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Monday, January 31, 2022

Barney Ross, Sid Terris, Kip Kaplan Evaluated by Their Peers

Billy Petrolle and Jimmy McLarnin were two of the best lightweights and welterweights of the late 1920s and early 1930s. While few black fighters were afforded the opportunity to fight at the championship level during this era, most Jewish boxers didn't face the same hurdles. As a result, Petrolle and McLarnin both fought many Jewish opponents. After their careers ended, they separately reminisced about the best they faced.

Both fought three-division champion Barney Ross. Petrolle described Ross as "the best boxer" in terms of fighting style. He ranked Ross as the third best opponent he faced during his more than 120-bout career. Ross beat Petrolle twice, once in 1933 and again the next year in Petrolle's last fight. Both were ten-round unanimous decision victories.

McLarnin didn't rank his opponents, but noted, "Barney Ross was a really tough opponent. He was a great boxer and had a great chin. I can remember getting him right on the chin with some of the best shots I ever hit anyone with, and he didn't even blink."

Ross and McLarnin fought three times, each for the welterweight world championship. Ross took the title from McLarnin in their first fight by split decision in 1934, four months after beating Petrolle. McLarnin took it back by split decision later that year. In 1935, Ross won the rubber match by a close but unanimous decision. Each fight was fifteen rounds and McLarnin commented, "Barney was a well-conditioned boy."

"Barney wasn't a great puncher, but he was a terrific boxer," McLarnin said. "He could take a good punch, and he was smart. Especially in the last 10 seconds he'd always finish with a big flurry," much like Sugar Ray Leonard did against Marvelous Marvin Hagler half a century later. Though McLarnin didn't feel Ross hit hard, he explained, "He could stab you pretty good, make you look like a nickel, very embarrassing."

Those fights between Ross and McLarnin were personal for Jewish fans of the day because McLarnin had beaten many of the best Jewish fighters. One of them was Sid Terris, "The Ghost of the Ghetto."

McLarnin knocked out Terris in the first round of their 1928 bout. Before the bout, Terris was the uncrowned lightweight champion and favored to beat Sammy Mandel, who was considered a "cheese" champion in some circles at that time. McLarnin described the fight with Terris: "He jabbed, I stepped outside with an overhand right and caught him right on the chin, and he fell on his head."

Terris had fared better against Petrolle in a ten-round bout two years earlier. Sid took a ten round decision against "The Fargo Express" in Brooklyn. That fight caused Petrolle to declare later, "Terris is the fastest thing I ever saw." Petrolle rated him as the seventh best opponent he faced, just behind King Tut, the boxer from Minnesota, not the boy pharaoh from Egypt.

The ninth best opponent Petrolle faced was featherweight champion Kid Kaplan. In 1926, three months before Billy fought Terris, Kaplan won a ten-round decision over Petrolle in a lightweight bout. Since both men were well above the featherweight limit, the title was not at stake.

McLarnin beat Kaplan by eighth round KO the next year, but he said of Kid, "Oh- he could hit. He knocked me down three times in 1927 and broke my jaw." This lightweight bout came after Kaplan had relinquished the featherweight crown because he could no longer make the weight. "The first punch he hit me broke my jaw, and I'm in terrible shape."

McLarnin continued, "He keeps knocking me down and I keep getting up. And, all of a sudden, I notice after the fourth round that Kaplan's getting awfully tired from hitting me." McLarnin landed a right and scored a knockdown himself. "I knocked him down about ten times and I'm getting so arm weary, so we're both exhausted, especially me." In the eighth, McLarnin "hit him with a right hand and down he goes, and that was it."

Petrolle didn't fight Jackie Fields or Benny Leonard, so they didn't make his top ten opponents, but McLarnin faced both. "Jackie Fields was a real great champ," McLarnin said. "I fought him as a featherweight. He had just come back from the [1924] Olympic Games." The fight was actually over a year later. In those days, it took longer to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, but not that long!

"I believe he had trouble making weight for me," McLarnin said. "I caught him early, second round. I just happened to get lucky. I knocked out Sid Terris with the same punch. Jackie was a great jabber." McLarnin concluded graciously by claiming he had simply caught Fields cold.

On October 7, 1932, McLarnin faced Benny Leonard, who was in the midst of an ill-fated comeback. "Benny Leonard was my idol when I was young," McLarnin explained. "He must have been one of the the great fighters of all time. He was a pretty fat man when he fought me... I had a bad habit of leaning under a right hand, and the very first punch that he hit me, I saw a million stars." The rest of the fight was a forerunner to Larry Holmes battering his idol Muhammad Ali nearly 50 years later. McLarnin later declared of Benny, "He was a tough old cookie."

