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Monday, July 31, 2023

Isaac Chilemba to Face Obinna Mathew

It has been a long road home for Isaac Chilemba. He is scheduled to face Obinna "Wise Man" Mathew on September 30 at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, Malawi.

After Isaac's mother died, he moved from Malawi to South Africa to pursue a professional boxing career and support his younger siblings. Boxing has since taken Chilemba all around the world. In addition to South Africa, he has fought in the U.S., U.K., Russia, Poland, Greece, Australia, and Canada. Primarily under the guidance of trainer/manager Jodi Solomon, Chilemba (27-9-3, 11 KOs) has faced some of the best super middleweights and light heavyweights of his generation. But September 2 will be the first time the 35 year old has fought in his home country.

It's been a long road for Chilemba out of the ring as well. He battled alcoholism, depression, and has attempted suicide. Chilemba has also described a kind of fear of success, explaining that he has acted in self-sabotaging ways before some of his biggest fights. This homecoming will be the culmination of a long and difficult journey.

Obinna Mathew is a 35 year old old police officer from Lagos, Nigeria. "Wise Man" wears the Nigerian police force colors of blue, green, and yellow on his trunks and when he fights at home, fellow police officers accompany him to the ring waving the police force's flag.

BoxRec lists his record as 21-0 with 21 KOs, but The JBB found two more unlisted fights, which both ended in "Wise Man" KO victories. In 2019, Babatunde Akim didn't come out for the third round, and in 2021 Mathew stopped Sunday Ajayi in the second. None of Obinna's opponents have been anywhere near world class, but most have shown they know how to box. He has fought a number of inexperienced foes and even the veterans have been on losing streaks when Mathew faced them.

Typically, Mathew's opponents have not gone out on their shield. They follow the Bruce "Mouse" Strauss playbook: after a couple rounds, they run out of gas and look for a soft spot on the canvas. Five of the Nigerian's opponents have gone gentle into that good night, retiring after two or three rounds. Many have decided Obinna is too imposing, and they quickly look for a way out early rather than get hurt.

Mathew has skill and composure in the ring. A very tall southpaw, he keeps his distance well behind a good jab. His straight left knocked Olufemi Akintayo down hard for a one-punch KO in 2021. Mathew has a good right hook, too. A series of them stopped Gbenga Sampson a year ago. Being so tall, Obinna has a left bolo punch in his arsenal and he knocked down Julius Obi in the first round of their 2021 fight. He lands check hooks and uppercuts as well.

Mathew keeps his hands high and has a pull-back counter in which he counters back with the jab. He also takes a subtle half-step back but maintains balance so he's ready to punch when the opponent lunges forward. His chin has yet to be tested because he hasn't been hit much in his 70 rounds of pro boxing. The Nigerian has also fought a few rounds as a righty. He's smooth from the orthodox stance and awkward as a southpaw. He mostly fights southpaw, because almost everyone wants to fight a smooth righty rather than an awkward southpaw.

The police officer is open for counters, however. Because he's so tall, he drops his hand before launching the straight left. He doesn't bring his jab back high. Mathew also doesn't keep his form consistently, so a skilled counter-puncher like Chilemba should find openings.

Despite Mathew's record, this is a huge step up for him. Even if Chilemba isn't quite the fighter he was five or ten years ago, he's more skilled and has more experience at the top level. This likely won't be a walkover, but Chilemba should be able to outbox the Nigerian for a successful homecoming.

This bout is scheduled for twelve rounds and is for a minor sanctioning body's world title belt.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Top 5 Jewish French Boxers

David Ben Ephraim's Top 5 Jewish French Boxers

David Ben Ephraim runs the Boxing Club Rosh Haayin in Rosh Ha'Ayin, Israel and has worked as a boxing commentator. A former amateur boxer, Ben Ephraim served as a trainer at the Blagnac Boxing Club in Toulouse, France for nearly twenty years. The renowned club was home to many champions including junior featherweight world champion Mahyar Monshipour and European middleweight champion Pierre Joly, just to name a couple. David has also brought up decorated amateur and current pro prospect Odelia Ben Ephraim.

