New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Boxing

Sandy Saddler

Sandy Saddler (Boxing.  Born, Boston, MA, June 23, 1926; died, Bronx, NY, Sept. 18, 2001.)  Born Joseph Saddler in Boston, where he also began his pro ring career, Sandy Saddler was a boxing dynamo who fought 162 times in a career stretching from 1944-56 and entered the ring no less than 56 times in the New York metropolitan area.  Many of the major fights for which he is best remembered were in New York, where he fought 30 times, including four terrific fights with Willie Pep, which rank among the classics of the ring.  Two were held in Madison Square Garden with one each in Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.  Saddler also fought 13 times in Brooklyn, seven times in Newark, three times in Jersey City and once each at the Jamaica Arena, in Union City and Orange, N.J.  He won the featherweight title twice in his battles with Pep, first on Oct. 29, 1948, in the Garden with a four-round knockout and again at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 8, 1950, when he knocked out Pep in eight rounds.  In between, he lost a 15-round decision to Pep at the Garden (and the title with it) on Feb. 11, 1949. The fourth matchup between these two battlers was at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 26, 1951, when Saddler won on a 10-round technical knockout.  He fought several other main events in the Garden, including a spectacular 15-round victory over Teddy Davis on Feb. 25, 1955, in a successful defense of his title.  The featherweight champ finally retired with a record of 144-16-2, with 103 KOs.

Harry Wills

Harry Wills (Boxing.  Born, New Orleans, LA, May 15, 1889; died, New York, NY, Dec. 21, 1958.)  It could reasonably be argued that Harry Wills might have won the world heavyweight boxing champion had Jack Johnson not held the title from 1908-15.  Johnson so incited popular racist elements that boxing authorities vowed not to allow another black fighter to contend for the heavyweight championship.  Wills began his pro career in 1910.  A strapping 6’4”, 220 pounds, he slowly matured as a fighter and by 1918 was one of the world’s best.  After breaking his arm in a two-round knockout loss to Jim Johnson in St. Louis, Mo., in early 1917, Wills went nearly five years (34 bouts) without a defeat.  From 1921-23, he scored 15 knockouts in 20 fights.  Wills (supported by some members of the boxing community and the press) began loudly pressing champion Jack Dempsey for a bout.  Dempsey’s manager Jack (Doc) Kearns and promoter Tex Rickard appeared to agree on several occasions, but Wills never got into the ring in Dempsey.  Rickard did try to salve Wills’ pride by matching him with some big payday bouts against contenders.  The best of these was a 12-round no-decision with Luis Angel Firpo at Boyle’s 30 Acres in Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 1, 1924.  Although his career in the ring extended to 1932, Wills long before began investing in Manhattan real estate, where he was to become a successful owner and manager.  His career shows 102 bouts, 22 of them against Sam Langford and five with Joe Jeanette.  Wills lost only eight times (three on fouls, including once to Jack Sharkey in Brooklyn in 1926).  He scored 45 knockouts.

Mickey Walker

Mickey Walker (Boxing.  Born, Elizabeth, NJ, July 13, 1901; died, Freehold, NJ, Apr. 28, 1981.)  A local favorite who began a professional boxing career in his hometown, Edward Patrick Walker became the world middleweight champion.  Walker, known as “the Toy Bulldog,” reigned from 1926-31.  Of his first 23 bouts, 19 were in Elizabeth (the other four were in Newark).  Walker then moved into the big time in 1921, fighting in New York for the first time Feb. 23 and knocking out Ed Kelly in five rounds.  The next year, he beat Jack Britton to win the welterweight crown, and won the middleweight title by beating Tiger Flowers in Chicago Dec. 3, 1926.  He relinquished that title in 1931 but fought until 1935, trying unsuccessfully to fight up as a light heavyweight.  When he retired, Walker opened a bar in Elizabeth, then went to Los Angeles, became a liquor salesman, created a name for himself in primitive art, and later opened another tavern, this time in New York.  A generation of sports fans remember his New York bar on Eighth Avenue across 49th Street from Madison Square Garden.