For his part, Petrolle, who lost two out of three battles against McLarnin, felt Jimmy was overrated despite ranking him as the fifth toughest opponent. "He had ten pounds on me in weight," Petrolle argued. BoxRec asserts McLarnin's advantages were three, four, and seven pounds in the three fights. "He was the scourge of small children- Al Singer, Ruby Goldstein, and that kind- and old men, like Benny Leonard."

McLarnin, conversely, was magnanimous about Petrolle, "Billy Petrolle hit me as hard as anyone ever did. He was a tough, tough guy."

Gutsky, Earl. "An Old Warrior: McLarnin, 81, Recalls Hard Days of Boxing." Los Angeles Times. Sep. 26, 1989.
Heller, Peter. "In This Corner...!" 1993, 1994.
Neil, Edward. "Billy Petrolle Asserts M'Larnin is Overrated." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 26, 1934. A14.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Review of Boxing in Atlantic City

Boxing in Atlantic City
By John DiSanto and Matthew H. Ward
Arcadia, 2021

I love Arcadia's Images of America series, and Boxing in Atlantic City by John DiSanto and Matthew H. Ward is no exception. These books have short introductions to each photograph-filled chapter. The captions are usually information-stuffed paragraphs.

Boxing in the New Jersey oceanside town started in the 1800s and chugged along until the 1960s. Many of the city's fights took place at Waltz Dream Arena. Convention Hall became another important local venue for the sport. It housed Joey Giardello's decision victory against Dick Tiger in their fifteen round fight for the world middleweight championship in 1963.

And then, nothing.

There were no more boxing matches in Atlantic City until 1973. Promoter Frank Gelb brought the fights back to the shore. With the legalization of casinos and their entry into the boxing business in the late 1970s, Atlantic City became a real hub of the fight game during the 1980s. From the 1990s onward, Atlantic City's importance in boxing has waned, but fans still flock to the occasional big fight.

Boxing in Atlantic City features photos of many of boxing's most important fighters including Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bob Montgomery, Sandy Saddler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather just to name a few. There's also a collection of lesser-known but significant figures such as Harry Wills, Sam McVea, and George Godfrey. All of these legends tended to have a fight or two in Atlantic City. In addition to the all-time greats, this book chronicles boxers who were based in Atlantic City; Arturo Gatti is, of course, one example. There are a couple pictures of heavyweights fighting kangaroos too, in case that's your thing.

Jewish boxers Benny Bass, Maxie Rosenbloom, and Mike Rossman are all featured while other Jewish boxers merit briefer mentions. Countless Jews worked outside the ring in Atlantic City and many are pictured in the book.

If there's a criticism it's that many of the photos are portraits of the boxers. These are great, but the best photos are the action shots and those of the old venues. Nevertheless, the writing provides a strong complement to the many irresistible images. Boxing in Atlantic City is a great jumping off point to learn more about the history of the sport in Atlantic City and beyond.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Backwards Look at Charley Phil Rosenberg

Charley Phil Rosenberg died in New York on March 12, 1975 at the age of 72. Married to the same woman for a half century, Rosenberg retired after 30 years in the insurance business in the 1960s. It was a surprisingly quiet second act for the scandal-ridden former bantamweight champion of the world.

Before the insurance business, Rosenberg was a bootlegger. He had retired from boxing early in 1929 and needed to make a living. With Prohibition still the law of the land and Rosenberg's rough upbringing, it seemed like a natural enterprise for a tough street kid with a large family. Rosenberg had been friends with another illegal businessman, Al Capone. "Capone was a great host," Charley said. "After every fight, he entertained us royally." Rosenberg stayed in this line of work until Prohibition was repealed in December of 1933. That's when Charley transitioned to the far more legal insurance business.

On January 4, 1929, Rosenberg whipped former featherweight champion Johnny Dundee in a ten round comeback fight. "I didn't lick no Johnny Dundee," Charley admitted, "I licked an image of Dundee." Having been knocked down in the fight, he reasoned, "If a guy like Dundee, who couldn't punch, could knock me down, it's time to throw the gloves in." The 26 year old fought only twice more- both in February- before becoming a bootlegger.

Rosenberg lost the bantamweight title on February 4, 1927 despite defeating Bushy Graham. "I gave Graham a licking," Charley boasted of his fifteen-round rout of the challenger. But Rosenberg had come in four pounds over the bantamweight limit. Graham weighed in under the 118 pound limit, so if he had won the fight, he would've been champ, but since Rosenberg won, the title became vacant. Frustrated at losing his title, Rosenberg would have still continued his career, but the New York commission suspended him again, this time for a year. A supposed secret agreement between Rosenberg and Graham to come in over the weight was revealed in an investigation. "Graham did nothing wrong," Charley argued. "Graham come in under the weight." Rosenberg retired from boxing for a time due to the suspension.

