Best fighters of the 1930s, part 1

Best fighters of the 1930s, part 1
By Martin Mulcahey/
December 4, 2007

It is the beginning of the 20th century’s third decade, and we are only 12 years removed from an all-encompassing war whose societal impact was incalculable. Of course, boxing could not escape the massive casualty count (an estimated 30 million killed or injured), and the scars were still evident ten years later. Sadly, the world would be plunged back into a global conflict in less than a decade’s time, and young men were sent to engage in combat outside of boxing rings again.

Because World War I impacted Europe disproportionately, America continued to dominate boxing in the 1930's. Outside of pockets of activity in the United Kingdom, there was little in the way of world class fisticuffs on the European continent, but Paris was able to attract and produce some talent, and Spain began to host some events as well.

The United States stood in direct contrast to the bleak pugilistic landscape of Europe. The American circuit was booming, and infused, somewhat begrudgingly, with African-American talent. Boxing was in an upswing thanks, in large part, to the legacy of Jack Dempsey and the abolition of the Walker Law in New York State. This effectively removed 'No Decisions' from boxing, and allowed for clear cut winners to be adjudicated from ringside. Fans and gamblers would no longer have to rely on the local newspaper reporter to declare his winner.

These factors, and many more, provided a perfect venue for the ten men on this list to distinguish and separate themselves from the pack.

10. John Henry Lewis - An outstanding light heavyweight lost among the plethora of talent at and around 175 pounds in this era. Possessed the skill to compete with the great light heavyweights mentioned before him, such as Archie Moore, Bob Foster, Gene Tunney, and Michael Spinks. Unfortunately, he is most remembered for his final bout, which he lost in one round to Joe Louis. It was a bout which Lewis fought blind in his left eye. During his prime, Lewis relied on speed over power, but had stopping power in either hand. He simply preferred boxing cleverly, and was the Roy Jones of his generation if you will. Perhaps Lewis was adversely affected by the death of Sam Terrain in his 15th fight. Contested his first pro fight at the age of 17, and by the age of 25, Lewis could not see how many fingers a doctor held up 18 inches from his eyes. Cataracts were his worst enemy, and one can only imagine how good he could have been. Lewis dominated his division like few before, and held the world title for four years until his retirement. He was also the first black man to win the light heavyweight title. In his first 56 fights he only lost twice, to future champions Maxie Rosenbloom (twice avenged) and James J. Braddock (defeated him in their first encounter). Rosenbloom was his nemesis, and held a three to two advantage in their matchups. The problem for Lewis was that he was a black man who could not draw large crowds, so he had to fight often (19 non title fights in 1937). Knowing his career was nearly over, heavyweight champion (and good friend) Joe Louis gave Lewis a shot at his title and one last payday. The Brown Bomber did not carry Lewis the way he did other opponents; instead, he sought to end the fight fast so as to not punish Lewis unnecessarily.

9. Kid Chocolate - Chocolate was called a "picture boxer", mostly because he learned how to fight by watching films. It is reported that he emulated Joe Gans' left hook, the right jab of Benny Leonard, and infighting from Jack Johnson. Good teachers! Chocolate reportedly won 100 amateur bouts in Cuba without a loss, but this has never been confirmed. It is confirmed that he knocked out his first 21 pro opponents, and then traveled to America. 45 more wins followed, over such noteworthy boxers as Fidel LaBarba, Al Singer, and Bushy Graham. Perfection was ruined when another "Kid", the tough Jack "Kid" Berg, outpointed Chocolate over 10 rounds. Berg did hold a nine pound weight advantage though. It was not a good year, as that loss was followed by three more. One came at the hands of Bat Battalino for the featherweight title. Seven months later Chocolate knocked out Benny Bass for the junior lightweight crown, becoming the first Cuban to hold a world title. His partying lifestyle started to catch up with him though, and Tony Canzoneri defeated Chocolate when he attempted to move up in weight to gain the lightweight title. Chocolate also lost his junior lightweight crown, when Frankie Klick KO'd him in 7 rounds. Despite winning 47 of his next 50 fights, he was not granted another shot at any title. Chocolate retired in frustration and lived out his life in Cuba. An immaculate boxer, and for a short span might have been the best in the world at any weight.

