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Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Look Back: Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom

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.

Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom was one of the best defensive fighters of all time. A character in and out of the ring, Rosenbloom became light heavyweight champion of the world and a beloved figure among fellow Jews.

The year of Max Rosenbloom's birth is a bit of a mystery, but it likely occurred between 1904 and 1907. His birthday is also up for discussion. Maybe it was March 6. Or perhaps November 1. Or it might have been November 6. It could have even been September 6, depending on who you ask. Whenever it was, Rosenbloom was born in Leonard's Bridge, Connecticut and raised in Manhattan, New York.

In fifth grade, Maxie was expelled from school for loosening two teeth owned by his teacher. She was likely the only person the light-hitting Maxie ever hurt with a punch. Rosenbloom learned ballet as a kid, but eventually got into boxing. Initially, as an amateur, Maxie was terrible, losing 20 of his first 25 bouts until he was taught how to fight and became a proficient amateur.

As a professional, Rosenbloom actually started out his career as a brawler. He didn't much like getting punched in the face, so he transformed into an awkward defensive fighter. He rarely made a fist and used slaps to keep his opponents off balance.

Rosenbloom fought the likes of Yale Okun, Tiger Flowers, Young Stribling, Ted 'Kid' Lewis, and Jim Braddock before becoming light heavyweight champion of the world on June 25, 1930. Rosenbloom had fought middleweights, light heavyweights, and even smaller heavyweights during his six and half years in the ring to that point.

When Rosenbloom defeated Jimmy Slattery that June night in Buffalo by split decision, it began one of the most noteworthy reigns of any champion ever. In four years, Rosenbloom fought over 100 fights, although he made few title defenses during that time.

In the ring, Rosenbloom was a cerebral fighter who understood angles. Outside of the ring, Rosenbloom was less intelligent. He was a womanizer who loved to gamble. A handsome man with a rugged face, Maxie was more successful with the former than he was with the latter. As a result, Rosenbloom was often broke. On one occasion, he rented a chauffeur, but ran out of money midway through the rental. Rosenbloom told the driver to get in the backseat, Rosenbloom would chauffeur him around as payment for the ride.

Rosenbloom was thought of as a clown prince in and out of the ring. He hated to train and stayed in shape by dancing. But in a 1933 bout, the stakes in the ring were quite serious. He faced a German, Adolph Heuser, in Madison Square Garden, fewer than two months after Adolph Hitler's Nazi party took power in Berlin. Reportedly, Rosenbloom's defeat of Heuser convinced Hitler to ban Jewish athletes in Germany because the Fuhrer feared Jewish athletes would disprove his theory of Aryan superiority..

The famed writer Damon Runyan nicknamed Rosenbloom "Slapsie Maxie." Rosenbloom once said, "I didn't want to hurt anybody," in his thick New York accent. After his boxing career was over, Rosenbloom would open his live shows at his night club in L.A. by saying, "I never liked to hit very hard."

After facing the likes of John Henry Lewis, Slattery again, and Mickey Walker, Rosenbloom, who also nicknamed the Harlem Harlequin, fought Bob Olin. Olin wrestled the title away from Rosenbloom by split decision on November 16, 1934. Rosenbloom blamed the loss on a pretty dame sitting in the stands who had caught his eye and distracted him during the fight.

Rosenbloom fought for five more years, often as a heavyweight. He defeated Kingfish Levinsky in 1937, even knocking the much bigger man down in the fourth round. BoxRec lists Rosenbloom's record as 207-39-26 with 19 KOs and only two KO losses. In newspaper decisions, he was 16-4-4.

After his boxing career, Rosenbloom ran a nightclub named after himself and was featured in countless movies. He also did a traveling live show with Max Baer. In the 1940s, Slapsie Maxie's was a haunt for noted gangsters. On one memorable night, famed gangster Mickey Cohen helped Zionist activist Ben Hecht collect a ton of money toward the fight for Israel's independence.

In 1968, Rosenbloom was hit on the head with a pipe during a mugging in Los Angeles. He never recovered his senses and wound up in a sanatorium. He died of Paget's disease on March 6, 1976. Rosenbloom is a member of the boxing Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers Hall of Fame. 1988.
Medoff, Rafael. Militant Zionism in America: The Rise and Impact of the Jabotinsky Movement in the United States, 1926-1948.
Talbot, Paul. "The Harlem Harlequin." Scandal Park. 2010.
Wheelwright, Jeff. "How Punchy was Slapsie Maxie?" Sports Illustrated. 1983.

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