Have news relating to Jewish boxers? Email the editor here!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Review of Matthew Saad Muhammad

Matthew Saad Muhammad: Boxing's Miracle Man
By William Dettloff
McFarland, 2023

Abandoned under the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia as a four year old, Matthew Saad Muhammad would rise to the heights of the boxing world as light heavyweight champion and the sport's most exciting fighter. In Matthew Saad Muhammad, William Dettloff narrates the incredible journey that took the charismatic boxer from the bottom rung of society to the top and back down again.

After he's abandoned, Matthew is adopted and given the surname Franklin because of the bridge where he was found. Understandably, he finds trouble as a young man but discovers his purpose inside a boxing ring. A slick boxer early in his career, Matthew changes course after a couple of dubious decisions don't go his way. He transforms into an all-action brawler, one who can ignore the blood streaming down his face in order to win.

After capturing the WBC light heavyweight championship from Marvin Johnson, Matthew announces that he has converted to Islam and changes his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad. An active champion, Matthew remains in the limelight for the next two-and-a-half years until he loses his title to Dwight Braxton. Matthew's career soon unravels, and he spends his remaining days as a fighter dreaming of reclaiming the title that surely will never come back to him. His years after boxing see him teetering on the edge of having his life together and everything falling apart, all while he believes he will recapture fame and fortune. His life is at once inspirational and dispiriting.

Matthew Saad Muhammad is a flawed man, and Dettloff treats him with the appropriate amount of empathy. Matthew isn't lionized nor is he demonized here, and that is one of many strengths of the book. Though his early career is perhaps glossed over too quickly, the rest of Matthew's life and career is compelling. The writing is smooth, the fights are gripping, and the reporting is fair. The only reason to put down this book is to go watch Matthew's old fights on YouTube.

Several Jews make appearances in the book. Mike Rossman is an important character throughout much of Matthew's life. Rossman isn't portrayed in a flattering light here. He comes across as entitled, his accomplishments are downplayed, and his dad doesn't believe in him. Nessim Max Cohen makes the briefest of cameos. J. Russell Peltz, the prodigious Philly promotor, was instrumental in putting together some of Matthew's early fights. Peltz's book Thirty Dollars and Cut Eye complements Detloff's book well. Many of the same names appear in both, but there isn't much overlap.

William Detloff's Matthew Saad Muhammad is highly recommended reading. Everyone who enjoys reading about boxing will appreciate it. For fans of 1970s and 1980s light heavyweights specifically, this is a must have.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Stefi Cohen to Face Esli Cervantes on June 9

Dr. Stefanie Cohen is scheduled to face Esli "La China" Cervantes at Commerce Casino in Commerce, California, USA on June 9. Cohen was originally scheduled to face Nikkia Williams.

Cohen (3-1-1, one KO) is a 31 year old from Caracas, Venezuela. She is now based in southern California. Cohen is coming off a close victory over Leanne Calderon in February in which she scored an impressive second round knockdown. For most of her career, Cohen has perhaps boxed too much instead of using her strength advantage to maul opponents in close.

Cervantes (1-3)  is an 18 year old from Aguascalientes, Mexico. She has quick feet and throws hard looping shots to the body. Listed at 4'11", Cervantes bounces on her toes and has a wiggly upper-body. The problem is she must set her feet to throw, which is a clear tell for her opponent. In her first two pro fights against Stephanie Chavez and Agnesa Kirakosian, Esli's opponents were able to jab her from the outside as soon as she set those feet.

Because her punches are wide, the shorter Cervantes isn't that effective on the inside either. Chavez mostly kept the fight at distance in winning a convincing unanimous decision last July, but Kirakosian connected with many flush shots in close during her October fight against Cervantes. Kirakosian scored a first round knockdown during an exchange and won by fourth round TKO.

Cervantes had two bouts in her hometown in April. She won a split decision against an opponent with a losing record before dropping a UD to an 0-2 fighter.

Though Cohen should try to maul most of her opponents, she can box herself to a comfortable win over the shorter Cervantes. Because of her strength advantage, Cohen can win an in-fight too, but that will give Cervantes her best chance. The toughest aspect of this fight for Cohen might be the weight.

This bout is scheduled for the flyweight division. Cohen said she started her camp at 129 pounds and is now down to 119. The flyweight limit is 112 pounds, but Cohen has mentioned a couple of times on social media her target is 113, which might mean the fight is contracted for a catchweight. Cohen says she feels great cutting the weight, but the lightest she has weighed for a fight was 116.5 pounds. Time will tell if making 113 leaves her weight-drained.

