Barney Ross: Gangster, Boxer, Hero
Street gangster, prize fighter and war hero, Barney Ross’ greater than life story was unmatched inside and outside the ring.
Born Dov-Ber Rosofsky in 1909, his dreams of becoming a Talmudic scholar were shattered when his father, a rabbi and shopkeeper, was killed in a robbery. The family split up, home life fell to ruin, and the bitter and resentful fourteen-year old Dov took to the streets.
He soon cavorted with Chicago’s underworld, becoming a brawler and picking up boxing with the hopes of earning enough to buy a place and reunite with his mother and siblings.
One of his running buddies in the local mob was Jack Ruby, the future killer of JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Al Capone briefly employed the young pugilist and was even said to help out financially by buying up his fight tickets in the early years.
Changing his name to Barney Ross, the hard luck kid fought his way up the amateur ranks to become the Intercity and Chicago Golden Gloves champion at age nineteen.
Not known for knockout power, his fighting style would nevertheless be marked by great intensity, stamina and a solid chin.
At his first shot for a title in 1933, Ross came away with two categories by defeating Lightweight and Light Welterweight belt holder, Toni Canzoneri. A year later he earned a rare third Welterweight division title against fellow future Hall of Famer, Jimmy McLarnin.
In 81 career fights, Ross won 72 including 22 knockouts. He was never TKO'ed himself.
The final bout came in 1938 against world champion and all-time great, Henry Armstrong. Relentlessly pounded for most of 15 rounds, Ross refused to go down despite pleas from his trainers and lost on decision.
One explanation is that the Chicago tough saw himself as the embodiment of Jewish resistance in the face of adversity and was also a national hero to his people during Hitler’s rise to power. Years later he would tap mob contacts to supply arms for the new state of Israel.
Though already in his 30's, the renowned boxer enlisted in the Marines following Pearl Harbor and was later awarded the Silver Star for extreme bravery at the battle of Guadalcanal.
But Life back home did not come easy for the celebrity slugger. He fell to heroin addiction due to morphine treatments administered for his war wounds, though he eventually kicked the habit.
Regarded by many as a national treasure, Ross died on January 17, 1967.
FOOTBALL March 17, 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney is nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The son of Steelers’ founder Art Rooney, the younger executive enjoyed a successful tenure at the helm of his football franchise, winning 6 Super Bowl championships between 1974 and 2008. He was ambassador from 2009 to 2012.
BOXING March 13, 1999 Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis draw a controversial tie for the WBA, WBC, IBF, and lineal Heavyweight Championships. Though Lewis dominated Holyfield with a higher percent of punches connected, the 3 judges were split: a win, loss and tie. In a rematch 8 months later, Lewis prevailed in a unanimous vote.
BASKETBALL March 12, 1989 Georgetown beats Syracuse 88-79 at the 10th Big East men’s basketball tournament. It was the Hoyas’ 6th win at the famed college competition, which has been held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden since 1983. Georgetown is currently tied with UCONN for the greatest number of championships at 7 each.
HOCKEY March 13, 1979 Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders posts his 5th career hat trick. Drafted in 1977, Bossy spent his entire career with the Islanders and was an integral member of the team’s 4-year reign in the Stanley Cup from 1980-1983. The Montreal native is the NHL’s all-time leader in average goals scored per regular season game.