After his first title defense resulted in his first suspension, Rosenberg fought often, but didn't defend his crown again for a over a year and a half because he had trouble making weight. A month before he finally defended his belt against Bushy Graham, Rosenberg fought Benny Schwartz, a fellow Jew and former world title challenger at flyweight.

On July 23, 1925 in Madison Square Garden, Rosenberg faced Italian Eddie Shea in his first title defense. Shea came out strong, but body work in the third turned the fight for Rosenberg, the champion. After scoring a knockdown in the fourth, Shea got off the canvas in time to absorb a tremendous right. Though Shea was knocked out cold, the New York commission saw something fishy in the fight and conducted an investigation. As a result, Rosenberg was suspended indefinitely but allowed to keep his title.

A month after winning the title, Charley fought in an over-the-weight non-title bout against Clarence Rosen in Toledo, Ohio. A fan standing ringside at the Armory kept screaming, "Kill the Jew bastard!" Charley went back to his corner after the round indignant at the abuse. "I turned around, took a mouthful of water and blood, and I spit it right in his face," he explained. The fan turned out to be Bernard Brough, who happened to be the mayor of Toledo. "I apologized," Charley continued. "I told him I didn't mean it. You see, out of town a Jew never stood a chance."

"Every town I went to I started trouble [on] account of the Jew situation," Rosenberg said.

On March 20, 1925, Rosenberg faced world bantamweight champion Cannonball Eddie Martin. Many felt Charley Phil would be in for a tough fight because he had to lose so much weight before the fight. Martin pounded Rosenberg for the first five rounds, but improbably Rosenberg turned the fight in the sixth and bashed the champion for the next nine rounds to take the title by unanimous decision. At 20 years old, Charley Phil Rosenberg was bantamweight champion of the world.

In the run-up to his championship bout against Martin, Rosenberg had to lose 36 pounds to make the 118 pound bantamweight limit. Ray Arcel and Whitey Bimstein whipped Rosenberg into shape. "I used to gain 15, 20 pounds every night after a fight," Charley admitted. "I was inclined to be heavy... I was a bantamweight in the ring but not outside. Outside I was really a heavyweight."

In those days, fighters dried out to make weight. For Rosenberg, he drank a cup or two of tea a day, but didn't drink any water; he only gargled it. "Making weight is what made me quit," he revealed. "I used to get up in the middle of the night and cry. I got up and cried many a night. Not pain. Thirst."

Rosenberg weighed 116 pounds, two pounds under the bantamweight limit, for his fight against Martin.

Between 1923 to 1925, Rosenberg overcame his early struggles and began dominating opponents. His style was come-forward all-action. One writer described him as a pint-sized version of welterweight champion Jack Britton. Charley explained, "When I was in there every fight was a war. People pay to see blood. Well, I either gave them my blood or somebody else's."

In 1923, Rosenberg was the idol of his Harlem neighborhood. He had defeated Harry London, a neighborhood rival, on September 22 at the Commonwealth Sporting Club by twelve round decision. "Then I became a neighborhood idol," Rosenberg declared. "I was a popular kid around New York."

It hadn't always been that way. Rosenberg credited Benny Valgar, a Jewish lightweight born in France, featherweight Joe Dellago aka Battling Reddy, Arcel, and Bimstein for teaching him how to fight. Rosenberg began to turn his career around and looked like he might make something of himself.  But prestige was never his aim. His goal was to make money for his family. "I wasn't it in there for no glory," Charley explained. "I was for dollars and cents, because I had a mother and eight other brothers and sisters. We all needed to live. We all needed to eat."

When he became a boxer, he changed his name to Charley Phil Rosenberg. The young pugilist struggled at the outset of his career. "I lost my first eight fights," Charley claimed. BoxRec researchers found a couple wins and draws in there, but the point remains. Rosenberg fought Olympic gold medalist and future flyweight world champion Frankie Genaro twice in 1922. "He gave me an unmerciful licking," Charley admitted. "In fact, he's the one that gave me a cauliflower ear."

At 15 years old, Charley Green delivered wet wash with a boy named Phil Rosenberg, who moonlighted as a boxer. Rosenberg fell sick one Friday, so Charley asked for Phil's boxing license to take his place. Charley needed the $15 the fight would provide. He had no experience outside of street fights, but the ruse worked, and after getting in the ring, Charley was hooked. "I was always fighting in the street. But they couldn't hurt you with the gloves," Charley said, so he decided to become a boxer.

