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Friday, December 1, 2023

The Pioneering Intelligence of Harry "Kid" Brown

Harry "Kid" Brown pioneered scouting and game planning in boxing, believing brains were at least as important as brawn. He was one of the first fighters to study his opponents and learn their style. "You have to know 'em before you can hit 'em," he once declared.

Born on March 10, 1901, Harry Brown was raised in South Philadelphia before it became home to a high Jewish population in the early twentieth century. Harry's neighborhood was exclusively Irish. The Browns had been the first Jewish family to move in and, as a result, quickly learned how to scrap. As a kid, Harry got a job as a newsboy, a profession uniquely suited to prepare one for the life of a boxer. Newsboys had to physically fight in order to maintain a lucrative corner to supplement the family income. BoxRec has Brown boxing on a newsboy card at the age of fourteen and scoring a second round TKO.

Brown's widely recognized debut came when he was 16. He walked up to Walter Schlichter, who was serving as manager of the Gayety Theatre at the time, and asked to fight on his next card. Schlichter, also a sportswriter and boxing referee, recalled the encounter. "He was wearing knickers and looked as though he had just left a kindergarten class."

Tall and slender, Brown came of age during Philadelphia's 'no decision' era when official results were only registered for fights that ended early. If a bout went the distance, newspapers printed their verdict the next day. Harry fought constantly, having amassed at least 50 fights when he faced featherweight world champion Johnny Kilbane at Shibe Park on May 24, 1920 in a six-round no-decision bout. Brown took the fight to Kilbane in the early rounds and the "obscure boxer," as one paper described him, earned a divided decision victory from the press.

On December 12, 1921, Brown fought junior lightweight world champion Johnny Dundee at the Olympia Athletic Club in an over-the-weight affair. The kid had some success on the inside, but Dundee outboxed him to take the eight-rounder in the eyes of the newsmen. Over the next two months, Brown continued to fight often, including two wins over Sammy Mosberg, the 1920 Olympic lightweight gold medalist. The second one was an eight-rounder at Madison Square Garden.

To this point in his career, Harry argued that his toughest fight had been an early one against a puncher named Mike Malone. "I was a sophomore at South Philadelphia High School at the time," Brown remembered, "and did not have time to read papers about different boxers." When he was offered a fight in October of 1917, Brown recalled, "I didn't even ask who my opponent was to be." In the fight, Malone nearly knocked out Brown, who held on for dear life before coming back to earn a newspaper decision. The Malone experience taught Brown the importance of knowing one's opponent, and that knowledge made a him better fighter. "Would you believe it," he queried, "the bouts with Johnny Kilbane and Johnny Dundee were about the easiest I ever had?"


Brown's next big fight came on July 31, 1923 when he took on the new junior lightweight world champion Jack Bernstein in an eight-round no-decision contest. Though a boring fight, Harry won convincingly, cutting Bernstein in the last round. By that point, he had about a hundred fights on his record. Three wins later, Brown battled future lightweight champion Sammy Mandell at Madison Square Garden on October 26. Mandell was too fast for Brown and won the twelve-rounder by wide decision.

Brown fought twice more before dropping a ten-round fight to newly crowned European and British lightweight champion Harry Mason in New York early in 1924. The crowd at the Pioneer Sporting Club disagreed with the official verdict while Mason walked away with a bloody lip for his trouble. After a relatively slow 1924, Brown faced Jimmy Goodrich early in 1925. With decisions legalized in Pennsylvania in 1924, the Goodrich fight would see an official judgement. At the Arena in Philly, the two judges split, but the referee awarded Goodrich, who would become lightweight world champion in six months, the victory.

On September 24, Brown lost to Sid Terris at Shibe Park. Harry had been a late replacement and gave a good account of himself against an opponent with incredibly fast hands. A bizarre no-contest in Baltimore against future middleweight world champion Vince Dundee followed a few months later. On April 9, 1926, Harry fought Mandell in a rematch in East Chicago, Indiana. Mandell, who would win the lightweight world title in three months, flashed his speed once again and took every round in a ten-round newspaper decision. Brown continuously clinched until referee Dave Barry, later of the Long Count fame, pried Harry off of Sammy.

