Have news relating to Jewish boxers? Email the editor here!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Look Back: The Two Augie Ratners

August Ratner was born on May 20, 1894 in New York. A 5'8" middleweight, he took on- and beat some- legends of the ring.

Samuel Ratner was born on March 15, 1901 in Russia. He immigrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota as a four year old. At 5'3", his boxing career as a featherweight was largely nondescript, but he lived a memorable post-career life.

Both men were better known as Augie Ratner.

The Bronx Middleweight Contender
A decorated amateur, Augie Ratner turned pro at 21 years old in the Bronx. He was busy scoring knockouts in 1915, mostly at the Fairmont Athletic Club. His first big fight came against Mike McTigue, a future light heavyweight world champion. In those days, a winner was declared only if a knockout was scored. Boxing writers served as unofficial judges in what were called newspaper decisions. Ratner won the writers' favor over McTigue in 1916 and again when the two met a year later.

The year 1918 was an eventful one in Ratner's life. He fought future Hall of Famer Harry Greb on January 21. Though Ratner had never officially lost a fight- he was 33-3-4 including newspaper decisions which accounted for all three losses- Greb entered the ring as the favorite. Including newspaper decisions, the Pittsburgh Windmill sported a record of 84-9-12 heading into the bout. Though he had faced the likes of Battling Levinsky, Jack Dillon, and a young Tommy Gibbons, this was still not the Greb who would not only face all three again multiple times, but battle Kid Norfolk, Tommy Loughran many times, Maxie Rosenbloom, Tiger Flowers, and pin Gene Tunney with his only career defeat. Nevertheless, Greb whipped Ratner 17 rounds to one, with two even in a twenty round affair.

Ratner's career then spiraled, losing three in a row and  four out of five official decisions over the next four months. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1917, he saw combat in September of 1918 when he fought in the Battle of Meuse-Argonne during World War I. While in the service, Ratner fought on a charity card to help fund the War Department and later participated in the Inter-Allied Boxing tournament in the United Kingdom at the end of 1918. In one bout, Ratner bested Marty Cross, the brother of Leach "The Fighting Dentist." It was the second of three fights in which the two men would engage- all won by Ratner.

Staying across the Atlantic, Ratner scored a memorable draw with the British welterweight king Johnny Basham in 1919. A back-and-forth affair, Ratner shook up Basham in the seventh and tenth rounds with left hooks. The New Yorker next challenged world middleweight champion and future Hall of Famer Mike O'Dowd in September and again in March of 1920. In the former, Augie was competitive in a quick-paced scrap and briefly stunned the champ in the fifth despite giving up ten pounds. The latter was Augie's shot at the title. If he could knockout the champ, he'd take his title. Anything less, and the St. Paul Cyclone would retain the belt. Ultimately, O'Dowd won both by newspaper decisions, the second by a comfortable margin.

Ratner's best wins were against the legendary British Jew, Ted "Kid" Lewis. Their first fight took place at the Manhattan Casino in New York on April 13, 1921. Lewis displayed his superior boxing skills in the opening round, but the iron-chinned Ratner, who held an eight-pound advantage, wouldn't budge. Understanding he couldn't hurt the rugged Bronxite and having tasted his power, Lewis spent the rest of the fight in a defensive mindset. Ratner shrewdly focused his attention on the smaller man's midsection in the middle of the fight just to ensure there would be no last minute comeback.

Their second bout came at Royal Albert Hall in London on July 30, 1923. Ratner lost a dubious twenty-round affair on points to Roland Todd in England the month before. In an exciting fight, the English crowd howled their disapproval at the decision for the English fighter. The first ten rounds against Lewis were far slower. Lewis, who landed lots of  low blows, knew what he had in Ratner and waited for his chance. It was Ratner, however, who belted Lewis in the twelfth with a sustained combination. Lewis, only four pounds lighter for this contest, scored with a left hook that drew blood by Ratner's right eye.

In the seventeenth, Lewis fired bombs hoping for a knockout. Instead, Ratner wobbled the great champion with a counter right. He pressed his advantage in the next round and closed the fight strong. Ratner earned a hard-fought victory on points in the Kid's hometown.

On New Year's Day 1925, Ratner faced Harry Greb nearly seven years after their first meeting. Heading into this bout, Ratner had won only once in eight fights since the win over Lewis. In Pittsburgh's Motor Square Garden, the Pittsburgh Windmill punished the tough pug from the Bronx. Ratner did well to hear the final bell from a standing position against the legend. "Greb was not as other men," Augie would remember years later. "He started his fights at a fast pace and accelerated as the fight wore on." Augie's last significant fight came against future light heavyweight champ and future Hall of Famer Jimmy Slattery nearly three months and three fights after the battle with Greb. Ratner's corner threw in the towel after two brutal rounds, the only time in his 101-fight career he was stopped.

The Cab Driver
Ratner finished fighting in 1926 at the age of 32. His record was something like 62-28-11 (including newspaper decisions) with 14 KOs. A fan-friendly fighter, Ratner exhibited his toughness against numerous Hall of Famers. Ultimately, he fell just short in most of his bouts with greatness. His boxing ability was good enough to compete with the best, but not quite enough to beat most of them.

