Posts Tagged ‘Jewish boxer’
Tommy Burns “The Little Giant of Hanover” is not included among the greats but is perhaps very much underrated both as a boxer and from a historical point of view.
Burns was the first to travel the globe in defending his heavyweight title, the first heavyweight champion to give a Jewish boxer a shot at the crown and the first man to allow an African American a shot at the Heavyweight crown.
Tommy Burns was an Italian, born Noah Brusso in Chesley, Ontario, Canada, on June 17, 1881 – May 10, 1955 and is the only Canadian born world heavyweight champion boxer.
Brusso came from an impoverished family of thirteen children. The Brusso’s lacked even the most basic comforts, and were reduced to relying on the state for food and clothing.
Tommy soon left Canada and migrated south across the border where he settled in Detroit, hoping to find work and support himself. It was not long after his arrival in the United States that he entered the prize ring in 1902 and met with immediate success. Campaigning then as a middleweight, he rattled off a string of victories that was only interrupted by a pair of early losses to the tough veteran Mike Schreck, after which he picked up the Michigan State Middleweight Title.
After starting his boxing career under his real name, Brusso changed his alias in 1904, because his Italian Roman Catholic mother objected to boxing, he used the Irish sounding name of Tommy Burns to hide his participation from her.
Although only 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) tall and about 175 pounds (79 kg), size did not stop him from becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion. When Burns met Marvin Hart for the heavyweight championship of the world on February 23, 1906, Burns was a 2-1 underdog and the betting was 10-7 that he would not last ten rounds. Burns won, and went on to defend his title eleven times within a period of less than two years.
All previous world champs had been white Americans, who only defended their titles against other white Americans. Burns, however, travelled the globe, beating the champions of every nation in which boxing was legal at that time, including England, Ireland, France and Australia. Along the way he set records for the fastest knockout (one minute and 28 seconds) and the most consecutive wins by knockout (eight) by a heavyweight champion. He was also the shortest heavyweight champ in history. He also defended his title twice in one night, although some historians refuse to accept those wins as title defenses, insisting they were exhibition bouts. But in newspapers at the time, they were advertised as heavyweight title fights. If those defenses are counted in his record, he actually successfully defended his title 13 times.
Burns changed sports forever by being the first man to allow an African American a shot at the Heavyweight crown. His biographer, Dan McCaffery, quoted Burns as saying, “I will defend my title against all comers, none barred. By this I mean white, black, Mexican, Indian, or any other nationality. I propose to be the champion of the world, not the white, or the Canadian, or the American. If I am not the best man in the heavyweight division, I don’t want the title.” Burns was also the first heavyweight champion to give a Jewish boxer a shot at the crown. Burns had defeated Joseph ‘Jewey’ Smith in a fight staged in Paris. On top of that, he had fought one bout with a Native American on his way up. Along the way he had set records for the fastest knockout (one minute and 28 seconds) and the most consecutive wins by knockout (eight) by a heavyweight champion.
In December 1908, history was made when Burns became the first fighter to agree to a heavyweight championship bout with a black boxer, Jack Johnson, to whom he lost his title in a match held in Sydney. He refused to fight Johnson until Australian promoter Hugh McIntosh paid him $30,000 for the fight (Johnson only received $5,000). He was rumoured to be suffering from the effects from jaundice or influenza, and weighed in at just 168 pounds (76 kg)—15 pounds (6.8 kg) lighter than his previous fight, and well below Johnson’s 192 pounds (87 kg). The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police. Referee Hugh McIntosh awarded the decision and the title to Johnson. In a filmed interview, Burns named Johnson as the second best boxer up to his time, after James J. Jeffries.
When Johnson arrived in Vancouver in 1909 he told a crowd of people that Burns deserved credit as the only white heavyweight who ever gave a black man a chance to win the title. He said, “Let me say of Mr. Burns, a Canadian and one of yourselves, that he has done what no one else ever did, he gave a black man a chance for the championship. He was beaten, but he was game.”
Burns continued to box occasionally after dropping the title. During the First World War he joined the Canadian army, serving as a physical fitness instructor in Canada. A month before his 39th birthday in 1920, he challenged British champion Joe Beckett. Burns lost the fight in what was officially his only knockout loss, but took in one last big payday before retiring.
After retirement, Burns promoted some boxing shows and in 1928 moved to New York City where he ran a speakeasy. Although he was wealthy at the end of his boxing career, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression wiped out his fortune. He then worked as an insurance salesman and security guard, among other jobs. Burns was ordained as a minister in 1948. He was an evangelist living in Coalinga, California at the time of his death.
Tommy passed away at the age of 73 after suffering a fatal heart attack.
He died while visiting a church friend in Vancouver, British Columbia, suffering a heart attack. Only four people attended his burial at Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, British Columbia. He was interred in an unmarked pauper’s grave until 1961 when, as the result of fundraising efforts begun by a Vancouver sports writer, a memorial plaque was finally placed on his grave.