PUBLISHED REVIEWS FOR MIKE SILVER'S "STARS IN THE RING: JEWISH CHAMPIONS IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF BOXING: A PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY "
Note: Due to an author error the list of top bare-knuckle era prizefighters listed on page 348 reads "In chronological order." The correct wording should be "In order of greatness." This will be corrected in the next printing of the book.
Reviewed January 2017 by Springs Toledo author of "Murderers Row: In Search of Boxing's Greatest Outcasts"
STARS IN THE RING is among the most valuable books I have in my library. It is more than entertaining, it is important. It is, as far as I'm concerned, the definitive history of yet another "gift of the Jews" as yet unsung.
In the early 20th century, the rough-and-tumble sons of poor immigrant Jews found a sport that welcomed them and allowed them to compete, for perhaps the first time in 5,000 years, on even terms. New York City's lower east side was an epicenter of activity (as was the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and London), where young men emerged as trainers, cut men, managers, fighters and before long, as contenders and champions.
No one can deny the critical contribution of this demographic to boxing as we know it. This book proves it. And Silver proves again that he is a first-rate historian of the sweet science as he combines exhaustive research with vignettes that neither rabbinical students nor students of sports history will easily forget.
During several sittings (this isn't a book you can read in a day), I was faced with stories poignant enough to prompt me to put the book down and take a walk. Silver is good to scatter many light-hearted moments amid the tragedies. Consider Harold Green, a contender in the 40s. Green was hit or seemed to get hit by Rocky Graziano, fell on his face, and as the referee yelled out "10 and you're out," Green popped up and strenuously argued that he was okay and ready to fight. Green went after Graziano anyway, but it's too late. What happened? Green said he was promised a title shot by the guys with toothpicks in their mouths if he took a dive, but changed his mind at -literally- the last second.
Then there's "Blink" McCloskey (nee Louis Silverman), a Philly fighter who turned pro in 1902. He went half-blind but refused to retire. He replaced his bad eye with a glass eye and before the first round of a fight, he'd pop his glass eye out of its socket and hand it to one of his corner men. "Ergo," quips Silver, "his nickname." I'm wondering if "Gruesome" McCloskey would have been a more fitting nickname. Benny Leonard, Ted "Kid" Lewis, "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom. Silver summons them all to appear on these pages; and they are joined by, believe it or not, former Golden Gloves boxer Billy Joel, Jackie Mason, and aspiring 16-year-old boxer named Allen Konigsberg (nee Woody Allen).
Silver handles a universe of information with great skill and style. Nothing is overdone. At the end is a lamentation that is a must-read for modern boxing fans and boxing writers who are too caught up in the status quo to think straight. While he duly recognizes the corruption that has always plagued the sport, he turns the full brunt of his indignation toward those "bandits" operating behind the facade of so-called sanctioning bodies that pass off faux titles for profit. Silver is both master boxing historian and a clear-thinking pragmatist. Someone ought to hand him a ram's horn and get him to a mountaintop.
WHEN JEWISH BOXERS WERE LORDS OF THE RING
by Gerald Eskenazi
(Published in Haaretz.com June 1, 2016)
"Mike Silver has done an impressive job in digging up a chapter in American sports that virtually has been forgotten, and shows that the term 'Jewish boxer' is not an oxymoron."
Mike Tyson was sitting opposite me in the Las Vegas living room of his promoter, Don King. I casually mentioned that, like Tyson, I was from the East New York/Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
"You're from East New York!" Tyson exclaimed. "Did you know any of those Jewish gangsters?"
Jewish gangsters held a fascination for the former heavyweight champion after he read about them while having time on his hands in prison. And like Jewish gangsters, the Jewish boxer holds a fascination – not necessarily for non-Jews, but for Jews themselves.
We like to think of ourselves as a cerebral people – hey, there, Albert Einstein. And it's with a certain type of self-satisfied smirk when we contemplate the term "Jewish boxer," almost an oxymoron.
Yet, after reading "Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing," we come away with an entirely different take on the sport and its Jewish participants.
For this, thanks to the author, Mike Silver, who has done a journalist's (and historian's) job in digging up a chapter in American sports that virtually has been forgotten. Yes, there not only were Jewish fighters once upon a time in America, but a whole bunch of them – and many were world champions.
