Classic Columns: Benny Leonard
The comeback of Hall of Famer Benny Leonard in 1931 didn't impress Nat Fleischer or the fans who watched the fight. Photo / THE RING
Note: RingTV.com has instituted a new feature, Classic Columns, in which columns written by magazine founder Nat Fleischer and other RING magazine writers over the past 86 years will be posted weekly. Today's column by Fleischer, about lightweight great Benny Leonard's comeback, is from June 1931.
It seems that there always is something. Boxing has had its ups and downs these last two years, and it is in need of just such a stimulus as an impressive, acclaimed comeback by a man like Benny Leonard could give to it.
But the debut of Leonard in his comeback effort against Pal Silvers threw doubt on Benny, and aspersion on the entire affair. Leonard stopped Silvers, but to most of the onlookers it seemed that the Pal person had given a most unenthusiastic and anaemic exposition of what passed for aggressiveness and willingness.
A lot of customers turned out to see Leonard for old times’ sake. They tossed $25,000 into the box office, and then they were tossed for a lot of fall guys. Yes, it seems that always there is something and that this great game must go on suffering from measles, whooping cough, and a lot of other childish ailments which it thought it had left behind back in the days when John L. Sullivan was knocking the local yokels stiff.
The less said about the fight, the better, for contests such as that are responsible for the plight into which boxing has found itself for the past two years. Silvers, after outclassing Leonard in the opening round, in which four straight lefts had Benny’s face smeared with blood, apparently suddenly figured that it wouldn’t do to make Leonard look bad.
Instead of following up his advantage in the second round, he forgot how to fight and left himself open to severe criticism.
When he received three light blows on the jaw and went down after first locating a soft spot, he acted like one who was dead to the world. But when Arthur Donovan, the referee, had counted 10, up leaped Pal and dashing about the ring, sought to continue the “battle.”
To say the least, it certainly did appear mighty strange to see a fighter so full of vim, so energetic, who only a second or two before was lying motionless, body stretched out, head resting comfortably on one glove. What a fiasco that was! And how the 14,000 fight fans who had come to greet the kingpin of all modern lights were peeved at the sudden turn of affairs!
Leonard walked into the ring to the acclaim of a re┬¼turned hero, but he left with the hisses of those thousands.
The New York Boxing Commission is to be congratulated on its action in refusing a sanction for a Leonard-Paulie Walker contest in The Garden. If what Leonard showed against Silvers is his best, then we want to remember Benny as he was when in his prime. The Leonard who “knocked out” Silvers would be put to sleep within three rounds by Billy Petrolle, over whom he would have an advantage of 15 pounds, and Jimmy MacLarnin.
“They can’t come back,” is a ring axiom that has stood the test for many years, and Leonard, so far as I can see, is no exception to that rule. The only way Benny can reach the top again would be through the kind of contest that left such a sour taste in the mouth of 14,000 Queensboro fans.
Since Leonard insists that he is in good financial circumstances and has returned to the ring, not because of his need for money but because he loves the sport, he should take into consideration the thousands of fight fans who love the sport equally as much as he does. With that in mind, he should quit now before he loses the prestige that he had gained through many years of great ring work.