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Friday, January 5, 2024

Joey Kaufman: The Coney Island Flash

Joey Kaufman was the type of guy boxing needs to survive as a sport. He fought at least 140 times as a professional during his career, which lasted from 1923-1934. Many of those contests were curtain raisers on the undercards of big fights. He fought in swing bouts and substitute scraps. He came in as a late replacement. Kaufman was like the small intestine: essential if not spectacular, a gatekeeper dispensing of riffraff.

Josef Kaufman was born on December 6, 1905. Some sources say he was born in Moscow, Russian Empire, from where much of the Jewish population of the city was banished to the Pale of Settlement in the west during the 1890s. Fewer than 10,000 Jews remained in the city by the time of Joey's birth. Kaufman's father, Benjamin, immigrated to the United States on June 10, 1909. He listed his place of birth as Bessarabia, a southern region within the Pale. Benjamin worked as a baker and as a clothes presser. Joey and his mother Gussie followed across the Atlantic in 1912.

The family initially lived on Second Avenue in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Joey's siblings- Anna (Annie), Bertha (Birdie), Martin (Marty), and Pearl- were born in New York, but all spoke Yiddish at home. The Kaufmans remained in Manhattan until at least 1920. The family would eventually move to the Bronx, albeit without Joey, who found his way to Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Kaufman was 17 years old and standing 5'5" when he turned pro. He started out in East Chicago, Indiana of all places. In his third pro fight, he took on the vastly more experienced Ray Miller, a talented Jew from Chicago who possessed a punishing left hook. Kaufman managed to last the six-round distance in a loss. His first fight in his hometown came in March of 1924.

Joey fought constantly, maintaining a level of activity no longer possible. He entered the ring at least 25 times in 1925, including back-to-back days on June 18 & 19. That year, Kaufman was described as "one of the speediest youngsters developed in some time." But he never packed a powerful punch. In his 140 bouts (or more), he recorded only five knockouts. He typically faced high-level opponents, who are less likely to get knocked out, but his style also produced fewer knockouts. Though skillful, Kaufman wasn't known as a great defensive fighter either, but he was absurdly tough. Altogether, it was a style that made him tremendously popular in Brooklyn.

The Ring magazine rated Kaufman as the fifteenth best junior lightweight in the world at the start of 1926 and placed him as the thirteenth best lightweight in its February 1928 issue. It was likely a case of New York bias as Kaufman was never quite on that level. His best results included draws with a young Bruce Flowers, Marty Silvers, Cannonball Eddie Martin, and Nat Arno. His best wins were over Bobby Mays, Frankie LaFay, and Phil McGraw by DQ. He also notched a win and two draws against Armand Schaekels. Of the bunch, only Martin ever held a title and Kaufman fought a faded version of the champ, who had relinquished his belt six years earlier.

Against the next level up, Kaufman always lost. He took on the likes of Cowboy Eddie Anderson, Charlie Rosen, Billy Wallace, Charlie O'Connell, Manuel Quintero, Henri Dewancker, Harry Devine, and Joey Medill, falling to all of them on points. Flowers and Mays scored victories over Kaufman in rematches. When he fought the very best, things went badly for Kaufman.

On June 1, 1927, he took on hotshot prospect and reigning Olympic featherweight champion Jackie Fields. Fields was clearly several classes above the overmatched Kaufman. Jackie dominated every round, knocking down Joey once and nearly stopping him, yet the New York writers criticized Fields for not finishing the job. The ten-round decision loss against a future two-time welterweight world champion was a better result than his third round DQ loss for low blows against future junior welterweight champion Johnny Jadick two years later.

Later in 1929, veteran Ruby Goldstein battered Kaufman for eight rounds, flooring him in the fifth. When referee Arthur Donovan stopped the fight in the eighth, a bloody Kaufman vigorously argued to keep going. The Coney Island Flash was out in a flash four months later against top contender King Tut. The fight lasted only fifty seconds. A month later, Kaufman couldn't answer the bell to start the fifth round against Tommy Grogan.

On February 25, 1931 reigning lightweight world champion Tony Canzoneri demolished Kaufman in an over-the-weight bout. In just two minutes and one second of fighting, Canzoneri knocked Kaufman down seven times. The true measure of Joey Kaufman is that, after being knocked down six times with all hope lost against a far superior foe: he got up... and fought on.

Kaufman fought on for three more years, losing more than he won. He dropped a six-round decision to future junior welterweight world champion Frankie Klick. Joey's last fight came on July 6, 1934 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a TKO loss, his sixth defeat in a row. Kaufman's record was something like 44-77-23.

In 1929, he married Freda Stone. The couple lived in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn where Joey became a clothing salesman after his boxing career finished. In 1941, Kaufman filed for bankruptcy, claiming no assets and $4,421 in liabilities. He later bought a café.

Kaufman's death  has been listed as either 1961 or 1956, but news reports of the era indicate he passed on June 16, 1952. Joey was only 45 years old.

Though not a champion nor a world class boxer, Joey Kaufman will forever be remembered as one of "the fistic toasts of Coney Island." A teflon-tough man with speedy hands, taken too soon.

“Al Mello Takes Beating from Nebraska Boy.” Los Angeles Daily News. June 2, 1927. Pg. 18.
Ain, Barney. "Sports Parade." The Williamsberg News. Aug, 11, 1961. Pg. 2.
"Business Records." New York Times. Apr. 23, 1941. Pg. 31.
Dawson, James P. "Goldsten Stops Kaufman in 8th." New York Times. Aug. 17, 1929. Pg. 14.
"Italian Joe Gans Seeks National Guard Title." The Brooklyn Standard Union. Oct. 7, 1925. Pg. 15.
“Rickard’s Rankings Create Surprise.” New York Times. Jan. 15, 1926. Pg. 25.
Salerno, Al. "Brooklyn and Broadway Night Life." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Jun. 18, 1952. Pg. 11.
"Tony Canzoneri Puts Down Joe Kaufman Seven Times to Win." The Brooklyn Citizen. Feb 26, 1931. Pg. 6.
Wilson, Earl. "Thurber Blasts 'Blatherskites'." The Times Recorder. Jun. 21, 1952. Pg. 6.
Wood, James. J. “Ace Only One of his Kind Now Swinging Gloves.” The Brooklyn Daily Times. June 2, 1927. Pg. 57.
Personal information comes from the 1920 and 1930 U.S. censuses and Kaufman's marriage certificate. Addition information from the Hank Kaplan Archives at Brooklyn College.

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