*This article was originally written for the Ringsidereport.com on 17th January 2018.
So 17th January marked the birthday of the most recognizable boxer the sport has seen, Muhammad Ali. But what hasn’t been said about the man who called himself ‘The Greatest’? Never mind boxing, Ali is the most recognizable sportsman in history and rightly so, the man was bigger than the sport but as I looked through the history of boxing one boxer came to my mind, Barney Ross. If Ali was fighting for black rights in the 1960’s, then Barney Ross was the face of the American Jews in the 1920’s and 1930’s during a time in which the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was spewing his anti-Jewish propaganda. I had briefly written about Ross in my book Forgotten Legends of the Ring covering his changing of the guard with another legend Henry Armstrong so I decided to take another look at this legend of the sport and noticed his date of passing – died January 17 1967. This was a sign, exactly 51yrs to the day he passed away it is only fitting we remember what a warrior of the sport Barney Ross was.
There are some people who hear the name ‘Barney Ross’ and think of Sylvester Stallone, the movie star named his character in the movie series ‘The Expendables’ Barney Ross. You know you’ve got to be special to have one of the greatest ever action movie stars name a character after you.
Barney Ross was born Dov-Ber Rasofsky in New York City in 1909 on December 23rd. Barney Ross’ father was a Jewish Talmudic Scholar who had high hopes that his son would also go onto become a Talmudic scholar but the course of Barney’s life was changed when his father was murdered, resisting a robbery at his grocery store. The family breakdown from the grief which followed led Ross to a life of crime as a youth and into Boxing. His natural ability was evident in street fights and he was employed by none other than the notorious gangster Al Capone. Ross would roam the streets with his friends which included Jack Ruby, the man who would grow up to murder Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was of course charged with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
In 1929 the 5’7 Ross with almost 200 amateur bouts under his belt, turned pro as a lightweight and quickly gained a reputation as a fighter with ring smarts, lots of heart and stamina to match. Ross would be trained by one of the greatest trainers in boxing history, Ray Arcel – Arcel would also coach such legends as Roberto Duran, Benny Leonard and Ezzard Charles.
By 1933 the 22yr old Ross challenged for his first world title against Tony Canzoneri. Ross had already despatched of another world champion in the process, beating the future hall of famer Battling Battalino so when the time came to face another future hall of famer in Canzoneri, Ross was more than ready despite being viewed by many as a major underdog, understandably so, since Canzoneri was one of the boxings first three weight world champions. The confident Ross though yet again displayed the will that would make him famous, powering to a points victory and becoming a two weight champion on the same night, at lightweight and light welterweight. If that wasn’t enough, Ross would battle Canzoneri again just months later and beat him again.
Ross’ reputation grew and fans flocked to see his fights, attracting crowds as large as 70,000. As he alternated between weights a trilogy with another future great of the sport beckoned. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, Ross would have Jimmy McLarnin. Ross took part in three bouts against the man widely recognised as the greatest fighter to come out of Ireland. Ross would win the first fight before losing the rematch. In the deciding rubber it would be Ross who came out the winner, taking McLarnin’s welterweight title for the final time. McLarnin would be the only man to make Ross taste the canvas during his career, Ross was never knocked out in 81 professional fights.
Barney Ross would end his career on May 31st 1938 against a fighter who was running through the ranks and demolishing everyone in his path and in every division he was fighting in. Ross fought ‘Hurricane Hank’ Henry Armstrong, the world champion who was coming up in weight wanting to add another world title belt to his waist.
Armstrong by now was one of the biggest draws in the sport, second only to the Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis. Ross knew with Armstrong came money, besides he had been busy cleaning out the Welterweight division and welcomed the challenge.
The fight was postponed for 10 days due to weather (the fight was outside) and bad weather was about to hit Barney Ross as Hurricane Henry set a torrid pace and battered Barney around the ring. Ross had never been knocked out in his career of over 80 fights and he was determined not to let it happen against the hurricane, ignoring his trainers pleas to halt the fight, Ross soldiered on and saw the end of the fight. The result was a unanimous decision in favour of Henry Armstrong. Ross had lost his title in one of the most courageous displays of Boxing ever seen.
As one career ended another began, Ross joined the US Marines as a boxing instructor in 1941 but insisted he be sent out to combat. Ross saved the lives of his comrades in war by fighting off nearly two dozen Japanese soldiers, two of his comrades were killed in the fighting, the third was carried to safety by Ross. The three weight world champion would be awarded America’s third highest military honour, the Silver Star.
Barney Ross ended his career with a record of 72-4-3 and was inducted into the International boxing hall of fame in 1990. Ross would die on 17th January 1967 of throat cancer, in a strange twist of fate, his childhood friend Jack Ruby had died just two weeks earlier whilst awaiting a retrial in prison for the execution of Lee Harvey Oswald.
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