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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Review: The Great Benny Leonard

The Great Benny Leonard: Mama's Boy to World Champ
By John Jarrett
Pitch Publishing, 2021

Even now, over seventy years after his death, Benny Leonard is a revered figure among Jewish boxing fans. In a tradition popularized by Budd Schulberg, we typically include "The Great" before uttering his name, an honorific akin to referring to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as "Mahatma." John Jarrett has created a book worthy of our idol.

Racing through his childhood and skimming his post-career life, Jarrett's work primarily focuses on Benny the boxer. Rather than providing strict chronologic coverage of each fight, Jarrett presents the hot debates that marked Benny's career:

-Who really taught Benny to throw that concussive right hand?
-How much did Benny love his mother? (Spoiler: A lot!)
-Was Benny a better lightweight than Joe Gans?
-How did he out-think Ritchie Mitchell in the first round on that fateful night in 1921 and trick the Milwaukee bruiser out of the world championship?
-And how did he do a similar thing to Lew Tendler in the eighth round of their fight the following year?
-Why did Benny hit Jack Britton when he was down and all but out, thereby losing his claim to the welterweight crown?

As a writer, Jarrett is humble. He leaves the storytelling to Damon Runyon, Heywood Broun, Nat Fleischer and the like, quoting firsthand newspaper accounts and later biographies at length. The introduction is almost exclusively an extended quote from Allen Bodner's When Boxing was a Jewish Sport. The fear in heavily quoting various sources is a disjointed work, but Jarrett blends these diverse voices like a maestro brings together different sections of an orchestra. Sometimes the writers seamlessly piggyback off one another and at others they engage in riveting debates about Benny's career. The few times Jarrett describes the fights with his own fingers, his words fit in well with the old masters.

Benny's life and career aren't treated as a philosophical muse here. Nor are they really put in a wider context either. His role as a symbol of his people is kept to a minimum. This book is more like a straight shot of Benny told directly by those who covered him. One of the most striking aspects of that coverage was the quickness in which questions surfaced about whether Leonard's talents had deteriorated. The questions arose almost immediately after he lifted the lightweight title from Freddie Welsh in 1917. And those criticisms never relented. As is often the case, the myth only grew in time.

The Great Benny Leonard is for all Jewish boxing fans. Those who don't know much about the legend will learn of all the key moments in his career, and those who are intimately familiar with perhaps the greatest Jewish boxer, and certainly the most popular, ever to lace up the gloves will still glean much from this book.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Kapuler Dominates on Route to Decision Victory

Miroslav Kapuler outboxed 20-fight veteran Yevheniy Kondratenko in Zvenyhorodka, Ukraine this afternoon. The southpaw junior middleweight looked quite impressive throughout the bout.

Kapuler wore light blue trunks with white trim. A gold Star of David adorned the left side of his trunks, and the beltline displayed his initials "MI" (for Miroslav Ishchenko, his birthname) in gold. He wore knee-high white socks and used black gloves to land a left to the body and then a left to the head stunning Kondratenko mere seconds into the fight.

Kondratenko attempted to fight back early, but Kapuler dissuaded him of any notion of returning fire with a series of lead lefts from the outside sprinkled throughout the opening round and a sustained combination with 45 seconds left in the first that spun Yevheniy around. For the rest of the fight Kondratenko remained in survival mode.

Kapuler spent much of the rest of the affair dancing and landing lead lefts from the outside. He showed off his fancy footwork and his educated jab. Miroslav has several jabs. He has a range-finding jab, which is essential for a taller fighter. The six-footer also has a power jab. He has a show-jab that distracts the opponent from his best punch, the straight left. He can also double up the jab and land that straight left behind it.

Late in the third round Kapuler unleashed an overhand left from distance. Upon absorbing the blow, Kondratenko froze. Miroslav waited, perhaps a beat too long, to jump on his wounded foe. Kondratenko managed to withstand Kapuler's barrage as the bell saved the journeyman.