In addition to providing this terrific list, Ben Ephraim wanted to acknowledge several Jewish French trainers: Patrick Bahamed-Athlan, Franck Attia, Thierry Chiche, and the legendary Roger Bensaïd.

1. Alphonse Halimi
2. Fabrice Benichou
3. Robert Cohen
4. Maurice Holtzer
5. Stephane Haccoun

Monday, July 24, 2023

The "Yiddisher Cowboy," Frankie Fink

Frankie Fink traveled the U.S., fighting monthly throughout the 1920s. He made the rounds from climber to contender to well-respected journeyman. Fink represented the archetypical 1920s boxer.

Frank Fred Fink was born on July 23, 1903, the eighth of nine children, to Meyer and Sophie. Both were in their 40s when they had Frankie. Throughout his career, Dallas was considered Fink's hometown, but according to the 1910 and 1920 censuses, he was from Brenham, a Texas town of about 5,000 people at the time of his birth and situated halfway between Houston and Austin. Brenham had a relatively sizable Jewish population in those days.

Fink became a pro in 1921 and spent the first three years of his career mostly fighting around Texas. He also had a few fights in Louisiana and in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. On November 29, 1924, Frankie Fink did the unthinkable; he won the Mexican featherweight title when Joe Medina was disqualified in the seventh round of their fight in Mexico City. It was unthinkable simply because Fink wasn't Mexican and the title hadn't existed before the fight.

Fink held the Mexican featherweight title for nearly five years without a single defense. The first time he returned to Mexico after winning the title, Fink lost the belt on the scales because he hadn't made the featherweight limit in four years.

When professional boxing was essentially legalized in California back in 1925, Fink plied his trade on the West Coast. He came to New York beginning in 1926 and spent most of the next two years in the area. There he picked up the name "Yiddisher Cowboy" playing on his roots as a Jewish Texan. Fink fought in Madison Square Garden four times. He took on some of the best fighters of his era but couldn't quite get past any of them.

Fink never really had a style, and that might have prevented him from going further in his career. Future two-time welterweight world champion Jackie Fields outboxed him twice. Former featherweight world champion Kid Kaplan pressured him relentlessly in winning by eighth round TKO. Future featherweight world champion Andre Routis scored a ten-round points win against him. Future junior welterweight champion Mushy Callahan once knocked Fink out cold in sparring.

Fink also fell short against numerous contenders, including Joe Glick, Al Foreman, Billy Petroelle, Honeyboy Finnegan, and Eddie Mack. But he could beat good opponents who were just a level below those champions and top contenders, including Jose Lombardo and Tommy Herman.

On April 6, 1927, it was announced Fink was among eight boxers suspended by the New York Athletic Commission for fighting above their weight. The suspension didn't last long and the "Cowboy" continued to fight virtually every month until February of 1929. He had two fights in Mexico City later that year and wouldn't fight again until 1931. After Mack KOed him in 1932, Fink's last three fights were all in Dallas, two in 1935 and one in 1942.

If newspaper decisions are included, Fink ended his boxing career with a record of 51-30-17 (15 KOs) according to BoxRec. He was rated as high as the #13 junior lightweight in The Ring magazine's annual ratings for both 1926 and 1927.

It appears Fink didn't marry or have any children. He died on April 29, 1979 at the age of 75. His tombstone reads, "Beloved Brother." It probably should say, "Darn good fighter" too.


