At one time, almost a third of the boxers were Jewish

Prior to the second meeting between Johnny “the Chicago Spider” Coulon (47-1-1) and Frankie Conley (30-8-9) back on February 3, 1912, the following boxers posed for a group photo by photographer J. E. Ryan: (l to r) Freddie Welsh, Frankie Conley, “One Round” Hogan, Ad Wolgast, the reigning Lightweight Champion, Johnny Coulon, the reigning Bantamweight Champion, Abe Attell, the reigning Featherweight Champion, “Harlem” Tommy Murphy, Johnny Kilbane, Tommy Kilbane, and “Mexican” Joe Rivers.


After receiving this email from a gentleman in New York, I was dumbfounded by his claim and just had to do the proper research.

Pugilist Pictures

New Boxing Documentary!

Hi Jim,

This is my project of passion that has kept me busy for years. The story of Jews and the sport of boxing is not only a story that Jews should relate to. The Irish were the first immigrant group, then the Jews and then the Italians. They all used the sport of boxing to make their way out of the ghettos they lived in.


They all used the money earned to help their struggling families. This makes this a story for all immigrant groups. It’s not only a part of Jewish history; it’s a story of sports history and of American history.

I would love for you to promote it in anyway you can! I had a look at your site, it looks fantastic.

As far as California Jewish boxers, there were many – Abe Attell and Joe Choynski are in my film.

With Warm Regards,

Holden Kepecs

Pugilist Pictures

After receiving this email, one interesting fact led to another and as you can see highly recommends you check out the Pugilist Pictures trailer at:

The following are pertinent excerpts from a preface written by Budd Schulberg for the book “When Boxing Was A Jewish Sport,” written by Allen Bodner. I believe they do a good job of giving you the backdrop of the times.

“Their victories in fierce and memorable battles reinforced my father’s generation’s belief in themselves, in their battle, in what I’ve always thought of as the ring outside the ring, the ring of life.

“I’ve always thought of boxing not as a mirror but as a magnifying glass of our society. It is hardly accidental that out of the poor Irish Immigration of a people being brutalized by their British overlords, we had a wave of great Irish fighters. From John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett to Mickey Walker and Billy Conn. As the Irish moved up into the mainstream, there was less economic need to use the prize ring as their way out and up. The wave of Jewish boxers followed exactly the same pattern, and so did the Italians. The almost total domination of the ring today by African-Americans and Hispanics speak directly to the continued economic deprivation and discrimination of large sections of our inner-city communities.”

During this 1920s-1930s period, when almost one-third of the boxers were Jewish, approximately 16 percent of the champions were Jewish. Mores changed and as the typical New York Jew approached the 1940’s and benefitted from the economic and educational opportunities, they quickly abandoned the sport, all except the people involved in the more lucrative promotional aspects. In the New York of 1936, where Jews made up 25 percent of the population, they soon comprised 65% of the lawyers, 64% of the dentists and 55% of the doctors.

Which members of the Jewish faith made the biggest impact on the sport?

Abraham “The Little Hebrew” Attell, we discover had his first professional fight at the age of 15 on August 19, 1900. He knocked out Kid Lennett in two rounds. His mother, who strongly opposed his boxing, later became one of his strongest supporters and won money by betting on him. Amazingly, the 122 pound Attell won the title four months shy of his seventeenth birthday.  He was known to have fought as often as three times a week, ofttimes giving away as many as 30 pounds to an opponent.

After a successful boxing career (unofficial record 124-19-24, 2 NC, with 53 KOs) he opened up a shoe store in New York City and did well selling to customers, fans and sporting people who came to see him. A short while later he gave up the shoe business and went into vaudeville.

His name will forever be linked to that infamous Black Sox baseball scandal of 1919. He was alleged to have been the bag man for gambler Arnold Rothstein and to have given $10,000 to several Chicago White Sox players. In return they agreed to throw the World Series when facing the Cincinnati team. When the scandal broke in 1920, Attell went to live in Canada for a year to avoid being subpoenaed.


Joe Choynski

The second boxer mentioned, Joe “The California Terror” Choynski, had a record of (52-14-6, 7 N.C. with 22 KOs). Even though he weighed no more than 176 pounds throughout his career, he regularly fought heavyweights. Considered one of the hardest punchers of all time, James J. Jeffries, a heavyweight champion during this period, claimed that the hardest blow he ever received came from Choynski during their 20-round draw. During that bout, Choynski hit Jeffries with a right hand so powerful that the punch drove one of Jeffries’ teeth into his lip. The tooth was lodged so deep that one of Jeffries’ cornermen was forced to cut it out with a knife between rounds.

Because of his size, Choynski, a world light-heavyweight champ, was never given an opportunity to fight for the heavyweight title. However, he did enjoy success against the famed heavyweights of the day being awarded a draw against James J. Jeffries, Bob Fitzsimmons and Marvin Hart and knocking out the young Jack Johnson in round three.

Boxing trainer Ray Arcel, also of the jewish faith,  handled more than 2,000 boxers over his 70-year career, and not one of his charges was ever seriously hurt. He trained 20 World Boxing Champions—his first in 1923. In 1982, he became the first of only two trainers elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame. At one time, he teamed with Whitey Bimstein, also Jewish, to form the most successful training tandem in boxing.

Call me loopy, for me the greatest Jewish benefactor to the world of boxing has to be that whimsical character, Humble Howard Cosell (Cohen). Without a doubt he was the most colorful and controversial boxing analyst of our time. His provocative style redefined sports play-by-play.

Cosell came into prominence just as the young (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.) Muhammad Ali was making his presence known. An attorney by profession, his meteoric rise paralleled the equally meteoric career of Ali, who won the Olympic Light-Heavyweight title in 1956 and soon after the World Heavyweight crown. During the 1960s and 1970s, Cosell called every Ali fight and virtually every major championship boxing match originating in the United States. The song “He’s so vain,…” by Carly Simon could have been his theme song.



The Jewish International Sports Hall of Fame claims Max (Maximilian) Baer (70-8, with 52 KOs), the World Heavyweight Champion from 1934 to 1935, was Jewish. Baer fanned the speculation by wearing the Jewish star on his boxing trunks.

Max Baer

It was in 1933, when the 24 year-old Baer, first wore that Star of David on his trunks. His opponent that day was Max Schmeling, the “Black Uhlan of the Rhine” and a reluctant standard-bearer for Hitler’s Third Reich. “That one’s for Hitler,” snarled Baer between blows. Eventually Baer knocked him out in the 10th round, his finest moment as a boxer.

His prominent display of the Star of David came at a time of continuous bad tidings from Germany. Anti-Jewish boycotts were under way, Jews were being expelled from official positions, and Dachau had just opened for their internment. A day after the Schmeling fight, a Times dispatch from Berlin reported the German papers were reticent to mention their countryman’s defeat. All papers ignored the fact that Schmeling had been beaten by a man who in Germany would be classified as a Jew.

Point of fact, he was half and half. Baer’s dad was Jewish but his mom was Scot-Irish. It’s for sure he didn’t attend services. According to one popular story, the boxer was in the gym hitting the heavy bag on Yom Kippur.

“What are you doing?” a reporter asked.

“Getting ready to fight Primo Carnera,” said Baer.

“What about Yom Kippur?”

“I’ll fight him next!” said Baer.


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