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Monday, August 29, 2022

Tim Puller Dead at Age 52

Timothy Puller died on May 29 at the age of 52. The 6'6" heavyweight contender fought as "The Hebrew Hammer."

Puller was born on June 30, 1969 in Israel. His dad was Yemeni and his mom was a Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands. As an adult, Tim donned a tattoo of the Star of David and barbed wire on his left arm. "The star represents my mom," he told Rick Warner of the AP in 1996, "and the barbed wire represents the concentration camps. I don't want anyone to forget what happened during the war."

At 18, after graduating high school, he moved to Philadelphia in the U.S. Puller had no amateur career and learned his trade through sparring. In 1988, he moved to San Francisco and soon migrated over to Las Vegas. In 1990, he turned pro.

"I want to show Jews can fight," Tim told Warner in '96. He won his first six fights, half by KO. He avenged his first loss and on December 3, 1994 he fought for a minor sanctioning body's vacant heavyweight world title belt against Sherman Griffin. Puller stopped Griffin in the eighth to win the strap, but never defended the title.

He went into a 1995 fight with undefeated prospect Chris Byrd (11-0) sporting a record of 13-2. Stopped in the fifth, the Hebrew Hammer then fell to Tim Witherspoon and Lou Saverese, both second round TKOs. About the losses, he told Ira Berkow of The New York Times, "They were learning experiences."

Puller used the jab like a big man should, but his dearth of amateur experience contributed to his lack of fluidity in the ring. The massive man sure was intimidating though. He wore earrings and liked to show off his massive biceps. But there was another side to Tim. He told Berkow he read books "to keep my mind sharp, and to know what's going on in the world." He spoke Hebrew, Dutch, and English.

After a string of six wins against lesser opponents, he battled James "Quick" Tillis and pulled off the best win of his career on October 16, 1999. Tim had given away nearly 50 pounds to Tillis. But a stoppage loss to the much smaller and less experienced Marvin Hunt in his next bout essentially ended his career. He came back 13 years later, but lost that fight and finished with a record of 20-7 with 11 KOs. He was stopped five times.

Around the end of his career in 2000, he married. The couple had two children. Puller spent his post-boxing career in the auto industry in the Seattle, Washington area managing loans. In March of 2019, Tim shared a picture of him and his son on social media. With the picture, he wrote, "I miss my best friend."

Three months earlier, Tim's 16 year old son had taken a gun from a friend's apartment in an apparent attempt to impress a girl. Then, tragedy struck. Tim and his wife filed a missing person's report. When their son was found two weeks later, he was arrested. He pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to serve ten years for, as the presiding judge described, "an act of stupidity and youthfulness." The judge concluded, "He certainly did not want to kill his friend."

The day after his son turned 17 years old, Tim wrote, "You spend your whole life as a father, as a parent, trying to do the best for your children. But you never know what life's going to bring. I love and miss him so much. Hold your kids tight, give them an extra hug and kiss this morning, tell them how much you love them because you never know what life brings you tomorrow."

By 2020, visits with his son became virtual because of covid-19. In September of 2021, Tim was hospitalized and flirted with death. He pulled through for the moment.

"Boxing took him all over the world," his wife of 22 years wrote after his death. "I know the last few years have been hard to watch, and I am confident this has something to do with the impact of boxing at 19 years old. Brain damage affected his health in ways that didn't manifest until later in his life." Tim's brain was donated to the Keene Lab at the University of Washington shortly after his death.

May Timothy's memory be a blessing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

David Kaminsky to Fight on October 8

Super middleweight southpaw David Kaminsky is scheduled to make his comeback on October 8 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Kaminsky is scheduled to appear on the undercard of the Sebastian Fundora-Carlos Ocampo fight, which will air on Showtime.

Kaminsky (6-1, 3 KOs) will have been out of the ring for nearly 28 months when October 8th rolls around. The California resident will have turned 22 years old by then. An Israeli, David has had several fights dates this past spring and summer, but unfortunately, they have fallen through.