At this point in his career, Kapuler is a bit too cautious when his man is hurt. Against Alexander Benidze in April, Miroslav also failed to capitalize when his opponent was all but finished. In today's bout, Kapuler didn't press the fight in the fourth even after Kondratenko was shaken up at the end of the third. Instead, he relied on his classy boxing to carry him to victory. But in fairness to Kapuler, both Benidze and Kondratenko are far more experienced than the usual pushovers many prospects are fed early in their careers. Miroslav swept the cards with one judge scoring the bout 40-35 and the other two seeing it 40-36.

Kapuler is a 24 year old with a lot of skills and ability. He can go far in the sport if he's so inclined. His jab and left hand are excellent. After landing some of his shots, he shifts to a different angle and lands some more. His right hook isn't bad by any means, but he throws it a bit wide. A tall southpaw in possession of a short counter right hook to the temple is a very dangerous fighter. Nevertheless, Kapuler is a speedy and flashy boxer who is now 3-0 with one KO. Kondratenko falls to 5-16 with 3 KOs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Miroslav Kapuler to Fight on Thursday

Junior middleweight Miroslav Kapuler is scheduled to fight on Thursday in Ukraine against Yevheniy Kondratenko. This would be Kapuler's third pro fight, all in Ukraine.

Kapuler, who sometimes goes by his birth surname of Ishchenko, is 2-0 with one KO. The 24 year old southpaw dominated the competition in last month's Israeli amateur championships. He won the gold in the 71 kilogram division as the lines between prizefighting and amateur boxing become increasingly blurred.

Kondratenko is the right kind of opponent for Kapuler at this stage of his career. Kondratenko, from Myrhorod, Ukraine, is 5-15 with 3 KOs and has experience in MMA. He has never beaten an opponent with a winning record, but has never lost to an opponent with a losing record. Kondratenko lost his first seven fights, won his next four, and has lost his last seven dating back to 2016. He has fought in his native Ukraine, as well as Russia, Latvia, Germany, and Finland.

Kapuler should handle the naturally smaller Kondratenko, but Yevheniy is no pushover. He's the type of guy who is an opponent for good young prospects early in their careers, not someone to boost an inflated record. One of his losses was to a guy who is now 21-1 and whose only career defeat came at the hands of former world champ Rob Brant. Another loss came to another guy who is also 21-1 and has only lost to hot prospect Rene Tellez Giron.

Kondratenko will take what's given to him. If an opponent takes control early as Denys Lazarev did in their 2015 bout, Kondratenko will fight off the backfoot and throw punches with little conviction. But if Kondratenko feels he has a chance, he'll push forward firing combinations. Though he has been stopped six times, he can take a good punch; he just can't withstand two or three in quick succession.

Kapuler has a three inch height advantage and he has been more active. He last fought professionally in April while Kondratenko's last pro boxing match was a bit before the pandemic began in December of 2019. This bout is scheduled for four rounds.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Cohen and Nieto Fight to Majority Draw

Dr. Stefanie Cohen and Marcela Nieto fought to a majority draw at Sport Society in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in their featherweight contest today. Cohen's technique vastly improved since her debut, but she had trouble mounting offense besides her jab.

A big moment came when Stefi entered the ring, her surname "Cohen" stitched in yellow across the beltline on the back of her black trunks. The United Arab Emirates recognized the state of Israel only last year, on August 13, becoming the third Arab nation to do so.

Cohen, 29, is a world-record breaking powerlifter, a legend in that sport. She came to boxing less than two years ago. She won her first fight by TKO, but her punches and footwork were crude. In the first round of this bout, Stefi exhibited much sharper technique. Her feet quickly darted in and out while she snapped her jab at Nieto. On the inside, she landed a short right to the body and effectively slipped Nieto's attempts at offense like a seasoned boxer.

On the outside, Nieto waved her wide punches. At one point, she ran to get close to Cohen firing arm punches along the way. But mostly, she posed, taunted, and waited. Cohen's movement and defense frustrated the 33 year old from El Bagre, Colombia until the end of the second round. Nieto landed a short right on the inside and Cohen's nose began to resemble a certain reindeer named Rudolph. It was the turning point in the fight.