"I was a rough kid in the street," Charley remembered. He worked when he could and stole when he couldn't work. His mother Rachel Green, a widow, couldn't feed her nine children. She placed three of Charley's brothers in an orphanage. Charley was too small at the time, so Rachel carried him as she pushed her peddler's cart trying to make ends meet. The family would move to Harlem when Charley was a boy.

Charles Green was born on August 15, 1904 on the Lower East Side. A few months before he was born, his father, a garment worker, had been crushed to death by an elevator. The family had been poor before the accident and with another mouth to feed on the way, the prospects for baby Charley's life appeared to be tragically bleak.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers' Hall of Fame. 1988.
Heller, Peter. "In This Corner...!" 1973, 1994.
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring. 2016.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Lazarev to Face Undefeated Foe

Igor Lazarev is scheduled to fight undefeated prospect Dominik "Harwan" Harwankowski on March 19 at the Sports and Entertainment Hall in Stężycy, Poland. If it happens, this will be an interesting match between two guys with good records.

Lazarev (8-2, 3 KOs), a 35 year old residing in Israel, lost his last fight against undefeated prospect Greg McGuinness on November 27. McGuinness was an aggressive fighter, the antithesis of Igor's next opponent. Against McGuinness, Igor lost by referee's decision, 59-55, which was a reasonable score. Had the fight been in Lazarev's home of Ashdod though, it might have been ruled a draw. Lazarev showed some impressive no-look boxing skills in the fight, but ultimately had trouble with McGuinness's pressure.

Against Harwankowski , a 21 year old from Poland, Lazarev will need to be the one pressuring. The man with the copy-and-paste last name prefers to maintain distance.  BoxRec lists Harwankowski at 5'9" with a 67" reach, but on film he looks taller and his arms look longer.

Harwankowski is 7-0 with two KOs. Sometimes a low KO ratio can indicate a lack of power, and sometimes it can indicate tougher-than-usual opposition. In Harwankowski's case, it might be a bit of both. His punch technique is not the tightest and at times he slaps with his shots, but he has already faced some tough veterans. He scored his two KOs in his first three fights against relative novices. He beat 3-0 southpaw Michal Bulik in his fourth fight by decision and has faced grizzled veterans in his last three bouts.

Against Georgian Giorgi Gachechiladze in July, Harwankowski let his hands go often. He also switched stances. The young Pole, who almost has more letters in his name than years on this Earth, was much better as a righty. As a southpaw, his technique fell apart. He often threw his left from a low position in that stance. He got away with it because Gachechiladze didn't mount much offense, but against a more ambitious foe, the low left could be a liability. While Harwankowski is not a finished product, he is a legit prospect. Of the 27 pro rounds he has boxed, he's only lost three of them.

Lazarev's strategy should be to stay on the inside and attack Harwankowski's long lean body. Fortunately, that happens to be Lazarev's strength. Harwankowski has fought as many as six rounds only twice while the Israeli has gone six rounds five times including an eight-rounder, so a sustained body assault should wear down the youngster. A grueling match favors Igor, because he is incredibly resilient in the ring, even for a boxer. But if he can't get inside, Harwankowski will pick him apart.

This bout is scheduled for six rounds.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Boxing Brings People Together

Last night  Mikhael Ostroumov was in Bălţi, Moldova to cheer on two teammates from his boxing club located in Afula, Israel. In one fight, Yosef Ktzraui, an Arab Israeli, stopped Turac Icoz of Turkey. Ktzraui was a bit wild and occasionally fought with his hands down, but he battled like a bulldozer as he overwhelmed his more experienced opponent. In another fight, Khalil Jabarin, another Arab Israeli, also had his hand raised after facing Mucahit Rahman Birsan of Turkey. After the matches, Mor Oknin voiced his support for the Israelis online.

Ktzraui and Jabarin both made their debuts on a card promoted by Evgheni Boico for Arena Boxing Moldova. A promoter and a coach, Boico is an increasingly important man in Moldovan boxing and in Israeli boxing. Last night's event included boxers from several countries.

Boxing has the power to bring people together. This is especially true in Israel where Jews and Arabs don't always have a chance to develop meaningful relationships with one another. Since the popularity of the sport is relatively small in the country, Jews and Arabs must train together. Boxing can help form friendships that might not otherwise exist. These friendships can help break down walls of bigotry.

The old Am-Shalem's gym in Nazareth was a place that brought together Jews and Arabs. Tony Milch's Gloves and Doves program is also bringing boxers of different backgrounds together in an attempt to foster peace. The relationship between Arthur Abramov and Nur Rabia, chronicled in the short film Jerusalem In Between, is another example of boxing building bridges.

It's ironic that such a violent sport can help forge unlikely friendships, but there is something about two fighters baring their souls inside the squared circle, putting their lives on the line for the entertainment of the fans, that produces a shared experience in which few others in the world can relate.