This bout is scheduled to air on UFC Fight Pass and is slated for four two-minute rounds.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Ben Ephraim-Hlimi Canceled

Odelia Ben Ephraim was scheduled to face former Olympian Khouloud Hlimi at Hall des Sports in Pertuis, France on May 27. That fight has now been canceled reportedly because of an injury suffered by Hlimi in training.

Odelia Ben Ephraim is 4-2. She's a 23 year old from Blagnac, France. Ben Ephraim wished Hlimi a speedy recovery on social media.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Review of Tony Canzoneri

Tony Canzoneri: The Boxing Life of a Five-Time World Champion
By Mark Allen Baker
McFarland, 2023

Tony Canzoneri, born on the outskirts of New Orleans and raised in Brooklyn, became only the second ever three-division world champion in boxing history. Yet, his name is often left out of discussions of the greatest ever. In his biography of the former featherweight, lightweight, and junior welterweight champion, Mark Allen Baker aims to set the record straight.

By chronicling all of Canzoneri's fights, Baker makes it impossible to dispute that Tony was one of the best of all-time. The difference between the fighters of today and nearly a hundred years ago is made clear: Canzoneri fought better opposition in any given year than many current contenders do throughout their entire careers. In mostly straight-forward prose, Baker also gives a window into how fighters were managed in the 1920s and 1930s by following Sammy Goldman's machinations in orchestrating Canzoneri's career.

This book is not for boxing history beginners. In addition to every one of Tony's fights, other bouts on the same card are also referenced. Baker ticks off key opponents of Canzoneri's opponents, and even more monikers rush in when he adds the wider boxing context. Though Baker provides background for many of the boxers, for those without a college-level grasp of the lighter divisions in the '20s and '30s, reading this book is akin to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. There is an ocean of names.

For those who can tell Joe Glick from Frankie Klick, the book is very informative. The negatives are minor. At one point, Canzoneri is said to have challenged Johnny Jadick for the junior lightweight title instead of the junior welterweight title (pg. 89). Baker occasionally fixates on a word, such as when he describes Canzoneri as "compact" four times by page seven. His choice of the word "opposer" instead of "opponent" would work is if it wasn't so distractingly relentless. More importantly, we get a sense of Tony Canzoneri the boxer, but not Tony Canzoneri the man until after his career is over.

For Jewish boxing fans, the biggest negative is the author's apparent antipathy towards our hero Barney Ross. Baker is fair with everyone except Ross. When Ross relinquished his lightweight championship, Baker claims, "Frankly speaking, Ross would rather quit than lose his title." He later adds Ross was "afraid to defend his lightweight title."

By this point, Ross had won the welterweight world title and lost it back to Jimmy McLarnin. Of Ross, Baker admits, "[T]he fighter's frustration with losing weight was widely known." He continues, "Matching with McLarnin, Ross believed, had greater economic potential than Canzoneri and  [Lou] Ambers combined," (Quotes about Ross from pgs. 126 & 129).

So Ross had trouble making the weight, could make a lot more money fighting at a heavier weight for the title and yet he was so afraid to face Tony Canzoneri, a man he had just beaten twice, that he quit his title rather than lose it?  It makes no sense. Fortunately, this logical fallacy is an anomaly in the book.

The few pages of attacks against Barney Ross aside, Tony Canzoneri is filled with great coverage of many Jewish boxers. Glick, Benny Bass, Al Singer, Jack Berg, Bummy Davis, Harry Dublinsky, Al Roth, Danny Terris and Sammy Dorfman are just some of the Jewish boxers Canzoneri faced that are recounted here. Though the main protagonist is an Italian Catholic, the book is filled with wonderful Jewish boxing history.

Mark Allen Baker's well-researched book, Tony Canzoneri, is for knowledgeable boxing fans who want to relive a bygone era. Fans of Jewish boxing will love reading about the exploits of countless Jewish fighters. Just ignore the unfounded Barney-bashing.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Odelia Ben Ephraim to Face Olympian Kouloud Hlimi

Odelia Ben Ephraim is scheduled to face Khouloud Hlimi at Hall des Sports in Pertuis, France on May 27. This will be Ben Ephraim's third fight of the calendar year.

Ben Ephraim (4-2) is a 23 year old who resides in Blagnac, France. Her only losses have come against Anaelle Angerville, in Odelia's debut and later for the French featherweight belt. Ben Ephraim won her last fight against Tijana Draskovic convincingly in March. In an impressive performance, Odelia picked her punches well while simultaneously letting her hands go. She has been susceptible to counter lefts in previous fights though.

