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|Wins by KO
born Benjamin Leiner, was an
one of the greatest
fighters of all time and was named as number 8 on
list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last
The "Ghetto Wizard" as he was
known was born and raised in the
ghetto, which was then located in the lower east side of
New York City,
on whose streets he learned to fight.
Leonard was known for his
speed, excellent boxing technique and ability to think fast on
his feet. He also was a hard hitter, who scored 69 KOs out of
his 157 wins. Leonard was defeated 11 times and was held to a
draw on 5 occasions. As was common in the era in which he
fought, Leonard engaged in several no-decision matches and is
believed to have fought 213 bouts.
for his title on
In a suspicious ending, Leonard appeared to be winning the fight
when he knocked Britton down in the 13th round. Then, in a
totally uncharacteristic and unexpected move, Leonard proceeded
to hit Britton while his opponent was down on one knee. The
referee promptly disqualified Leonard.
Leonard is widely acknowledged
as one of the greatest lightweights who ever lived. In its
September 2001 issue,
magazine ranked Leonard number 2 in its list of the greatest
lightweights of all time.
Leonard retired from boxing in
1924, undefeated, as the reigning world's lightweight champion,
because his mother told him to.
He lost most of his
considerable fortune in the stock market crash of
embarked on an ill-advised comeback in 1931. Although described
as pudgy and slow, the balding Leonard won 23 fights, albeit
against nondescript opposition, before meeting a championship
caliber fighter. On
career ended when he was TKOed in 6 rounds by future champion
Fighting with his head
Leonard fought with his head.
His most famed rival,
claimed that Leonard had talked him out of the title by
whispering disconcerting things between punches. Leonard's
version: "He caught me over the eye with a left and I felt my
knees going under me. I said, That was a good punch, Lew.' I
said it in a friendly, matter-of-fact tone of voice and it put
the fight on a different plane. Lew snarled, 'Never mind that
stuff, come on and fight.' But I stuck out a restraining hand
and said, 'No, Lew. That was really a good punch. It was all
right.' Lew paused again, and by that time I had recovered my
Before Leonard's fight with
Richie Mitchell, the referee explained the then-new rule that
after scoring a knockdown, a boxer must go to a neutral corner.
Leonard suddenly registered perplexity. "Let me get,this
straight," he said. "As I understand it, every time I knock him
down I'm to go to a neutral corner." Mitchell looked nervous.
Leonard knocked him out in the sixth round after Mitchell
knocked Leonard down in the first round.
After his boxing career was
over, Leonard was a front man for
National Hockey League
New York Americans,
who had secretly purchased the
of that league. Leonard was supposed to appear as if he owned
the team. The team suffered both at the gate and on the ice. The
team moved to Philadelphia for 1930-31, and then folded.
Later, Leonard became a
popular boxing referee. After refereeing the first six bouts of
the April 18, 1947, card at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York,
Leonard was stricken with a massive heart attack during the
first round of the next bout, toppled to the canvas, and died in
Leonard was inducted into the
International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Leonard was also inducted into
World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Leonard, who was
was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in
Leonard was inducted into the
International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
Benny Leonard, The Ghetto
“The Brainiest of All
By MONTE D.
Cox's Corner Profiles
was not only one of the greatest lightweights of all time,
he was one of history’s greatest pound for pound fighters.
Benny, a Jewish boxer born Benjamin Leiner, turned pro at
age 15. He won the World Lightweight Championship at age 21
and held it for nearly 7 years between 1917-1925 when he
retired unbeaten as champion while at the peak of his power.
His official record is 85-5-1 121 No Decisions with 69
knockouts. His record with newspaper verdicts, according to
one source, is 180-21-6-6ND 69 Ko’s.
Al Bodner stated, "Leonard
had a truly remarkable record. He was one of the greatest
master boxers of all time."
The Ghetto Wizard was a fleet
footed mobile boxer with a strong punch and liked to set a
fast pace. He had excellent hand speed and was a clever
two-handed hitter. He had a piston like left jab, a classic
right cross and was an accomplished combination puncher.
Leonard also loved to train and never entered the ring in
less than top condition. He made a real science of the sport
studying feints, shifts, and defensive moves for hours at a
time in the gym. He was master who rarely lost a round in
the vast majority of his fights.
