Bell, Archie : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Bell, Archie

Archie Sapon

Bell was the personification of a contender. A fighter good enough to beat all but the very best, he never won a championship fight, but defeated opponents at every lesser level. A tough bantamweight from Brooklyn in the 1920s and early 1930s, Bell twice fought for versions of the world championship, and lost both times.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. November 12, 1904 - d. April 15, 1988

Career Highlights:
Bell began his amateur career in 1921; after fighting in 100 matches in two years (he won 60 by knockout), he turned pro in 1923. Three years later, he faced the great Tony Canzoneri on June 25, 1926, and was knocked out in the fifth round. The following year, the bantamweight title was vacated by champion Charley Phil Rosenberg and the division was thrown into chaos when three versions of the title emerged: the British, New York, and NBA (National Boxing Association) crowns. Bell travelled to England to fight Englishman Teddy Baldock on May 5, 1927, for the British version; Bell lost a 15-round decision.

After that tough loss, Bell remained a title contender. By May 1928, three men claimed to be the world champ. Bell defeated contenders Ignacio Fernandez (September 1927) and Young Nationalista (June 1928) in decisions, but lost to former New York Commission world champ Bushy Graham in June 1929. Bell was undefeated in 1930 and looked poised for another title shot; but by 1931, the division -- which had become unified -- was on the verge of fragmentation again; the NBA was threatening to strip their title from champion Panama Al Brown. When Bell travelled to Montreal to battle Norwegian Pete Sanstol in May 1931, the dispute in the division was nearing a crisis, and their fight turned out to be more significant than had been expected.

In the days leading up to Bell's fight with Sanstol, the importance of the bout shifted dramatically because Al Brown, the champion, refused to fight the winner. The NBA was threatening to revoke Brown's crown, as Panama Al refused to defend his title and was apparently having trouble making the weight. The NBA was willing to recognize the winner of the Sanstol-Bell bout as the No. 1 contender, and to then take a mail-in vote to award the title. Meanwhile, both the Montreal Athletic Association and the Canada Boxing Federation claimed the fight was for the world championship, and hoped America's governing bodies would do the same. In all this confusion, the fight had become a huge event.

Montreal was abuzz with the thought of a World Championship taking place in The Forum. Local celebrities had their own opinions and most picked Sanstol, who lived in Montreal, because they had never seen Bell fight. The Jewish coach of the famed Montreal Canadiens, Cecil Hart (who remained neutral) said, "Both good battlers, may the best man win." Finally, on May 20, the bout took place, and the two boxers faced each other without truly knowing whether or not a title was at stake. In a hard-fought and punishing 10-round affair, Sanstol was awarded a unanimous decision; he won seven rounds while Archie won only two (one was a draw).

Although Sanstol was considered world champion in Montreal, boxing historians consider Brown the undisputed champion during this period (despite the fact that the NBA stripped him of his title). After refusing to recognize Sanstol or his claim, Brown then defeated Sanstol in August 1931, and remained the champ until 1935. Bell never got a shot at Panama Al Brown, but he remained a contender until he retired in 1932. Historians do not treat the Sanstol-Bell fight as a world championship bout, although the two fighters did. Never a champion, Bell was nonetheless one of the best bantamweights of his time.

Brooklyn, New York

Physical description:
5'4", 118 pounds

Career Statistics:
Professional record:
Wins: 63 (5 by knockout)
Losses: 18
Draws: 8
No Decisions: 1

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When Boxing Was A Jewish Sport, by Allan Bodner (Connecticut: Praeger, 1997)