The blood poured down Cohen's nose early in the third. She landed her jab, but Nieto found a home for her short rights in close at the end of the two-minute period. One after the other, Cohen absorbed those painful rights. Nieto's short right was tighter and more powerful than her wide punches from the outside.

After taking punishment at the end of the third, Cohen boxed behind the jab in the fourth. Nieto landed a clean short right to the body at one stage and a counter right over the top later in that last round. This final round posed the age old question for judges: How many jabs equal two hard power shots? Two of these three judges answered that whatever the number of jabs, Cohen hadn't connected with enough of them.

A ring announcer's job may look easy, but it's not as simple as you think. There is a certain order in which to read the scores to maximize the drama and clarity. Today's ring announcer flubbed his job. The scores should have been read, "Judge A scored the bout 39-37 for [insert boxer's name]. Overruled by judges B and C who scored it... 38-38, a majority draw." Instead, this announcer read the two even cards first, draining the act of any drama, and then revealed the 39-37 score without mentioning which fighter won on that card. As it turns out, the 39-37 score was somewhat surprisingly for Nieto 

Cohen, who is now 1-0-1 with one KO, looked much better from a technical standpoint but came away with a draw. While her footwork, technique, and jab were all better, she telegraphed her overhand right and didn't have another punch to throw off the jab. She quickly ran out of offensive ideas. As a result, her attack was limited, and once Nieto figured out how to get inside Stefi's jab, Marcela found more success. Nieto, 2-0-1 with one KO, was also a better opponent.

A light moment came during the post fight interview. Cohen, a native of Caracas, Venezuela and a resident of Miami, Florida, speaks Spanish and English. Nieto, the Colombian, only speaks Spanish, and the interviewer spoke English. So Cohen served as translator for her opponent. She didn't fake the translation and claim, "She said I won the fight" or anything, but it was perhaps a bit awkward when Cohen translated, "She has a lot of respect for me. She says I'm tough."

Friday, September 17, 2021

Weights For Cohen-Nieto

Dr. Stefanie Cohen (1-0, 1 KO) is scheduled to face Marcela Nieto (2-0, 1 KO) tomorrow in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nieto weighed in at 121.5 pounds, the heaviest of her career. Cohen came in at 125.2 pounds, about a pound and a half more than she weighed in her debut.

When Stefi stepped onto the scale, Nieto peered at the number. Nieto shook her head, threw her hands up, and shook her head some more in resigned disgust. Her reaction was akin to when your mechanic quotes you a price on a replacement catalytic converter after yours was stolen out of your driveway. You figure the price is inflated, but you're powerless to do anything about it.

According to BoxRec and the promoter, Core Sports, the fight is set for the featherweight limit of 126 pounds, which Cohen made with room to spare. There has been no public mention of a catchweight for this fight, but perhaps Nieto was promised one. That seems the only logical explanation for her reaction.

Cohen, 29,  has had to transform her body in her shift from powerlifting, a sport in which she was a record-breaking legend, to boxing. Nieto, 33, has experience in another sport, too. She has at least six fights in MMA.

Stefi and her team have been in Dubai for the week. She toured the Burj Khalifa, by far the tallest building in the world. Completed in 2009 and standing 2,717 feet (828 meters), it is almost 700 feet (200 meters) taller than the second tallest building in the world. From the top, Cohen could surely see Sport Society, the arena where the fight is set to take place.

BoxRec lists Cohen-Nieto as having four three-minute rounds. Typically, women's matches have two-minute rounds. Core Sports announced that the fight will start at 9:15 PM local time, which is 8:15 in Israel, 6:15 in the UK, and 1:15 PM EDT.

Here is a link to video of the weigh-in.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review of King of Warsaw

The King of Warsaw
By Szczepan Twardoch
Amazon Crossing, 2016, 2020.

This novel, translated into English by Sean Gasper Bye, takes place in Warsaw in 1937 as fascists' influence in Poland begins to bubble. Hitler and the Nazis increasingly brutalize Jews next door. Jakub Szapiro, a Jewish boxer, works as an enforcer for a Polish leftist gangster. When he's not knocking out fascists, in or out of the ring, the heavyweight is strategizing with his fellow mobsters in a brothel owned by his ex.