Dignity Health Sports Park, formerly known as StubHub Center, is an outdoor stadium completed in 2003 that has witnessed some classic fights in recent years, including Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov, two of the four amazing fights in the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez tetralogy, and the first of the bruising Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado trilogy just to name a few. Hopefully, Kaminsky avoids the level of punishment the men in those fights endured.

No opponent has yet been announced.

Monday, August 22, 2022

A Podcast about Boxing and the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, Nazis sometimes pitted concentration camp inmates against one another in boxing matches for their own enjoyment. The loser was often killed. In a fantastic podcast called Holocaust Histories, Jonathan Bonder explores not only these fights, but also the lives of the boxers and the wider historical context.

In each episode a boxer's life is a starting point to delve deeper into his country's history during the Shoah. The subject of the first episode, Victor Perez, is from Tunisia, which harbors its own little-known history during that period. Thus far the podcast has covered Greece, Italy, Germany, and Poland.

Bonder first became interested in these horrific Holocaust bouts through Reinhart Kleist's 2014 graphic novel The Boxer about Harry Haft, a Holocaust survivor and professional boxer who was the subject of a eponymous book by Haft's son and a recent HBO film called The Survivor. Bonder told Jacob Gurvis of the Jewish Telegraph Agency, “I don’t think enough people know about a lot of these people’s stories, like I didn’t. I'm Jewish, I am a sports fanatic, and I didn’t know about this."

Knowledge of the tragedy fades as the years pass. "I think Holocaust discussion and education is important," Bonder told The Jewish Boxing Blog, "as are the individuals and their stories."

Noting that there aren't many high-quality podcasts about the Holocaust, Bonder's hope is to bring a "cinematic" feel to each episode. "If it’s more entertaining then ultimately it will be more educational," he told Gurvis. "The message will get across better."

His professional work as a sound editor contributes to the podcast's success. Haunting music fuses with speeches and news clips to create an intense yet solemn mood. While any discussion of the Holocaust is just too difficult for many, Bonder's steady narration makes it eminently listenable. By placing the boxers within the context of historical events, he treats the boxers and these death matches, not as bizarre sideshows, but with the proper level of importance they deserve. These bouts are yet another prime example of Nazi cruelty, but also of the human spirit's unconquerable will to survive.

While Jewish boxers such as Perez, Pacifico Di Consiglio, Leone Efrati, Eric Seelig, Salomo Aroucho, Jacko Razon and others have been covered over the course of the first six episodes, Holocaust Histories also includes non-Jewish victims as well. Featured in their own episodes have been Johann Trollmann, a Sinti, and Teddy Pietrzykowski, a Polish dissident. Jews were the primary target of Nazi vilification, but it's important to remember other groups suffered as well.

Personally, Bonder has had an on-again-off-again love affair with boxing. "My love of boxing started around the Holyfield-Tyson fights," he told The JBB, "and as a Canadian, I was a big fan of Lennox Lewis around that boxing-era." Lewis retired in 2003.

He then mentioned the 2013 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year. "Bradley vs. Provodnikov renewed my love for the sport." Seemingly as an act of penance for a dubious split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao nine months earlier, Timothy Bradley decided to exchange fire with brawler Ruslan Provodnikov when he could have assuredly boxed his way to victory. By the middle rounds, both men were on the verge of being stopped. Out on his feet when the final bell sounded, Bradley, who would suffer from headaches for weeks after the fight, earned a slim unanimous decision victory.

Uniquely suited to do a podcast about boxing and the Holocaust, Jonathan Bonder produces an excellent series in Holocaust Histories. It's an invaluable resource, one that has greatly added to The JBB's own Holocaust boxing page. For fans of Jewish boxing, Holocaust Histories is an essential listen.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Jack "Kid" Berg: Limitless Energy

Jack "Kid" Berg, a charismatic ladies man out of the ring, fought with sustained fury inside it. The common denominator was unbounded energy. Nicknamed the "Whitechapel Windmill," he harnessed his raw ability to capture the junior welterweight world championship and beat some of the best fighters the sport has ever known.

