Davis, Al "Bummy"
A tough and skilled welterweight from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Davis was a unique personality even in the rough and colorful world of boxing. Bummy was once arrested while training for a bout, and was suspended from the ring. Davis also had one of the better hooks in boxing history. During his career in the late 1930s and 1940s, Bummy fought some of the greatest boxers of his era, including Lou Ambers, Henry Armstrong, Bob Montgomery, and Rocky Graziano. Praised and vilified with equal enthusiasm during his career, he remained a hero to Brownsville's Jewish neighborhood -- which also gave birth to the notorious Murder, Inc.
Al was called Boomy as a child by his family; but his nickname was changed to "Bummy" by his manager, Johnny Attell, prior to Davis' first professional fight in May 1937. Upon learning of his new nickname, Davis stormed into Attell's office and complained, "...I don't want to be called Bummy." Attell responded, "...You want to make money fighting, don't you? People like to come to fights to see guys they think are tough." So Davis became known as Bummy, though he was not a bum, either as a boxer or as a person. His tragic -- and violent --death was indicative of the way he lived his life. In 1945, at the age of 25, Davis was fatally shot to death while coming to the defense of a barkeep during a robbery attempt.
Davis is the subject of Bummy Davis vs. Murder, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Mafia and an Ill-Fated Prizefighter, a book by Ron Ross. Budd Schulberg, author of On the Waterfront, remarked of Ross' book: "You don't have to be a fight fan to enjoy this or even remember the riveting career of Bummy Davis, the ill-starred little Jewish boxer from Brownsville. Ron Ross tells an intense personal story with a powerful sense of social history about the Jewish mob world of the '20s and '30s that makes this labor of love one of the most gripping reads in years." For more information on the book, please visit Ross' web site at www.ronross.us.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Jan. 26, 1920 - d. Nov. 21, 1945
As a youngster, Davis learned to fight on the streets of Brownsville while a pushcart salesman. Later as a pro fighter, he claimed to sportswriters that he "was the best tomato salesman in the world." A member of a gang as a teenager, Davis was discovered by manager Johnny Attell while fighting as an amateur under the name Giovanni Pasconi. Attell was very impressed with Davis' large band of loyal supporters and his ability to "sell tickets." Beginning his pro career in May 1937, when he won a four-round decision over Frankie Reese, Davis defeated his first twenty-one opponents, 15 by knockout (including nine knockouts in the first three rounds). Although his winning streak ended on June 20, 1938, when he fought a six-round draw against Jack Sharkey Jr., Bummy's undefeated record still sparkled as he prepared for his next fight.
In July 1938, Davis fought fellow Brownsville boxer Bernie "Schoolboy" Friedkin, a popular and experienced fighter. In the days leading up to the fight, expectations ran high, and when the fight was rained out five nights in a row, the match was moved to Madison Square Garden on July 21. Bummy was known for his great hook and in the first three rounds, he threw left hook after left hook, and Friedkin routinely blocked them. Many observers believed Friedkin to be winning at the end of three rounds; but any argument became moot one minute into the fourth round. Davis continued his constant barrage of hooks and landed a short left hook that ended the fight as it landed flush on Friedkin's head. Hailed a hero in Brownsville, Davis was praised in the newspapers as the best "hooker" since Charley White in the early 1920s.
Although beloved in Brownsville, Davis found himself vilified by many fight fans after he defeated ring legend Tony Canzoneri in 1939. Bummy had always been booed by a section of fight fans, some of whom came to watch him fight hoping to see him get knocked out. This obsession went to a new level after he Davis fought Canzoneri. Still undefeated when he entered the ring on November 1 against the Hall of Famer, Bummy seemed poised to make short work of his aging opponent. In what was Canzoneri's final professional bout, Davis knocked out the former champ in the third round, the only time Canzoneri had been knocked out in his career. A beloved champion, Canzoneri was clearly over the hill, and Davis did nothing wrong but step in the ring and fight. Still, the knockout was too much for Canzoneri's fans. Suddenly, Davis not just being booed, but was cast as a villain.