Featuring a few twists along the way, revealing more of the plot would involve spoilers. But the mood is dark. Gruesome and sexually explicit details permeate the story. Szapiro is an anti-hero and painfully few of the other characters possess enough redeeming qualities to outweigh the bad.

The characters, despite their disturbing features, are tangible. A blurb from the back of the book states, "Twardoch's depictions of individual characters, atmospheres, and political currents are precise, vivid, and ecstatic, almost to the point of madness." Only the world "almost" is off. It makes for a clear yet pessimistic scene. The King of Warsaw is the opposite of life-affirming.

And yet, with the rise of populism and fascism across the world, this tale is certainly relevant for our era. It asks the questions, "What makes a good person? And is there such a thing?" Though the description of violence can be excessive and the lives of many of the characters bleak, Twardoch's philosophical arguments expertly woven within the narrative are worth considering.

The King of Warsaw is for those interested in learning about the different political factions and the realities of mob life in Poland in the late 1930s, those who enjoy reading about a Jewish tough rough up fascists, and those who don't mind a graphic description of someone's throat getting slit.

A couple notes:
Here's the original Polish version De Krol.
It has also been made into a tv show.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Schedule Update for Several Boxers

Dr. Stefi Cohen (1-0, one KO) is currently in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for her fight against Marcela Nieto this Saturday, September 18. For more information on the fight, check out this article. The JBB will have full coverage of this bout.

"Bulldog" Benny Sinakin (6-1, 3 KOs) is scheduled to fight on November 27 at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, according to multiple sources. BoxRec lists his opponent as fifty-fight veteran Josue Obando. The JBB will have a preview closer to the fight date. Sinakin is coming off of his first loss, a close decision to Afunwa King. Benny had been scheduled to comeback this Friday, but his return bout will take place two days after Thanksgiving, instead.

Sinakin's fight is penciled in for six rounds. His only other six round affair was the loss to King, but the distance wasn't the problem in that fight. Benny started slowly before finding his rhythm late. November will be about seven months after the loss, which is a good amount of time to get back in action. Benny didn't rush back too quickly before he was mentally ready, but he will not have let the loss fester too long and allow it to gnaw at his career.

In an interview with Knuckle Up over the weekend, David Alaverdian (4-0, 3 KOs) said his management is working on getting him a fight for October 7 in Tucson, Arizona. Nothing has been finalized. Alaverdian trains constantly, doing cardio in the morning and boxing later in the day. He eats healthy as well, and as a result he only needs to cut about five or six pounds to make weight at any given moment.

Mor Oknin (1-0, one KO) told The JBB he is planning to fight in Mexico next month. Oknin's debut also took place in Mexico. He won by way of first round TKO over Angel Campoy. Oknin had begun to assert control of the contest when Campoy bowed out due to injury.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Duer Beat Zacarias Last Month

Carolina Duer won by unanimous decision over Silvia Fernanda Zacarias on August 12 at Escuela de Boxeo Santos Zacarías in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Duer is a former two-division world champion. The legend won her belts at super flyweight and bantamweight.

Duer-Zacarias was actually a rematch. The two, both from Argentina, met in the ring eleven years ago. Duer won a ten-round unanimous decision for the South American super bantamweight title back in 2010.

This bout was a four-rounder in the super featherweight division. Each of the three judges scored the contest for Duer, who is 43 year old, with marks of 39-37. She is now 20-6-2 with 6 KOs during her 14 year professional boxing career. This was Duer's first win since 2016, although she dropped a couple of close split decisions in world title bouts in that span.

Zacarias, a 36 year old, is 8-24-5 with one KO. She has lost her last twelve fights, mostly to very good competition. She last won in November of 2012. Zacarias has only been stopped four times, the last coming in 2014.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Look Back: Nat Arno

Sidney Nathaniel Abramowitz, born April 1, 1910 in Newark, New Jersey, spent his childhood fighting. Almost by accident he found himself on an amateur card when the promoter was in need of a boxer. Abramowitz acquitted himself well in his first sanctioned fight and took up the sport.