Beyond the numbers, though, Silver delves into why and how so many Jews –166 "outstanding" boxers – were fighters in the era that spanned the decades between the two world wars. For the most part, they came out of the Jewish ghettoes in the great American cities: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia. And most of them were children of immigrants, uneducated and from humble backgrounds, who saw in boxing an "opportunity to make quick money." (Silver suggests that "social and economic success put an end to the Golden Age of the Jewish boxer.")
We think of sports in the United States these days as a professional kingdom, and it is: baseball, basketball, football, hockey and, to a lesser extent, soccer. But in the 1920s, a disproportionate number of athletes in America made their living in baseball, and boxing. Football and basketball were the provinces of the colleges, and the ethos of the simon-pure, the amateur athlete, was pervasive.
Consider that from about the 1890s till now, about 2 percent of the United States has been Jewish. But the Tribe produced only 1 percent of all Major League baseball players, and fewer in pro football.
Silver, however, points out that from 1901 until 1939 about one in seven world champion fighters were Jewish. Consistently over that period, Jews made up a double-digit representation of all professional fighters, along with the Irish and Italians. Jews also formed a considerable part of the crowds who attended boxing events.
But let's forget about the raw numbers for a while. Silver takes us back to the Lower East Side of New York City, to the gyms and the tenements and the shops that spawned these fighters. And with more than 200 photos, we are treated to a succession of flattened noses and cauliflower ears, and evocative names: Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom (nicknamed, says the author, by Damon Runyon), Jewey Smith, Ruby Goldstein ("the Jewel of the Ghetto"), King Levinsky (born Harry Krakow), et al.
Many, however, fought under a nom de ring. They didn't want their mothers to know they were fighting, so they adopted Irish or Italian names – you know, like Morris Scheer, who became Mushy Callahan, and Albert Rudolph, who became Al McCoy. On the other hand, some non-Jews changed their name to Jewish-sounding monikers to attract a broader audience. And then there was Max Baer, the noted heavyweight of the 1930s who had a Star of David sewn on his trunks. It was an affectation, though, to draw the Jewish crowds. Neither of his parents was Jewish (well, his father was half-Jewish).
Of course, what the author does is open a wide tent. Anyone identifying as Jewish is included. That means that boxers with Jewish fathers and gentile mothers get into the book, even though some traditionalists might quarrel with that. Still, the numbers of Jewish fighters are staggering. And significant figures close to boxing, but not wearing gloves, also were significantly Jewish.
They included the most important chronicler and arbiter of boxing: Nat Fleischer. His "Ring" magazine and encyclopedia were the official bibles of the sport. The most noted trainer was Jewish: Ray Arcel. The promoter, and Joe Louis' manager, Mike Jacobs, well, you know. How about the manufacturer Everlast, which made the gloves and ring equipment, and then of course the most famous gym of all: Stillman's.
Boxing was so big among Jews in the 1920s that The Forward, the daily Yiddish-language paper, actually ran a weekly boxing column. When Benny Leonard fought Lew Tendler, the Forvertz plastered it over Page 1.
"Stars in the Ring" is also encyclopedic. It not only contains profiles of every Jewish boxer the author could find, but it adds to their story with interesting sidebars: a dissertation on Jews in the Olympics; boxing in Hollywood films that featured Jewish themes; a look at Madison Square Garden through the years.
Silver doesn't stop there. He lists every main event at the Garden (well, from 1920 to 2014, anyway) that featured at least one Jewish fighter. Are you still listening? There also is a listing of every championship bout, by weight division, in which a Jew fought. (What? You don't remember the 1932 featherweight bout between Baby Arizmendi – not a Jew – and Newsboy Brown?).
Speaking of newsboys, according to the author they made up a significant number of fighters as Jews came to the sport early in the 20th century. They were sidewalks of New York kids, and in order to protect their street-corner franchise hawking papers, they learned to defend themselves against toughs who would try to infringe on their territory.
Want more info? How about 11 pages of source notes, and a list of the various boxing halls of fame, not to mention an index.
But it is the solid writing that moves the book along like a fight between well-trained flyweights. Silver has the good sense to quote acclaimed author David Margolick, who wrote the seminal book on the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling title fight: "…for the fans, boxing's appeal was more tribal and primeval. It was a way to assert their status as bona fide Americans. Every Jewish kid ever set upon by street toughs lived vicariously through his Jewish ring heroes…."