Gilbert Odd wrote, “Leonard
was coolness itself in the ring, finishing off a beaten
opponent with cold fury, recovering quickly when hurt and
talking himself out of trouble. Because he punched correctly
he never suffered a hand injury; because he knew how to
defend himself, he usually left the ring unmarked, because
he kept himself in peak of condition he could travel ten
fast rounds and look as fresh as when he started.”
His competition reads like a
who’s who of the great fighters of the teens and twenties
including; Johnny Dundee (Featherweight champion 1922-1923,
1923-1924 and Jr. Lightweight champion 1921-1923 and
1923-1924), the great rope fighter whom he met 8 times;
Freddie Welsh (Lightweight champion 1914-1916) from whom he
won the title, clever former champion Willie Ritchie
(lightweight champion 1912-1914), Johnny Kilbane
(Featherweight Champion 1912-1923), hard hitting Rocky
Kansas (Lightweight champion 1925-1926) and the great
southpaw Lew Tendler who is considered one of the best
fighters to have never won a title. Leonard also defeated
top lightweight contenders such as Ritchie Mitchell, Patsy
Cline, Joe Welling and left hook artist Charley White.
Leonard was in many ways the
Muhammad Ali of the 135-pounders, defeating what Nat
Fleischer called, “a field of the greatest lightweights that
ever appeared at one time in the division.”. When Leonard
was fighting there were nearly 90 fight clubs in New York
State and 20 fight cards a week in New York City. Boxing in
the teens and twenties, along with baseball, was the most
popular sport in America. There were more competitors and
therefore a larger talent pool. Leonard came along when the
lightweight division was stacked full of highly skilled
fighters and punchers and he was the best among them. He
fought them all and fought often. The year he won the title
he fought 29 times. Leonard was a very smart, clever, and
Jersey Jones agrees saying
Ring Magazine Jul. 1947), “Leonard was one of the all
time greats of the ring. A magnificent boxer, a deadly
puncher, a brilliant ring strategist, and an extraordinary
showman, Benny had to be a real champion in every sense of
the word, to rule over the most formidable array of
challengers in the annals of the lightweight division.”
One of Leonard's toughest
opponent's was the great southpaw slugger Lew Tendler. On
July 27, 1922, 60,000 screaming fans watched the two great
fighters go at it in a 12 round non-title bout. In the first
round a powerful left rocked Leonard. In the third Leonard's
nose was bleeding. In the 8th Lew dropped Benny to one knee.
Leonard was in trouble but Benny started talking to him and
convinced him he wasn't hurt. Lew hesitated and Benny
survived the round. It went the distance to a 12 round
no-decision but Leonard would later say that Lew gave him
"the worst licking I ever had in my life the first time we
fought." In the rematch, for the championship the following
year, Leonard proved he had learned his lesson.
Hype Igoe, wrote, NY World
Jul. 25, 1923, “Benny Leonard is the brainiest of all
boxers.” In the second Tendler fight, penned Igoe, "Leonard
worked in circles around and toward the back of Tendler’s
southpaw left so that Tendler was always shifting to get set
again.” Leonard kept the southpaw off-balance and then
countered effectively. “It was the finest job from any angle
of boxing that this writer ever saw…and I don’t expect to
see it duplicated.” Leonard easily won the 15 round decision
and retained his title.
Ray Arcel, one of the
greatest trainers of all time, concurs on Leonard’s ability
to out-think his opponent’s, Peter Heller's In The Corner,
“Boxing is brains over brawn. I don’t care how much ability
you got, if you can’t think your just another bum in the
park. People ask me who’s the greatest boxer I ever saw
pound for pound. I hesitate to say, either Benny Leonard or
Ray Robinson. But Leonard’s mental energy surpassed anyone
Arcel continued, “Benny
Leonard was a picture. He was the one fighter who I felt
could name the round with anybody. He could make you do the
things you didn’t want to do. If you were a counterpuncher
he would make you lead. If you were aggressive he would make
you back up. He knew were to hit you…If you look at his
record you will see he always fought good fighters. If you
didn’t know how to fight, nobody would match you with Benny
Nat Fleischer agrees,
"Leonard had a hair-trigger brain. As he shifted about the
ring, the fans could almost read his thoughts as he mapped
out his plans of attack. An opponent had to be ever on the
alert to avoid a quick knockout. Leonard knew his trade;
knew it so thoroughly that almost invariably he could "call
his shots," if and when the occasion warranted."