As Dahlia Am-Shalem once said, "You take two boxers: one white, one black; one Arab, one Jew; whatever and whoever wins the fight, you'll always see them embrace at the end. Boxing breeds mutual respect. It binds people together."

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

David Alaverdian Wants to Fight

David Alaverdian had hoped to fight a higher ranked opponent in the United States at flyweight this month. He recently revealed on Instagram that two separate opponents had agreed to fight him before backing out.

The Jewish Boxing Blog reached out to David about the two opponents, but he politely declined to name them. Since they weren't going to fight him anyway, naming them would only serve to embarrass them, which isn't Alaverdian's goal. He just wants to fight. David did tell The JBB that the two opponents were both in the super flyweight division.

"If we don't find anyone," David told The JBB,  "we'll have to do Mexico again until I'm ranked high enough for better fights." Mexico is the place to find 112 and 115 pounders willing to fight. About a fourth of all flyweights and super flyweights listed on BoxRec are from Mexico.

At 5-0 with 4 KOs, Alaverdian's ability has outpaced his résumé. The problem is prospective opponents know it and are scared to fight him. "To be honest, I'm a bit frustrated," the Israeli native admitted. "But we'll get through it."

Monday, January 17, 2022

Review of Championship Rounds

Championship Rounds
By Bernard Fernandez
RKMA Publishing, 2020

"Boxing is an improbable union of naked power and subtle artistry, of stark fear and unbridled courage," says Hall of Fame boxing scribe Bernard Fernandez, who is at his best when writing a heartfelt story about Bernard Hopkins's relationship with Shaun Negler, a cancer-stricken kid, or about Craig Bodzianowski, the one legged cruiserweight.

Fernandez shows off his storytelling abilities in Championship Rounds, a collection of his boxing articles through the years, many of them focused on his adopted hometown of Philadelphia. Within his articles, he expertly places anecdotes in perfect positions. It makes for engaging profiles.

There are some issues, however. While the organization within each article is impeccable, the organization of the book as a whole is a bit scattershot. The chapters are divided into sections, but the sections themselves are forced and don't serve a greater purpose. In most of his articles, Fernandez shows compassion for the people he covers, but there are times when he mocks a boxer's eccentricities without attempting to understand their origin. The joke about James Toney and Riddick Bowe's weight gain falls flat, for example.

Typos are a bizarre aspect of the book. For the most part, they're so minor they're not worth mentioning but for the fact that virtually none of the errors appear in Fernandez's original articles. In the Kindle edition at least, the rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston is ludicrously suggested to have taken place in 1985. In the original article, the appropriate date of 1965 is present. In the same article, one about the fight between Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, the date for Laila's debut is incorrectly stated as 1989 in both the book and, as an exception to the rule, in the original too.

Speaking of women's boxing, Fernandez has an entire section on the subject and attempts to be supportive. In the foreword, George Foreman describes Fernandez as "among the last of a dying breed." It's meant as a compliment, but it can unflatteringly describe his opinion of women's boxing and the way he writes about women in general. While supposedly bemoaning the fact that women's boxing was viewed as a novelty, he includes an article about Tonya Harding's boxing career in the book. Even when discussing a serious boxer, Claressa Shields,  he ponders if she can save women's boxing, a tired trope even by the time of the article's debut in 2016. Problematically, there isn't a female in the book whose level of attractiveness escapes comment it seems.

No Jews are featured, but many make brief cameos: Al Braverman, Don Elbaum, Bruce Silvergrade, Al Bernstein, Howard Cossell, Shelly Finkel, and Larry Merchant among them. Of course, it's hard to write a book about boxing over the past fifty years without mentioning the name Bob Arum. Trainer Ray Arcel, Ruby Goldstein (as a ref), Damon Feldman, and Bruce "Mouse" Strauss also appear.

In Championship Rounds articles about the likes of Tex Cobb and Archie Moore were fascinating. Reading another of the same old stuff about Mike Tyson, less so. But there's enough interesting content present to outweigh the book's shortcomings.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Dr. Stefi Cohen to Fight in February

Dr. Stefanie Cohen is scheduled to fight on February 11 at the Miami Airport Convention Center. Cohen is 1-0-1 with one KO.

"Doctor Dynamite" last fought in September. Cohen had fight dates scheduled for November and December, but those bouts fell through. A native of Venezuela, she is now based in the U.S. The 29 year old has fought in the Dominican Republic and the United Arab Emirates. This would be her first pro fight in the United States.

