Benny Leonard

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Benny Leonard
Class of 1990
Old Timer Category
Hall of Fame bio:click

Name: Benny Leonard
Alias: The Ghetto Wizard
Birth Name: Benjamin Leiner
Born: 1896-04-07
Birthplace: New York, New York, USA
Died: 1947-04-18 (Age:51)
Hometown: New York, New York, USA
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 5′ 5″   /   165cm
Reach: 69″   /   175cm
Boxing Record: click

Career Review

Benny Leonard, one of the greatest lightweights of all-time, was born Benjamin Leiner to Jewish immigrants on the East Side of New York City in 1896. When he turned professional at age 15, he fought under the name Benny Leonard so his parents wouldn't know he was fighting. Benny was the older brother of fellow boxers Joey Leonard [1] and Charley Leonard. [2]

"I was a mama's boy," Leonard said. "When I was 15, I began fighting in the local clubs, but I didn't want my folks to know. So I changed my name from Benny Leiner to Benny Leonard, after the famous minstrel man, Eddie Leonard. One night I came home after a fight and my mother was crying. She had found out. My father came in and started shouting at me. 'Viper, tramp,' he yelled. 'Fighting, fighting, fighting—for what?' I took out the five dollars I had earned and handed it to him. He looked at it, smiled and put his arms around me. 'That's all right, Benny,' he said. 'When are you going to fight again...?' "

There were also reports that Leonard got his name when a ring announcer, who couldn't pronounce Leiner, called him Leonard.

Leonard was stopped in his pro debut and knocked out three more times in his first seven months as a professional.

Leonard developed into one of the most scientific boxers ever. He had fast hands, quick feet, an excellent jab, power in both hands, and great ring intelligence. He also had a gift for gab and constantly spoke to his opponents during fights.

On May 20, 1917, at age 21, Leonard knocked out Freddie Welsh in nine rounds to win the World Lightweight Championship.

When World War I broke out, Leonard joined the Army. He taught boxing and served as an instructor in Bayonet and hand-to-hand fighting. In 1918, he boxed exhibitions to help in War Bond drives.

Leonard fought Jack Britton for the World Welterweight Championship on June 26, 1922. Leonard dropped Britton with a body shot in the thirteenth round, then was disqualified when he hit Britton while he was down. This was a controversial fight, with some believing that Leonard purposely got himself disqualified. There were rumors that Leonard, a 3 to 1 favorite, bet heavily against himself. Ray Arcel, who later trained Leonard, believed Leonard just let his emotions get the better of him.

Leonard became one of the most popular athletes in the country and was a big drawing card. His title defense against Lew Tendler on July 24, 1923 was the first championship fight held at Yankee Stadium and drew a crowd of 58,519, which produced a gate of $452,000.

At the urging of his ill mother, Leonard retired from boxing on January 15, 1925. He had been World Lightweight Champion for almost seven years, which is still the longest lightweight title reign ever.

Leonard earned over a million dollars during his career, but he lost everything when the stock market crashed in 1929.

He returned to the ring in 1931 and went 20-0-1 before fighting Jimmy McLarnin in 1932. McLarnin knocked Leonard out in six rounds and ended of his comeback.

During World War II, Leonard served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Maritime Service. He served as Athletic Director and Special Services Officer.

On the night of April 18, 1947, while refereeing a boxing match at the St. Nicholas Arena, Leonard suffered a heart attack, staggered into the ropes, and fell to the canvas. He was carried into the dressing room and pronounced dead by a ringside doctor a few minutes later. He was 51.

Leonard was inducted into The Ring Hall of Fame in 1955, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1980, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Historical Rankings

  • Nat Fleischer ranked Leonard as the second greatest lightweight of all-time in 1958.
  • Charley Rose ranked Leonard as the greatest lightweight of all-time in 1968.
  • Herbert Goldman ranked Leonard as the greatest lightweight of all-time in 1987.
  • The Ring ranked Leonard as the greatest lightweight of all-time in 1975 and second in 1994 and 2001.
  • The Associated Press ranked Leonard as the second best lightweight of the 20th century and the eighth best fighter overall in 1999.
  • Bert Sugar ranked Leonard as the sixth greatest fighter of all-time in 2005.

Record Issue

An entry in BoxRec, now deleted, made the following assertion (BoxRec contributing Editors: wsbuf/delisa): "11/15/31, Henry Firpo, Barry VT, W Pts 10. Exact date unk. Source 2/32 Arena Mag. (after Casper fight)." No reference to this fight has been found in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The Ring, any of the record books carrying records of Leonard or Firpo, or in any other newspaper that has been researched. At the time, Firpo was involved in the NBA middleweight title elimination tournament, fighting Gary Leach on October 12, Oddone Piazza on November 19, Gorilla Jones on December 11, and Angel Clivilles on December 18 (all four fights occurring in Milwaukee). Arena was a marginal publication, little remembered. For now, it seems best to set aside this supposed fight, unless/until evidence in the form of a newspaper account is located.