Hlimi is a 33 year old southpaw from Sousse, Tunisia. This is her first pro fight. In 2021, she represented Tunisia in the featherweight division at the Tokyo Olympics. After receiving a bye in the round of 32, Hlimi lost to the eventual gold medalist, Sena Irie of Japan. The Tunisian moves well, but prefers to mix it up, periodically hurtling towards the opponent while throwing punches.

Ben Ephraim obviously has more pro experience. She's ten years younger and will hold a height advantage. But this will not be an easy fight against an athletic former Olympian. This bout is scheduled for six two-minute rounds.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Any Place, Any Time: The Alf Mansfield Story

Alf Mansfield battled the legendary Jimmy Wilde three times during his highly active ten-year career as a prizefighter. The British bantamweight's career effectively came to an end when he was disqualified during a fight and subsequently suspended, all while going blind.

Born Alfred Hyman, we don't know his exact date of birth. One record suggests a man by the same name was born in 1893 in London and passed in 1952, but Alf's grandson Michael believes his grandfather visited the family in New York after 1952. Suffice it to say, Alf was born somewhere between the late 1880s and early-mid 1890s.

Alf Hyman kept his first name but fought under the surname Mansfield when he stepped into the ring for the first time as a pro on March 6, 1910 at the Judaen Athletic Club in London. Another Jewish flyweight from the Aldgate section of London had gotten his start at the club the year before. Ted 'Kid' Lewis would go on to become one of the greatest boxers of all-time. Mansfield's start was less auspicious. Debutant Jack Davis stopped him in the fourth round.

Alf Mansfield
After beginning his career 3-2, Mansfield failed to notch a victory in any of his next twelve bouts. Managing to last the distance in each of those fights, he was receiving important on-the-job training. A points victory in a  ten-rounder over Harry Mansfield on April 27, 1911 in Fulham snapped the dubious streak.

Alf won only one of his next nine bouts, all at the Judaen club. It seemed as if Mansfield should choose a new profession, but he quickly improved. After several good performances early in 1912, he graduated to Premierland, quickly becoming a revered venue for boxing. There Alf split a pair with the estimable Kid Kelly, who, despite the name, was also a Jew from London. Mansfield ultimately took three out of five bouts against the flyweight contender.

Throughout his career, there was a perpetual debate in the papers about whether Mansfield was "clever," with some using the adjective to describe him and others specifically claiming he wasn't. But no one ever questioned his toughness. In January of 1912, he fought eight times, including on back-to-back days... twice! In February, he took on another frequent opponent. Mansfield drew with fellow Londoner Dido Gains on February 10. The two would fight ten times; Mansfield had the upper hand after the first eight bouts with a 3-1-4 record, but Gains took the last two to even the score.

From November 11, 1912 when he took a ten-rounder over Gains, until the next March, Mansfield lost only one of nine fights. Over the next year and half, Alf continued to fight often. He won more than he lost, but suffered two stoppage losses at the hands of Percy Jones, an undefeated Welshman who would soon win the British, European, and world flyweight crowns.
On April 27, 1914, Mansfield took on another undefeated Welshman, Jimmy Wilde. Wilde, who held the world flyweight championship from 1916 until 1923, has been rated as the best flyweight in history by the IBRO and a top 20 pound-for-pound all-time great by both Ring Magazine and the IBRO. The bout between Mansfield and Wilde was scheduled for twenty (two-minute) rounds.

Wilde won the decision, but some in the crowd, primarily Mansfield supporters, believed that Alf deserved the nod. It was an indication of just how far Mansfield had come in boxing.

The next time Alf fought Wilde, war had broken out across the world. It isn't clear if Mansfield joined the Royal Armed Forces, but he was certainly active in the ring during the war. Soldiers in Britain had to be 19 years old, so it's possible that Mansfield wasn't old enough to join in 1914. He suffered plenty of injuries in the ring which may have disqualified him from service as well.

On October 2, 1914, Alf took on Wilde again, but he couldn't repeat his inspired performance of six months earlier. The fight was called for Wilde after ten of a scheduled fifteen rounds. That started a streak of four losses for Mansfield, including two to Dido Gains, the last times they would meet in the ring.

In 1915, Mansfield traveled to the United States. In St. Nicholas Arena in New York, he hit Abe Friedman on the break and was disqualified in the tenth and final round. He soon traveled to Pennsylvania where he fought in several no-decision bouts. On March 16, 1916, he boxed well in a six-round no-decision bout against Johnny Ertle, who held a claim of the world bantamweight title. Most newspapers felt the Brit deserved the win. After several more fights, Alf dropped a non-title affair in July to another claimant of the world bantamweight championship, Kid Williams, in Baltimore.

