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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Seldin to Fight Vazquez on September 4

Cletus Seldin is scheduled to face Victor Vazquez on September 4 at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, New York, USA. This bout will take place in the junior welterweight division.

Seldin (25-1, 21 KOs) is a 34 year old with a wrecking ball for a right hand. After turning pro in 2011, the Hebrew Hammer won his first 21 fights. He appeared on ESPN and HBO. After Yves Ulysse Jr. out-boxed him in his second fight for HBO in 2017, Cletus took eleven months off. Da Hamma has scored four consecutive knockouts, including one over Zab Judah, since the loss.

February 28, 2020 marks the date of Seldin's last professional fight, eighteen months ago. While he might be rusty come fight night, he will be in shape. Cletus has spent the pandemic training, including lost distance running.

Victor Vazquez (11-5, 5 KOs) is a 25 year old pressure fighter. The Puerto Rican from Yonkers, New York is fresher (with ten fewer fights), has been more active (last fighting in April) and is three inches taller than Seldin at 5'10". He primarily fights from the orthodox stance, but he will switch to southpaw.

Boxers are tougher than the average human, and Vazquez is tougher than the average boxer. Human beings tend to be about 60% water, but El Flaco (The Skinny) is about 60% heart. When a fighter has a ton of heart, it usually means they exhibit poor defense and possess a weak chin. Victor is no exception.

Vazquez is the B side, but he's no pushover. Seven of his eleven wins have come against opponents with winning records. He has been stopped on three occasions, but the combined record of those fighters is currently an extremely impressive 44-3-3. He also beat 14-0 Ricardo Garcia in 2017, but that win looked more impressive at the time. Garcia is now 14-8-1.

The best moment of Vazquez's career came against 2016 Olympic gold medalist Fazliddin Gaibnazarov. Fayzi, a southpaw from Uzbekistan, went down 15 seconds into his pro debut for an official knockdown. But it appeared as if the Olympic champion had stepped on Vazquez's foot and gone down as Victor missed a right. Vazquez chomped on a Fayzi left in the next round and fell. He got up and wanted to continue, but the fight was stopped.

Vazquez is often too square right in front of his foes. When he pressures, he doesn't come in behind the jab. Instead, he throws reckless power punches from the outside and launches four shots in the hopes of landing one. He keeps his left hand low which leaves him open for the overhand right, which happens to be Seldin's signature punch. Vazquez is often wobbled in fights, but he always keeps fighting back... if they let him.

Against Seldin, Vazquez would be wise to box, but he won't. His team announced before his 2018 fight with southpaw prospect Josue Vargas that Vazquez would box. That lasted about thirty seconds when Vazquez's true nature surfaced and he attacked Vargas. It made for a very exciting fight. Victor was eventually stopped in the seventh round when his corner waved it off. The Yonkers man had taken a ton of punishment but would not go down or stop throwing. His fight against Anthony Mercado five months later was an even more thrilling fight. Young Vic survived a knockdown early and a near stoppage in a close decision loss. In fact, ref Gary Rosato nearly stepped in and stopped it on two different occasions: one when Vazquez was on his way out and later when Mercado was all but done.

Though the bout is scheduled for ten rounds, it might be a short night, not because of an overly wide difference in class, but because Vazquez's style seems perfect for Seldin. He'll be there to hit and when he gets hit by Da Hamma, the fight might not last long.  If Vazquez can make it out of the first round, he'll show a ton of guts, and win some fans along the way. But Cletus will win the fight.

Monday, August 23, 2021

An Unimportant Encounter with the Champ

This is the second boxing-related memory of my grandma who passed away a year ago. The first is here.

My grandmother's other connection to boxing is something to roll out at cocktail parties. It was 1940 and my grandmother was 12 years old. Her brother Kenny, alternately nicknamed Dinky and Lefty, ran with the same crew as Jake LaMotta, the oldest living world champion boxer at the time of his death on September 17, 2017 at the age of 95 and the subject of the Oscar-winning flick Raging Bull.

LaMotta, 19 at the time, was an amateur boxer and married to his first wife, a Jewish woman. ("My first wife divorced me because I clashed with the drapes," LaMotta would say.) The crew attended parties, enjoyed dancing and drinking. My grandmother even remembers him coming over to her house once.