When his ring career completed, Ratner continued to live with his mother Lottie, a Russian immigrant, in the Bronx. He drove a taxi in New York. In 1933, he spoke at a protest in Times Square denouncing a fare tax. The drivers at the rally called for the election of Fiorello La Guardian over incumbent Mayor John O'Brien. Staying out of the limelight thereafter, Augie lived to the age of 84. He died on May 15, 1979 in  San Diego, California.

The Minneapolis Featherweight Journeyman
Little Sammy Ratner didn't really want to box. As an immigrant in the early 1920s in Minneapolis, boxing was a way to add to his family's means. The Russian featherweight wasn't particularly good at his trade either. His brief career lasted just five mediocre years.

His first bout came against a veteran New Yorker named Al Norton who sported a good, if inflated, record heading into his 1922 match with Ratner. Sammy garnered the newspaper decision in that one, an auspicious start. But the buzz around his career quickly faded as he dropped his next three newspaper decisions to unimpressive opposition.

In 1925, Ratner took on Archie Bell,  a future multiple-time world title challenger at bantamweight and featherweight. Heading into the bout Sammy was no climber. He mostly fought in the Twin Cities area, particularly at Kenwood Arena. Bell, whose picture would be featured on the cover of The Ring in two years, pounded a game Ratner over ten rounds to earn the newspaper decision. Ratner's primary attack relied on wild swinging lefts Bell avoided with ease.

For the Bell fight, Ratner still went by "Sammy" in the papers. It was likely around this time he assumed the moniker "Augie" in the ring. He chose the name partly in a halfhearted attempt to keep his profession from his mother and partly to honor the New York middleweight, who Sammy greatly admired. Interestingly, he would go by the name Augie for the rest of his life.

The newly named Augie fought his friend Ernie Fliegel in 1926. Ratner and Fliegel would run establishments for many years on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis after their boxing careers ended. Fliegel's career finished when he lost an eye in the ring a year after fighting his friend. He later partnered with future Lakers and Vikings owner Max Winter in running the famed 620 Club.

Fliegel wasn't a world beater in the ring, but he bested Augie in a six round newspaper decision. Soon after, Augie traveled down south to San Antonio, Texas and fought four times in the shadow of the Alamo. The biggest fight of his career came down there on January 5, 1927 against Johnny McCoy, a future world flyweight champion. McCoy would move down in weight after his clash with Ratner. Augie lost the ten-round newspaper decision.

McCoy would then draw three times in a row to Mexico-native Kid Lencho, all in ten round affairs. In the middle of that trilogy, Ratner actually beat Kid Lencho in a newspaper decision, earning some revenge against McCoy, albeit indirectly.

Ratner finished all of his fights on his feet, but so did his opponents. BoxRec lists him with a record of 8-9-2 if newspaper decisions are included. It's possible- probable even- that he had more pro fights, perhaps many more. Regardless, Ratner's level was that of a tough, wild-swinging club fighter.

The Influential Club Owner
Augie's last match came at the end of 1927. The twenty first amendment wouldn't repeal prohibition for another six years, so the ex-boxer got into the bootlegging game. Jews had a big piece of that game in Minneapolis, and Augie played his part by running a speakeasy not far from where his infamous club would sit.

After alcohol became legal again, Augie's club on Hennepin Avenue would be, in some form or fashion, a hub for celebrities from the sports world and the underworld from the mid 1930s until the mid 1960s. Ratner managed to eschew trouble by playing the role of loveable buffoon. Neal Karlen, his grandnephew, asserts that it was merely a shrewd act to avoid making enemies and stay in business in a tough part of town.

Ratner knew local Jewish gangsters such as Kid Cann and Dave Berman. Through his local gangster connections, he met Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Sigel. Augie had to navigate the greedy gangs and the corrupted city officials to remain in business for three decades. He handled the task like a seasoned diplomat.

The club owner became tight friends with legendary comedian Henny Youngman of "Take my wife... please" fame. Jimmy Hoffa, "Mr. Television" Milton Berle, singer Peggy Lee, and restauranteur Toots Shoor were also acquittances. Through his friends Fliegel and Winter, he knew Minneapolis sports stars such as the greatest NBA big man of his day, George Mikan. Fliegel was also good friends with former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. Dempsey had introduced Fliegel to his wife. Through Ernie, Ratner became close friends with the champ.

In the early 1970s, a healthy Ratner began contemplating death. Like most of us, he wondered who would attend his funeral when he passed. Unlike most us, he took out a personal ad in the newspaper asking for a headcount.

The unusual gesture garnered national attention when Sports Illustrated wrote about. Jack Dempsey jokingly answered Augie, "I'll go to yours if you come to mine."