Earning her PhD, Cohen is a world record-holding powerlifter, entrepreneur, and author. Her next fight is scheduled for four rounds. No opponent has yet been named.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The 1988 Israeli Amateur Boxing Scandal

The Olympic dreams of three Israeli amateur boxers dangled by a thread. AIBA, the organization that oversaw Olympic boxing, held the Israelis' hopes in their hands. Yehuda Ben Haim, Yacov Shmuel, and Aharon Jacobashvili were about to be punished, their life-long ambitions stripped from them, because of something they didn't do.

In June of 1988, a team of Israeli amateur boxers from the Golden Gloves Club in Nazareth traveled to South Africa for a month-long tour. A group of Jewish South Africans had invited the team. Future investigations would show none of the three Olympic hopefuls were present on the tour.

Apartheid, a system of racial separation, became the law of the land in South Africa in the late 1940s. In 1964, South Africa's invitation to the Tokyo Olympics was revoked when the country insisted on sending a delegation of all-white athletes. Later that year, a broad international sporting boycott was implemented as a way to put pressure on the country to change. This boycott meant different things to different sporting agencies, but to AIBA, it amounted to a total ban of its members from traveling to South Africa. In 1970, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally expelled South Africa from its ranks.

"Nobody thought it was possible, but here they are," a South African newspaper called The Citizen gloated after the Israelis' arrival in late June. "And there will be other teams in the very near future." The Israeli boxers and officials all used aliases during the trip. Even the team fought under a pseudonym, using Jim Scott Internationals to divert anti-apartheid activists from the scent.

When the team arrived back in Israel, two Tel Aviv newspapers reported on the trip. The president of the Israeli boxing federation, Shimshon Am-Shalem, denied any knowledge of the South African excursion. The only problem was Am-Shalem's wife, Dahlia, had led the delegation on its tour. Months later when rendering its verdict on whether Shimshon knew about the trip, AIBA's president Anwar Chowdhry argued, "They are not separated. The couple is happily together. Thus, we conclude that the Israeli boxing association was instrumental in sending this team to South Africa." If only their relationship hadn't been so loving, Shimshon might have been spared.

The Israeli Sports Federation banned all of the boxers and officials who traveled to South Africa including Dahlia Am-Shalem. Her husband was dismissed as the boxing federation's president. That seemed to cool the scandal's heat. That is, until an ex-boxing coach of the Israeli team, who had been fired following the 1984 Olympics, reignited the issue and pushed AIBA to take action.

As of September 13, 1988- four days before the Olympics were set to start- the Los Angeles Times reported that Uri Arek, the head of Israeli's Olympic delegation, confirmed that four boxers who had gone to South Africa had been banned for life. Three days later, it was revealed that twelve Israeli boxers and five officials had taken part in the tour. The Israeli Sports Federation banned all 17.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC, stated, "In my opinion, the Israelis have taken the proper action. Whether it's enough for AIBA, I do not know."

It wasn't enough.

Chowdhry, AIBA's head, argued the bans could easily be lifted by the Israelis at any time. AIBA banned all 17 and threatened to suspend Israel from the organization for at least a year, putting the Olympic dreams of Ben Haim, Shmuel, and Jacobashvili in doubt.

The day before the Olympics were to begin, Chowdhry announced, "Because of the action of the Israeli association, it has to be punished. We have to put a stop to this nonsense. We will suspend for life those who went to South Africa." He cited the "deliberately false and incorrect information" the Israeli boxing federation had provided AIBA during its investigation.

Dahlia Am-Shalem would later express her frustration at being made one of the scapegoats. She told David Horovitz of The Jerusalem Report that local authorities knew about the tour in advance.

"We took six Arabs and six Jews, and they fought Jews, whites, blacks. It was a real boost for racial harmony," Dahlia explained.

One of the boxers who accompanied Am-Shalem was Johar Abu-Lashin, who would become the subject of a documentary called Raging Dove. An Arab, Abu-Lashin was nicknamed "the Israeli Kid," fought with a Star of David on his trunks, and proudly sung Hatikvah. "My nationality is Israeli, and these are the symbols of my country. But I'm also an Arab, and I'm proud of that too."

Dahlia believed she and her husband were pushed out because some Israeli officials didn't agree with the Am-Shalems' willingness to promote Jews and Arabs equally. Though some felt Shimshon was dictatorial in his hold on Israeli amateur boxing and charges of nepotism followed Dahlia, she remained optimistic in the power of boxing to act as a force for good, "You take two boxers: one white, one black; one Arab, one Jew; whatever and whoever wins the fight, you'll always see them embrace at the end. Boxing breeds mutual respect. It binds people together."

Chowdhry didn't buy the racial harmony argument. "I have no proof, but yes, I think it was money," he theorized. "I have a 146 other countries [in AIBA] that they could have competed against to get ready for the Olympics. And they go to South Africa. What else could it be?"