"Wow, that's amazing, Grandma!"
"No it isn't. It doesn't matter. It means nothing to me. It isn't important. You mentioned boxing, so this is what I thought about, but it isn't important."

At the time of this conversation, my grandmother didn't like to think about the past; she'd rather focus on the present and finding ways to make the aging process as comfortable for her as possible. But one woman's discarded memories are sometimes another man's treasured family history.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

A Night in the Bronx

I began writing this article after a 2013 visit with my grandmother. During that visit, I attempted to unearth some of her formative memories, which was no small feat. Pain defined her past. She passed away last year at the age of 92 and I felt the urge to memorialize her by completing this article in time for her yahrzeit.

A Jewish family sits around their radio at 1422 Washington Avenue, across the street from PS 55, in the Bronx. My grandmother, five years old at the time, remembers the hoots and hollers spewing from her relatives and being thoroughly confused by it. She knows enough to understand the family's cheers are directed towards Max Baer, a heavyweight with a Jewish star on his trunks. In subsequent years, Baer's link to Judaism has been questioned, but in those moments of his fight a mile and a half away at Yankee Stadium against a member of the new-found Nazi nation, Max Schmeling, it doesn't matter whether or not Baer has been circumcised; Max is considered as kosher as a box of matzo on Pesach. But my grandmother could not have understood the implications of the contest.

This idyllic scene in the Bronx living room masks a troubled childhood and a difficult life. At the age of eleven, my grandmother was thrown into a Jewish orphanage like an unwanted couch. Her father was absent and her mother was ill-equipped to deal with her fifth and youngest child. None of my grandmother's adult siblings summoned the desire to take in their kin. When my grandmother married at the age of 19, her mother sat shiva for her because my grandfather was a gentile. Her new in-laws weren't any more compassionate, both being anti-Semitic immigrants. Adulthood was equally as cruel; she outlived her son, my father, by 30 years and remained a widow for her last 20. Those tragedies fueled her lifelong struggle with depression.

But on June 8, 1933, my grandmother was an adorable child with her innocence in hand and her life ahead. She remembers the people congregating around the radio for a single purpose. It was a rare occasion when they truly were some semblance of a family.

My grandmother doesn't remember the specifics of the fight. She doesn't remember the clubbing lefts Baer fired into Schmeling's face in the first round. She doesn't remember when Baer faked another left and came back with a hard overhand right and then another. She doesn't remember the Livermore Larupper out-muscling Schmeling throughout the bout and grabbing the German behind the neck with his left while smacking him around with the right. Or the explosive right Baer landed while Schmeling was on the ropes. She doesn't remember the slick way the smaller Schmeling parried Baer's punches when he wasn't being nailed. Or when Baer began an unanswered flurry with a devastating right and punctuated it with another monstrous right that floored a dazed Schmeling. And she doesn't remember Schmeling getting up, stumbling around, and being punched in the back of the head before referee Arthur Donovan could wave off the punishment.

Baer would later go on to win the world heavyweight championship after destroying Primo Carnera and then lose the crown to Jim Braddock. Max retired from the ring in 1941. Some consider him the only Jewish heavyweight champion of the modern era while others question his link to the Jewish people. For my grandmother's family, and countless others like them, Baer's victory over Schmeling symbolized Jewish strength in the face of impending vulnerability. And for my grandma, Baer's bludgeoning of the Nazis' favored son starred in one of her painfully few pleasant memories of a mostly nonexistent family.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

2021 Israeli Amateur Championships

The lines between the amateur ranks and the pro game have become increasingly blurred in boxing. Some Jewish boxers who have turned pro were able to fight in last week's Israeli amateur championships. After going pro, Miroslav Kapuler, Yotham Shalom, Mikhael Ostroumov, and Arthur Abramov all took part in the tournament held in Oranit.

Kapuler, who has also fought under the surname Ishchenko, dominated the 71 kg division. He stopped his first opponent in the second round and then swept his next two foes five to nothing on points. Miroslav is 2-0 as a pro with one KO. He last fought professionally in April.

After a bye in the quarterfinals, Shalom edged a victory in the semis by the score of 3-2. He swept the finals of the 57 kg division 5-0 on points. Yotham is 2-0-1 as a pro with one KO. His last fight for pay was a decision victory in 2019. He has been scheduled to fight professionally since then, but his fights have fallen through due to covid-19 restrictions.