8. Freddie Miller - A prototypical depression era fighter who averaged 19 fights a year, many times for small purses, and against tough opposition. Still, the 5'5 Miller stood out among his peers. Boxing took Freddie from performing for hometown fans, to world title bouts around the world. Remarkable reflexes and quickness were made even more pronounced from his southpaw style. It only added to the frustration his opponents felt. Even if you did manage to catch the fleet footed Miller cleanly, he would shrug it off, something proven by the fact that he was only stopped in the final fight of his 251 bout career. He began to box at age 16, scoring a sixth round stoppage. It was a fluke really, since Miller would only score a knockout in twenty percent of his bouts. After six years (winning 102 of 114 fights), Miller got his break, defeating Tommy Paul for the vacant title. Having won the title, it was no time for Miller to take it easy, and he fought 18 more times in that year, making the most of his new found recognition. In all, Miller fought 90 times during his four year reign as featherweight champion, putting his title on the line eleven times. Those included trips overseas to England, Spain, Cuba, France, and Belgium. If there were any doubts to the claims of Miller to the crown, they were laid to rest when he defeated England's Nel Tarleton in Liverpool. Among his list of victims were Hall of Famers Chalky Wright and Panama Al Brown. It came as an upset when Miller lost his title to the veteran Petey Sarron, whom he had beaten three times previously. A rematch proved Miller had aged, while Sarron improved. Three more years of fighting against up and coming young boxers and in local fights did little to enhance Miller’s legacy or record. In 1940, at the age of 29, Miller retired from the ring for good.

7. Maxie Rosenbloom - One word jumps to mind when I think of Rosenbloom: professional. The man was the consummate pro who used every tool in his arsenal to overcome one major flaw...Rosembloom had the weakest punch of any man on this list. It also earned him the nickname "Slapsie". Getting close enough to hit Rosenbloom was a chore, getting past his defense to actually land a punch was near impossible when Rosenbloom was on his game. Even when opponents did hit Rosenbloom there was no denting his chin. He was only stopped twice (once on a low blow, the other at the end of his career) in 299 bouts. Rosenbloom had the stamina of a marathon runner, and used his legs as well in the 15th round as the first. A virtuous man, Rosenbloom had no problem crossing the color line to fight the best men of every race. Not appreciated is his strength. While he did not have many kayos, Rosenbloom used his long frame well and had no problems shouldering opponents off. Defeated the likes of James Braddock, Tiger Flowers, Mickey Walker, John Henry Lewis, Jimmy Slattery, Ted 'Kid' Lewis, King Levinsky, Pete Latzo, and Lou Nova. He did all this with very little training. Rosenbloom was a naturally fit man, who preferred late nights (but never consumed alcohol) at clubs to hard days in the gym. Instead of training, he scheduled fights; not a bad thought process given that he was never paid for training.

6. Benny Lynch - It has been said that only one thing ever bested Lynch, and that was "John Barleycorn". Alcohol got the better of Lynch, just as Lynch destroyed every world class flyweight of his time. This phenom was lacking in nothing inside the ring, and was hailed by peers and old-timers alike. Lynch had a solid punch, and the ability to take a shot in return. His fantastic stamina allowed him to put forth a work rate that few could match. Lynch's championship reign is made even more improbable when you consider that he was almost certainly battling alcoholism during his reign. Yet he excelled, and only lost the title when he came in overweight for a title defense against American Jackie Jurich. He went out and won that fight via 12th round kayo anyhow. His downfall was incredibly swift, and as unforeseen as one of the right hands that followed behind a blinding jab. Within four months of losing his title on the scale, Lynch would lose two fights and leave boxing. From there he only ruled the back alleys and gutters of Glasgow. Ignorant people, who once cheered him, yelled "bum" and "drunk" when he was spotted on the streets. The drink led to a death via malnutrition at age 33.

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Updated on Tuesday, Dec 4, 2007 1:32 pm, EST

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