Sidney loved boxing so much he dropped out of school to pursue a career in the trade. Needing money, he turned pro two weeks before his 15th birthday. In early fights, he earned $10 or got a wristwatch that he pawned.

Sidney used the nom de guerre Nat Arno to hide his new profession from his parents. It was a wise move, because when Harry and Bertha found out, they barred their son from boxing. The ban worked for six months. Arno ran away from home at the beginning of 1926, hitchhiking to Florida to restart his career. His parents didn't even know if he was alive for over a year.

He fought in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, and Daytona Beach among other Florida cities. After over 40 fights in Florida- dropping only two of them- he returned to New Jersey to fight in  February of 1927. Far more muscular than when he left, Nat thankfully made up with his dad upon his return.

Newark had been a bustling city, but by the 1920s had turned into a rough place. The city saw a rise in corruption because of prohibition. Newark boasted more illegal speakeasies than Manhattan. Probably some time in 1928 in an effort to supplement his income from prizefighting, Arno began working for Longie Zwillman, the mob boss who controlled bootlegging in Newark and beyond. Arno became an enforcer for Zwillman's gang. He helped usher illegal alcohol to its destination.

Newark's preeminent boxing venue during Arno's career was Laurel Garden, often called "the bucket of blood." Arno fought there at least eleven times. He split two bouts in the spring of 1929 with Benny Levine, a future fellow Newark Minuteman. After dropping an eight round decision to Levine in March, Arno opened up a bad cut over his friend's left eye forcing the referee to stop the April rematch in the third round.

At 5'5", Arno began as a lightweight, but by the 1930s, he had grown into a welterweight. He often wore a Star of David on his trunks intertwined with the initials NA. His last bout occurred on September 30, 1932, a ten round decision loss to Lope Tenorio of the Philippines. Arno, who changed his surname to Arnold, weighed in at a career high 149 pounds for the contest. The 22 year old retired when he realized he wouldn't become champ and understood working for Zwillman fulltime constituted a more lucrative opportunity. Arno's career record was something like 81-23-13 (1 No Decision), including ten newspaper decisions, with 21 KOs. In 118 fights, Arno was stopped once, against Young Zazzino on cuts in 1930.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment passed, which repealed prohibition. Zwillman's bootlegging operations were rendered moot and Arno's career as a mob enforcer was suddenly in jeopardy. A void briefly entered Arno's life.

But in that same year, the Friends of New Germany gained influence in the United States, particularly in Newark. Fascism became a genuine threat in the U.S. Combatting fascism's rise gave Arno a new sense of purpose.

Arno chose to confront Nazism the best way he knew how, through violence. He pelted one Friends of New Germany meeting with stink bombs, and as American Nazis fled, they were beaten up by pipe-wielding Newark Minutemen. Zwillman chose Arno as the commander of the Minutemen, a group of Jewish toughs- many former boxers- whose mission was to thwart a troubling increase in anti-Semitism. Nat often carried a gun and had no problem using his trained fists to bludgeon Nazis. He also survived an assassination attempt. In the summer of 1934, Max Feilshus was wounded in both legs in a drive-by shooting while standing next to Arno. By the end of 1935 though, Hitler had rejected the Friends of  New Germany and it essentially closed down.

But a new group took its place. The German American Bund, led by Fritz Kuhn, embraced violent anti-Semitism even more than its predecessor. With Father Charles Coughlin spewing his anti-Jewish bile to millions on the radio, the German-American Bund gained a foothold in the minds of too many Americans. But Arno, by this point a stogie-smoking, three-piece suit and fedora-wearing gangster, was ready. He and the Minutemen physically challenged the American Nazis at every meeting.

At times, the press criticized the Minutemen's violent ways and defended the American Nazis' right to free speech under the First Amendment. This of course minimized the American Nazis' own violent impulses. Because assault was part of his job description, Arno often found himself arrested. But thanks to Zwillman's connections to Newark's top brass, Arno never stayed behind bars for very long. Nat led the Minutemen until 1940.

