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Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Look Back: Alphonse Halimi

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will offer monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

Alphonse Halimi, a native of Algeria, was one of the few Jewish boxers to win a world championship in the Post-World War II era. A boxer-puncher, Halimi captured the bantamweight championship twice.

Alphonse Halimi was born on February 18, 1932 in Constantine, Algeria. He was the youngest of 18 children in an Orthodox family. Though his father was a postal inspector, the Halimis lived in poverty. Alphonse and his brothers and sisters slept on the hard floor and rarely ate. Algeria was a French colony during Halimi's formative years. At the age of ten, Alphonse ran away from home and ended up in Algiers, the capital of Algeria. He remained homeless until a well-to-do woman adopted him.

During World War II, Algeria was ruled by Vichy France, a Nazi-sympathizing government. Concentration camps for Algerian Jews were maintained, Jewish businesses were given to gentiles, and Jewish kids were expelled from school. Alphonse spent much of this time getting into street fights with other boys.

After the war, Alphonse was an apprentice for a tailor and sewed his first boxing trunks, complete with a Star of David. Halimi was a successful amateur boxer during the early 1950s. In 1954, Algerians rose up in an attempt to oust France from control of the colony. This would lead to a war that lasted eight years, nearly the entire length of Halimi's professional career as a boxer. Not until 1962 did Algerians win independence. As a result, Alphonse never fought professionally in the country of his birth.

He turned pro in 1955 in Paris, France. Halimi won his first 19 fights; the first six came by way of knockout. In 1956, Halimi defeated Billy Peacock, a former North American bantamweight beltholder. At this point, there was talk of Halimi fighting Robert Cohen, also an Algerian Jew and the bantamweight world champion. But Cohen lost to Mario D'Agata, a deaf-mute from Italy. Halimi would have to wait a year to get his shot at the new champion.

On April 1, 1957, an undefeated Halimi won the world championship from D'Agata by decision. At one point, the fight was interrupted for fifteen minutes when part of the light fixture in Paris's Palais des Sports caught fire in the third round. Falling debris nailed both participants with D'Agata getting the worse of it. From that point on, Halimi dominated the fight. On June 4, Halimi suffered his first career defeat when he was stopped due to cuts in the 9th round in a non-title bout. It came at the fists of the nondescript Jimmy Carson. Alphonse bounced back to thrash Chic Brogan in two rounds. On the second knockdown of the round, Halimi threw a leaping left-right combination that separated Brogan from his senses.

On November 6, Halimi traveled to Los Angeles, California for his first fight in the United States. There he took a split decision victory to defend the world championship from the formidable Raton Macias. The referee, Mushy Callahan, questionably gave the fight to Macias; Halimi controlled it throughout. He won six more bouts until running into Joe Becerra. Becerra beat Alphonse twice, once in 1959 to pry the title from the Algerian Jew's hands and again in 1960 to keep it. The first fight was close until the Mexican unleashed a barrage of punches to stop Halimi in the 8th round. Halimi was winning the second contest and had even knocked Bacerra down before being stopped early in the 9th.

Alphonse, whose nickname was "Little Terror," had a mean punch, but was also an intelligent mover in the ring. He stood a mere 5'3" and donned a flat nose and exaggerated sideburns that cascaded from his curly and casual coiffure. His prominent forehead distracted from his distended ears. Alphonse had a circular and yet distinct jawline. His left hook was his best punch, but he had power in either glove.

Bacerra didn't keep the belt long after his second fight with Halimi. He retired later that year and the belt was won by Freddie Gilroy. Halimi defeated Gilroy to regain his belt on October 25, 1960. He won three more fights before losing the crown to Johnny Caldwell on May 30, 1961. Halimi lost the return bout as well. Both were by decision.

On June 26, 1962, Halimi participated in the first ever boxing match in the state of Israel. The bout took place in Tel Aviv against Pierre Rollo and was for the European bantamweight title. Halimi won on points, but lost a rematch in Italy by decision four months later.

Halimi retired from the ring in 1964 as a two-time world champion with a record of 42-8-1 with 21 knockouts. In retirement, Halimi doubled as a fight promoter and a swimming instructor. He died in Paris on November 12, 2006 at the age of 74.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Horvitz, Peter S. The Big Book of Jewish Sports Heroes. 2006.
"Former bantamweight champion dies in Paris, France." The Sweet Science. 2006.

1 comment:

  1. Leo Hi
    I was as a child at the Tel Aviv boxing championship of 1962;but i do not recall much and wonder if you have photos of?