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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.

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