There was talk that if the three Israeli boxers were barred from the Olympics, the entire Israeli Olympic team would boycott. That would rankle IOC head Samaranch, the U.S., and host South Korea. With the Olympics about to start, Chowdhry finally conceded, "Until the case is finalized, the three Israeli boxers can take part in the competition."

An utter state of elation for the three boxers quickly evaporated for one when the draw was announced. Yom Kippur began the evening of September 20 and ended when the sun fell the next day. Light flyweight Yehuda Ben Haim had been given a first round bye, but his second round fight was scheduled for September 21.

According to Jay Weiner of The Star Trinune (of Minnesota), and reported on by USA Today and the Seattle Times, Ben Haim had one chance. His scheduled opponent was Mahjoub M'Jirih from Morocco. Morocco did not allow its athletes to compete against Israelis at that time. There was a scenario in which M'Jirih boycotted the match, Ben Haim weighed in before sundown on the 20th, and the Israeli would win by walkover.

It's an interesting story, but it never happened. Additional research suggests M'Jirih was not on the same side of the bracket as Ben Haim. Weiner even wrote a follow up story to declare M'Jirih had shown up to the weigh-in and would win by walkover. After receiving a first round bye, M'Jirih actually fought and defeated Mongolian Ochiryn Demberel in the second round. He won his next fight and lost in the quarterfinals.

However, the real scenario produced similar suspense. Algeria's Yacine Sheikh fought El Salvador's Henry Martinez in the first round. The winner of that fight was scheduled to face Ben Haim. Algeria also did not allow its athletes to face Israelis, so if Sheikh won, Ben Haim could have prevailed in a boycott-induced walkover.

Arek, the head of Israel's Olympic delegation, wasn't going to push his luck on the Yom Kippur issue after the boxers were allowed to compete. "It is our problem, and no one else's. We don't want to bother anyone with our problem. We do not resent the Olympics." Beginning three and half years earlier, the Israelis had tried to have events in various sports moved to different dates but to no avail.

Unfortunately for Ben Haim, Martinez, who would later fight Johnny Tapia as a pro, beat Sheikh. El Salvador had no problem with its athletes fighting Israelis. Yehuda was disqualified when he refused to show up for the fight against Martinez, denying him the chance to improve upon his second round finish in the 1984 Olympics.

Regardless of the sincerity of Ben Haim's religious devotion, he didn't really have a choice. Sailing brothers Dan and Ran Torten were the only two Israelis to compete on Yom Kippur. The Israeli Olympic Committee kicked them off the team, sent them home, and subsequently banned them for five years for the act. After much trouble, the suspension was eventually reduced.

Jacobashvili, a middleweight, met Sven Ottke of West Germany on September 19. Ottke, who would fight in three Olympics and win a world title belt at super middleweight during an undefeated pro career, won the match convincingly.

Shmuel, a featherweight, received a bye in the first round. Fighting on September 22, he stopped his Sundanese opponent a minute into their bout. In the tournament's third round, Shmuel cruised past an opponent from the Cook Islands on September 26. Two days later, he dropped a decision in the quarterfinals to the eventual gold medalist Giovanni Parisi, who would go on to win a world title trinket as a pro at 140 pounds.

On September 30, 1988 AIBA rendered its final verdict. Israel would be expelled for five years. That meant two missed world championships and no 1992 Olympics. "We want to put an end to any visits in the future [to South Africa] by any of our member associations," Chowdhry declared.

The ban for Israel would only last a year. On October 2, 1989, Israel was reinstated, but the damage was done. Shimshon Am-Shalem, devastated by his dismissal as president of the Israeli boxing federation, suffered a heart attack and died shortly after Israel's reinstatement. The top Israeli amateurs all turned pro. Ben Haim won his lone pro fight in late 1988. Shmuel was 7-0 in the paid ranks. Abu-Lashin won a couple of minor world title trinkets as a pro and finished with a 25-6-1 record with 19 KOs.

The ban devastated the amateur boxing program in Israel. Four Israeli boxers fought in the Olympics during the 1980s. No Israeli has boxed even a full Olympic round in the 34 years since AIBA imposed its sentence on Israel. Vladislav Neiman was stopped in the first round of his first fight in the 1996 Olympics. He is the only boxer to represent Israel in the Games since 1988.

In January of 1994, South Africa sent a multi-racial team of eleven boxers to Israel. Three months later, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, the culmination of a decades-long struggle internally and internationally against apartheid.


