Benny Leonard

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Benny Leonard
Benny Leonard.jpg
Real name Benjamin Leiner
Nickname(s) Ghetto Wizard
The Great
Rated at Lightweight
Height 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Reach 69 in (175 cm)
Nationality American
Born (1896-04-07)April 7, 1896
New York, New York, United States
Died April 18, 1947(1947-04-18) (aged 51)
New York, New York, St. Nicholas Arena
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Wins 183
Wins by KO 70
Losses 24
Draws 8
No contests 4

Benny Leonard (born Benjamin Leiner; Hebrew name דוב בער בן אברהם גרשון [Dov Ber ben Avraham Gershon]; April 7, 1896 – April 18, 1947) was an American professional lightweight boxer. He was ranked 8th on the Ring Magazine's list of the "80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years" and #7 on ESPN's "50 Greatest Boxers of All-Time." In 2005, the International Boxing Research Organization ranked Leonard as the #1 lightweight of all-time.[1]

Early life[edit]

Benny Leonard was born and raised in the Jewish ghetto, which was then located in the lower east side of Manhattan, New York City, on whose streets he learned to fight. He was the son of Minny and Gershon Leiner, who immigrated from Eastern Europe.[2]

Professional career[edit]

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 70 KOs out of his 183 wins. Leonard was defeated 24 times and was held to a draw on 8 occasions. As was common in the era in which he fought, Leonard engaged in several no-decision matches and is believed to have fought 219 bouts.

Leonard debuted on a Saturday in November 1911—the exact date is unknown—losing in three rounds at the Fondon Athletic Club in New York when the fight was stopped because he was bleeding through the nose. He won 12 of his next 18 bouts (three were no-decisions), establishing a reputation as a good local fighter before meeting Canadian Frankie Fleming in May 1912. Leonard was knocked out for only the second time in his career. He lost a rematch with Fleming 16 months later. (Not surprisingly, Fleming got the first shot at Freddie Welsh, failing to unseat the lightweight champion in a May 1915 fight the newspapers awarded to Welsh.) Leonard’s next big test came when he took on featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane in Atlantic City in April 1915. Kilbane won six of ten rounds to win the decision. “Leonard might have beaten the champion if he had a little more confidence,“ the Chicago Tribune said, “but even when he was having the best of the going he shut up like a clam and clinched for all he was worth.”

Leonard then reeled off a string of 15 straight victories (interrupted by two draws), which earned him the chance to meet Freddie Welsh for the lightweight championship on March 3, 1916. Although newspaper reporters at Madison Square Garden believed that Leonard had won, Welsh retained his title in a bout that was officially recorded as a no decision. The two fighters met again four months later in Brooklyn, and this time Welsh won decisively, staggering Leonard and nearly putting him down with a right to the jaw in the sixth.

After winning 17 of his next 19 bouts, the 21-year-old Leonard fought Welsh for the third time in the Manhattan Casino on May 28, 1917. The challenger floored the champion three times in the ninth round before referee Billy McPartland stopped the bout, making Leonard the lightweight champion of the world. He officially defended the title seven times over the next eight years.

Besides being lightweight Champion, Leonard challenged welterweight Champion Jack Britton for his title on June 26, 1922. He lost the fight when he was disqualified for hitting Britton when Britton was down in the thirteenth round.

Retirement and comeback[edit]

Leonard holding back Harry Houdini, mock punched by heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey

Leonard announced his retirement from boxing on January 15, 1925, as the reigning World Lightweight Champion because his mother wanted him to.

He lost most of his considerable fortune in the stock market crash of 1929, and 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 October 7, 1932, his career ended when he was TKOed in 6 rounds by future champion Jimmy McLarnin.

Life after boxing[edit]

After his boxing career was over, Leonard was a front man for National Hockey League owner Bill Dwyer of the New York Americans, who had secretly purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates 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 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 the ring. He was 51 years of age.[3]

Film career[edit]

Leonard starred in the film serial The Evil Eye (1920) and a series of boxing related film shorts titled Flying Fists (1924 - 1925).

Halls of Fame[edit]

Leonard was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Leonard was also inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

Leonard, who was Jewish, was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.[4]

Leonard was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.[5]

In its September 2001 issue, The Ring magazine ranked Leonard number 2 in its list of the greatest lightweights of all time.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IBRO Rankings". Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Monday, Apr. 28, 1947 (April 28, 1947). "Sport: Benny the Brain". TIME. Retrieved January 20, 2011. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame". Retrieved January 20, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Freddie Welsh
World Lightweight Champion
May 28, 1917 – January 15, 1925
Succeeded by
Jimmy Goodrich
Preceded by
Boxers of the U.S. Armed Forces
Edward J. Neil Trophy
Succeeded by
James J. Walker