Top Maccabee: Who is the All Time Best Jewish Boxer

Teddy MazurekCorrespondent IAugust 7, 2008

Last night on Wednesday Night Fights on ESPN, Joe Tessitore was joined by two special guest analysts, while Teddy Atlas was away at the Olympics.

It was a nice break to have Lightweight champion Nate Campbell along with comedian Jackie Mason stop by and give their expert opinions on boxing.

If you happened to catch any of the action from last night’s fights, consider yourself lucky. Usually the fights shown are average at best, and well Teddy Atlas’ style of commentating gets boring fast.  Who really comes up with the crap that he says during the keys to the fight? 

Jackie Mason was a breath of fresh air and thanks to his combination of analysis and jokes he gave me the idea to research who are the top Jewish boxers of all time.  I owe you one Jackie!

Honorable Mention:  Yuri Foreman, Dmitry Salita, Zab Judah, and Israel Vazquez. 

Out of all the current fighter who are Jewish, Yuri Foreman (25-0, 8 KOs) and Dmitry Salita (28-0-1, 16 KOs) have the most potential.  Foreman who fights at light middleweight has already been televised several times on Versus and is the current NABF light middleweight champion. Salita, on the other hand, will be making his first television appearance when he fights Willie Limond (29-2, 8 KOs) on the Calzaghe-Jones undercard on HBO PPV.   

Zab Judah’s boxing skills would secure him a spot in the top ten; however the only thing holding him back is his inconsistent religious background.  Judah’s family has declared themselves Jewish, saying they are Black Hebrew Israelites (descendants of the ancient Israeli people), thus making Zab Jewish.  However after his loss to Floyd Mayweather, Zab thanked Jesus as his lord and savior (not a really Jewish thing to do), which caused me to question where his fate lies. 

When I first became a fan of boxing my favorite fighter was Israel Vazquez.  The reason being was that I thought with a name such as ‘Israel’, you must be Jewish. After lots of research I was tempted to contact Vazquez to ask him himself if he was Jewish.  However I soon realized that ‘Israel’ is not an uncommon name for a non Jew.  So just for kicks, Israel Vazquez makes my honorable mention. 

10.  Lew Tendler (135-15-9, 39 KOs) 1913-1928

Past editor of Ring Magazine, Nat Fleischer, called Tendler the greatest south paw in boxing which is no small compliment.  As impressive as that honor is, what makes it even more remarkable is that Tendler never won a championship throughout his 15 year career.  He first fought at the age of 15 at bantamweight and throughout his career rose in weight all the way to a welterweight.  On July 27, 1922 Tendler fought Benny Leonard (another Jewish fighter) for the world lightweight title.  Tendler lost a very close decision, however the only way in which he could have won the title was by knocking out Leonard (New Jersey state rule).  Tendler’s style was fan friendly and he became feared for his body punches and his impressive straight punches.      

9.  Benny Valger (139-36-7, 18 KOs) 1916-1932

Valger, unlike many of the fighters on this list never won lots of recognition as a great boxer.  The highest honor that Valger reached was as the 115 pound US Champ.  Valger won a decision against the featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane, but because he did not win by knockout, he did not takeover as the new champion.  What makes Valger stick out from the rest of the fighters on this list is his chin.  Although he lost 36 fights, not once was he knocked out, quite an impressive feat during a time period when fighters fought more frequently. 

8.  Max Baer (68-13, 52 KOs) 1929-1941

Don’t let his loss to James Braddock (The Cinderella Man) confuse you.  Max Baer, even with that loss had a great career.  If Baer chose to actually train for the Braddock fight the outcome would have been different.  His fight with Frankie Campbell, led to Baer receiving the nickname ‘killer’, because Campbell collapsed shortly after the fight and died soon after.  It should be acknowledged that Baerspent spent a lot of time with Campbell at the hospital after the fight.  The biggest bout of his career was against German, Max Schmeling.  Baer became very popular among Jewish boxing fans after he knocked out Schmeling, who was a favorite fighter of Adolf Hitler.    

7.  Mike Rossman (44-7-3, 27 KOs) 1973-1983

When telling my father that I was writing an article about the best Jewish boxers, he recommended that I look closely at Mike Rossman.  When most Jewish fighters blossomed in the twenties, thirties, and forties, Rossman stood out as the best Jews had to offer in the seventies and eighties.  The Jewish Bomber started his career at 151 pounds but is well known for his work in the light heavyweight division.  He was an underdog against Victor Galindez in the Ali-Spinks undercard, but managed to knock him out in the 13thround to become the WBA light heavyweight champion.  He defended his WBA belt once more before losing in a rematch to Galindez seven months later. 