Two and a half months after his namesake passed, Augie Ratner died at the age of 78 on August 1, 1979. He was buried in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

"Augie Ratner Takes Bout from Ted Lewis." The Washington Post. July 31, 1923. Pg. 14.
"Bell Outslugs Ratner in Bout at East Chicago." Chicago Daily Tribune. October 18, 1925. Pg. A1.
Karlen, Neal. Augie's Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip. 2013.
"Lewis Outpointed by Augie Ratner." New York Times. April 14, 1921. Pg. 23.
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing. 2016.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Foreman to Face Jimmy Williams on June 19

Rabbi Yuri Foreman is slated to battle Jimmy "Quiet Storm" Williams at Buckhead Fight Club in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on June 19. Foreman had been ready to fight Williams on March 7 in Louisville, Kentucky, but he came down with covid-19 and had to pull out.

Foreman (35-3, 10 KOs) has since recovered from the virus. Williams (17-5-2 6, KOs) earned a first round stoppage victory in a tune-up fight against Clifford McPherson on April 17.

As mentioned in The JBB's preview of this fight, Williams had been on a bit of of a skid leading up to their scheduled fight in March. The 34 year old Quiet Storm had been 0-4-1 in his last five before the first round stoppage of McPherson. Three of those loses were to good opponents: Mark DeLuca, Abel Ramos, and Brandun Lee. But one loss and the draw were to journeymen.

Foreman-Williams is scheduled for ten rounds at the junior middleweight limit of 154 pounds.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Alaverdian Earns Stoppage Win

Flyweight David Alaverdian fought last night on cancha 4 at Gregorio Gonzalez Gym in Hermosillo, Sinaloa, Mexico. Alaverdian, a 27 year old, defeated Arcadio "Carcario" Salazar by way of third round TKO. His fight was part of Noches de Prospectos, or Night of Prospects.

Alaverdian jabbed beautifully in the opening round. Off the jab, he added a right over the top, a left hook, and a chopping right sprinkled throughout the round. Salazar attempted some wide shots in which Alaverdian easily slid out of the way. It was a textbook display of how to start a fight. The only mistake came from a mis-timed right hand that resulted in Alaverdian immediately shaking that appendage, although he used it the rest of the fight.

A 36 year old native of the northern border town of Aqua Prieta in Sonora, Mexico, Salazar initiated the second stanza with a salvo of shots. This round would prove to be the toughest of David's short professional career. Make no mistake, he carried the round convincingly. But Salazar managed to get inside and land a shot here and there.

Alaverdian spent that second round showing off his matrix-like defense. He switched to southpaw on two brief occasions. Offensively, he hasn't been as strong in the lefty stance. The switch served to confuse Salazar, who was in his 44th pro fight, and momentarily halt the veteran's attack. Carcario finally figured he ought to throw shots regardless of his opponent's stance, so Alaverdian countered. He tends to counter more as a lefty.

At one moment in the round, the fighters were in a clinch and Alaverdian threw a punch. Salazar's head was turned and the Israel-native was warned for rabbit punching by the referee.

David stuck with the right-handed stance in the third round and came out jabbing. His defense was sharp. He threw the double jab to move Salazar into position for a straight right. Whereas Salazar found some success in exchanges in the second, Alaverdian dominated them in the third. After landing a combo while Salazar was in the corner, Alaverdian nailed the Mexican with a right. Salazar slumped over a bit, and Alaverdian jumped on him. The ref flew in and stopped the affair.

Alaverdian is now 4-0 with three knockouts. Salazar falls to 11-30-3. He has no knockouts, but has been stopped 28 times. His only two instances losing a fight by decision coincidentally came in his last two bouts, both in 2021. This was Salazar's fourteenth consecutive defeat, mostly to good prospects and quality established fighters.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Boyd Melson Interview on Ring City USA

 Shawn Porter interviews Boyd Melson for Ring City USA's West Point show.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Alex Vargas Calls out Cletus Seldin

A former sparring partner has called out Cletus "Hebrew Hammer" Seldin on Instagram. Alex "El Toro" Vargas (10-0, 4 KO) accused Seldin on his Instagram page of "going around telling people he 'beat me up' in sparring." He added, "You and your team know how it really went."

Seldin (25-1, 21 KOs) answered Vargas with a warning. "Inside the ring with me is a very dangerous place." The Hamma described Vargas as "a decent 6 round fighter," which might sound like an insult but is simply an accurate assessment of El Toro's current status. Seldin advised him to "Pay your dues!"

Vargas responded to Cletus by criticizing Seldin's last opponent.

A 24 year old southpaw from Long Island, New York, Vargas has never had a fight scheduled past the sixth round. He has only faced two opponents with a winning record. He scored one knockout in his first seven fights, all but one of which took place in the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, New York. Vargas has fought three times since October, all in Florida. He has scored three KOs in those bouts, but the combined record of his opponents was a lackluster 6-25 when they faced Vargas.

Conversely, Seldin has fought opponents with a winning record in 20 of his last 22 fights. The other two opponents sported even records. Only three of his pro foes have had losing records when Seldin battled them. The 34 year old New Yorker has been in the ring with the likes of Zab Judah, Yves Ulysse, Roberto Ortiz, Johnny Garcia, and Bayan Jargal.

Seldin would be a massive step up for Vargas. For Seldin, the fight would be a much-needed tune-up fight. He hasn't fought in fourteen months. Vargas indicated he hopes the fight can take place at some point in July.