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Articles of 2010

The Immortals: Jewish Fighters Ancient and Modern



[The Jew] has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him… All things are mortal but the Jew. All other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

~ Mark Twain

The Jewish War against Rome began in the desert surrounding Jerusalem in 66 CE. It reached its climax in the Temple, and ended at a place called Masada. The war was provoked by a mercurial party called the Zealots in answer to the superpower’s affronts to their ancient beliefs. These rebels didn’t wave a flag; they waved Torah scrolls.

To Rome, the Jews’ stubborn adherence to the idea of one god was odd. Other subject nations recognized an assortment of gods anyway, so the introduction of a deified human emperor was met with a shrug of shoulders. More incense was simply added to the burning cauldrons. The Jews were different. They’d jump in the cauldron themselves before addressing a pagan emperor as “Lord. Those scrolls they waved left no room for compromise. “I am the Lord your God, thundered the first commandment, “you shall not have other gods before me.

The Jewish War bleeds with examples of defiance in the name of religious devotion. The odds against them meant nothing. The horrors awaiting them in Roman brutality and spectacle meant nothing. “There was no one, wrote a witness, “who was not amazed at their steadfastness and –call it what you will– the madness or the strength of mind of these victims.

The madness or the strength of mind.

When Titus sent his legions in to attack the Temple itself, he was aiming for the heart of the revolt. The entire population of Jerusalem rose up to defend it. Ordinary people fought in the forecourt while the rich fought in the inner courts. “The priests, a Roman historian recorded, “defended the Temple building itself even as it burned. “With an undiminished excess of strength and courage, they tried to repel [the legionaries] and, we are told, they “took no account of their own lives.

It was in vain. The Temple was defiled and destroyed and a great lamentation was sent to the sky. Rome razed Jerusalem itself and left it for the jackals. Remnants of the rebel fighters fled to the desert; where it all began.

Like a sprout out of parched ground, Judaism itself began in the desert. Bound by a faith that was so radical it precipitated wars with thorny neighbors, the ancient Israelites could not bring themselves to forsake it. They could not bring themselves to forsake him. Their faith is not based on a set of ideas interchangeable with any others –it is based on friendship. It began with the command of a singular God to a simple man. The man was a nomadic herdsman named Abram who called on the Almighty by name. God and man visited one another and had conversations. Gifts were given. At times they’d argue. The fact that Abram’s friend had made the world and was the source of all life was almost incidental –two persons reached out and made bonds of loyalty. God made a promise to Abram that his children would not only survive through the ages, they would be a holy people set apart from the rest.

They’ve been on the defensive ever since.

Yuri Foreman is a son of that nomad. He is a rabbinical student scrutinizing the memory of that promise and a boxer miming the mobility and steely resolve of a chosen people. He finds strength in the struggle, in synagogue, in the living past.

He’s in good company; boxing has been carrying a menorah since the first bell of the modern era.

In 1920, the Walker Law legalized boxing in New York, and the modern era began. Tough urban Jews found a new home that was 20 feet square with ropes for walls and no roof to speak of. They trained at boxing’s “Holy of Holies, Stillman’s Gym on Eighth Avenue. The proprietor was Lou Stillman, born Louis Ingber. Promoter Tex Rickard took a lease out on Madison Square Garden and hosted the first main event under the new law. It pitted Joe Welling against Johnny Dundee; and this time, the Jew defeated the Roman.

In January of the next year, Rickard ushered boxing into high society by staging a benefit at the Garden that was headlined by none other than the World Lightweight Champion Benny Leonard. Boxing went big-time.

By the end of the decade, Jews filled the ranks of fighters, managers, trainers, and cut men, and were the dominant ethnic group in the sport. Scattered though they were in the rest of the world, they were, spiritually speaking, as tightly bound together as the braids of a challah. In August of 1929, sixty-seven Jews were killed and synagogues were ransacked in Hebron by an Arab mob. The boxing community soon staged a benefit at the Garden for the “Palestine Emergency Fund. Congressmen, judges, U.S. Attorneys, and Tammany politicians took their seats among 16,431 fellow fight fans. The five headliners were Maxie Rosenbloom, Al Singer, Kid Berg, Ruby Goldstein, and Yale Okun –all Jewish, all victorious.

