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Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Look Back: Sol "Bagel Boy" Nazerman

Sol Nazerman was born in Detroit, Michigan just after World War II in 1946. A big kid with a striking resemblance to a mustachioed version of former heavyweight title challenger Abe Simon, Nazerman turned pro without any amateur experience. He didn't have a ton of skills, but he punched people out like a pandemic.

Without an amateur standing, Nazerman began his pro career in small out-of-the-way towns across the United States. He fought in Winooski, Vermont; Goodluck, Kentucky; and Pumpkintown, South Carolina; not exactly boxing hotbeds. Nazerman, looking to remove all doubt about his connection to the Jewish people, assumed the nonthreatening nickname of the "Bagel Boy." He also began fighting with a Star of David on his trunks.

It was all a little gimmicky, except Nazerman had serious power in his fists. His opposition wasn't the stiffest, but he knocked them all out. A local newsletter, Michigan Boxing News, chronicled Nazerman's career from its beginning. The 196 pounder was described by one opponent's manager as "the hardest puncher I have seen in 30 years of boxing." Finally, a Jewish heavyweight to get excited about!

On March 10, 1972, Nazerman KOed Battling Young in the first round in Irondequoit, a town in New York just north of Rochester. Irondequoit, which markets itself as "A Town For A Lifetime," fell under the jurisdiction of the New York State Athletic Commission and its head Edwin Dooley. Dooley noted that Nazerman had never applied for a boxing license in New York, an unpardonable error.

On March 26, 1974 George Foreman beat five different opponents in one night. That was nothing. Nearly two years earlier, on May 18, 1972, Nazerman scored seven knockouts of seven different opponents, all in the first round as reported by American Boxing News. By that point, Sol was an improbable 40-0 with 40 KOs!

Respected newspapers began to take notice, and the Bagel Boy gained notoriety. One mainstream boxing magazine ranked him as one of their top ten heavyweights in the world. A fight against heavyweight champion Joe Frazier didn't fall outside the realm of possibilities. And then tragedy struck.

On June 29, 1972, Sol "Bagel Boy" Nazerman died. An automobile accident, a Mack truck to be exact, was the cause of death. The life of the most promising Jewish heavyweight in history had sadly been cut short.


Except, it hadn't.

Sol "Bagel Boy" Nazerman hadn't died, because he'd never lived. He was merely a product of Elliott Harvith's imagination. Harvith published the underground Michigan Boxing News, which he renamed  American Boxing News in April of 1972. 

Michigan Boxing News and its successor weren't to be taken seriously. Consisting of low-budget newsletters, Harvith often made fun of fighters, real or imagined.

The editor looked to expose just how easy it was to beef up a fighter's record and to advocate for more regulation in boxing.  He also, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the overly trusting- or lazy- nature of the boxing media.

Nazerman wasn't the only Jewish fighter Harvith invented. Moshe Joseph Gottlieb was another. Nazerman even supposedly fought a certain 244-pounder named "Big Boy" Cohen. Harvith's newsletters were crude in every sense of the word and a bit silly, but they often possessed an important underlying message.

Today, fighters' records are computerized, so they are less likely to be falsified. It's also harder to fight under assumed names than it used to be. But boxing's deregulation in the United States still causes problems.

A fighter can be suspended for health reasons in one jurisdiction and still fight in another within the county. The quality of officiating varies wildly from state to state. Different countries have different rules entirely not only during the match, but in the run-up to the fight as well.

Havith's hoax is now a mere footnote in history of boxing, but it touched on significant issues in boxing, ones that still exist in some form or fashion today.

Harvith, Elliott. "Nazerman Streaks Along." Michigan Boxing News. Issue 13, February 1972. Pg. 1.
Levin, Dan . "Guardian of the Garbage." Sports Illustrated. June 17, 1974.
Mullan, Harry. "Hearn pays for his vision." The Independent. Aug 6, 1995. Pg. 8.

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