Boxing for a Good Name

Copyright Rabbi Eli Hecht
No part of these arcticles may be used or reproduced in any form without written permission from the copyright holder, except for brief quotations in reviews

Once again Mike Tyson wins. Twenty-five million dollars for 89 seconds is something beyond my understanding. But that Mike Tyson received a hero's welcome by a sellout crowd at the fight really blows my mind. I am not into name calling but I'm worried about the message he gives our boxing fans. After the fight he said, "I have a lot to learn. I have to put my skills together. I have a long way to go." Mike was speaking about boxing. I wish he was speaking about ethics.

Boxing wasn't always this way. Let me explain. "The Father of the Art of Boxing", was a Jew, Daniel Mendoza. He was fondly called by Jews in England, "The Light of Israel".

Mendoza was born in England on the 5th day of July 1764. Being one of many children he left home to support himself and help his family. He was employed by a tea merchant. During an argument with a business customer Mendoza was challenged to a fight. As the two squared off, the boxing hero of that era, Richard Humphries happened to pass by and volunteered to act as Mendoza's second, a part-time manager. At that fight Mendoza trounced his opponent. He pummelled his opponent to the ground 12 times before he quit.     

Humphries ran a prestigious boxing school and had Mendoza join up. They were friends until they engaged in a terrible boxing bout whereby Mendoza won. By the age of 18 Mendoza was a professional fighter. He fought for fame and money, boxing for close to 40 years. His longest fight lasted 53 rounds in 1806 against young boxer Henry Lee. His last fight was one day short of his 57th birthday against Tom Owen over a grudge. Soon after Mendoza wrote a book on the art of boxing and taught defensive boxing, "Hit and Hop".

Dutch Sam Elias, "The Terrible Jew" fought in the 1800's. His career consisted of more than 100 bouts and he only lost once.

San Francisco had two great boxers, Joe Choynski, called "The California Terror". Then there was Abe Attell, the featherweight champion of the early 1900's. Both were well-loved by the California contingency.

The inventor of the modern boxing glove was Sol Levinson of San Francisco. Most of the boxing rules and regulations were instituted by Jewish promoters.

In December 1911, the Empire Athletic Club, located in Manhattan, reported that Dr. Louis Wallach, known as Leach Cross, the fighting dentist, won a last minute round. The opponent, O. K. Brown, led a 9 round fight and in the last minute Leach Cross threw a right uppercut that met flush on O. K.'s jaw loosening most of his front teeth.

The newspaper of that time wrote, "Leach Cross, who was a dentist before he got into the fight game, says he has lost all interest in the art of dental surgery. Since December 11, 1911, Leach has engaged in 19 fights and has cleaned up $26,000.

"In discussing his change of vocation, Cross says, 'Why, I would have to yank all of the teeth in the Bronx and put in crockery to make that much in a year.' "The Bronx is that part of New York city in which Cross lives and has a population of 500,000."

A story is told of an exchange that took place between papa, Chaim Wallach and a friend.

It seems that Louis Wallach had adopted the non-Jewish name Leach in order that his father, Chaim, a very religious person, would not know of his new profession.

On the night of his 26th bout Papa Wallach was told, "Gut Shabbos and Mazel Tov," a good Sabbath and congratulations on this son's knock out of the opponent.

Mr. Wallach retorted with, "My son-ah bum! Ah Yiddishe Bachur (Jewish man) does not fight!"

Fighting was likened to eating pork by the Jewish orthodox. However, he soon was converted to his son's profession.

Who hasn't heard of Benny Leonard, the ghetto wizard, lightweight champion of the world, 1917-1925? When told, "Watch out, Jew boy", he landed Frankie Sailor Kirk in 55 seconds and the fight ended. For years he was the  hero for all.

Until the World War II period, boxing was a way for Jewish kids to move up in the world. All in all, there have been over 50 great Jewish champion fighters.

None however were known as rapists or abusers. Jewish boxers come from the slums of North Africa and the ghettos of New York and the west coast. Almost all of them inspired the Jewish kids and their families to be proud of their accomplishments.

When I think of  Mike Tyson, I wonder what message does he give our kids. Is it of greatness or a show of brutality. It may be a very mixed one.

Personally, I liked Minister George Foreman's style, especially after he found G‑d. His comeback was quite a miracle to many. Foreman's message for prayer and decency is something I understand and should be promoted.

Mike and George ought to get together.