That goes a long way in explaining boxing's appeal to the Jewish fighter and the Jewish fan. And while on the subject of the fan, Silver makes an interesting, if controversial point. Many champions and their promoters did not want to take on black fighters for a simple reason that had nothing to do with prejudice: There weren't enough black fans, they reasoned, who could afford to go to the fights. And if a champion fought a black opponent, the number of fans who attended would be less than if two white guys were in the ring.
Those of us who made a living as sportswriters had heard about a fellow named Daniel Mendoza, born in a London slum in the 18th century and considered a sort of father of the so-called "sweet science." He was a bare-knuckle fighter who brought a revolutionary style to the game. He was a tactician. He bobbed and weaved. He even wrote a book. He did some acting. He was a celebrity, really one of the more noted personalities of his day.
Perhaps the next Jewish athlete who became a national figure was the boxer Benny Leonard – almost 200 years later. Here is what a Jewish newspaper in Philadelphia, in the 1940s, wrote about Leonard: "The most famous Jewish person in America during 'the Roaring Twenties' was a world champion boxer named Benny Leonard."
More famous than Einstein? You could argue that, but how many seats did Einstein sell at the Garden?
This is, after all, a boxing book, and its appeal should go beyond the Jewish reader. Yet, there is something to be said for two-bit psychology about why Jews were so enamored of the sport once upon a time: "No other sport lends itself so perfectly to metaphor. Getting knocked down and picking yourself up…."
And for those Jews in an America that was, you didn't need a ball field, you didn't need a lot of space to learn to box. In the big cities, in those tenements, you just needed 10 or 15 feet to move around, or you could find your way to the local Educational Alliance and learn to fight.
The history, the drama, the reason – Silver, a boxing historian, has written a definitive study of a fascinating sociological phenomenon. It proves to be a part of Jewish history that has been overshadowed by the number of Nobel Prizes and other honors Jews have garnered. But once upon a time, Jews grabbed a gold medal for fighting.
Gerald Eskenazi generated 8,000 bylines during a 44-year New York Times career, in addition to having written 16 books. He currently lectures on the news media and sports.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/.premium-1.719982#article-comments
Following review appeared in THE RING MAGAZINE.COM web site on July 7, 2016
THE JEWISH GOLDEN AGE
by Thomas Hauser
One of boxing's more entertaining legends concerns an unsavory manager who brought a Latin American fighter named Marcos to New York in the 1960s, changed his name to Marcus and began touting him in ring circles as "The Star of Zion." The Star, it was widely advertised, was of Orthodox Jewish vintage, fought to bring honor to the Jewish people and would someday be a superb champion. He blew his cover at a B'nai B'rith luncheon when, hungrily eyeing the matzoh, he said politely, "Please pass the tortillas."
Stars in the Ring cover"Stars in the Ring" by Mike Silver (Lyons Press) recalls an era when Jewish fighters were many in number and there was no need for subterfuge of that kind. The book's focus is on the period from 1900 to 1940, which Silver calls The Golden Age of Boxing and also a Golden Age for Jewish fighters.
Silver estimates that there were more than 3,000 Jewish boxers in the United States during those four decades. That was between 7 and 10 percent of the total number of professional boxers plying their trade at that time, he writes. During the same period, there were 29 Jewish world champions. In the 1920s, 14 of boxing's 66 world champions were Jewish. Putting these numbers in further perspective, only 52 Jews played major league baseball from 1900 to 1940.
"An unprecedented confluence of social and historic events," Silver writes, "converged to create one of the most unique and colorful chapters of the Jewish immigrant experience in America. At a time when boxing mattered to society far more than it does today, Jewish people were earning the attention and respect of their fellow citizens in the prize ring."
In some respects, "Stars in the Ring" is a social history of boxing as seen through the Jewish experience. Drawing parallels with society as a whole, Silver recounts, "The Golden Age of the Jewish boxer in America coincided with the Golden Age of the Jewish gangster. Both came from the same gritty rough-and-tumble city streets, and their worlds often intersected. In 1921, Jews represented 14 percent of New York State's prison population and Jewish women accounted for 20 percent of all female prisoners in New York State."
Meanwhile, by the mid-1920s, Jewish boxers were so popular that some non-Jewish fighters changed their names to Jewish-sounding ones to advance their ring career. And extending Silver's "Golden Age" by 10 years, it's worth running some numbers regarding Madison Square Garden, which was then "The Mecca of Boxing." In the first five decades of the 20th century, the Garden hosted 866 fight cards. Two hundred forty of those cards featured at least one Jewish fighter in the main event.