After the Canzoneri fight, Davis quickly returned to the ring and knocked out future world junior-welterweight champ Tippy Larkin on December 15. Bummy's record was now a stellar 35-0-2. While training for a non-title bout against lightweight champ Lou Ambers, Davis got into an argument with a man named Mersky at a candy store. Tempers flared when someone called Davis a lousy fighter and candy was thrown in his face. Mersky ended up in the hospital and the cops went looking for Davis. Bummy eventually turned himself in, and the case was delayed until after the Ambers fight. News of what happened got out and the public, their memory of Canzoneri on the canvas still fresh on their minds, wanted nothing more than to see Davis get pummelled. On February 23, 1940, with Mersky at ringside, the crowd shouted at Davis on his way to the ring and thoroughly enjoyed the beating he took from Ambers. Davis lasted the entire bout, losing a 10-round decision. What bothered him more than the loss, however, was his treatment at the hands of the fans.
Davis quit the ring after the Ambers fight because he was so hurt by the fans' verbal abuse. He returned to the ring from a self-imposed exile after learning his manager, Johnny Attell, had been kicked out of Madison Square Garden -- Bummy hoped that his return would help Attell get reinstated. Davis proceeded to win his next five bouts before stepping into the ring against Fritzie Zivic, in what would become the most famous fight of Davis' career. On November 15, 1940, Davis and Zivic met in New York City in a bout destined for a horrific ending: Davis obviously did not take abuse well, while Zivic was infamous for his dirty tactics. In the first round, Zivic thumbed Davis in the eyes repeatedly, enraging the red-eyed Davis who repeated, "He's trying to blind me. He's trying to blind me." When Zivic continued his vicious, incessant fouling in the second round, Davis snarled at his opponent: "All right, you...if you want to fight dirty, okay." He walked up to Zivic and started hitting him below the belt repeatedly -- and Bummy refused to stop. Davis hit Zivic over thirty times before the police entered the ring and escorted Bummy out. He was fined $2,500 and suspended from the ring for life.
On the advice of his manager, Davis enlisted in the U.S. Army early in 1941. In July, while still in the service, promoter Mike Jacobs arranged a rematch with Zivic at the Polo Grounds for Army Emergency Relief. Davis, who had not fought since being suspended, entered the ring overweight and was knocked out in the 10th round. He returned to the army after the fight, but was released from duty following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor because the army no longer wanted him. Upon his release from the army, although he still could not get a boxing license in New York, Davis returned to the ring. Between September 1942 and August 1943, he fought in Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities, and won 11 of 15 fights.
Davis' New York boxing license was reinstated in August 1943 and he won four of five fights (the other was a draw) before meeting former (and future) world lightweight champion Bob Montgomery, on February 18, 1944. In a shocking upset, Davis knocked out the 10-1 favorite Montgomery in the first round. The following month, Bummy fought Beau Jack (who had lost the world title to Montgomery in his previous fight) and lost a 10-round decision. Davis knocked out his next four opponents before meeting the great Henry Armstrong in June 1944; Armstrong knocked him out in the second round. Davis then won his first four fights in 1945 before being knocked out by Rocky Graziano in the fourth round on May 25. Bummy's final professional fight took place in September against Johnny Jones; Davis won on a sixth-round disqualification.
Following the Armstrong fight in June 1944, Davis had made almost a quarter-million dollars in his career and began to enjoy his wealth. He purchased racehorses, and a bar and grill, but was forced to sell the bar as he had squandered his fortune by the middle of 1945. Needing money, Bummy agreed to fight Morris Reif, but refused to train because he did not believe he could win the bout. Instead, he spent time at his former bar, called Dudy's, and was in the back with some buddies one night when he happened to look through the latticework at the bar and saw four men with guns. Without a second thought, Davis walked to the bar and when one of them called him a bum, he challenged them all, knocking one out before he was shot in the neck. Holding a handkerchief to his neck, he chased the robbers as they fled the bar; Bummy was shot again, and died. The robbers were soon caught and convicted. Finally called a hero by fight fans and the newspapers, Davis' funeral was a huge affair with seemingly everyone from Brownsville present; he was buried in a Jewish cemetary.
Brooklyn, New York
Wins: 64 (46 by knockout)