Fighting constantly, Mansfield came back to the United Kingdom in October of 1916. A year later, he split a pair of long decisions with a man named Walter Young Ross. Alf's third and final fight against Jimmy Wilde came on May 16, 1919 in a non-title bout. Mansfield held a 13-pound advantage.

His grandson Michael said that Alf had vivid memories of the fight. Mansfield later believed it was akin to the first fight between Joe Louis and Billy Conn where Alf was up on points before getting stopped just as Conn had. One contemporary source praised Mansfield's super-human ability to take punishment against Wilde. Other sources were even kinder. One said, "General opinion stated that it was the hardest fight Jimmy Wilde ever took part in." Another reporter claimed, "Mansfield is not so young as he used to be, a rather battered fellow is he; but I doubt there is anybody, except Wilde, who could beat him at his weight."

Another gushed, "As for Alf Mansfield, the last has not been heard of the plucky Aldgate lad, and it is quite expected that he may shortly secure the flyweight championship." It was not to be.
Two weeks after Mansfield's corner stopped the Wilde fight in the thirteenth round, he lost a stinker to Arthur Young Bishop in an eliminator for the British flyweight title. One reporter asserted Mansfield looked like "an impossible novice." The reporter continued, "Mansfield and Bishop had done their best to kill our love of boxing." Oof!

On July 21, 1919, Mansfield was disqualified in the thirteenth of a scheduled twenty (two-minute) rounds against a good prospect named Jack Kid Doyle. Mansfield was stopped a week later against an inexperienced opponent.

That fall, a hearing on the DQ against Doyle took place. A newspaper reported:

"Mansfield was declared by the referee to have been guilty of an inexcusable foul, and everybody who saw the contest spoke severely about it. The Board of Control decided that they would go into the matter, and last Tuesday, they held their inquest. Mansfield stated his case, the evidence of various responsible people was taken and carefully considered, and the verdict was suspension of Mansfield for three years. This is a severe sentence but the severity seems to have been merited and justified." 

The suspension appears to have been reduced to one year on appeal. Mansfield fought for the final time, and the first time in sixteen months- by far the longest layoff of his career- on November 8, 1920. He was pulled out of the fight against Walter Young Ross after just ten minutes.

According to BoxRec, Mansfield finished his ten-year career with a record of 63-60-25 (including newspaper decisions).

In 1926, Alf married Hannah Salkind. The couple brought two daughters into the world. Prizefighting had not been kind to him, though. Mansfield possessed cauliflower ear. He became blind in both eyes because of boxing. In 1932, he traveled to Paris, France in the hopes that Professor Tariean could repair his sight. The procedure worked for a bit, but Alf's eyesight soon degenerated. During that period, Alf and Hannah ran a business together selling ointments and salves to those with arthritis.

His grandson Michael remembers Alf traversing the Atlantic and visiting him in New York in the 1950s. Michael recalls his grandfather looking much older than a man of about 60. Alf spent his remaining years in a nursing home. We don't know exactly when he passed at this time.
Alf Mansfield in old age
Alf Mansfield's legacy is one of trial by fire, resulting in tremendous improvement over the course of his career. He took on all comers during his time in the ring. He gave the greatest flyweight of all-time all he could handle. But Alf's story reminds us of the unforgiving price this brutal sport that we love can have on its combatants. It's a price we should never ignore.


Counter, Cross. "Boxing: News and Gossip." The Wing. Mar 31, 1916.
"Sight Restored" South China Morning Post. Mar 30, 1932.
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring. 2016. Pg. 72.
"The Sport at Home Wilde's Foor Show." The Palestine News. Jun 12, 1919.
"The World of Sport: London 22nd May." South China Morning Post. Jul 1, 1919.
"The World of Sport: London June 5." South China Morning Post. Jul 15, 1919.
"The World of Sport: London Sept 18." South China Morning Post. Nov 6, 1919.
A special thanks to Alf Mansfield's grandson Michael Sheppard who provided all pictures and great information.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Kapuler Comes Up Short

Miroslav Kapurler Ishchenko lost a decision to Aslanbek Shymbergenov of Kazakhstan in the round of 16 at the 2023 IBA Men's World Amateur Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Shymbergenov was the clear winner on all of the judges' cards.

The first round was chess match with both fighters attempting to get the better foot placement.  took the round with a few clean jabs upstairs. The biggest moment of the second round came when both fighters' heads smashed together. The round was halted four times: twice so the doctor could check Kapuler's cut by his left eye that started after the butt, once when Kapuler's mouthpiece slipped out, and another so Shymbergenov could have his shoe tied.