"Callahan Scores Knockout Over Sparring Partner." LA Times. Feb. 11, 1926. Pg. B2.
Dawson, James. P. "Terris Outpoints Wallace in the Garden." NY Times. Mar. 19, 1927. Pg. 13.
"Fields Victor in New York." LA Times. Jul. 5, 1927. Pg. B4.
Find a Grave
"Lombardo Defeated by Fink at Dexter." NY Times. Aug. 24, 1926. Pg. 14.
"Sarmiento Decisively Whips Georgie Marks." LA Times. Sep. 24, 1925. Pg. B1.
"Suspend 8 Boxers for Weight Ruling." NY Times. Apr. 6, 1927. Pg. 30.
U.S. Census, 1910 & 1920.
"Wills Loses Bout In Mexico City." The Atlanta Constitution. Sep. 16, 1929. Pg. 15.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Focused for Battle: What Boxers Think during the Referee's Instructions

The fighters stride towards each other for the final time before the opening bell. The anticipation in the crowd becomes palpable. The long-awaited fight is moments away. The referee reminds the combatants to listen to the official's commands and to protect themselves at all times, and perhaps bellows a catchphrase afterwards. But the boxers ignore any cry of "Let's get it on," "What I say you must obey," or "I'm fair but I'm firm."

Rare is the boxer that disagrees with ex-fighter Tony Milch, who says, "I am hearing the referee but not really listening." Unless, that is, they side with another former fighter Dustin Fleischer (6-0), who admits, "I really didn't even hear the referee. I was just thinking about destroying my opponent."

With all eyes on the two fighters staring at each other in center ring for one last time before the first round, the boxers typically turn inward.

Active fighter Cletus Seldin (26-1) says, "I'm just telling myself how hard I worked and to stick to the game plan." He tells himself, "No matter what, don't stop. When the bell rings, be relentless."

Former world champion Yuri Foreman (35-4) tells himself, "This is it!" The ordained rabbi says a little prayer. He takes the four or five steps back to his corner and reminds himself, "Just be myself."

As with Seldin and Foreman, recently retired puncher Shawn Sarembock (8-0-1) acknowledges this is the culmination of all his hard work. He is thinking, "Let's go! It's go time! Or any derivative of that. Time to put up. Time to switch on."

"We're all flooded with thoughts throughout the day," explains Nancy Harazduk, the Director of the Mind-Body Medicine Program at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. "These boxers are controlling their thoughts in a positive way. They aren't allowing their thoughts to control them."

Of the moments when the referee is giving the final instructions, undefeated pro David Alaverdian
(8-0-1) explains, "My mind is blank." Milch (14-2) describes something similar, "My mind is clear. I'm looking at the opponent, preparing myself mentally to be clear and focused for battle and all the training that has gone into it."

Retired fighter Merhav Mohar (16-2) says, "Being present, without any distracting thoughts is a true measure of professionalism, and takes a lot of practice."

Harazduk says these fighters- by having a clear mind and being present- are in an alpha state. "An alpha state is when your brain waves slow down. Your thoughts recede to the background, and you're not aware of any incoming thoughts. These boxers are 'in the zone' so to speak."

Prospect Odelia Ben Ephraim (4-2) gives a play-by-play of how she enters an alpha state, "The last moments before a fight, I think about what my coach told me during the warm-up. I focus on his words and I feel very calm and focused. I repeat the words in my head again and again.

"When I enter the ring I don't actually have concrete thoughts," she says. "I'm very focused, and I concentrate on my breathing. I think about all the stress and pressure that goes down during the last hours before a fight, until the last moment. When the referee gives instructions, there's just a big calm in my head, the calm before the storm!"

For Dmitriy Salita (35-2), a retired boxer who is now a successful promoter, what he was thinking depended on his physical condition. "Ideally, you're thinking about the next five seconds. You recognize voices from the gym you're accustomed to. You tell yourself, 'Time to take care of business.'" Salita says.

But when he over-trained, Salita admits, "My mind runs. I think, 'Many people are watching me. Did this guy get a seat?'" Those same thoughts also make Salita a good promoter.

Ultimately, when the referee gives the final instructions, it's a chance for the fighters to control their thoughts and enter into the zone. It marks the line that divides the pre-fight activities from battle.

Part of standing in center ring just before the fight involves the final stare-down. The boxers interviewed had very different interpretations of the importance of the practice. Although at times it seemed as if they were directly responding to one another, the boxers interviewed were not told what others had said.

Yuri Foreman says he doesn't try to stare down an opponent. He has blurred vision while looking at his opponent and just stays in his own head.

