Ross, Barney : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Ross, Barney

Beryl David Rasofsky

A member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Ross was a famously tough and skilled fighter who went through his entire storied career of 329 fights without ever once having been knocked out. He held three world titles during his career (lightweight, junior welterweight, and welterweight), and his battles with Jimmy McLarnin and Tony Canzoneri are legendary. The three fighters, an Irishman, Italian, and Jew, represented boxing in the 1920s and 1930s, and were the three best lighter weights boxers in the world. In a series of bouts between the three, Ross emerged as the superior boxer. Although not a particularly blessed physically (lack of power, brittle bones), Ross' heart and intelligence made him one of the greatest boxers in history.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. December 23, 1909 - d. January 17, 1967

Career Highlights:
Born in New York City, Ross was raised in an Orthodox family. As a youth, he hoped to become a Hebrew teacher; he abandoned athletics, in which he had an obvious prowess, to concentrate on religious studies. When he was still young, his father, a rabbi, decided to try to run a business, and he moved the family to Chicago's West Side. Then tragedy struck. In December 1924, when Ross was only 14, his father was killed in his store during a hold-up. The Ross family suffered under the strain, and Barney gave up his dream of a spiritual life; he began instead to search for a way to make some quick money. Barney observed years later that "Everything that happened to me afterward, happened because of that senseless, stupid murder." He took odd jobs, some illegal (racketeering), including one as a messenger for Al Capone in Chicago. Strangely, Capone gave Ross $20 and advised him to go straight, sensing that's what his father would have wanted. Soon after, Ross turned to the ring.

As a fighter, Beryl Rasofsky changed his name to Barney Ross so that his mother would not know he was boxing. In 1926, just before his 18th birthday, Ross won the featherweight title in the New York-Chicago Golden Gloves tournament. By the time he was 18, he had fought 250 amateur bouts, but he had to sell his medals and trophies to help support his family. In 1929, another Jewish boxer from Chicago, Jackie Fields, encouraged Ross to turn professional; when he did, he learned the real techniques of the ring. On September 1, Ross had his first professional fight and defeated Ramon Lugo in a six-round decision in Los Angeles. Ross won 38 of his first 42 professional fights before fighting the best lightweight in Chicago, Ray Miller in August 1932. Ross won a 10-round decision over Miller and then defeated former world featherweight champion Bat Battalino in October.

Ross' success in 1932 continued the following year when he won a 10-round decision over lightweight contender Billy Petrolle in March. His victory over Petrolle, who had lost his only title fight the previous November and was one of the best fighters in history to never win a title, set up a showdown between Ross and the lightweight and junior welterweight champ Tony Canzoneri. Ross won a 10-round split decision over Canzoneri (considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world before their bout), and became the first boxer in the modern era (Queensbury Rules) to win two titles simultaneously. Ross, however, but was not around for the post-fight celebration. He was walking his mother, now an enthusiast for his chosen profession, home from the arena. It was Friday night, and Mrs. Rosofsky would not ride home on the Sabbath.

In September 1933, Ross gave Canzoneri a rematch, this time in Canzoneri's hometown of New York City (some speculated Ross only won the first bout because it was held in Chicago), and won another split decision. Immediately following the fight, Ross vacated the lightweight title due to weight problems, but retained the junior welterweight crown. Around this time, he renewed his interest in Judaism, and a rabbi advised him: "You cannot behave badly. You cannot let bad things be written about you. You must set an example of decency and goodness so that the world will know what horrible lies Hitler is telling." Years later, Ross wrote that before one match, "I had never been so keyed up and tense before a fight. The news from Germany made me feel I was...fighting for all my people."

Two months after defeating Canzoneri the second time, Ross defended his junior welterweight title against Sammy Fuller and won a 10-round decision in Chicago. He defended the title twice in 1934 while eying the world welterweight title held by the redoubtable Jimmy McLarnin, who had gained a reputation for knocking out Jewish boxers (including Louis "Kid" Kaplan, Sid Terris, and the great Benny Leonard to end Leonard's comeback attempt). Because of McLarnin's reputation, and also because McLarnin was being lauded as Canzoneri's successor as world's best fighter, Jewish fans turned out in record numbers to see Ross and McLarnin battle in New York City.

On May 28, 1934, despite giving up ten-pounds, Ross defeated McLarnin in a 15-round split decision to capture the world welterweight title. Ross had been knocked down in the ninth-round (the first knockdown of his career), and was so upset at himself that he jumped up and knocked McLarnin down 45 seconds later. By winning the welterweight title, Ross became only the third boxer in history to win world titles in three divisions and was a ring immortal. He gave McLarnin a rematch in September 1934 and lost a controversial 15-round split decision (22 of 29 boxing reporters on hand believed Ross had really won the fight). Following that fight, Ross successfully defended his junior welterweight title twice before relinquishing it in April 1935 to concentrate on regaining the welterweight belt from McLarnin.

In May 1935, McLarnin and Ross fought for a third time, with Ross winning in a 15-round unanimous decision to recapture the welterweight belt despite breaking his right thumb in the sixth-round. The trilogy of bouts between these two legendary fighters is considered one of the greatest in boxing history. Ross won title defenses against Izzy Janazzo in November 1936 and Ceferino Garcia in September 1937 before facing Hall of Famer Henry Armstrong on May 31, 1938. Although he began the fight well, the referee was going to stop the bout in the 11th round and award Armstrong the victory. Ross pleaded with the referee (and his own managers) to allow the fight to continue, saying, "I've got to go out like a champion. Let me finish. I have never been knocked out." He took a terrible beating at the end, but stood his ground and simply refused to go down for the count, losing the title in a 15-round decision. Ross said afterwards that "a champion has the right to choose how he goes out."

Ross retired following the loss, having never been knocked out in 329 fights (professional and amateur). He opened a lounge bearing his name in Chicago, but joined the U.S. Marines at the age of 33 when the U.S. entered World War II. Fighting at Guadalcanal, Barney and four injured Marines found themselves cut off from the main body of American soldiers. Two of the Marines continually loaded guns while Ross kept the enemy at bay with rifle fire and grenades, taking time out to pray in Hebrew. He was awarded the Silver Star for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action...," and received a Distinguished Service Cross and Presidential citation from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unfortunately, Ross was badly wounded and treated with morphine to help alleviate the pain. By the time he was released from the hospital, he was addicted to morphine. For four long years, he suffered with his addiction before breaking it, but not before he lost most of his money, his family, and every thing else. Hollywood made a movie of his battleground heroism and subsequent addiction called Monkey on My Back.

In 1956, Ross was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame, and in 1990 to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

New York City

Career Statistics:
Professional record:
Wins: 72 (22 knockouts)
Losses: 4
Draws: 3
No decisions: 2

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Also, read a chapter from The Jew in American Sports by Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow

Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co, 1965)
Great Jews in Sports, by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)