The heart of "Stars in the Ring" consists of mini-biographies of 166 Jewish boxers. It's not a book to be read straight through in one or two sittings. The profiles tend to blend together. But it's a good all-in-one reference work on little-known Jewish fighters and their more famous brethren like Abe Atell, Joe Choynski, Ted "Kid" Lewis, Jackie "Kid" Berg, Barney Ross and "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom (who author Philip Roth called "a more miraculous Jewish phenomenon than Albert Einstein").
There are also interesting nuggets of information on Jewish boxers whose ring exploits were modest at best. For example, a Jewish adolescent growing up on Long Island won 22 of 26 amateur bouts, left the sport for good and later looked back on his years in boxing with the thought, "I must have been out of my mind. But I really enjoyed it while I was doing it."
His name? Billy Joel.
And Silver pays special attention to the man who, mixing religious metaphors, could be labeled the patron saint of Jewish boxers: lightweight great Benny Leonard.
Silver calls Leonard "the most famous Jew in America" in the 1920s and "the gold standard to which all other Jewish boxers are compared." He also observes, "Not only was Benny Leonard one of the greatest boxers who ever lived, he was the first Jewish superstar of the mass media age and the first Jewish-American pop culture icon. Leonard's conduct in and out of the ring and his impeccable public image stood as the refutation of the immigrants' anxiety that boxing would suck their children into a criminal underworld or somehow undermine the very rationale for fleeing to the Golden Land. Leonard legitimized boxing as an acceptable Jewish pursuit."
But times change. Inevitably, social and economic progress put an end to the Golden Age of Jewish boxing. That leaves Silver to write, "As the last Jewish boxers of the Golden Age die off, it becomes even more important to document their accomplishments so that future generations can acknowledge and appreciate how a people with no athletic traditions and with so many doors closed to them used their intelligence and drive to open another door to opportunity and eventually dominate, both as athletes and entrepreneurs, what was for several decades the most popular sport in America."
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book ("A Hurting Sport") was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW
STARS IN THE RING: JEWISH CHAMPIONS IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF BOXING: A PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY
Mike Silver. Lyons, $29.95 (344p) ISBN 978-1-63076-139-4
Boxing writer Silver looks at four centuries of Jewish pugilists, from the slums of London to the ghetto of the Lower East Side. The bare-knuckle era produced relatively few Jewish prizefighters, but their numbers included champion Daniel Mendoza, who revolutionized boxing with his defensive prowess. Only with mass immigration to the U.S. did Jewish boxers enter the ring in large numbers. For young men growing up in poverty, the sweet science offered an escape from the sweatshop and allowed them to rebut stereotypes of Jews as frail bookworms. Boxing's golden age (ca. 1920–1940) produced a host of Jewish champions, including all-time greats Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, and Lew Tendler. Post-WWII prosperity saw Jews leave boxing with the slums, but the recent diaspora from the former Soviet Union has created a few Jewish contenders. After a broad overview of boxing history, Silver lists Jewish fighters first by era and then alphabetically, leavening the capsule bios with colorful anecdotes. He also includes profiles of important Jewish figures around the sport, including promoter Mike Jacobs and The Ring publisher Nat Fleischer. Entertaining sidebars cover "Boxing Suffragettes" and "The Shanghai Ghetto," and a series of appendices includes Jewish Olympic medalists and Jewish Golden Gloves champions. The quality and expanse of this impressive survey make it an achievement unlikely to be equaled. (Mar.)
STARS IN THE RING: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing by Mike Silver, Lyons Press, Guilford, Ct. 2016, 366 pages, $29.95
Reviewed by Rabbi Jack Riemer for the South Florida Jewish Journal, March 24, 2016
I am sure that many of you have the same childhood memories that I do, of sitting by the radio, in the days before television, and listening to the prize fights. My father was a gentle and a peace loving man, and yet I can remember how deeply involved he was in listening to these fights. And now that I have read this book, I understand why.
