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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."

Sources
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'Lanrin is Overrated." Los Angeles Times. Jan. 26, 1934. A14.

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