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Barney Ross is a tough act for Yuri Foreman to follow

02
May

Yuri Foreman’s recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel was evidence not only that Kimmel’s show is quickly becoming the go-to mainstream-ish talk show outlet for boxers, but of Foreman’s uniqueness as a successful, modern day Jewish prizefighter.

Luckier fighters have an angle their promoters can exploit to entice consumers to pry open their wallets. If one doesn’t exist, they create one. Foreman’s avowed goal to become a rabbi certainly has made Bob Arum’s job easier.

Of course, Arum’s publicity machine is hard at work, as it should be, selling Foreman’s oddly named “Stadium Slugfest” — odd because Foreman has never seen a slugfest he didn’t try to circle and counterpunch his way out of – against Miguel Cotto on June 5 at Yankee Stadium.

Whether or not you like Foreman’s highly cerebral style, he is getting a lot of mileage out of being Jewish, which once upon a time wasn’t all that unusual for fighters.

Indeed, some of the great lighter-weight fighters of the early 20th century were Jewish. Battling Levinsky, Maxie Rosenbloom, Newsboy Brown, Jackie Fields, Ted Lewis, and probably the greatest of all of them, Benny Leonard, were world champions and accomplished ticket sellers.

The great Barney Ross is among the best.

“Barney Ross rates right up there with Benny Leonard as the greatest Jewish fighters of all. Look at the quality of fighter he faced: Jimmy McLarnin, Ceferino Garcia, Henry Armstrong, Tony Canzoneri,” historian and Showtime analyst Steve Farhood told Ringtv.com.

“In fact, it can be argued that he was one of the 10 best fighters ever, and his chin ranks with the best of all-time, too.”

To many of you his name is familiar only as the man the legendary Armstrong beat for one of the three world titles “Homicide Hank” held simultaneously. To recall only that is a disservice to the man.

And if you examine his life from beginning to end, Ross is in a class all his own.

Ross was born Beryl Rasofsky and grew up in a Jewish ghetto in Chicago. When he was a boy, his father was murdered during a robbery and most of his siblings were sent off to orphanages.

Determined to make enough money to reunite his family, Rasofsky changed his name to Barney Ross to honor his father, a Jewish scholar who had hated boxing. Then he started a remarkably successful career.

Over the next decade — between 1929 and ’38 — Ross won the lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight world championships and engaged in a wonderful and mostly winning rivalry with contemporaries McLarnin and Canzoneri.

“Barney wasn’t a great puncher, but he was a terrific boxer. He could take a good punch, and he was smart,” McLarnin told Peter Heller in 1970. “ÔǪ He could stab you pretty good, make you look like a nickel, very embarrassing. But he was quite an attraction.”

Indeed. In 1934, 45,000 fans crammed into the Polo Grounds in New York to see Ross relieve McLarnin of his world welterweight title.

Ross also was as tough as they came. Near the end of his fight with Armstrong, Ross was a bloody mess. As Armstrong told it, “The ref was going to stop it and Barney fought with his corner men. They said ‘Barney, let us throw the towel in, we don’t want to see you get hurt.’

“‘He says, if you throw this towel in I’ll never speak to you again. I won this title on my feet and I’m going to lose it the same way.'”

At the end Ross had compiled a remarkable record of 72-4-3 (22 knockouts) and was never stopped. He was arguably the most famous Jewish athlete on the planet. He retired after the Armstrong fight at age 29 and never fought in the ring again.

For what he did in boxing Ross was enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2002 THE RING ranked him 21st among the greatest 80 fighters of the previous 80 years.

That’s not where the story ends.

Ross struggled in retirement, losing hundreds of thousands dollars at the track. By his early 30s, he was aimless and all but broke, so he joined the Marines. He ended up in Guadalcanal at the height of World War II and came out of it a highly celebrated and decorated war hero.

Is that the end of the story?

No again. While recovering from wounds suffered during the war, Ross became addicted to morphine, and later to heroin, an experience that spawned a feature film, Monkey On My Back. He also wrote an autobiography, No Man Stands Alone.

Ross died at age 57 in Chicago, but you could argue that fewer men ever lived a fuller, more interesting life.

“Ross was symbolic of a wonderful period in boxing history that coincided with a miserable period in America's history [the Great Depression],” Farhood said. “It was famously said that Joe Louis was a credit to his race — the human race. Well, Ross was a credit not only to Jews, but to all fighters, and to the members of the Greatest Generation as well.”

Yuri Foreman is a good little boxer who in my view will trouble Miguel Cotto to no small degree. But he could live 200 years and not get the business done that little Barney Ross did, in or out of the ring.

Few of us could.

Some random observations from last week:

The most impressive thing about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s virtuoso performance against Shane Mosley on Saturday night was not how easily Mayweather won, but the way some writers have managed to wrangle one of the great recent exhibitions of fighting skill into a negative critique on the state of boxing.

Mayweather-Mosley will be a gigantic financial success, the game’s biggest draw showed himself to be at the height of his powers, and yet there are those who use it as evidence of the game’s pitiable state — whether or not it leads to Mayweather-Pacquiao.

What nonsense.

I love Mayweather-Pacquiao as much as anyone, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t detract one iota from Mayweather’s standing as probably the best fighter of his generation and maybe of a couple generations, or the game’s stubborn ability to command consumer attention on a fairly grand scale.

Moreover, I applaud Mayweather for sticking to his demand for Olympic-style drug testing despite the pressure he is sure to feel in the coming months. Given the boxing public’s clear aversion to steroid use, it is baffling that support for his point of view is not universal.

Also, if you’re inclined to accuse Mayweather of cowardice for demanding that Pacquiao submit to strict testing, remember who it was who wanted no part of Shane Mosley, and who it was that took him apart, brilliantly and piece by piece, on Saturday night.

Mosley blew his chance to score a knockdown in the second round largely because after he landed the right, he fell in behind it, where Mayweather could easily grab him. Mosley’s balance and technique were mostly awful all night. ÔǪ

Good for referee Kenny Bayless for not scolding either guy for jawing at one another for the better part of the eighth round. More overbearing and intrusive referees — I’m looking at you, Raul Caiz — would have been all over them. ÔǪ

Once the fight settled into a predictable pattern, was anyone else watching on television distracted by Mariah Carey’s um, assets, which were on display in about the fifth row? ÔǪ

I realize I’m in the minority here, but watching a highly skilled craftsman work his game — whether he’s a mechanic, surgeon, pianist or prizefighter — is almost never boringÔǪ

Despite possessing a startling resemblance to Richie Cunningham ,Saul Alvarez is a heck of a prospect. Not just because he pounded the bejesus out of the highly competent Jose Cotto, but because he did so after surviving a nearly disastrous first round. Good for him. 

In case you missed it, cruiserweight belt holder Marco Huck stopped Brian Minto in Germany. Poor Minto. He fell for the fiction that the only reason he couldn’t beat decent heavyweights was because they were too big for him. ÔǪ

I don’t know anyone who’s picking Kermit Cintron to beat Paul Williams — I don’t think I am either — but we should remember that Cintron has lost only to Antonio Margarito, who may or may not have had anvils in his gloves at the time, and Sergio Martinez (unofficially anyway), who has since proved himself very good indeed. ÔǪ

Still not excited about Marquez-Diaz II. Vazquez-Marquez IV? Yes. Bradley-Maidana, Malignaggi-Khan, Foreman-Cotto? Yes, yes, yes. Marquez-Diaz II, no. Diaz is an entirely spent fighter.

Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at [email protected]

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