Boxing was the most popular sport in America back in those days. Today people follow football or baseball or basketball with enthusiasm, but in the twenties and thirties, people watched boxing. And Jews watched boxing with special enthusiasm because more Jewish athletes were involved in boxing in those years than in all the other sports combined. More than twenty nine Jewish boxers were world champions. More than a hundred and sixty Jewish boxers ranked among the top contenders in their divisions. And for many Jewish children of immigrants, boxing was the gateway into America. When you could not afford to go to college, and when the doors of the Engineering, the Medical and the Legal schools were closed to you even if you had the money for tuition, boxing was the way into the heartland of American culture for many Jews. They are almost all forgotten now, these Jewish boxers of the twenties and the thirties. Ask a kid today who Benny Leonard was, and he has no idea. But Mike Silver has compiled this encyclopedia so that this chapter of American Jewish History will not be forgotten. If we know the story of Samuel Gompers who created the labor movement in this country, and if we know the name of Louis D. Brandeis, who brought the power of the law to the social and economic issues that this country struggled with, we should know the names of these prize fighters too, for they won their place within the history of American sports by fighting hard.
Mike Silver has collected the photographs—some of them lost for years—and the biographies of a hundred and sixty six of these fighters, and he answers three questions for each one: Who were they? What did they accomplish? And what became of them after their boxing careers came to an end?
I never thought of them this way, but, after reading this book I realize that, in a sense, these Jewish prizefighters were the American equivalent of the chalutsim who settled in Palestine during the same period. The fighters here and the farmers there were both the descendants of people who lived their lives with books, and who did not fight with their neighbors. And they both understood that, if they were to live with dignity and with freedom in their new homes, they would have to learn how to defend themselves, and how to fight, and so they did.
Silver is a great storyteller and so he brings the Jewish boxers who fought in the twenties and thirties to life again. And he sets their achievements into the larger historical context of their time. Now I understand why my father was so excited when Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling. For him. It was more than just a fight between two boxers. It was a statement of what America stood for, or, as one of the people in this book puts it: "Louis landed a punch that night across Hitler's nose, and not just Shmeling's. "
The boxing industry is long since gone. It was destroyed by greed, by crookery, and by the rise of other sports. And boxing is no longer the only gateway to America available to Jews. The colleges are now open, the professions are now open, and Jews have other and better ways in which to participate in American culture. And yet this book is still worth reading, for what it teaches us about a chapter of American Jewish History that is now over, and because it introduces us to a fascinating collection of characters whose life stories and whose achievements are still worth knowing about.
Reviewed by Paul Salgado
If you're a longtime boxing fan, you know the conventional wisdom is that the sport enjoyed two golden eras, the 1950s and 1980s. But for historian Mike Silver, it was these two eras that began what he perceives to be a long and steady decline in the game.
In his book, "The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland & Company, 229 pages, hardcover, $55.00), Silver argues that boxing's true golden age was the three decades from the 1920s to the 1940s, when masters like Tommy Loughren, Benny Leonard, Willie Pep, and Charley Burley fought. According to Silver, from the post war era onward, the sweetness began to erode and boxers started to lose the development of real science.
So what led to the decline? The advent of televised boxing, Silver believes, and the resultant demise of the once thriving club show circuit where fighters plied their trade. When small club shows virtually disappeared, so too did a once thriving gym culture where boxers apprenticed under master trainers and learned defense, infighting, clinching and bodypunching.
Forced to abandon the sport when they could no longer make a full-time living, these one-time sages of boxing took with them a body of fighting knowledge that nowadays remains known by only a handful of trainers
Silver calls today's style of fighting offensively biased "speed boxing," and observes that contemporary fighters show little strategy and diversity in their game. A lack of activity and an obsession with undefeated records, with which to please television executives, has also led to the degeneration of talent.
Undefeated records are impressive marketing tools, but too many uncompetitive fights and high knockout rations against inferior opponents have actually served to handicap today's young boxers in developing sophisticated skills en route to a title fight. So-called champions of the current era, writes Silver, hardly compare to someone like Archie Moore who had 177 fights before finally landing his title shot against Joey Maxim, 17 years after turning pro.
Moreover, as Silver reminds us, Moore won the linear belt, not one of the fractional belts that proliferated in the '80s courtesy of TV networks eager to broadcast bouts as title fights.
It would be easy to dismiss Silver as losing hinmself in nostalgia, but to his credit the author comes up with some compelling arguments. And he doesn't stop there. Utilizing short first-person narratives, he enlists a number of old school voices including Teddy Atlas, Bill Goodman, Mike Capriano Jr., and former lightweight champion 'Carlos Ortiz, all of whom dissect the sport and its participants, and critique the many changes that have led, they believe, to boxing's to boxing's currently diminished state.
The book may be a lament, but the author clearly loves boxing. True aficionados, whether they ultimately agree with Silver or not, are sure to enjoy his book for its unmistakable knowledge and passion.