Arno enlisted in the Army in 1941, before the United States entered into war with Nazi Germany. He saw action in the European theater and was wounded at the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

When he came home, he found himself lost once again. He turned back to crime to make a living and got in trouble with the law. Zwillman helped his old friend out once again. In 1948, Arno went out west to run a liquor store and later worked in the furniture business. After moving to California, he became a member of a noble organization, Disabled American Veterans. He stayed out of the spotlight becoming a family man and aiding fundraisers at the local synagogue. Arno died on August 8, 1973 in California of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 63.

In the early 1960s, the American Nazi Party held a rally in Los Angeles. Sidney Arnold listened intently in the audience. When a speaker spouted something anti-Semitic, Sidney conjured up the dangerous alter ego he had laid to rest decades earlier. "Nat Arno" resurfaced and pummeled the Nazi as if it had been the '30s all over again.

Barry, Leslie K. The Newark Minutemen. 2020.
Donahue, Greg. The Minuteman: The Forgotten Legacy of Nat Arno and the Fight against Newark's Nazis. 2020.
Grover, Warren. Nazis in Newark. 2003.
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring. 2016.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Seldin's Fight Canceled

Cletus Seldin was scheduled to face Victor Vazquez tomorrow at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, New York, USA. But the fight was canceled today. The promoter, Star Boxing, initially explained the cancellation was due to "a medical issue" concerning Vazquez. During the pre-fight physical, Vazquez apparently failed the eye exam, which caused NYSAC to deny him a boxing license.

Though the cancellation of Seldin-Vazquez is surely disappointing for all involved, this is a case of the system, eventually, working. The eye issue was caught late in the game, but Vazquez could very well have been saved from irreparable harm had he been allowed to fight.

This comes in the wake of two cases in which the system did not work. Jeanette Zacarias Zapata, an 18 year old from Mexico, died from the punches she took to the head in her fight in Montreal last Saturday. Her wellbeing was repeatedly disregarded along the way. Ahead of his September 10 fight date, Oscar Valdez tested positive for phentermine, a substance banned by VADA (the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association). Despite both his A and B samples testing positive, his fight is currently still scheduled to take place. Defanging organization like VADA invites cheating and will eventually lead to tragedy. The health of the fighters must be the primary concern for all those involved in boxing.

Seldin (25-1, 21 KOs) last fought on February 28, 2020. His eighteen-month layoff will extend a bit longer. News of an upcoming fight will be released shortly.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Cohen to Fight Nieto in Dubai

Dr. Stefi Cohen is set to fight Marcela Nieto on September 18 at Sport Society in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Cohen was originally scheduled to fight in Jacksonville, Florida, USA on the undercard of a celebrity match between two strongmen champions, Thor Bjornsson and Eddie Hall. Hall became injured and his replacement is a 46 year old arm wrestling champion Devon Larratt. Then covid exploded in Florida again, so the entire card was moved halfway around the world.

Cohen (1-0, 1 KO) is a 29 year old record-breaking weightlifting champion. A native of Venezuela, she fights out of Miami, Florida and is trained by Dr. Pedro Diaz. Cohen stopped Haidde Zapa in the third round of her debut last June. In preparation for this fight, she sparred with the legendary Argentine champion Carolina Duer.

Nieto (2-0, 1 KO) is a 33 year old from Colombia. She won her first fight by split decision in a 2016 bout in Panama. Her second fight took place in her home country this past February. She stopped a nine-fight veteran in the third round of a scheduled eight-rounder.

Nieto also has experience in MMA. She fought at least six times from '13 to '16 with an even record. In those fights, she showed herself to be a puncher. Though Nieto has had a good bit more combat experience than Cohen, Marcela weighed 114.75 pounds in her last fight whereas Stefi was 123.5 for her debut. Nieto will have the height and experience advantage while Cohen will boast the age and size advantage. 

Though neither of Cohen's opponents will have been world-beaters, as a boxing novice she deserves credit for taking on fighters who actually have boxing experience and have even won professional boxing matches. This bout is scheduled for the featherweight division. According to BoxRec, it's slated for four three-minute rounds.