Bob Mee adds, "Benny was a
master boxer, a genius who completed his art and yet still
went on re-inventing it. His simple message was "Think.
Learn how to think!"
No opponent could ever make a
mistake with Benny, for one mistake often meant a sudden
end. Leonard in a bout against Featherweight champion Johnny
Kilbane noticed in their first meeting that, “Johnny’s a
great boxer, tricky as they make them. But I know just how
and when to beat him. He has a double feint shift, but he
leaves himself open for a flash of a second and that’s when
I’ll get him.” Benny nailed him in the third and took
Kilbane just as he predicted. It was the first time the
clever Featherweight champion had ever been knocked out.
What Leonard could do when he
turned on the heat was aptly demonstrated in his bout with
Leo Johnson, one of the best black lightweights of the era.
Leonard took a lot of pride in going through an entire bout
without ever having his hair messed up. Someone suggested to
Johnson that he go right up to Leonard and put his hand on
his head and mess up his hair in order to infuriate him and
get him off his game plan. Johnson did just that as the
fighters met at ring center. When Johnson recovered
consciousness he was told that it was one of the quickest
knockouts of Leonard’s career.
One time heavyweight threat
Harry Wills said, Ring Magazine May 1948, “Benny
Leonard was the best little man I ever saw. He liked to show
his speed and outbox the other fellow. He also had a natural
right hand… I picked Benny to beat Freddie Welsh, who was a
very clever boy, Benny woke up to his right that night and
knocked Welsh out.”
Many of his opponent’s
commented that they were surprised by his hitting power. He
won the title against Freddie Welsh on a 9th round knockout.
It was the only time in 167 pro fights that Welsh was ever
Perhaps his epoch battle
against Richie Mitchell best defined his career. Leonard
went right after Mitchell flooring him 3 times in the first
round. Leonard, perhaps understandably, was a bit
over-confident and let his guard down. Mitchell nailed him
with a desperate, hurricane of a left hook right on the
button. Benny crashed to the canvas. Leonard was hurt and
barely beat a ten count. Richie moved in for the kill, but
Benny covered up and rolled with the punches and survived to
Budd Schulberg described what
transpired in the next round as Mitchell attacked Benny who
was still hurt and on his bicycle. “As he retreated his was
talking to Mitchell (shades of Ali a half century later!),
“Is that the best you can do? I thought you hit harder than
that? I’ll put my hands down, what do you want to bet you
can’t hit me? Come on if you think you got me hurt, why
don’t you fight? You look awful slow to me Richie”. Mitchell
swung wildly missing and began to wear down by rounds end.
In the fifth Leonard was up on his toes snapping Mitchell’s
head back with left jabs and right crosses. Leonard floored
Richie at the end of the round. In the following session
Leonard gave Mitchell quite a beating and knocked him out to
retain his title.
Leonard also challenged
fighters above his normal weight winning a newspaper verdict
over welterweight Ted “Kid” Lewis and challenged for the
welterweight title against Jack Britton in 1922 flooring the
bigger man in the 13th, and then in his eagerness knocked
out Britton while he was down, thus losing on a
Benny retired as lightweight
champion in 1925 having bested all the topflight fighters of
his class. The stock market crash of 1929 hurt his
investments and he was forced to make a comeback in 1931. He
won 18 in a row with only one draw when he ran into the
young, fast and hard-hitting future welterweight champion
Jimmy McLarnin who stopped him in 6. It was his last fight.
Leonard died on April 17,
1947 while refereeing a boxing match in New York. Gerald
Suster wrote a fitting epitaph when he said, “He left behind
him an astonishing legend of hard punching and ring
cleverness. Decades went by in which aficionados argued over
whether Benny Leonard or Joe Gans was the greatest pound for
pound fighter of all time.”
Nat Fleischer considered
Benny Leonard the # 2 all time lightweight in 1958. Charley
Rose rated him # 1 in 1968. Herbert Goldman rated him # 1 in
1987. Cox’s Corner rates him at # 2 among all time
Visit Cox's Corner
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