Born Judah Bergman on June 28, 1909 in a Jewish neighborhood in east London, England, Berg grew up in a big family. His parents were immigrants, either from Poland or Russia. Though not an orthodox Jew, his father was religiously strict. Jack would later take after his mother in one regard; she was very superstitious. From a young age, Berg couldn't sit still. He described himself as "a little rough-neck," always getting into trouble. By his teenaged years, he spent nights away from home, sometimes with an older girlfriend. An athletic kid, he eventually tried his hand at boxing after a particularly nasty street-fight and proved to be a natural because of his relentless style.

Having turned pro in 1924, a few weeks shy of his fifteenth birthday, Berg was a raw fighter and didn't receive proper training until Alec Goodwin took him on. Goodwin had guided Berg's idol, Ted "Kid" Lewis to the welterweight title a decade before. Berg spent the next few years navigating the politics of the British boxing scene and chasing the British lightweight championship. Save two losses to Johnny Cuthbert and one to Harry Corbett, Kid won all of his early fights in London, most of which took place at Premierland. But he could never get the British lightweight champ and fellow Jew, Harry Mason, into the ring.

Berg traveled to the United States in 1928 and was an instant hit in Chicago and an even bigger sensation in New York the next year. He hadn't been appreciated by British boxing experts, but New York fans fawned over him. There, he linked up with manager Sol Gold and legendary trainer Ray Arcel. Arcel said, "I came to love him as my own son. I took him into my own home as a member of my family." He also said, "Training him was one nightmare after another."

Berg spent much of his time in New York chasing women. He bragged about attending brothels. "When he wanted to be- a gentleman out of Emily Post," Arcel explained. "But on the loose, a wild man who made Harry Greb and Battling Siki look like ministers by comparison." The Gotham fans loved him for his exciting 1929 trilogy with Bruce Flowers. During that time, he also beat junior welterweight champion Mushy Callahan in an over-the-weight bout.

After taking a split decision win over Tony Canzoneri, Berg fought Callahan again, this time for the title. On February 18, 1930 at Royal Albert Hall back in London, Kid scored a tenth round TKO over Callahan to win the junior welterweight world title. Brits finally accepted him as their own. Today, Berg is given full credit as a world champion, but in those days, the 140-pound title was considered a minor one, not recognized everywhere as legitimate. Berg longed for the world lightweight championship.

A fighting champion, Berg held the title for fourteen months. He beat the legendary Kid Chocolate and avenged a defeat to Billy Petrolle among his many defenses during that time. But successive world lightweight champs, Sammy Mandell and Al Singer, wanted nothing to do with him. Tony Canzoneri finally gave Berg a shot. With both titles on the line, on April 24, 1931 at Chicago Stadium, Jack couldn't replicate his earlier win over Canzoneri. He was KOed in three.

Berg's career would gain momentum and then stall, gain again, and stall again. He fought until 1945, quite successfully, but never got back into world title contention. He could no longer fight constantly for three minutes of every round. Instead, he showed flashes of his windmill style.

During the end of his boxing career, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II as a boxing instructor. After his first engagement broke off and his first marriage ended in divorce, Berg eventually did settle down with one woman, Morya Smith. He spent his post-boxing life working as a stuntman in movies for three decades.

All the while, he never sat still, right up until the day he died on April 22, 1991 at the age of 81.

Blady, Ken. The Jewish Boxers' Hall of Fame. 1988. Pgs. 277-282.
"Five Star Jewish Boxers Fight to Help the Palestine Relief Fund." The Jewish Boxing Blog. July 31, 2022.
Harding, John with Jack Berg. Jack Kid Berg: The Whitechapel Windmill. 1987, 2019
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring. 2016. Pg. 115-120.

Top: 1938 Churchman Cigarettes card of Berg (author's collection)
Middle: a drawing of Berg (Harding, page 94)
Bottom: a photo of Berg (left) and Canzoneri before their first fight (Harding, page 114)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Preview of Itay Gershon vs. Armi Kovaci

On September 15 in Ashdod, Israel, kickboxing star Itay Gershon will make his professional boxing debut against Armi Kovaci. Gershon hasn't fought in his home country in seven years. He called the opportunity to fight in Israel "a privilege."