It wasn’t always so easy. Charley Phil Rosenberg fought during that era as well. “I was a bad boy when I was boxing, he told Peter Heller, “every town I went to I started trouble in. Just a month after he won the World Bantamweight Title at the Garden, he was in Ohio facing an undefeated prospect. Someone at ringside kept shouting “kill the Jew bastard! and Rosenberg finally had enough. He stood up from his stool, leaned over the ropes with a mouth full of blood and water and then, he recounted, “I spit it right in his face. It was the mayor of Toledo.

Ray Arcel was Rosenberg’s trainer. He was with the group of fighters that first walked into Stillman’s Gym and anointed it. He later trained Barney Ross –an orthodox Jew born Barnet David Rasofsky. Ross was the last of the great Jewish champions and is widely considered second only to Leonard. In 1937, Ross was getting ready to defend his welterweight title against Ceferino Garcia, a Filipino puncher with more knockouts than Manny Pacquiao has bouts. Two days before the event, Ross fractured his right thumb. He refused his manager’s pleadings to postpone the fight. So they sent Arcel in to talk to the champion:

“I says, ‘Barney, why sacrifice?’

“I don’t sacrifice anything. I don’t need the right hand.

Ross hurt his left hand in the second round and took a unanimous decision anyway. The master-boxer did it with not much more than a left jab “–and, Arcel added with a finger on a temple, “a brain.

Sometimes even that isn’t enough. Yuri Foreman’s theological practicum would buckle the knees of Ivy Leaguers, but he couldn’t handle Miguel Cotto. Ross, for all his ring savvy, couldn’t handle Henry Armstrong. He had always said that he would take only one beating in his career, and in 1938 he took it. Arcel was among the corner men trying to stop his title defense against the relentless Armstrong after the seventh and then again after the twelfth round. Like Foreman, Ross refused to let them despite the pain and the blood. Surrender was not an option

Ross lost his title that night. As he descended the four steps at ringside, his right eye closed and his face a mass of cuts and welts, Grantland Rice called out from press row,

“Why didn’t you quit? Did you want to get killed?

“Champs privilege, was the reply.

As he walked down the aisle, Ross noticed something strange: “I don’t hear any shouting. I don’t even hear talking. I saw faces, faces, faces and they were all looking at me, not up at the ring. Thirty-five thousand fans in the Madison Square Garden Bowl watched him go in silence –in reverence.

It was a tribute.

In 73 CE, the Jewish-Roman War came to an end. Masada, looming then as it does now in the Judean desert, had become a refugee camp for rebels fleeing Jerusalem. The Tenth Legion soon arrived. Hopelessly outnumbered Jewish men, women, and children –Zealots and their families, resisted a siege conducted by 6000 Romans for months. Engineers built a rampart and ballistae hurled stones and catapult fire at the great fortress day and night. A great battering ram was constructed to force their way in and things got desperate. Soon, the walls were shaking amid Latin shouts and falling debris.

For those holed up inside, surrender was not an option.

On the eve of Passover, the Jews buried their sacred possessions and set their living quarters ablaze. With chains and crucifixion awaiting them, they chose death before defilement. The details are unclear, but it appears that they drew lots and quietly killed each other by consent. The next morning, the Romans swarmed into Masada expecting fierce resistance. What they got instead was an unforgettable sight, a testament to the depth of the Jewish fist:

Nine hundred and sixty lay still; their blue and white prayer shawls flapping in the wind. Buried beneath the stones are parchment scrolls –prophecies, chronicles, and songs. “Have mercy on me, God, for I am treated harshly, reads one of them,

Attackers press me all the day.

…O Most High, when I am afraid,

in you I place my trust.

God, I praise your promise;

in you I trust, I do not fear.

What can mere flesh do to me?

Crows circle over the desert scene while the Roman rank and file wanders among the dead. They are not triumphant. They know that their enemy had prostrated themselves to a power greater than Rome, a power that inspires acts and endurance beyond the scope of human comprehension. One by one bronze helmets are removed. Battle-hardened soldiers stand in silence –in awe.

Time stops under a blazing sun; and then begins again.


Josephus’s The Jewish Wars, Martin Hengel’s The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period From Herod I until 70 A.D., James P. Dawson’s account of the Palestine Fund Show in Madison Square Garden in The New York Times, and Douglas Century’s Barney Ross were useful as sources for this essay. Charley Phil Rosenberg’s story is found in Peter Heller’s In This Corner. Ray Arcel’s comments are in Ronald K. Fried’s Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers. The “song is excerpted from Psalm 56.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ




Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard



Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope




As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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