Bass, Benny "Little Fish"
The first boxer from Philadelphia to win a world championship (he captured the featherweight crown in 1927), Bass was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002. The immortal Jack Dempsey remarked that Bass was "the greatest fighter of his weight and inches I have ever set my eyes upon." A member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Bass also won the world junior lightweight crown during his illustrious career.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. December 15, 1904 - d. June 25, 1975
One of the hardest punchers the featherweight division has ever seen, Bass was described by Ring magazine as "a deadly puncher, cool as the proverbial pebble under fire and a masterful boxer." Bass won 95 of his first 100 amateur bouts, culminating in 1920, when he won the U.S. Amateur Middle States Flyweight championship at the age of 15. That year, he almost made the U.S. Olympic team, but lost to future world champ Frankie Genaro in the box-offs at the Olympic trials. The following year, Bass turned professional, moved up a weight class, and became one the most feared fighters in the featherweight division.
In his first six years as a professional, Bass was very successful, winnning 53 of his 73 fights. He finally got a shot at the featherweight title when champion Louis "Kid" Kaplan surrendered the crown due to weight problems. Bass moved through the group of contenders and was finally matched up with Red Chapman (born Morris Kaplan) for the vacant title. The unforgettable fight held between these two warriors on September 19, 1927 was one of the bloodiest battles in ring history. In the third round, Bass suffered a bad gash from a head butt, and his own blood almost blinded him. But he fought cleverly and gamely, and in the seventh round, Benny's hard punches opened a bloody gash over Chapman's eye. The two proud gladiators continued exchanging savage punches, and in the ninth round, there was a double knockdown. Bass staggered to his feet first. The fallen Chapman barely beat the count, but managed to back away from the exhausted Bass long enough to avoid a knockout. In the tenth and last round, the two blood-soaked warriors traded unforgiving blows; at the end of the bout, both men were standing, but barely. Bass won the decision, the championship, and a place in boxing lore for one of the greatest, and goriest, of championship fights.
Bass was the world champion, and less than a month later, he climbed back into the ring to defend his newly-won crown. He defeated Mike Ballerino in 10 rounds, then won two more decisions to complete 1927. After winning his first three fights in 1928, Bass met the legendary Tony Canzoneri in a bout to unify the featherweight division (Bass was only recognized by the NBA). On February 10, the two great fighters met in New York City, and although Bass lost the title to Canzoneri in a 15-round decision, he displayed incredible courage and physical ability. In the third round, Bass broke his collarbone in five places, but fought on for another twelve rounds, barely losing the decision! He then took four months off to recuperate and returned to the ring as strong and tough as ever. He won 22 of his next 27 fights and moved up to the junior lightweight division.
In December 1929, Bass challenged world champ Tod Morgan, who had held the title for four years, for the junior lightweight title. After being rocked by Morgan's right hand in the first round, Bass charged into the second round like a bull, and knocked out the champion with his own tremendous right hand. Bass now had his second title, and was considered one of the top fighters in the world. Although he did not defend his crown in 1930, he continued to fight top competition, including Johnny Jadick (a 10-round win) and a rematch with Canzoneri (a 10-round loss). He finally defended his title in July 1931 against Kid Chocolate, and suffered the first knockout of his career when a gash over his left eye caused the bout to be stopped in the seventh round. In this fashion, Bass lost his title. He never fought for another crown, but continued to fight throughout the 1930s.
After retiring in 1940, Benny found he was broke. Though he did not have a formal education, Bass spoke five languages, and had a sharp mind. So, resourceful and diligent as ever, Benny took the Civil Service exam and became a clerk in the Philadelphia traffic court system for many years.
Bass, who put Philadelphia boxing on the map, won a remarkable 172 bouts during his professional career. He is a member of both the Philadelphia Boxing Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
5'2", 130 pounds
Wins: 172 (63 by knockout)
No decisions: 1
No contests: 2
Use links below to navigate through the boxing section of Jews In Sports.
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)