Harry's younger brother Joe also became a professional boxer. Eight years younger, Joe dropped out of Temple University to pursue a career in pugilism. After nine victories in nine fights, Joe called it quits. It was a wise decision. Described as possessing "hands hard enough to knock out a light-heavyweight and soft enough to sculpt a remarkable figure of a beaten boxer," Harry's little brother became a world-renowned sculptor and eventually a professor at Princeton University.
Joe Brown at work

Harry wouldn't become an Ivy League professor, but he showed his intelligence in other ways. He not only devised game plans, but also came up with backup plans for his fights. "If nothin' else, a change in style is guaranteed to confuse them," he reasoned.

Late in 1926, Harry Brown went on a West Coast swing. He boasted over a hundred victories, including those of the newspaper variety. While in Los Angeles, Brown would enjoy the greatest success of his career. In succession, he beat the formidable Baby Joe Gans, Young Harry Wills, and the popular Johnny Adams. That set up a matchup against 18 year old hotshot Jackie Fields, the reigning Olympic featherweight gold medalist and future two-time welterweight world champion. "I look at this match as the toughest I've ever had," Fields claimed.

Jackie's hand speed and superior footwork were too much for Brown, who at 25 years old, was a wily veteran of nearly 150 fights. A few weeks later, Harry traveled to San Francisco to fight another future two-time welterweight world champion, Young Jack Thompson. At Dreamland Rink, Brown was stopped in the fifth round in February. In a rematch a month later at the same venue, Brown lost by decision. He fought on another five and half years, until 1932, but no longer at the top level.

Harry never got a legitimate shot at the title, nor did he get his dream fight. Brown always pursued a grudge match against his former stablemate Lew Tendler. Brown believed their manager Phil Glassman gave Tendler star treatment, while Brown played the role of second banana. Harry bought out his contract for $2,000 and signed with Harry Segal for a while. He then linked up with Max "Boo Boo" Hoff, the Philadelphia gangster. By that time, "Lefty" Lew was a dozen pounds heavier than the "Kid," so the duel never materialized.

Harry "Kid" Brown's final tally was something like 117-43-26, including newspaper decisions, with 19 KOs, he was stopped three times, and had two no contests, according to BoxRec. After boxing, Harry spent time as a masseur, owned a bar, and a boxing gym. He was known to be well-bred and a sterling conversationalist. Harry died on March 28, 1985 at the age of 84. His brother Joe had died just two weeks earlier.

By implementing innovative boxing strategies, Brown built on the legacy of the great Daniel Mendoza. In addition to the legends he fought, he swapped punches with dozens of very good opponents as well. In 1968, Harry was elected to the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. Venerable boxing historian Mike Silver rates Brown as one of the ten best Jewish fighters from Philadelphia ever. Hopefully, Harry "Kid" Brown will soon receive even wider recognition for his contributions to the sweet science. He deserves it.

Brown, Harry "Kid." "The Hardest Battle of My Ring Career." The Sun. Feb. 23, 1923. Pg. 10.
"Dave Shade Beats Wells at Garden." New York Times. Oct. 27, 1923, Pg. 10.
"Eckersall, Walter. "Sammy Mandell Beats Kid Brown in Every Round." Chicago Daily Tribune. Apr. 10, 1926. Pg. 21.
"Harry 'Kid' Brown, 84, South Philadelphia Boxer." Philadelphia Inquirer. Mar. 30, 1985. Pg. B5.
"Inductee: Joe Brown." Philly Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
"Itches to Meet Tendler." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 15, 1926. Pg. A7.
"Kid Williams Wins over Patsy Johnson." The Sun. May 25, 1920. Pg. 11.
"Mason Beats Brown in Ten-Round Bout." New York Times. Jan. 16, 1924. Pg. 13.
Silver, Mike. Stars in the Ring. 2016. Pgs. 126, 323.
"Villa Outpoints Williams in Bout." New York Times. Aug. 1, 1923. Pg. 15.

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