Luftspring, Sammy : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Luftspring, Sammy

Luftspring was the Canadian amateur welterweight champion before turning professional in 1936. At the peak of his pro career, he was ranked the third best welterweight in the world. After his fighting career ended, Luftspring became a prominent referee. His autobiography, Call me Sammy, was published in 1975.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. May 14, 1915 - d. October 2000

Career Highlights:
According to his brother Syd Luftspring, Luftspring began fighting at an early age at the Brunswick (Toronto) Talmud Torah. He moved up the ranks quickly, but he also used his talents outside the ring. In 1933, Luftspring was part of a group of hundreds of young Jewish men who fought a battle against Toronto's Swastika Club during the Christie Pitts riots. In 1936, Luftspring was selected to represent Canada at the Berlin Olympics. Luftspring and another Canadian Jewish boxer, Norman "Babe" Yack, announced their decision not to attend the Berlin Games. In a stark and revealing statement, they declared that "We would have been very (loath) to hurt the feelings of our fellow Jews, by going to a land that would exterminate them if it could." Instead, the two boxers chose to compete in the alternate Games being held in Barcelona. When they reached the port city of Dieppe, France, though, they learned the Barcelona Games had been cancelled due to the Spanish Civil War.

Luftspring turned professional in 1936, and two years later became the Canadian welterweight champion when he defeated Frankie Genovese in the first 15-round bout ever held in Ontario. He held the title for 2 years, and was third in line for a shot at the world champion Henry Armstrong when his career was tragically cut short. Three months before he was scheduled to face Armstrong (in 1940), Luftspring faced Steve Belloise at Madison Square Garden in what was generally considered a warm-up bout for the approaching match with Armstrong. But against Belloise, Luftspring took a thumb in his left eye during the second-round. Sammy refused to quit, though, and finished the fight, although he lost a split decision. Much worse, he lost all vision in his eye and was forced to retire.

Although he could no longer box, Luftspring remained in the ring as a referee. In the 1970s, he made the Guinness Book of World Records for refereeing more than 2,000 boxing matches, including one world title. In 1985, Luftspring was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

Toronto, Canada

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