Ostroumov stopped his opponent in the semis of the 86 kg division in the first round of the contest after earning a bye in the quarters. The tough body-assaulting southpaw dropped a decision in the final to 21-year old Yan Zak. Mikhael, sometimes spelled Mikhail, is 3-0-1 as a pro with one KO.

Abramov was stopped by Zak in the third round of their semifinal encounter. Arthur won his lone pro fight by way of first round knockout. That bout took place in January of 2020.

The entire tournament results can be viewed here.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Boycotting the Olympics: Three Jewish Boxers who Protested the 1936 Games

"This is a matter of principle," proclaimed a 21 year old Jewish man from Washington, D.C.

Born on the final day of 1913, Lou Gevinson didn't just beat his amateur foes, he punished them. The southpaw featherweight pounded his way through tournaments separating his opponents from their senses. He won the D.C. Golden Gloves early in 1936 on route to a spot in the "Olympic Boxing Tryouts" held in Chicago's Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois.

Just as he had throughout much of his fighting career, Gevinson knocked out his first two opponents in the tournament. In the semifinal, however, Gevinson stumbled. Ted Kara, whose plane would fatally plunge into the Pacific Ocean during World War II, had won the Chicago Golden Gloves. A clear underdog, Kara bested Gevinson in the semifinal round at the Tryouts. Kara went on to represent the U.S. at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Gevinson's amateur run featured so much destruction of the opposition, he was chosen as an Olympic alternate instead of Joseph Church, who fell to Kara in the finals. But Gevinson declined the opportunity because of the Nazis' treatment of his Jewish brethren.

"Can we forget the way the German government is treating the Jewish boys in Germany?" wrote two Canadian boxers in their early 20s, "The German government is treating our brothers and sisters worse than dogs."

Benjamin Norman Yakubowitz was born on December 25, 1915 in Kiev, Ukraine. By the time of the 1936 Canadian Olympic trials, he was known as Baby Yack. He had grown up in a Toronto slum where he learned to fight. Baby Yack rose to become the Canadian amateur bantamweight champion and earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.

"Being Jewish, there was no question about us going to Berlin," recalled the other boycotting Canadian.

Born on May 14, 1916, Sammy Luftspring experienced the same tough upbringing in Toronto as Baby Yack. Luftspring became the Canadian amateur welterweight champion in the run-up to the 1936 Olympics.

Yack and Luftspring agreed to participate in the People's Olympiad, an alternate to the Olympics, which was to be held in Barcelona, Spain. After securing funding, the two boxers sailed to Europe for the first time in their lives. They boarded a train headed for Barcelona but were held up on the Spanish border. There they learned the People's Olympiad had been canceled. The Spanish Civil War broke out.

Gevinson, Yack, and Luftspring all turned pro shortly after their Olympic boycott. Gevinson had his debut in November. He became an extremely popular attraction in the D.C. area. Lou was matched tough early hindering his career's trajectory significantly. The southpaw puncher fought the likes of Joey Archibald, Petey Sarron, and Lou Feldman: all losses. Gevinson fought in his last pro bout in 1939. He joined the U.S. army during World War II and worked for them until 1957. He passed in 1976.

Baby Yack turned pro in September after the Olympics. He rose to become a top ten bantamweight in the world according to The Ring. Thrown in tough early as well, he won the Canadian bantamweight title in his eighth pro fight and secured at least three successful defenses of the crown. Baby also retired in 1939 after fighting the likes of Indian Quintana and Harry Jaffre. He went into the Canadian army and later became a bookie and entangled with the mob. He subsequently worked as a cab driver. He passed in 1987.

Luftspring debuted on the same card as Yack on September 23, 1936 at Maple Leaf Gardens. At his peak, The Ring rated Sammy as a top ten welterweight in the world. In 1940, he was set to face Henry Armstrong for the world title, but in a tune up fight against Steven Belloise, he was thumbed in the eye and sustained a horrific eye injury that forced him to retire.