Mike Silver's 'The Arc of Boxing' by Clay Moyle, author of Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion. Cyberboxingzone.com
I loved everything about this book. In my opinion it should be required reading for anyone who is inclined to post on any of the various on-line boxing forums to debate the merits of boxers from different eras. Mr. Silver maintains that the golden age of boxing occurred during the period of 1925 to 1955, and his book is chock full of interesting statistics to support this claim. Consider for example that in 1927 there were 2,000 licensed professional boxers residing in the state of New York, and that over 900 boxing shows were promoted throughout the state. In 2006 the state licensed 50 pro boxers and staged just 38 shows. Or that during the 1920’s and 1930’s approximately 8,000 – 10,000 professional boxers were licensed annually in the U.S., while in 2006 that figure had dropped to 2,850. And how about the fact that in 1925 a fighter had engaged in an average of 84 professional contests before fighting for the title, while in 2007 a fighter had fought an average of only 27 times before receiving a shot at a title. Facts like these, and many, many others shared in this book make it awful difficult to believe that the overall quality of fighters were witnessing today can compare with that of the “golden age”.
Mr. Silver’s fine book is filled with quotes from a panel of experts including the likes of Teddy Atlas, Emanuel Steward, Hank Kaplan, Carolos Ortiz, Freddie Roach, and numerous others, on a wide range of topics including inflated knockout percentages of today, the deterioration of trainers and boxing skills, the use of weights and punching pads, and the general decline in knowledge among not only trainers and boxers, but fans and the media covering the sport.
I found the chapter titled ‘Boxing’s Death by Alphabet’ concerning the dilution of the prestige of a world title particularly enlightening. Anyone who has followed the history of the sport at all is well aware that there are many more weight divisions today than in the past, and that there are multiple “world champions” for each weight as a result of the various organizations in existence today such as the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO. But some of the facts shared in this chapter are just astounding. For example, “in the 1950’s there were approximately 5,000 fighters worldwide, and generally eight weight divisions, with one champion in each. That breaks down to one champ every 625 boxers. Today, with just the major sanctioning bodies and not counting the whackos, you have about one ‘world champion’ for every sixty-nine pros.”
There wasn’t much in Mr. Silver’s book that I disagree with. There is a lot more that I could say about all of the interesting facts and comments provided by the panel of experts concerning the numerous subjects covered in this book, but I’ll stop here and just say that I found it a very interesting read, and I highly recommend it for all boxing fans.
RINGSIDE REPORT.com April 14, 2016
BOOK REVIEW: "THE ARC OF BOXING: THE RISE AND DECLINE OF THE SWEET SCIENCE"
Reviewed by Ian “The Boxing Historian” Murphy
In light of a few discussions that have been bandied about on Facebook in regards to the supposedly upcoming “Next Golden Age Of Heavyweights”, (a preposterous declaration to say the least) it is perhaps time to break out the teacher’s hat and hand out some (very) much needed education. Despite the fact that I have been a boxing fan (and much interested in its history) for many years, my boxing “education” didn’t really begin until I read noted boxing historian Mike Silver’s “Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science”. This book should be a must read for anyone who has any aspirations to be more than a casual boxing fan. More than just a survey-style look at the history of the ring, this book offers the perspectives of legit boxing experts, be they former champions, trainers or respected historians in their own right.
Arc of Boxing’s panel of experts include renowned trainers Emanuel Steward, Teddy Atlas, Mike Capriano, JR., Freddie Roach, and Rollie Hackmer. Also included are fighters like 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist Skeeter McClure, journeyman Ted Lowry and a former Lightweight Champion, the great Carlos Ortiz. It also contains especially revealing contributions by international ballet star Edward Villella (also a former collegiate boxing champ) and former Weightlifting Champion (and pro boxer) Ray Elson, who shed light on how boxing might need to revert back to old school training. They (and others) argue that boxing has specific physical demands and incorporating heavy weight training might even be detrimental. Villella calls this akin to “putting sand into a gas tank of a Ferrari”.
In addition to the aforementioned experts, there is also testimony supplied by some of the most respected of boxing historians. They include Dan Cuoco, Hank Kaplan, Chuck Hasson, Sal Rappa, and Steve Lott. So, in looking at who was consulted for this project, we can see that the information contained within is much more than just one man’s opinion, or even the perspective of one demographic (trainers, fighters, historians, etc). Instead it is a collective stance stated by boxing’s best minds, and the position is this: boxing has regressed dramatically since its heyday, or what Silver refers to as the “Golden Age” (1925-1955). Many smart fans already know this, but it is illustrated here in a clear cut and revealing way.
