Cross, Leach : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Cross, Leach

Louis C. Wallach

One of the most influential Jewish boxers in the first half of the 20th Century, Cross succeeded Joe Bernstein as the idol of the ghetto in the Lower East Side in the late 1900s. During his career, Leach faced six world champions, including Hall of Famers Jack Britton and Johnny Dundee. Cross, who studied dentistry at New York University, was known as "The Fighting Dentist." Boxing historian, and founder of Ring magazine, Nat Fleischer wrote in his autobiography that Cross "was one of the standard bearers of boxing in New York... Leach, more than any other exponent of fisticuffs, popularized the sport among Jews of this city and created sectional rivalries that often resulted in neighborhood fights."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. February 12, 1886 - d. September 7, 1957

Career Highlights:
Born into an Orthodox family in New York City, Cross turned professional in 1905 and later said, "I came from the East Side. In those days, the fight bugs were mostly Irish, and so were most of the fighters. When I fought, the Irish used to come to see me get licked. The Jewish fans came to see me win. I gave the Irish a lot of headaches and flat pocketbooks." In the early years of his career, he attempted to keep his chosen profession from his father. In 1906, Cross came home with a black eye one night (after knocking out Bob Waters in the second round) and explained he had been hit with an elbow while playing basketball. Within two years though, Cross' father, and the rest of New York's Jewish community, would know of his boxing career.

In 1908, Cross became the idol of the Jewish ghetto in New York's Lower East Side when he defeated the much-admired Joe Bernstein. News of his victory spread throughout the neighborhood and someone congratulated his father for Cross' success. That night, he said to Cross, "So, a prizefighter you are! I believe you when you come home with a black eye and tell me you got it playing basketball in the Clark House! Now I learn you are a prizefighter! A loafer! A nebish!" Part of the reason his father was so upset was that Cross had graduated from New York University's Dental College the previous year. Cross later revealed, however, that he only studied dentistry in case his boxing career failed and he needed another profession.

Despite his father's protests, Cross continued to fight after defeating Bernstein. A smart defensive boxer, Cross fought out of a shell of arms and elbows and employed the "Leach Stall," where he would feign grogginess or injury, then attack his opponent when he least expected it. On St. Patrick's Day in 1908, he knocked out Irishman Frankie Madden. The story ran in the Jewish Daily Forward, and is believed to be the first account of a boxing match ever to appear in a Yiddish language newspaper in the United States. In January 1909, Leach faced famous knockout specialist Young Otto and knocked him out in the fifth round; Cross later said that the victory was the most satisfying of his career.

Although Cross never got the opportunity to fight for a title, he faced the best boxers of his day. In the early 1910s, he fought three world champions, with all three bouts ending in 10-round no decisions -- future welterweight champions Matt Wells (in June 1911) and Jack Britton (in October 1912), and former lightweight champion Battling Nelson (in November 1912). Then, in April 1914, Cross fought world lightweight champ Freddie Welsh in a non-title fight and lost a decision. The following year, Cross fought former lightweight champion Ad Wolgast twice, winning the second fight on a second-round technical knockout after the first ended in a no decision. Cross also fought future world champion Johnny Dundee in 1915, in a bout that ended in a no decision.

Soon after his second contest with Wolgast, Leach decided to retire. He made a brief comeback in 1921, but retired for good after losing a 10-round decision to Jimmy Duffy in July. One of the most popular fighters of the 1900s and 1910s, Cross retired without ever receiving a title shot despite winning 43 bouts in 55 career decisions (with 99 no decisions). Nat Fleischer , the Hall of Fame founder of Ring magazine, noted that Cross was so popular because "he always gave the fans a run for their money. Though he never won a title he was of championship calibre throughout his career...Cross was a great club fighter and in his heyday, that meant a lot."

New York City

Career Statistics:
Professional record:
Wins: 43 (25 by knockout)
Losses: 10
Draws: 2
No decisions: 99

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co, 1965)