Luftspring fell on hard times emotionally for a while before working as a host at a nightclub. He also got back into boxing as a prolific referee and judge. In a match in 1970, Humberto Trottman took umbrage with Sammy's officiating and attacked him. The ex-welterweight punched back, and Trottman lost two fights that night. Luftspring refereed the last two bouts the night George Foreman fought five men consecutively. Sammy refereed until 1984 and judged until 1991. He passed in 2000.

Christy, Jim. Flesh & Blood: A journey into the heart of boxing. 1990.
McDonald. Norris. "When Murphy Met Baby." Toronto Star. December 22, 2012.
Povich, Shirley. "A Boxer, and a Fighter for a Cause." The Washington Post. November 22, 1997. Pg. D1.
Povich, Shirley. "D.C. Native, Fought 3 Champions." The Washington Post. March 22, 1976. Pg. C4.
"Sammy Lufspring." Ontario Jewish Archives.
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing. 2016.
Woolsey, Garth. "Retired Toronto boxer will always wonder what might have been." Toronto Star. August 8, 1992.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Gloves and Doves' Schedule Announced

Former professional boxer Tony Milch announced a tentative schedule for his Gloves and Doves program for the rest of the year.  Gloves and Doves, which promotes peace and unity through boxing, hosted a successful showcase last month in Isfiya, Israel.

Gloves and Doves announced a partnership with Albi Sorra's  Arena Boxing, which is based in Albania, for a possible show at the end of September. Sorra, a 7-0 fighter from Tirana, has featured Jewish boxers on Arena Boxing cards in the past, often in collaboration with B&B Promotions.

Milch is hoping to bring a team featuring fighters of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to his native country of England in late October. A native of Edgware, Milch finished his pro career with a 14-2 mark. All of his bouts took place in England.

Tony proposed another Gloves and Doves show in Israel in November and/or December, hoping to follow up on the Isfiya event in July.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Location Change for Cohen's September 18 Bout

Dr. Stefi Cohen, a champion weightlifter, is scheduled to fight on September 18. The event has had a number of changes since it was first announced.

The main event was a celebrity match featuring the winner of the 2018 World's Strongest Man competition Thor Bjornsson against the winner of the 2017 World's Strongest Man competition Eddie Hall. But Hall came down with an injury and the spectacle was postponed. Thor is looking for a new opponent, and the rest of the card is expected to proceed.

The event was to be held at VyStar Veteran's Memorial in Jacksonville, Florida, but that site has been scrapped over concerns about the rising impact of the Delta variant of covid-19. The organizers chose not to move the card to a more intimate venue in Jacksonville. They didn't move it to nearby Tampa or St. Pete. Neither St. Augustine not Orlando was chosen as a replacement city.

Instead, with a bit more than a month until it is slated to occur, the organizers moved the event just a bit farther to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The date is still the same, and Stefi Cohen is still being promoted as fighting on the card.

Cohen won her first pro fight on June 4 when she stopped Haidde Zapa in the third round in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Cohen, 29 years old, trains with Dr. Pedro Diaz. No opponent for her second bout has been announced.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Review of The Minuteman

The Minuteman: The Forgotten Legacy of Nat Arno and the Fight against Newark's Nazis
By Greg Donahue
Amazon Audible, 2020

Nat Arno grew up fighting before finding an outlet for his aggressive nature in the sport of boxing. He turned pro unfathomably young, doing so on his fifteenth birthday (though BoxRec lists a fight even a couple days earlier). When his parents found out, Arno was prohibited from boxing. After six months, he ran away from home to pursue his pugilistic career.

The Newark native didn't make enough money in the ring, so he supplemented his income by working as an enforcer for mobster Longie Zwillman's bootlegging enterprise. When the 21st Amendment was passed repealing Prohibition in 1933, Arno was left with a void.

But the repeal of Prohibition coincided with the rise of Nazism in Germany and in the United States. Arno is the jumping off point for this tale of how the Newark Minutemen, a group of Jewish boxers run by Zwillman, combated American Nazism, particularly in New Jersey.

Though this audio book clocks in at just under two hours, Greg Donahue provides dramatic and detailed accounts of some clashes between the Minutemen and the Nazis. He effectively puts these confrontations, and Arno's life, into proper historical perspective. Narrator Jonathan Davis strikes the right note throughout. His deep voice lends additional gravitas to Donahue's words. Through subtle accents, Davis makes it clear when someone is being quoted. It's a very good marriage between writer and performer.