Gene Tunney

Gene Tunney (Boxing.  Born, New York, NY, May 25, 1898; died, Greenwich, CT, Nov. 7, 1978.)  James Joseph Tunney started his pro career with three fights in New York and won all three by knockout.  World War I delayed the development of his pro career, but in 1919 he gained considerable fame by winning the light heavyweight title in a tournament conducted by the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  Tunney won 20 bouts in the preliminary rounds of the tournament, then took the semifinal and final (over Ted Jamieson) by knockouts.  In 1922, he won the American light heavyweight title with a 12-round win in New York over Battling Levinsky.  He subsequently lost the title to Harry Greb, but in 1923 regained it by defeating Greb in a 15-rounder.  He became the heavyweight champion, defeating Jack Dempsey in Philadelphia in 1926, and then successfully defended the title against Dempsey in 1927 in the famous “Long Count” bout in Chicago before a crowd of 104,943.  Tunney’s share of the $2,658,660 gate was $990,000.  He fought only once more after that bout, defeating New Zealander Tom Heeney at Yankee Stadium on July 26, 1928, an 11th-round knockout.  Tunney then retired.  He was the father of the future one-term Senator from California, John V. Tunney.

Barney Ross

Barney Ross (Boxing.  Born, New York, NY, Dec. 23, 1909; died, Chicago, IL, Jan. 17, 1967.)  Barnet David Rosofsky, born on New York’s Lower East Side, moved to Chicago as a youngster and turned to boxing after the tragic murder of his father during a holdup at the family’s store.  Although known to his family as “Beryl,” Ross picked Barney as his professional name and proceeded to emblazon it into ring history by winning the world lightweight and welterweight titles.  Ross took the lightweight title from Tony Canzoneri in 1933, beating him twice, the second time Sept. 12 at Yankee Stadium, but then relinquished that crown when he began a three-fight series against Jimmy McLarnin for the welterweight title.  Ross earned a split decision 15-round win over McLarnin at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City on May 28, 1934, for the crown but then lost it at the Bowl that September.  He regained the title with a unanimous 15-round decision on May 28, 1935, at the Polo Grounds.  Ross lost the crown to Henry Armstrong at the Bowl on May 31, 1938.  At 32, Ross enlisted in the Marines and became a decorated battle hero at Guadalcanal.  Sgt. Ross earned a Silver Star and Presidential citation on Nov. 19, 1942, but also earned a Purple Heart for wounds.  Agonizing pain from those wounds led Ross to a dependency on drugs, a dependency that continued after his medical discharge in 1944.  By 1949, drugs had wrecked both his health and his marriage.  But then he entered a voluntary rehabilitation program and, after conquering his dependency, was remarried to his wife.

Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom

Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom (Boxing.  Born, New York, NY, Sept. 6, 1903; died, Los Angeles, CA, Mar. 6, 1976.)  Of the many boxers who sought acting careers, Maxie Rosenbloom was by far the most successful.  Not only was Rosenbloom a world light heavyweight champion, but he also appeared in over 30 films in a career during which he blended the two.  He began boxing as a pro in 1923, fought an astonishing 289 bouts, and was light heavy king for over two years (1932-34).  Rosenbloom appeared in films for 33 years (1933-66) but spent most of his later years bedridden thanks to beatings in the ring.  Rosenbloom decisioned Jimmy Slattery in 15 rounds in Buffalo, N.Y., June 25, 1930, to earn the New York State light heavy title.  In 1932, he fought 30 times starting on Jan. 1 and finishing Dec. 29, winning 25 and losing three, with two draws.  Rosenbloom beat top contender Lou Scozza three times that year and earned recognition as the world champion.  He set a record for the class with nine title defenses but lost the crown to Bob Olin at the Garden Nov. 16, 1934, in a 15-round decision.  Thereafter, Rosenbloom fought primarily on the West Coast and continued boxing until 1939.  He won 209 times, lost 35, and had 23 draws and 22 no-decisions.  Rosenbloom made his film debut in Mr. Broadway, made 12 more films while continuing his boxing career (including five in 1938) and appeared regularly during the war years in support of such stars as Humphrey Bogart, Paulette Goddard, Peter Lorre, Joan Blondell, and Abbott and Costello.  Damon Runyon (q.v.) named him “Slapsie Maxie” after his pawing style in the rung.  He also ran a Hollywood nightclub.

Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson (Boxing.  Born, Detroit, MI, May 3, 1920; died, Culver City, CA, Apr. 12, 1989.)  Born Walker Smith, Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson became perhaps the most famous of all non-heavyweight champions with his handsome looks and his flashy style both in and out of the ring.  He was the welterweight champion once and the middleweight titleholder five times over the course of a 25-year boxing career.  Robinson’s first professional fight was a two-round knockout of Joe Echeverria in New York in 1940 and 200 pro bouts later he had a record of 174 wins (including 109 by knockout), 18 losses and six draws (plus two no-decisions).  After losing the middleweight title to Joey Maxim in New York in June 1952, Robinson announced the first of his retirements, but following a layoff of nearly two years, he announced his return Oct. 20, 1954, and 14 months later became the middleweight champion again.  Among his legendary fights were the battles with Carmine Basilio, including one in which he lost his title in New York on Sept. 23, 1957, but he won a 15-round rematch in Chicago in 1958.  Robinson’s last pro fight was in Pittsburgh, Nov. 10, 1965, when he lost a 10-round decision to Joey Archer.

Willie Ratner

Willie Ratner (Sportswriter.  Born, Newark, NJ, June 3, 1895; died, Newark, NJ, Apr. 3, 1980.)  For longevity at a single newspaper, the career of Willie Ratner may be unique.  Ratner joined the Newark Evening News as a copy boy in 1912 and remained with the paper until it closed Aug. 31, 1972.  He became a sportswriter who covered bike racing, then a major sport in Newark and nearby Nutley, N.J., moved on to boxing, and then thoroughbred racing.  The bike racing world championships were held in Newark the year Ratner began with the News.  His career as a boxing writer began during World War I, when he covered Jack Dempsey, later a heavyweight champion who was to become a life-long friend.  For many years, Ratner wrote a column entitled “Punching the Bag.”  He covered most major fight cards at the Garden for decades.

Battling Siki

Battling Siki Boxing.  Born, St. Louis, Senegal, French West Africa, Sept. 16, 1897; died, New York, NY, Dec. 15, 1925.)  Adopting the ring name Battling Siki, Louis Phal began a pro boxing career in 1913 that took him to the light heavyweight championship.  Siki spent his early career almost entirely in France, rolling up an impressive record.  He served in the French Colonial Forces during World War I and was decorated, resuming his ring exploits in 1919.  On Sept. 24, 1922, at the Velodrome Buffalo in Paris, Siki knocked champion Georges Carpentier senseless in the sixth round.  He lost the title to Mike McTigue in Dublin in 1923 and decided to continue boxing in the U.S.  His last 24 pro fights were in America, beginning Nov. 20, 1923, when he lost a 15-round decision to Kid Norfolk at Garden No. 2.  Siki settled at 361 West 42nd Street, on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, and married Lillian Werner.  But he soon became a chronic drunk who had more fights out of the ring than in.  Siki was twice hauled into court for assaulting policemen.  In the early morning of Tuesday, Dec. 15, 1925, he was found face down on West 41st Street near Ninth Avenue with two bullets in his back.  After having fought in New York, Brooklyn, Rockaway, Newark, and West New York, N.J., Siki was buried in Flushing.

Max Schmeling

Max Schmeling (Boxing.  Born, Klein Luckaw, Brandenburg, Germany, Sept. 28, 1905; died, Hollenstedt, Germany, Feb. 2, 2005.)  A reluctant symbol of the pre-World War II Nazi regime in Germany, Max Schmeling was the world heavyweight champion (1930-32).  Schmeling gained lasting fame for two bouts with Joe Louis (q.v.), which became charged with international political and racial symbolism (with which he was extremely uncomfortable, in part because his U.S. manager, Joe Jacobs, was Jewish).  While he fought 11 times in New York and once in Newark, N.J., starting in 1928, four of those bouts stand out.  On June 12, 1930, he won the vacant heavyweight title on a foul in the fourth round against Jack Sharkey.  Schmeling lost his title to Sharkey June 21, 1932, in a 15-round decision at Yankee Stadium.  He scored his most famous victory at the Stadium June 19, 1936, knocking out Louis in the 12th round in a non-title fight.  The rematch, also at the Stadium, saw a ferocious build-up fueled by Nazi propaganda that cast the German as fighting for “Aryan supremacy.”  In the event, 70,043 paid to see Louis defend his title June 22, 1938, with a brutal assault that knocked out Schmeling at 2:09 of the first round.  Schmeling had only one more bout before the German invasion of Poland Sept. 1, 1939, set off World War II in Europe.  Schmeling served briefly as a paratrooper in the German Army (1941-42) and was injured in the Battle of Crete.  He was later interned by the Nazis but was freed at the war’s end in 1945.  Schmeling fought five times after the war (1947-48) and then settled into a comfortable retirement.  Reportedly, he gave Louis financial aid over the years.  Schmeling’s record of 71 fights including 10 losses and five draws.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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