6.  Victor Perez (90-28-15, 27 KOs) 1928-1938


If there is any one thing that you the reader should take from this article it is the life of Victor Perez.  Perez was the French flyweight champion and the IBU (International Boxing Union) world flyweight champ in 1931.  After losing his flyweight title to Jackie Brown, Perez moved up in weight to fight for the bantamweight championship, where he lost to Al Brown.  In 1943 Perez and thousands of others arrived at Auschwitz.  He was a part of “Convoy 60” which contained 1,000 people from France.  He was forced to fight other Jews as a means of entertainment for the Nazis.  Perez in 1945 was just one of 31 survivors from the 1,000 that arrived, but was eventually murdered in a Death March. 

5.  Abe Goldstein (101-20-9, 35 KOs) 1916-1927

Abe Goldstein is considered one of the top bantamweights in all of boxing.  Many of his losses came in championship fights, while others appeared during the end of his career.  After losing twice for the American flyweight championship, he defeated Joe Lynch in a rematch and became the world bantamweight champion.  He went on to successfully defend his title twice before losing to Eddie Martin, and from that point forward was never able to regain his status among the top bantamweights in boxing. 

4.  Battling Levinsky (196-55-37, 31 KOs) 1910-1930

Anyone who has the name Battling must have quite a high reputation to keep up.  He was born as Barney Williams, but Battling Levinsky sure fits him better.  Levinsky fought an unprecedented 37 times in 1914, which included nine fights in January.  Rumor even has it that he fought three times on New Year’s Day 1915.  Fighting with that frequency sure makes modern day fighters look weak.  Levinsky was the World Lightweight Champion from 1916-1920 and fought the likes of hall of famers Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey.

3.  Benny Leonard (183-19-11, 70 KOs) 1911-1932

Benny Leonard has the distinct honor (in my books) of having the greatest alias in boxing.  The “Ghetto Wizard” learned as a young boy to fight in the lower east side of Manhattan, while living in a Jewish ghetto.  One can compare Leonard with Bernard Hopkins, both of whom love to trash talk and play mental games with their opponents.  Leonard had a deadly combination of speed and unusually heavy hands for a lightweight which helped him compile an impressive knockout rate.  Leonard was the world lightweight champion and if he had not been disqualified for hitting Jack Britton when he was on the canvas, the world welterweight champion as well.  He is seen as one of the greatest lightweights in history and ranks eighth on Ring Magazine’s list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years.

2.  Abe Atell (126-18-21, 51 KOs) 1900-1917

The Little Hebrew got his first title shot at the age of 18 against George Dixon.  He won a 15 round decision to become world featherweight champion.  After quickly losing the featherweight championship to Tommy Sullivan, Atell regained the title and defended his title successfully an unprecedented 18 times, a record in the featherweight division.  As his career went on he became known as a dirty fighter, once punching a referee (must have inspired Zab Judah) and was alleged of putting a substance on his gloves to blind his opponent.  Atellalso was known for his participation in a little incident with the Black Sox as well.  Atell was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a member of the first class in 1990.

1. Jackie Fields (74-9-2, 31 KOs) 1925-1933 

Here he is, the top Maccabee, the best Jewish fighter of all times.  Fields, unlike the other Jewish fighters on this list, had a successful amateur boxing career to go along with his career in boxing.  At the age of 16, Fields won gold in the featherweight division at the 1924 Paris Olympics.  He also had a very impressive record as an amateur of 51-3.  Fields beat fellow Jew, Mushy Callahan, during his journey to welterweight stardom.  In 1929, he went on to win the NBA (National Boxing Association) welterweight championship against Jack Thompson in March and the world welterweight title against Joe Dundee in July.  After a brief retirement and a detached retina Fields returned to win back his welterweight title, this time from Lou Brouillard.  Has Fields impressed you yet?  According to the good people at BoxRec, “In February 1933, Fields lost the title in a 10-round decision to Young Corbett III in San Francisco. The referee, Jack Kennedy, admitted to Jackie's manager Jack Kearns after the fight in the dressing room: ‘I made a mistake,’ and told him he had raised the wrong hand. Kearns hit Kennedy, sending him sprawling to the floor and knocking him out.”