That the book is exclusively in an audio format has its pros and cons. Davis's performance is fantastic, which is a positive feature of the format. But there are drawbacks, specifically with this book. Listening to the funny anecdotes or the dramatic encounters in the car isn't a problem, but the subject of Nazism is often, by definition, dark and upsetting. It isn't easy to listen straight through. Another issue with the format is that it hinders research. Donohue uncovers some wonderful quotes from the colorful people on whom he's reporting, but it can an annoying for a researcher to transcribe them.

The Minuteman is worth a listen for anyone interested in pre-World War II Jewish boxers, Newark history, or American Nazism in the 1930s. Donahue's effort provides the nonfiction background that nicely complements Leslie K. Barry's novel Newark Minutemen. In addition to Arno, Jewish boxing fans are treated to appearances from Puddy Hinkes, Abie Bain, Benny Levine, and Al Fisher among others.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Recap of the Tokyo Olympics

Pavlo Ishchenko was the last Jewish boxer to fight in the Olympics when he competed for Ukraine in 2012. The Ukrainian-Israeli bantamweight went on to win his three pro fights. Though no Jewish boxers participated this year in Tokyo, the Games did have a Jewish angle... although it's a bit of stretch.

First of all, the boxing competition held in the sacred shrine of sumo wrestling, Kokukigan Arena, was much better run than in recent Olympics primarily because of AIBA's absence. Under AIBA, Olympic boxing had come to be defined by incompetence and corruption. This time there were some minor controversies- controversy is like boxing's shadow, it seems to follow the sport. But by and large the judging was fair and the referees- except for their ridiculous obsession with the fighters keeping their heads up- were as well.

Jewish boxing fans likely rooted for their co-nationalists. For Americans that meant admiring the impressive performances of the gritty Oshea Jones, Duke Ragan who showed poise and strong combination punching, Richard Torrez Jr. whose volume punching and strong left pulled off a remarkable  upset against Kazakhstan's Kamshybek Kunkabayev, and Keyshawn Davis who has the skills and the mentality to become a pro star.

Among the heavier weights on the men's side, Uzbekistan's gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov (8-0 as a pro), Russia's silver medalist Muslim Gadzhimagomedov, New Zealand's bronze medalist David Nyika (1-0 as a pro), Torrez, and Kunkabayev (3-0 as a pro) all showed quality in multiple bouts.

The middle weights had plenty talent. At light heavyweight, Azerbaijan's Loren Alfonso and Great Britain's Ben Whittaker were such slick boxers while Russia's  Iman Khataev was unusually skilled for a man built like a tank. At middleweight Ukrainian Oleksander Khyzniak displayed precise aggression, but a left hook in the gold medal match ended his championship chances. Bronze medalist Eumir Marcial of the Philippines (1-0 as a pro),  Euri Cendeno of the Dominican Republic, and Ablikan Amankul were also worthy of note. Great Britain's Pat McCormack looked good in winning the silver medal at welter.

At the lighter weights, Armenian lightweight bronze medalist Hovhannes Bachkov (2-0 as a pro) and flyweight silver medalist Carlo Paalam of the Philippines were strong. And of course almost every member of the Cuban men's boxing team dominated their weight class.

On the women's side, flyweight gold medalist Stoyka Krasteva of Bulgaria, Brazilian lightweight silver medalist Beatriz Ferreira, and Great Britain's middleweight gold medalist Lauren Price all deserve recognition.

And while there were no Jewish boxers this time around, perhaps Yiddish-speaking fans rooted for Tajikistan's light heavyweight Shabbos Negmatulloev in his round of 32 match. Negmatulloev is quite literally a Shabbos goy even if he never spends a Friday night flicking on a light switch for an observant Jew.

It isn't know if welterweight Aliaksandr Radzionau is a rad zion-ist, but in any event the Belarussian made the round of 16. A Namibian lightweight shares not one but two names with the first female rabbi in modern history, Regina Jonas. Jonas Jonas also made it to the round of 16. And finally,  Russian welterweight bronze medalist Andrey Zamkovoy's opponents may have lamented their losses by uttering the last syllable of his surname, "Oy!" I told you it would be a stretch.