Alfano, Peter. "12 Israeli Boxers Are Banned for Life." New York Times. Sep 16, 1988. D21.
Ben-David. Calev. "Raging Dove." The Jerusalem Report. Aug 27, 1992. Pg 22.
Ben-Tal, Danny. "AIBA Reinstates Israeli Boxing." Jerusalem Post. Oct 5, 1989. Pg 11.
Ben-Tal, Danny. "Savage Sentence Imposed on Tortens." Jerusalem Post. march 8, 1989. Pg. 11.
Dwyre, Bill. "Israeli Boxers Allowed to Compete, but South Africa Issue Flares." Los Angeles Times. Sep. 16, 1988. D7.
Gordin, Joel. "Israeli, South Africans Resurrect 'Noble Art'." Jerusalem Post. Jan 23, 1994. Pg. 08.
Harvey, Randy. "Summer Olympics Notebook: North Korea Insincere in Its Request to Act as Host, Samaranch Says." Los Angeles Times. Sep 13, 1988. 
Horovitz, David. "Back in the Ring." The Jerusalem Report. Jun 3, 1994. Pg 24.
Hynes, Mary. "Summer Olympics Boxing: High-tech approach for boxing." The Globe and Mail. Sep 30, 1988. A21.
"Israeli Trio Has 8-Day Grace Period." The Washington Post. Sep 16, 1988. C04.
"The Seoul Olympics; Israel Is Expelled By Boxing Group." New York Times. Sep 30, 1988. A19.

Articles claiming M'Jirih was to Fight Ben Haim:
Weiner, Jay. "Putting God before the gold: Israeli athletes to observe Yom Kippur despite Olympic schedule." Star Tribune. Sep 20, 1988. 01A.
Weiner, Jay. "Israeli boxer disqualified." Star Tribune. Sep 21, 1988. 08C.
"Israeli boxer loses Yom Kippur bout." USA Today. Sep 22, 1988. 07E.
"Religion, Politics, Games Don't Mix: Religion Sidelines Israeli, but Politics May Give Him a Win." Seattle Times. September 20, 1988. C5.

Notes on sources:
The sources listed above did not always agree on the basic facts. The Jerusalem Post articles seemed to be the least reliable with what went on during the tour, perhaps because they were written years later. The NY Times claimed the team's pseudonym was "John Scott Internationals" while the LA Times said it was "Scott John International." I don't know which it is. Even the Israeli amateur boxing organization was called several different names, which is why I left it lowercase. Israeli names are also spelled many different ways. I tried to find how each individual spells their name in English and write it that way.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Review of Bundini

Bundini: Don't Believe the Hype
By Todd D. Snyder
Hamilcar Publications, 2020

Drew "Bundini" Brown would have fit well in today's world. He would've set up a YouTube channel or a Tik Tok account and millions of people would have flocked to his content. After a rough childhood in segregated Sanford, Florida and a stint in the navy when he was underage, Bundini moved to Harlem where he honed his gift of gab. Add in a hard-earned optimistic philosophy on life and you'd have a social media presence that would put Khaby to shame.

By engagingly tracing Bundini's turbulent life, Todd D. Snyder places Brown's famous relationship with Muhammad Ali in context. Bundini developed his reputation in Harlem and eventually linked up with Sugar Ray Robinson. Working in the all-time great's entourage proved to be an effective training ground for his future with Ali. The Ali in this book isn't the sanitized version. At the outset of their relationship, Ali believed in racial segregation; Bundini was the only person around willing to challenge those beliefs.

Bundini's wife Rhoda Palestine grew up a free spirit in an orthodox Jewish home in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Her white immigrant parents accepted Bundini for the most part. Bundini never officially converted, but he felt a connection to Judaism and wore a Star of David on his necklace while working Ali's corner. Bundini and Rhoda's son, Drew, would identify as Jewish and become a bar mitzvah.

The younger Drew, an impressive man in his own right, provides a lot of the background for his dad's journey. He also helps explain some misconceptions about his famous father. Snyder reveals the pain Brown's family endured when watching the portrayal of Bundini as a strung-out drug addict who sold away Ali's championship belt for another score in Michael Mann's film Ali. Snyder focuses on Bundini's drinking problem and how it impacted his life and those around him but notes Bundini stayed away from the hard stuff.

Bundini's relationship with Ali was particularly complex. Bundini was often described as Ali's spirit, yet the Nation of Islam preferred Ali cut ties with his eccentric cornerman. The tension between the NOI and Bundini clouds Ali's relationship with Brown.

Snyder effectively describes this long-overlooked character's importance to society. If Muhammad Ali is one of  hip hop's grandfathers, then Bundini- with help from Rhoda- had an integral though inadvertent part in the creation of the medium. He also helped perhaps the greatest heavyweight of all time push past his trials. Bundini is for those who look to view Muhammad Ali from a different angle and to understand the man who helped him become a legend.