I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Silver recently at a release for his newest book Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing. His lecture was illuminating and his lesson on both Jewish culture and its impact on boxing was most informative. However, it is his first book, Arc of Boxing, that definitively answers the most hotly disputed question that creates so much drama among many boxing fans: “Are modern day fighters truly better than those of the past?” This book is not a collection of bitter old men pathetically lamenting about “the good old days”. Arc of Boxing gives solid and concrete reasons as to why our favorite sport has deteriorated to its current state, and unlike other sports (like football and basketball), Mike Silver and his panel of experts can honestly and logically compare today’s stars to those of the past. I could go on and on in regards to the merits and value of this book, so I strongly advise you to pick up a copy. You will not regret it.
Mike Silver has assembled the views of true Men of the Ring* and interwoven their vision of the events and event makers of the sport with his own astute observations to produce arguably the most thoughtful, fact based comparative analysis of the state of boxing and boxers ever written.
While Mr. Silver ultimately argues the case of the "Decline of the Sweet Science" he may well have ushered in the resurgerance of the "Shadow Science" that other plane of existence where time has no meaning and Walker Smith a.k.a. Sugar Ray Robinson is forever twenty years old and it is the late winter of 1941 and in back to back acts of retribution Sugar Ray settles the score with Fritzie Zivic, while over in the Bronx it is a warm June night of 1938 with the world at the brink of war Joe Louis destroys Max Schmeling in 2:04 of the first round; where else but Yankee Stadium, or in that timeless land Roy Jones, Jr. drops Virgil Hill with a body shot and Jones is in that instant the bsst in his business and in his prime at 29 years . In this timeless world the battles are fought across the ages ; where Robinson can be forever 20 years old, Jones is 29 and Joe Louis is well Joe Louis and they are all forever young. It is in that world where the "Shadow Science" stops the hands of time and all are the best of their own personal best. Mike Silver takes you for a tour of that world.
Thus as Mike Silver despairs the passage of the Sweet Science he has assured that the epic battles will rage on in the land of the Shadows.
as too the debate rages on...
If you love boxing or boxing history you really must own this book.
-Harry Shaffer. Antiquities of the Prize Ring
*Teddy Atlas, Mike Capriano, Jr.,Rollie Hackmer, Freddie Roach, Emanuel Steward. Erk Arnold,Tony Arnold, Dan Cuoco, Ray J. Elson,Tony Fosco, Bill Goodman, Chuck Hasson, Hank Kaplan,Ted Lidsky, Ph.D., Steve Lott, "Tiger" Ted Lowry, Wilbur "Skeeter"McClure Ph.D, Carlos Ortiz, Sal Rappa, Kevin Smith, Teddy Todd Ph.D.,and Edward Villella.
Review by Philip Sharkey
My yearly reviews have been confined to books about British boxers, but a fascinating new book by former boxing promoter and New York State Athletic Commission Inspector Mike Silver is well worth mentioning. THE ARC OF BOXING: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science was not written "to add fuel to the old school vs. new school boxing debate. I wrote it to end the debate" says Mike and he has interviewed over a dozen experts, some old enough to have personally witnessed the best fighters of the last 70 years. Three of the world's most renowned current teacher-trainers, Teddy Atlas, Emanuel Steward and Freddie Roach also add their two cents worth. Roy Jones, Jnr., Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather Jnr. are some of the contemporary fighters compared with the champions from the golden era of boxing, generally recognised as stretching from the 1920s to the 1950s. Even Roberto Duran, trained by Ray Arcel is not considered by some as good enough to beat Billy Petrolle or Sid Terris (neighter of whom where champions in the 1930s). Arcel himself only has Duran scrapping into his top ten lighteweights of all time.
Although the book talks almost exclusively about fighters from the United States one can't help thinking of modern day British champions facing 'Golden Era' fighters: Jack Kid Berg vs. Ricky Hatton, Randolph Turpin vs. Joe Calzaghe or Naseem Hamid vs. Ned Tarleton, would I'm sure, provide British boxing fans with the same level of debate. It is a thought provoking book. Other sports can be measured in heights jumped or distances ran or swam, but boxing is a far subtler science, the sweet science in fact!