Gershon is a 29 year old from Jerusalem. His kickboxing record is 17-5-1, and he's 4-1-1 in Glory, a highly regarded organization. Kickboxing features three three-minute rounds, and unlike boxing there aren't many tune-up fights, so it's a very good record. Itay is known for his spinning kicks and flying knees; his most potent offensive weapon are kicks. But he has power in his hands, too. Particularly the left.

Gershon switches stances. In Glory, against Trevor Ragin in 2018, he landed an overhand left as a southpaw to score a knockdown in the first round. Later, as a righty he connected with a beautiful left hook. In the second, he smashed Ragin repeatedly with overhand lefts to eventually score another knockdown and earn the KO. Facing Guerric Billet last summer, Gershon threw his left jab more than usual.

But Gershon, who fights in what amount to the junior middleweight division, will face some challenges in making the transition to boxing. A kickboxer's stance is more square than a boxer's. The footwork is different in the two sports. Kickboxers typically don't move their head or upperbody as well as boxers do. Their punches tend to be wide and clubbing shots

A Jew from Argentina, Mariano Plotinsky, successfully made the transition from kickboxing to boxing several years ago. He had all the above flaws, but managed to win the Argentine light heavyweight title, defeat Thomas Ulrich in Germany to win an alphabet org's intercontinental belt, and challenged Juergen Braemer for his world title strap. So there's a precedent.
Armi Kovaci, a 24 year old super middleweight from Tirana, Albania, sports a poor record, but he's competent boxer. He's 1-6 with one KO, but in his losses, his opponents had a combined record of 24-2-1 when he faced them. A southpaw, Kovaci possesses a good jab and keeps a responsibly high guard. He always comes to win and doesn't go into survival mode. Despite being stopped three times, he can take a punch.

He's a road warrior who often faces the ire of hometown referees despite no discernible infraction taking place. Against Ales Makovec, Kovaci even dealt well with a comically tiny stool provided in the corner in between rounds.

As expected, Kovaci exhibits a few flaws that explain his subpar record. He doesn't have much power, often poking or slapping with his left. He sometimes falls in when throwing the back-hand. The southpaw often seems tight and isn't fluid. He doesn't really move his head or upperbody. He doesn't tuck his chin, but when an opponent gets close, he has a bad habit of lifting it higher. Kovaci has the same tendency when he steps straight back.

In that June fight against Makovec, Kovaci fought well. Makovec is a southpaw who threw wide overhand lefts, none of which troubled the Albanian much. Kovaci was pumping his jab, and it was a close fight. In his last fight, a July clash with righty Simone Bicchi last month, Armi didn't jab at all. Bicchi landed 1-2s over the top with exquisite timing. The left hook worked for Bicchi as well. Kovaci lost both fights by decision.

Gershon is around 5'9" with a reach in the range of 72". Kovaci is likely an inch or so taller. In addition to a height advantage, the Albanian has an age advantage, has been more active in the ring recently, is the naturally bigger man, and has more professional boxing experience. Gershon has more experience in combat sports.

Against a tall southpaw Luke Wheelan, Gershon fought mostly as a righty. That would be a wise strategy against Kovaci. Fighting as a righty would neutralize Armi's jab. He's also susceptible to the left hook as the Bicchi fight showed, and Gershon has a good one. Kovaci is a tough opponent for a debutant. If Gershon looks impressive against him, that would be an endorsement to continue boxing.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Ted Kid Lewis, the Innovator

Ted "Kid" Lewis, born Gershon Mendeloff on October 28, 1893, was one of the best boxers of all time. Piling up over 200 wins from weight classes ranging from bantamweight to light heavy, Lewis held the welterweight world championship twice. Nicknamed, "The Algate Sphinx," he faced many Hall of Fame fighters including Benny Leonard, Maxie Rosenbloom, and Jack Britton. The "smashing, dashing, crashing" Kid could box, but more often he fought like a tornado, constantly pressuring his opponents while his hands whipped towards them.

