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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Look Back: The Joseph Brothers

Since boxing matches have been postponed for the foreseeable future due to precautionary measures to staunch the spread of coronavirus-2019, The Jewish Boxing Blog is reviving a series called  "A Look Back" that ran from 2010-2013. "A Look Back" was an effort to link the past with the present, by producing a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

Yankel and Moishe Josofsky didn't rise the level of world champions, but their stories provide a window into what life was like for Jewish immigrants to America during the early decades of the 1900s.

The brothers were born two and a half years apart in Grigoriopol, Russia. Now part of Moldova, Grigoriopol sits on the Dnister River and is just inside the Transnistria Autonomous region. The town, which is 30 miles east of Chisinau and 100 miles northwest of Odessa, was home to about 8,000 people when the brothers were born. A little over 10% of them were Jewish. Anti-Semitism was a reality of life. Anti-Jewish pogroms hit the area especially hard during the 1880s and during the first decade of the new century.

Yankel and Moishe's parents, Nathan and Eva, had seven children. Nathan and his eldest son Samuel left for the United States in 1910 to establish a new life and make some money in order to bring over the rest of the family. The remaining members came over the following year. Yankel and Moishe's names were changed to Jack and Danny Joseph in an effort to Americanize. Their primary language was Yiddish with some Russian thrown in. The family settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Though still a boy, Jack got a job as a newsie. Danny followed his older brother into the profession. The brothers learned quickly that selling newspapers was a rough game. The two small boys needed to scrap in order to maintain a profitable corner. Danny soon followed Jack into a boxing gym and the two fell in love with the sport.

At 5'7", Jack's weight tended to stay around 140 pounds. The junior welterweight division didn't come into existence until after Jack's death, so he fought as a small welterweight. His first professional fight occurred on January 3, 1919 when he was 18 years old. He fought under the name Jack Josephs.

Danny was an inch shorter but started out as a flyweight. He was known for his fast starts. A pressure fighter, he was also a volume puncher who tended to fade a bit towards the end of fights. His debut came a year after his brother's when Danny was only 16 years old. Danny had earned the nickname Dandy in the gym, not because he was dressed particularly well, but because he was viewed as a good prospect. His moniker became Dandy Dillon because his manager thought he looked like light heavyweight champion Jack Dillon.

Boxing was outlawed in Minnesota until 1915. Even after it became legal the only way to win a fight was by knockout. If a fight ran its course and both men were still standing, the fight was officially deemed a no decision. However, to get around this law, newspapers printed their opinion of who won and that was generally accepted although different newspapers didn't always agree.

During this time, fighters fought every couple of weeks or so. A two-month break was a long layoff. While records from this era are incomplete, it is believed Jack Josephs's career started slowly. In his first five fights, he was 0-2-3, according to BoxRec. Four of those were newspaper decisions and he was stopped in the fourth round against Johnny Noye, a veteran boxer and Austrian immigrant. Jack would avenge that stoppage loss two years later. Josephs earned his first victory, a third round KO before Dandy's career commenced.

Dandy Dillon's career got off to a much more auspicious start than did his brother's. He won his first ten fights. Most of his eight newspaper decision victories took place in Minnesota. His other two victories were by referee's decision: one in New Jersey on the undercard of a Battling Levinsky card and the other in Canada. After a draw, he won four more fights before drawing two in a row.

Dandy was 15-0-3 when he knocked out Percy Buzza on December 3, 1920 to capture the Canadian flyweight title. It is a peculiar bit of logic, one unique to boxing, that a Russian Jewish immigrant based in Minnesota would win the Canadian flyweight crown. After another win, Dillon was outboxed by the proficient veteran Frankie Mason for his first pro loss. Three months later, in May of 1921, Dandy Danny avenged the loss by newspaper decision in Iowa.

Meanwhile, from June 1920 until August 1922, Jack Josephs fought sixteen straight bouts without a defeat. Most of those fights took place in Minnesota. Josephs traveled to Seattle for a fight on August 23, 1922. In a bizarre bout against former Pacific Coast welterweight champion Travie Davis, Josephs was nearly knocked out at the end of the third round but was seemingly saved by the bell. The referee, however, didn't hear the bell and declared Davis the winner. Davis went back to the locker room and got dressed. The commission overruled the referee and called for Davis to come back, but his fans urged him not to. Davis was finally convinced to come back to the ring and eventually stopped Josephs (again) in the sixth round ending Jack's undefeated streak. From that point forward, Jack lost many more fights than he won.

On October 27, 1922, Dandy put his 23-1-5 record on the line against Joe Burgess in Denver, Colorado. Dillon pounded Burgess over ten rounds, but the judges gave the decision to man from Chicago. The crowd was so outraged they punched the judges in the face. Though the people around Dandy told him to shake off the loss and dismiss it as a corrupt decision, his confidence took a hit and his career wouldn't recover.

The brothers moved to Los Angeles, California to continue their boxing careers. While they enjoyed the weather, the West Coast produced better opponents than had the Midwest. Dandy was competitive against some quality fighters such as Frankie Garcia, Tod Morgan, and Vic Foley. Jack did a lot of losing to mostly solid foes. His best victory during that period was a four-round points win over Oakland Jimmy Duffy, who beat Jack in their next two battles.

Dandy was scheduled to fight on the undercard of Jack Dempsey vs. Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana on July 4, 1923. Unfortunately for Dillon, the town of Shelby, Montana, and investors the gate was a total disaster. Dandy's fight was cancelled to cut losses and get the catastrophic event over as quickly as possible. Dillon was also scheduled to be on the first card at the newly built Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, but he came down with an illness and had to back out of the historic opening.

Jack retired from boxing in 1924 at the ripe old age of 24 with a record of 20-20-9 with three KOs. Dandy held out until 1927. He was 23 years old when he retired with a record of 34-19-13 with 9 KOs.

December 14, 1938 was Jack's 38th birthday. He had been suffering from debilitating headaches for some time when his brother called him to wish him a happy birthday. While on the phone, Danny heard his brother fire a gun at his own head and take his life. The event turned Danny against guns for the remainder of his life. Today, roughly two thirds of the approximately 30,000 annual gun deaths in America are suicides.

Danny married four times. At various times he ran a beer garden in Los Angeles, a restaurant in San Francisco, was a greeter at a casino, and drove a taxi. One of his sons, Daniel, wrote a book about his life. Dandy Danny died of a heart attack on February 28, 1968.

Joseph, Daniel P. Dandy: A Jewish Boxer's Journey from Russian Immigrant to Boxing Champion. 2011.