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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Jew or Not: Benny Briscoe

One of the best boxers never to win a title, Benny Briscoe, remains a legend in Philadelphia boxing circles. "Bad" Bennie challenged for the middleweight world championship three times. The first attempt came against one of the best middleweights of all time, Hall of Famer Carlos Monzon. Briscoe dropped all three of his fights to Rodrigo Valdes, two of them for the title.

In 2019, the late Harold Lederman told BoxingTalk.com about Briscoe, "He had a left hook to the body that you could feel up in the rafters! He was just vicious. There was nobody- nobody- who was meaner in a boxing ring than Bennie Briscoe. He was the meanest man I ever saw. He would scare his opponents half to death when he would come out for the referee’s instructions. He was one of the first guys to have a shaved head." 

After winning his first fifteen fights- all in Philadelphia- Briscoe battled many notable boxers. In addition to Monzon and Valdes, he faced Hall of Famer Emile Griffith (twice), Hall of Famer Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and (future) world champion Vito Antuofermo. He beat many quality opponents including George Benton, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and Eugene "Cyclone" Hart.

He fought all of them with a Star of David on his trunks.

In his book Four Kings, George Kimball writes, "Briscoe had a certain crossover ethnic appeal as well; he had converted to Judaism and wore a Star of David on his trunks." (pg.35). If true, Briscoe wouldn't be the only Black Jewish Bennie/Benny from Philadelphia. Active boxer Benny Sinakin checks all those boxes as well. And there is another Ben Briscoe, a Jewish politician from Ireland.

Boxing Insider notes, "Boxing magazines and news reports in the early 1970s said [Briscoe] was practicing the 'Jewish faith.'"

Russell Peltz, his promoter, told a revealing story to Matt Silver of the Jewish Exponent in 2019 about a group of Israelis who sat ringside during one of Briscoe's fights. “They jumped up and waved their Israeli passports and said, ‘Hey, we’re Jewish, too, Bennie!’

“Of course, Bennie wasn’t actually Jewish, but, you know.”

After Briscoe won the fight, the Israelis stormed the ring and carried him around on the shoulders. Bennie, reportedly a kindhearted man when he wasn't fighting, didn't want to burst their bubble and enjoyed the ride.

Rob Murray, the late trainer based in Philadelphia, told Bill Dettloff of RingTV.com that Briscoe probably didn't even know what the Star of David on his trunks meant.

Dettloff explains, "He simply wore it as a personal favor to Jimmy Iselin and [then] Arnold Weiss, his Jewish managers." Iselin, the son of the New York Jets owner at the time, sold Briscoe's contract to Weiss, who happened to be Peltz's brother-in-law.

1 comment:

  1. Of the three top potential draft choices regarding 'Jew or Not Jew'-Briscoe, Ronnie 'Mazal' Harris and Pedro Montanez-Briscoe, for me is the most disappointing.The one time I saw him Live was against Rodrigo Valdes;Briscoe was stopped and I thought looked awful.Briscoe went zero for thee against Valdes(as mentioned) and had 24 losses acattered through his career. His biggest win looks to be against 10 years older George Benton.I followed him religiously through Ring Magazine and he was probably the fighter I wanted to see most after Ruben Olivares.I think The Mogen Dovid became an issue when he knocked out Tony Mundine prior to getting stopped by Valdes..He staggered Monzon.looked like a fighter and had a great boxing name but to become the folk hero he became- more hyped it seems than Philly fighters like Joey Giardello and Bernard Hopkins remains a mystery to me.