Lewis, Harry : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Lewis, Harry

Harry Besterman

A member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Lewis was the world welterweight champion from 1908-1911. Ranked as the sixth best welterweight of all time by boxing historian Nat Fleischer, he was one of the smartest boxers in history and was knocked out only twice during his incredible career. His rival, Willie Lewis, said of the great Jewish champion, "What Harry doesn't know about boxing isn't worth learning."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. September 16, 1886 - d. February 22, 1956

Career Highlights:
Born in New York City, the red-headed Lewis fought out of Philadelphia when he began his professional career in 1903. Losing only once in his first 48 fights, Lewis was a contender by 1906 when he faced Jimmy Gardner twice (both bouts ended in no decisions). On June 15, Lewis then fought former (and future) world lightweight champion Joe Gans; the bout ended in another no decision. Although Lewis lost to Gardner in May 1907, he had defeated Mike Sullivan in January of that year to solidify his claim as the top contender in the welterweight division.

Although Sullivan claimed the world welterweight title, he was recognized only by the State of California. Lewis, in the meantime, fought Hall of Famer Jack Blackburn in November 1907 (the bout ended in a no decision) and was poised to claim the world title. On January 23, 1908, Lewis knocked out Frank Mantell in the third-round and claimed the championship. By the middle of 1908, after successfully defending his title twice by defeating Terry Martin in 15-round decision and knocking out former champion Billy Mellody, Lewis was the undisputed welterweight title-holder.

Lewis did not defend his title in 1909, although he fought 14 times, losing twice. The following year, he sailed to France and helped popularize "Le Boxe," by defending his title twice against rival Willie Lewis; both bouts ended in 25-round draws and Lewis retained the title. Then, Lewis showed his toughness and ability when he faced three opponents on the same day. On May 19, he knocked out Englishmen Bill Davies and Bert Ropert in a total of three-rounds, and then defeated American Bob Scanlon when Scanlon fouled Harry in the second-round. After fighting once more in Paris, Harry defended his title in June 1910 in London against Englishman Young Joseph; Lewis knocked Joseph out in the seventh-round.

After defeating Joseph, Lewis returned to the U.S., but did not defend his title again in 1910. He then defeated Johnny Summers in England in a title bout in January 1911, but relinquished his welterweight title two months later. Lewis remained in Europe for the majority of the next two years, fighting occasionally but without the frequency of his early career. Lewis' last career fight was in October 1913 against Joe Borrell in Philadelphia. Lewis collapsed after a blow to the jaw in the fifth-round as the punch caused a bloodclot and Lewis lingered near death for days. He recovered, but suffered partial paralysis -- and continued to live for another 43 years.

New York City

Physical description:
5'7", 130-155 pounds

Career Statistics:
Professional record:
Wins: 80 (42 by knockout)
Draws: 12
No decisions: 56

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