In addition to his many ring accomplishments, Lewis was also an innovator. He is often credited as the first boxer to wear a reusable mouthpiece, called a gumshield in his native Britain.

Kid's dentist in his hometown of London, Jack Marks, fitted Lewis with the mouthpiece. "I was sitting in Jack's dentist chair," Ted later remembered, "with a mould in my mouth as he was taking an impression, and I asked him if he could make me something like it, but smaller, that I could wear in the ring. He said he didn't see why not."

Lewis continued, "At that time boxers were putting orange or lemon peel between their lips and teeth to protect them. Well, I made about six to eight visits for fitting, all the while trying them out in the gym. Finally, one worked and that's how the gumshield was born." (Lewis, pg. 78)

His son Morton lamented, "[I]f he and Jack Marks, his dentist back in London, had realized what they had been developing over the years, they might well have become millionaires." But neither ever patented the invention.

Before his twentieth and final fight against Jack Britton, which took place on February 7, 1921 at Madison Square Garden, Britton's corner complained that the mouthpiece gave Lewis an unfair advantage and he was forced to remove it. Britton won the fifteen rounder by unanimous decision.

On August 3, 1915, Lewis took on former welterweight champion Mike Glover in Boston. His son Morton described, "[Lewis] was scoring points with a swift left-hook to the body, a shift of weight, and the same fist hooked upwards to the jaw. The press christened this the 'loop-the-loop- punch." (Lewis, pg. 74)

Morton argues that this was later to be known as the bolo punch, which Macario Flores or middleweight world champion Ceferino Garcia- both Filipino fighters - are usually given credit for inventing. Flores, the older of the two, didn't start his career until 1918. Welterweight world champion Kid Gavilan also used the punch with frequency. "Sugar" Ray Leonard either threw or faked a bolo punch in key moments of his big fights.

But, perhaps, the bolo punch, if not the name, was another Ted "Kid " Lewis innovation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Aki Mishaev's New Opponent is Eugeniu Bat

Aki Mishaev is now scheduled to face Eugeniu Bat on September 15 in Ashdod, Israel. Mishaev's original opponent, Radu Schimbator, suffered an injury in training and had to pull out. Bat is a tougher foe than Schimbator.

Mishaev, a 35 year old from Israel, is 1-0 in his pro career. On October 27, 2019 he defeated Gheorghi Croitor by unanimous decision in a junior middleweight bout. Born Arkadi Azrael Mishaev, Aki showed a variety of styles in his debut. He boxed early, stalked in the middle of the fight, and launched bombs late. In the nearly three years since his fight, he has started a boxing league in Israel for youngsters.

Bat is a 23 year old welterweight from Chisinau, Moldova. He sports a 1-1 record. On February 26, he beat Schimbator by majority decision in both fighters' pro debut. One month later, he traveled to Poland where he gave away three pounds to 3-0 prospect Kewin Gibas. Bat spent much of the fight with his back on the ropes, desperately trying to slip Gibas's shots and returning futile fire. When he wasn't plastered to the perimeter, he preferred to counterpunch.

In that fight, referee Robert Gortat didn't do Eugeniu any favors. Gibas was allowed to connect with rabbit punches without reprimands, including one in the second round while Bat was down. Gortat then made a mess of the finish. Gibas landed two left hooks to the body; the second one seemed to hurt Bat, who bent over at the waist. Instead of waving off the fight as Bat was clearly defenseless, Gortat actually waved Gibas forward. Gibas promptly landed some more rabbit punches before Gortat jumped in to stop the fight.

Mishaev-Bat is part of a fight card that features eight amateur fights and four pro bouts.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Review of Gangsters vs Nazis

Gangsters vs Nazis: How Jewish Mobsters Battled Nazis in Wartime America
By Michael Benson
Citadel Press Books, 2022.

