Nicknamed "The Pride of the Ghetto" in the 1890's, Bernstein was one of the first great boxers to emerge from New York's Lower East Side. A featherweight, he fought for the championship three times, but lost all three bouts. These fights endeared Bernstein to the newly arriving Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side. The New York World wrote: "Bernstein is the toughest featherweight in the world and no man has ever knocked him out in six rounds." One of his last fights was a loss to his successor as the idol of the ghetto, Leach Cross, in 1908.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. November 7, 1877 - d. 1931
Bernstein began fighting professionally in 1894, as a featherweight, and became a legend. During his career, he fought the fought the best men in his division, including Hall of Famer George Dixon. That bout, in September 1898, was a six-round no decision. In Dixon's next fight two months later, he won the world title and granted Bernstein a shot at the crown in June 1899. The rematch went the full 25-rounds, with Bernstein losing the decision.
Bernstein would received another title shot in November 1900 after defeating former champ Solly Smith twice (one knockout, one disqualification). This time, he battled the legendary Terry McGovern who had won the title from Dixon in January 1900; Bernstein, who had lost a 25-round decision to McGovern in 1899, was knocked out in the seventh round (they also fought to a six-round no decision in 1903 after McGovern had lost the title).
Bernstein nonetheless continued to fight top competition. In 1901, he lost to future champ Young Corbett II (who would defeat McGovern for the title) and fought Solly Smith twice, with both fights ending in 20-round draws. In October 1902, Bernstein was granted his third title shot by Young Corbett II; once again, Joe lost the title bout, getting knocked out in the seventh round. Bernstein continued to fight for six more years without receiving another title shot. He goes down as a fine featherweight who beat everyone he faced except the very best of his time.
New York City
Professional record: (incomplete)
Wins: 32 (15 by knockout)
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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co, 1965)