was pounding White through five rounds when a left hook came crashing down on the champion's face. As was the case against Ritchie, the belt was practically wrapped around White's waist. But, perhaps hypnotized by his own punch, the Chicagoan didn't follow up on his advantage. Welsh survived and eventually recovered, until the 12th. Welsh was hurt again, but just at that moment, a portion of the stands at Ramona A.C. Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado fell down. Welsh held on for the 20 round newspaper decision.

White seemed to follow the wisdom of Mohandas K. Gandhi who once said, "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes." Against, The Great Benny Leonard, Charley was again seconds from cementing his legacy with a championship. During their July 5, 1920 contest, White knocked Leonard out of the ring in the fifth round. Benny's brother illegally helped the Ghetto Wizard backthrough the ropes.

Of course, Leonard was a master at surviving near-disasters such as the one against White. White again wasn't able to capitalize on his advantage. In fact, by the ninth, Leonard was the one in charge. He knocked Charley down five times in that round  before the fight was stopped. Though the wisdom of Gandhi eventually defeated Churchill and the British Empire, Charley White never won his championship.

White fought Johnny Dundee three more times going 1-1-1. He defeated Ritchie Mitchell. Then, after 17 years in the game, White retired. He had amassed a sizable fortune. Unfortunately, he lost his money to the Great Depression and tried to make a comeback to the ring in 1930. White was knocked out in the second round of his first fight on the comeback trail. According to BoxRec, his final record was 87-16-5 with 58 KOs (and 34-19-9 in newspaper decisions).

White soon moved to Hollywood and trained movie stars. But this story does not have a happy ending. His wife Elizabeth had him committed to a psychiatric ward after the former fighter chased her with a knife. He was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Three years later, White died on July 12, 1959.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Sterritt, Mike. The Great Underrated Boxers. 2011.

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