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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Benny Pascal: Protégé of Benny Bass

Benny Pascal trained with two-division world champion Benny Bass and was briefly a title contender himself. Most of his fifty-plus fights took place while he was a teenager.


Benjamin Pascal was born on November 18, 1906 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents were both Romanian immigrants. His father Isaac was 34 years old when little Benny, the fifth of eight children, was born. His mother Ray (Rebecca) née Ianovitch was 32.

Benny grew up in the Southwark neighborhood of Philadelphia. During his formative years, the area was described as a Jewish slum. Benny picked up boxing at an early age and by the time he had turned fifteen, he was the amateur flyweight champion of the "Middle States."

Benny was fifteen and a half when he turned professional. At that time, May of 1922, only knockouts and disqualifications counted towards a boxer's official record in Pennsylvania. Decisions in fights eight rounds or fewer were illegal. To get around the law, newspapers printed their verdicts.

Pascal officially won four of his first five fights and scored a newspaper decision in the other bout. As the opposition improved, Benny would only score one more KO during the rest of his career. He won three more newspaper decisions against more experienced foes until finally dropping his first newspaper decision in September.

Late in the year, Pascal split a pair of newspaper decisions with George Helmar, the former amateur bantamweight champion of the Middle States. Pascal finished 1922 with an unofficial record of 12-4 after dropping three of his last four fights to close out the year. Officially, he was 4-0.

Pascal fought on on back-to-back days beginning on February 8. He had already fought at least five times in 1923 when he met Tommy Langdon in mid-March in Shamokin, PA. The fight was even heading into the final round when Pascal scored a clutch knockdown to take the newspaper decision in the most exciting fight of the night.

Pascal trained with Benny Bass. Bass would eventually become a two-division world champion, but at this point in their careers, it wasn't obvious which Benny would achieve greatness. Bass had turned pro three years before Pascal and on April 5, Bass, nicknamed "Little Fish," had to back out of an encounter with Billy Hines. Pascal stepped in and "trounced" the far-more experienced Hines for the second time in three weeks.

On July 23, Pascal was slated to take on Ralph Repman, the hottest prospect in Philadelphia at the time. One reporter described Pascal as "a polished, hard-hitting scrapper" and thought he would give Repman a tough fight. The day before the contest, Repman begged off due to illness, and Pascal fell in the eighth round to late-replacement Eddie Ochs, a respected veteran of the ring. Benny was floored in the sixth, seventh, and eighth rounds.

Pascal failed to show up for a fight in September and was briefly suspended by the New Jersey state athletic commission. Pascal was stopped for the second time in October. He grabbed a newspaper decision victory before the end of the year.

Starting on January 1, 1924, decisions were legalized in Pennsylvania. The referee was the lone arbiter for shorter bouts. Pascal celebrated the change with decision victories on the first two days of the year, both in six-rounders. He rounded out January with a good win over Sammy Schiff. After a draw in March, Pascal dropped a decision against Johnny Green, a quality fighter from New York and a fellow Jew. Still, Pascal was well-regarded.

On March 21, a pundit wrote that Pascal is "a bantamweight who has been creating a sensation in the Quaker City during recent months and has been frequently mentioned by the Philadelphia sports writers as a strong contender for the bantamweight crown." It would signify the pinnacle of Pascal's boxing career.

Though he fought until 1928, Pascal would earn only one more win during his rest of his career. Following the Green loss, Pascal dropped two more decisions before deciding on a change of scenery. Pascal made his California debut on June 7, 1924 and came away with a draw. This was California's four-round era when longer bouts were outlawed.

Pascal fought regularly throughout the summer, and received some unfavorable decisions. On July 20, he traveled down to Tijuana, Mexico and beat Kid Sunday in a six-rounder. It was his third fight of the week and would be his final victory. Mickey Flynn knocked out Benny in August in Tijuana. Pascal's next fight would not be until the following February when he would face his toughest opponent.

On January 1, 1925, California began allowing decisions for fights up to ten rounds. Pascal was scheduled to face Jackie Fields in a six-rounder on February 5 at the Armory in Pasadena. A precocious 16 year old phenom, Fields was the reigning Olympic featherweight gold medalist, having won the title in Paris, France the previous July. Technically, Fields, a fellow Jew who was making his long anticipated debut, shouldn't have been allowed to turn pro. Fields became the youngest ever boxer to win Olympic gold- a record that still stands- two years shy of the minimum age California required of professional boxers. But Fields was too popular to punish.

Ultimately, Benny would gain plaudits from the pundits for a game performance against Fields, but in reality, he was thoroughly outboxed and hit the canvas in the fifth round. He fought three more times over the next two months, two losses and a draw, before heading back home.

Pascal took off a year and four months before getting stopped in a six-rounder in Pennsylvania. Four months later, he fought and lost the only ten-rounder of his career. His final fight was a newspaper draw in Atlantic City, New Jersey on March 12, 1928. His record including newspaper decisions was something like 26-23-7. He was 21 years old.

As the Great Depression began, Pascal could be found in Jacksonville, Florida working as an awning maker. He was one of ten boarders staying at the house of Mila Kile, a 52 year old widow from Illinois. Though his birth certificate lists his name as Benjamin, Pascal began to go by Bernard.

During the 1930s, he moved back with his parents in Philadelphia where he worked in the clothing business trying to make ends meet. He soon married Bessie Schwartz. The couple had two children, Charlotte and Annette. By 1950, Pascal was a carpenter and had his own place with his wife and daughters. He later owned a meat store.

Benny Pascal died on June 9, 1976 at the age of 69. He was survived by his wife Bessie, daughters Charlotte, and Annette, three siblings, and three grandchildren.

"Danny Kramer K.O.s Frankie Rice." Harrisburg Telegraph. Apr. 6, 1923. Pg. 25.
"Gill and Smith in Next Boxing Show." York Daily Record. Jul. 16, 1923. Pg. 9.
“Jackie Fields Defeats Pascal in Pasadena Go.” Los Angeles Times. Pg. B1.
"Obituaries." Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Jun. 25, 1976.
"Ochs Kayoes Pascal." Lancaster New Era. Jul. 24, 1923. Pg. 10.
"Roach Breaks Ankle in Fifth in Airport Go." Press of Atlantic City. Sep. 15, 1923. Pg. 10.
“Sam Blackiston to Clash with Joe Leitz.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. Nov 1, 1922. Pg. 9.
“Thirty-Six Rounds on Program for Next Boxing Show on Mar. 31.” Shamokin News-Dispatch. Mar 21, 1924. Pg. 6.
Personal information from his birth certificate, and the U.S. Censuses of 1930, 1940, and 1950. Some aspects of his career from BoxRec.

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