Boxing’s Ghetto Wizard, Benny Leonard
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Correspondent
Benny Leonard, ‘The Ghetto Wizard’ ranks eighth in Ring’s Magazine’s list if the 80 best fighters of the past 80 years, second on the Ring Magazine list of all-time lightweights, and third on the BoxRec list of all-time lightweights. Despite getting stopped in his professional debut in the third round by Mickey Finnegan due to a severe nosebleed, Leonard would go on to become one of the most popular fighters of his generation, and one of the greatest fighters of all-time. It was only fitting he meet his end in the ring doing what he loved, only it was as a referee, not as a fighter, when Leonard took the ten count, strangely.
Leonard was remembered as a gentleman in a savage game. His first purse was 30 cents. New York’s first world champion, in his prime, he could draw over 50 thousand paying fans to watch him fight. He earned over a million dollars, but lost most of it in the stock market crash of 1929. He was a most handsome man who led a clean lifestyle, and his public persona did much to stop the public Antisemitism of the time, as he was not typical of the public stereotype for Jewish people in America.
Leonard’s career record as a professional boxer was 90-6-1 with 70 knockouts, while the newspaper decisions went 93-18-7 back in the day. He won the World Lightweight title by stopping Freddie Welch on May 28, 1917 in the ninth round in Philadelphia. He defended it was a first round knockout of Leo Johnson in Harlem New York City later the same year. His attempt to win the World Welterweight title from Ted Kid Lewis in September 1918 ended in an eight round newspaper draw. In May 1919, Leonard retained the World Lightweight title with a sixth round knockout of Young Erne in Trenton, New Jersey, and retained his title again in November 1920 with a 14th round stoppage of Joe Welling in Madison Square Garden, then again in January 1921 with a sixth round knockout of Richie Mitchell. It should also be remembered many of Leonard’s fights, both title and nontitle, were wartime benefits.
In February 1922, Leonard outpointed Rocky Kansas over 15 rounds to retain his World Lightweight title. In June 1922, Leonard failed against in his second try to win the World Welterweight title, when he was disqualified in round 13 against Jack Britton. Leonard had knocked Britton to the floor with a body shot, then hit Britton again while Britton was taking the count on one knee.
In June 1922, Leonard retained his World Lightweight title with an eighth round stoppage of Rocky Kansas, ending with Kansas staggering around the ring. In July 1922, Leonard again retained his World Lightweight title with a 12 round newspaper decision over Lew Tendler. Leonard retired in August 1924 at age 30 after winning a ten round newspaper decision over PatMoran in Cleveland, Ohio.
Due to losing money in the great Wall street stock market crash of 1929, Leonard returned to the ring in October 1931 at age 35, and went 19-0-1 in his next 20 bouts.
(Wikipedia states Leonard won 23 fighters in his comeback. Ancient boxing records are not always completely accurate in this regard). Finally, future World Welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin stopped Leonard in six rounds on October 7, 1932, retiring the aging balding Benny Leonard for good.
A world War I and World War II veteran who was a scientific boxer who liked to talk to his opponents in the ring (long before Muhammad Ali did it), Leonard became a professional referee in 1939 (he had actually refereed two bouts, one in 1927, and one in 1931, before becoming a full-time referee). Leonard would referee important bouts involving such boxers as Fritzie Zivic, Billy Soose, Lou Ambers, Henry Armstrong, Tony Zale, Al McCoy, Ken Overlin, Sammy Angott, Sugar Ray Robinson, Tony Janiro, Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery and Willie Joyce.
On April 18, 1947, Leonard would referee his six bouts at St. Nicholas Arena in New York City (though the BoxRec lists only two bouts, the last two Leonard refereed). First, Leonard refereed a ten round light welterweight bout in which Eddie Giosa decisioned Julio Cesar Jimenez. In the bout which followed, Harlem lightweight Bobby Williams and Bobby Ramon of Mexico watched Benny Leonard topple to the canvas and die in the ring while refereeing, either due to cardiac arrest or a hemorrhage of the brain, resulting in a rare no-contest one not caused by a head butt or similar injury.
Leonard was 51 years old, a popular public hero now long forgotten in time but not in legend. Down for the ten count for the first and last time. He is buried with his wife in New Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, New York. His tombstone has no boxing notations, and unless you knew his history, nobody would know who he was.
As the name on his tombstone is long faded from public consciousness, there are no comparisons to Alexis Arguello, Aaron Pryor, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Adrien Broner, or Floyd Mayweather. ‘Benny Leonard The Great’ (as some called him) may have been from a different era, but in his prime, though he only stood 5’5″, he got inside well enough to knockout 70 opponents, and he would held his own against the best of the best, and emerged victorious. His real name was Benjamin Leiner. His life was real, and the champion remains the only Hall of Fame boxer anybody knows of who inadvertently died in the ring as a noncombatant.
Add us to your circle on GOOGLE PLUS Real Combat Media
DONATE TO THE VICTIMS OF HURRICANE SANDY : www.redcross.org/donate
HELP STOP WORLD HUNGER: www.realcombatmedia.com/rcm-stop-world-hunger
LEARN HOW TO FIGHT, WORKOUT & IMPROVE ENDURANCE: RCM MMA & BOXING STORE
We are always looking for new talent for the fastest growing US and UK based, Combat website. We have openings for the following positions – Internet Sales Advertising, Boxing Correspondents, MMA Correspondents and voluntary Radio Correspondents. There are also plenty of advertising and sponsorship opportunities available on our website for your business If you are a career minded individual and serious about starting a career or continuing your career in combat journalism, our contacts are below.
RCM Main contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
RCM UK & Ireland contact: email@example.com
RCM Greece contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
RCM Radio contact: email@example.com
RCM Radio contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
RCM MMA contact: email@example.com
RCM UK Advertising contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
RCM MMA Advertising contact: email@example.com