The Israeli southpaw landed some smart jabs and finished the second with a nifty 1-2, but Shymbergenov deserved to win the round. He landed more jabs and snuck in some crafty short right counters. The repeated- though justified- stops in action may have impacted Kapuler more because he's a rhythm boxer.

Kapuler went for broke in the final round and connected with a big left. But Shymbergenov showed great counter-punching ability and used Kapuler's aggression against him. The veteran Kazakh continued to find a home for his short right counters. With just over a minute to go, Shymbergenov fired a straight right to the face. The referee gave Kapuler a standing eight-count and then walked him over tot he doctor to check on the cut a third time.

To his credit, Miroslav continued to go for the konockout the restof the way, but that isn't his style. He's an intelligent boxer, not a slugger. Two judges had Shymbergenov winning 30-27 while three judges scored the fight 30-26 for the fourth ranked fighter in the light middleweight division. The Jewish Boxing Blog had it 30-27 for the Kazakh.


The IBA is an organization under fire for years of corruption. The IOC has barred it from running the Olympic boxing tournament in '24, and numerous countries have boycotted this year's championships. The IBA has blocked the stream of its fights in the U.S. in retaliation.

Kapuler, 3-0 as a pro, can still compete in next year's Olympics as the IBA's world championships are no longer a qualifying tournament for the Games. The 25 year old southpaw will be able to qualify for the Olympics at the European Games beginning on June 23.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Miroslav Kapuler Advances to Round of 16

Israeli light middleweight Miroslav Kapuler Ishchenko advances to the round of 16 in the 2023 IBA Men's Amateur World Championships with a walk-over victory over Youcef Islam Yaiche of Algeria. Yaiche refused to fight against an opponent from Israel, so Kapuler advances.

Athletes from different countries and backgrounds will of course have political disagreements. Those athletes have every right to voice those opinions. They should be encouraged to use their platform to speak out for what they believe in. There is nothing wrong with the idea of protest in sports. But the refusal to compete against Israeli athletes by those in certain countries is antithetical to the idea that sport can bring people together.

Hopefully these athletes will soon change course. Competition can dissolve disagreement and help those with different backgrounds gain respect for one another. Sports can break down barriers. But only when it's allowed to happen.

Refusing to participate in a sport because an athlete disagrees politically with an opponent is, frankly, nonsensical. It's a cop out. Fighting an Israeli doesn't mean Yaiche suddenly agrees with the politics of the government of Israel. It doesn't even mean he has to acknowledge the existence of the country. The truth is, Yaiche knew he would lose to Kapuler, so he quit before the fight.  And that is true of all athletes who refuse to fight Israeli opponents. They fear losing to an athlete that belongs to a country considered a political enemy.

Kapuler's next fight is against Aslanbek Shymbergenov, a 29 year old from Kazakhstan, on May 9. Shymbergenov is the number four seed in the light middleweight tournament and has been fighting at the senior level since 2012. Kapuler is 3-0 as a pro and a fellow southpaw. The winner will be one step away from the medal round.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Miroslav Kapuler Advances in World Championships

Miroslav Kapuler Ishchenko advanced to the round of 32 in the IBA 2023 Men's Amateur World Champions with a decision victory over Esad Avdic. The light middleweight from Israel controlled nearly all of the action again his Austrian foe.

A southpaw, Kapuler boxed beautifully in the first round. He stunned Avdic with a clean left to punctuate a combination. The left precipitated a standing eight count. Miroslav's defense was nearly impenetrable thanks to effective upper-body movement and half-steps in and out.

Kapuler (3-0 as a pro) made one mistake in the first and it resulted in a knockdown. He opened up with a wide overhand left, Avdic touched him with a well-timed counter right, and Kapuler lost his balance. Kapuler's gloves scraped the canvas and a knockdown was called.

In amateur boxing, standing eight counts and knockdowns don't count extra, so Kapuler deserved to win the first comfortably, yet one of the five judges somehow gave Avdic ten points.

The second round was even better for Kapuler. He was barely touched and continued to land off his foot movement. Incredibly, two other judges scored the round for Avdic, so the bout was in doubt heading into the final round.

The IBA is notorious for producing head-scratching decisions. The organization has been so blatantly corrupt the IBA is no longer allowed to run the Olympic boxing tournament. The World Championships aren't even a qualifier for the Olympics anymore.

Avdic had a better third, landing here and there, but it wasn't enough to override Miroslav's impressive body work. Four judges were sensible enough to give the Israeli the round and the fight; one judge may need to visit an ophthalmologist. Kapuler is slated to face Youcef Islam Yaiche of Algeria on May 6. Algeria has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and Algerian athletes have refused to participate against Israeli athletes in the past, so we'll see if the match takes place.