Odelia Ben Ephraim explains, "I always make eye contact with my opponent, and I focus on not looking down, the eye of the tiger!" She feels it's important to look the opponent in the eye out of respect and to honor tradition. "It's like looking in a mirror. My opponent and I had the same preparation, the same struggles getting ready for this fight- more or less of course. But it takes the same courage to step up into the ring for both of us, and for me, looking into her eyes is a sign of respect. It's also an old boxing tradition, and it's the moment when the fight starts for real."

Merhav Mohar always aimed to intimidate his opponents. He contends, "From my experience, those last moments before the fight in center ring, I would stare down my opponent as hard as possible, and if he would break eye contact to look at the referee or his instructions, I would take that as a sign of my victory. I know what’s a low blow and to obey the referee, so there was no need to focus on him or what he says. I would look for any weakness or doubt my opponent would show."

David Alaverdian, who was interviewed many months before Mohar, vehemently disagrees. Alaverdian stares at his opponent, but he's not consciously trying to look him in the eye. He's not trying to intimidate his opponent. He argues "I don't believe in that. Some people think if the other guy looks down, you broke him. That's bullshit."

Shawn Sarembock feels attempting to intimidate the opponent is important. Sarembock also uses the stare-down for strategic purposes. "I give them a once-over to see where the cup is, so I know where I can work the body, " he says. "I also check to see if the opponent's body is soft."

Dmitriy Salita and Cletus Seldin had the exact same reason to reach the exact opposite conclusion.  Salita says, "People judged me and felt I was an easy fight based on the way I looked. I did try to stare down my opponent. The stare-down is important."

Conversely, Seldin explains, "I never once thought 'Let's win the fight off intimidation.' I always pictured them thinking, 'There's no way I'm losing to a white Jewish kid from Long Island,' so to me it never felt worth trying."

There's no right or wrong answer. Whether there's any value in trying to intimidate the opponent is simply a matter of opinion. Ultimately, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. If fighters believe the stare-down is unimportant, it won't matter to them. For fighters who give the stare-down significance, it can serve as an extra source of confidence, assuming the interaction goes the fighter's way. Regardless, there is no one way to become focused for battle.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Feldman Off Tomorrow's Card

Southpaw junior middleweight Josh Feldman had been scheduled to fight his debut against Potego Ntsoane tomorrow at Box Camp Booysens in Johannesburg, South Africa, but he is now off that card.

SA Boxing Talk told The Jewish Boxing Blog that Feldman had suffered a nasty spider bite, which can be very dangerous as South Africa is home to some of the most venomous spiders on the planet.

Feldman has been rescheduled to fight in August.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Midyear Recap

It has been a great few months for Jewish Boxing and The Jewish Boxing Blog!

The Fights
There have been quite a few Jewish boxers in action so far. Three- Sagiv Ismailov, Igor Lazarev, and Alex Karchevski- were in action in Ashdod, Israel back in February. Ismailov took his second win of the year two months later in Estonia.

Undefeated flyweight David Alaverdian showed an ability to adjust on the fly in an April bout in Las Vegas.

Shawn Sarembock earned a draw in a February firefight in Tijuana.

Stefi Cohen and Odelia Ben Ephraim have both fought twice this year. Cohen won in February and again in June. Ben Ephraim is 1-1 this year with an impressive win in March.

Former world champion Carolina Duer fought to a disputed split decision loss in April.

After Stefi Cohen's fight was canceled in January, The Jewish Boxing Blog found out what happened from the California State Athletic Commission.

Shawn Sarembock faced numerous behind-the-scenes difficulties in the run-up to his February fight. He explain what happened to The JBB. He later stepped away from the sport in June.

David Alaverdian opened up to The JBB about his win in April.

Kenny "Bang Bang" Bogner passed away in February.

A profile of tough British flyweight Alf Mansfield was published in May.

A profile of Israeli amateur boxer Ovadia Hochman, who later moved to the U.S. and changed his name to Eddie Hoffman, was published in June.

Several amazing guest contributors added to the Top 5s series.