Beginning in 1938, Judge Nathan Perlman phoned mobsters the likes of Meyer Lansky in New York, Longie Zwillman in Newark, "Greazy Thumb" Guzik- Al Capone's righthand man- in Chicago, Dave "The Jew" Berman in Minneapolis, and Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel in L.A. to help combat the rising American Nazi menace led by Fritz Kuhn of the German American Bund and William Dudley Pelley of the Silver Shirts. Those mobsters turned to Jewish boxers to physically fight the American Nazis.

In Gangsters vs Nazis, Michael Benson retells in fascinating fashion how Jewish mobsters and boxers pummeled Nazis at home just as the lives of their brethren across the Atlantic grew increasingly tragic. Benson narrates as if he's your best storytelling uncle and you want to pester him for another one until he eventually falls asleep on the couch. Though the topic is weighty, the easy and conversational writing works well.

The book has a source list, but there are no endnotes and no index, which are nonissues for most readers, but a bit disappointing for those of us who write about the topics covered. There is so much enlightening and colorful information packed in these pages, it would great to trace it back to the original source.

Many Jewish boxers make appearances. In Chicago, legendary referee Dave Miller and the incomparable Barney Ross worked to stop the Nazi threat in the city. Sparky Rubenstein, Ross's childhood friend, urged the great champion to beat up Nazis, but Ross was worried that as a boxer his hands were lethal weapons. So Rubenstein gave him a leather sack filled with ball bearings to pummel the Nazis. According to Benson, Ross then joined the endeavor. Incidentally, Rubenstein would later change his name to Jack Ruby, a name that will live in infamy.

Nat ArnoPuddy Hinkes, and Abie Bain are among the Newark Minutemen featured. The section on Newark complements Greg Donahue's audio book The Minuteman and Leslie Barry's novel Newark Minutemen well. In L.A., Mickey Cohen's brief career as a pugilist is highlighted. Though Minneapolis and New York were home to many Jewish boxers, the mobsters are the stars of the show in those sections. Regardless, they are just as interesting.

Jewish boxing fans will find a lot of riveting stories in Gangsters vs Nazis told in an extremely entertaining manner. Those who enjoy reading about the mob or find catharsis in the bloodying of Nazis will thoroughly enjoy Michael Benson's work. This is highly recommended reading.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Four Jewish Boxers Scheduled to Fight in Israel Next Month

Four Jewish boxers are scheduled to fight on the same card in Ashdod, Israel on September 15. Itay Gershon and Aki Mishaev will take part in separate battles while Sagiv Ismailov faces Nikita Basin in a battle of Jewish boxers. Evgheni Boico of Arena Promotion-Israel and Arena Promotions-Moldova is putting on the event.

Itay Gershon is a 29 year old star kickboxer making his professional boxing debut. From Jerusalem, he holds a 17-5-1 record in kickboxing with 6 KOs and is 4-1 in Glory Kickboxing. His weight class is 157 pounds, which constitutes a lightweight in Glory. Gershon's opponent is scheduled to be Armi Kovaci a 24 year old from Tirana, Albania. Kovaci's pro boxing record is 1-6 with one KO.

Aki Azrael Misraev is a 35 year old from Israel who will turn 36 before September 15. He won his debut convincingly on October 27, 2019 in Odessa, Ukraine. It was the last time four professional Jewish boxers took part in an event. Since then, Mizraev, who fought as a junior middleweight, has been helping to grow the sport of boxing in Israel by starting a league. His opponent is scheduled to be Radu Schimbator, a 19 year old from Moldova. Schimbator is 0-2.

Sagiv Ismailov is celebrating his 20th birthday today (in Israel, tomorrow in the U.S.). The Israeli super middleweight prospect is 2-0 with 2 KOs. He last fought on December 10, 2020. Nikita Basin is a 35 year old Israeli. He won his first four fights by knockout, but has been stopped in his last two against very tough competition. Last month, he dropped an exhibition bout to fellow pro Jewish boxer Mikhael Ostroumov.

Another Israeli boxer is also slated to be on the card. The 23 year old Ahmad Shtewe (4-0, 2 KOs) from Nazareth counts quite a few Jewish boxers among his fans and is scheduled to face Nicolae Galben of Moldova, a 22 year old with a 1-0 record.