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RSR Looks Back at the Unlikely Career of Three-Division Champion Barney Ross

By Mike “Rubber Warrior” Plunkett

Barney Ross was a rugged, hungry fighter whose unmatched physical fitness and superior stamina made him a three-division champion in a time when there were far less world titles in existence. He won world titles in the lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight divisions. Born Dov-Ber Rasofsky, Ross grew up in Chicago where he was raised by strict Orthodox Jewish parents that had an eye towards his becoming a Rabbi. Opposed to his ambition of becoming a practitioner of the sweet science, his family relented after his father was mercilessly killed during a hold-up. The need for support eclipsed that parental dream and Ross was tasked with becoming the chief breadwinner, thus he set forth to make money in the ring. A fast and clever technician with a respectable punch Ross won the 1929 Inter-City Golden Gloves Championship and turned professional later that year.

His first pro bout was in September 1929 against Ramon Lugo, an experienced pug with a 20-1-4 record on the downside of an otherwise invisible ring career. Ross prevailed by six round decision and thus, one of the great ring careers of any generation was underway. Going 10-0 his first year, Ross suffered his first defeat against Carlos Garcia, a ten-round points loss to the seasoned journeyman with a deceptive 17-7 record. Over the next thirty-six bouts, Ross went 32-1-2, paying his dues and honing his craft against the likes of former NBA Featherweight Champion Battling Battalino, among others.

Fighting as a lightweight in the Chicago area, Ross accrued a fine record of 40-2-2. By 1932 he was ranked third by The Ring and gaining momentum both with the fan base and as a fighter. In 1933, Ross defeated Tony Canzoneri by majority decision for both the lightweight and junior welterweight titles in a curious affair that that had a distance of ten rounds. The win made Ross a two-division champion in one night. Canzoneri disputed the verdict and many in the press wondered aloud if the correct decision had been rendered given the competitiveness of the encounter and the suggestion of subjective judging.

Demonstrating the desire to prove a true world champion while looking to silence the notion that he was the beneficiary of a biased hometown decision in the first match, Ross granted Canzoneri an immediate rematch. Taking it a step further, Ross agreed to allow the return to be staged on Canzoneri’s home turf at the Polo Grounds in New York. In a brutal and bloody fifteen-rounder, Ross squeaked out the win via split decision, cementing his claim as champion.

In 1934 and ’35 Ross faced welterweight champion Jimmy McLarnin in three occasions in title bouts that ensured his status at the forefront of the sports pages of the day and for all time in boxing history. Ross and McLarnin both tasted the canvas in their first encounter, a bout Ross won by a controversial split fifteen round decision at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in New York. The win, disputed as it was in some circles, afforded Ross the World Welterweight Title making him a three-division champion in a professional career that by that point was barely five years old.  In the rematch held at the same venue just four months later, McLarnin returned the favor, winning back the World Welterweight Title with a controversial fifteen round split decision that made a rubber match between the two inevitable.

Making three successful defenses of the World Junior Welterweight Title in the interim, a title Ross would vacate after outpointing Henry Woods, a third match was signed with Jimmy McLarnin for the welterweight title. In their third encounter in May of 1935, Ross managed to outlast McLarnin, winning a convincing unanimous decision. Many newspapers of the day reported that “the welterweight jinx continued with a welterweight champion losing the title in his first defense, for the 12th consecutive time”. In defeating McLarnin, Ross had vanquished a great and stubborn rival whilst demonstrating he did belong atop the one hundred and forty-seven pound division.

Having long since abandoned his titles at lightweight and junior welterweight, Ross concentrated on staying busy, capitalizing on his standing with a series of non-title bouts.  He successfully defended his welterweight title in 1936 against Izzy Jannazzo and again a year later against Ceferino Garcia, both by convincing unanimous decision. Looking ahead towards meeting bigger challenges and enjoying even greater notoriety, Ross signed to defend his title against the streaking Henry Armstrong in 1938, a fighter who by that point was approaching supernatural ability and enjoying the greatest year of his legendary career. It was the last stop on an extraordinary run as in the bout; Ross was so thoroughly battered by “Hammerin’ Hank” many of the fans in the audience were calling upon the referee to stop the contest. Refusing to go down at the fists of Armstrong, Ross snubbed his nose at Father Time, managing to last the distance, losing a wide fifteen round unanimous decision. It has been suggested by some boxing historians that his refusal to collapse against Armstrong is among the most courageous performances in boxing history. It was the last bout of a glorious career that saw him go 72-4-3, 22 KO’s, and world titles in three different weight classes. Barney Ross was an unlikely candidate for pugilism that reached the most fleeting of objectives during a particularly competitive and brutal period.

After retiring in his early-30s, Ross joined the United States Marine Corps. in a patriotic move to fight in World War II. Refusing a stateside assignment to use his celebrity to boost morale, Ross was sent to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific where he was injured single-handedly holding off a number of attacking Japanese soldiers, killing them in battle before carrying off a badly injured comrade, a man weighing in the neighborhood of 230lbs. compared to Ross’ 140-odd pounds.

The act of bravery, his single-handed victory, and his above and beyond sense of loyalty to his comrades in the face of certain disaster served to cause the public to view him as almost superhuman, especially when taken into consideration, his early life and all that he had to overcome. Because of his patriotism and heroism, Ross was awarded America’s third-highest military honor, the Silver Star, as well as a Presidential Citation.

As America’s greatest celebrity war hero he was ultimately honored by President Roosevelt in a Rose Garden ceremony. Barney Ross died in Chicago at age 57, a fighter to the end and a deserving member of The International Boxing Hall of Fame.


Barney Ross

Division: Light Welterweight

Professional Record:  72-4-3, 22 KO’s

Date       Opponent                  Location                  Result      </b>

1929-08-31 Ramon Lugo                Los Angeles, USA          W PTS  6

1929-09-14 Joe Borola                Los Angeles, USA          W PTS  6

1929-10-12 Joe Borola                Los Angeles, USA          W PTS  6

1929-10-21 Virgil Tobin              San Francisco, USA        W KO   2

1929-11-19 Joey Barth                Chicago, USA              W PTS  5

1929-12-05 Al DeRose                 Chicago, USA              W PTS  6

1930-01-10 Louis New                 Chicago, USA              W PTS  6

1930-01-24 Johnny Andrews            Chicago, USA              W PTS  4

1930-02-22 Jiro Kumagai              San Francisco, USA        W PTS  4

1930-03-17 Jackie Davis              Saint Louis, USA          W NWS  5

1930-04-08 Eddie Bojack              Cleveland, USA            W TKO  2

1930-04-21 Carlos Garcia             Chicago, USA              L PTS  6

1930-04-25 Mickey Genaro             Chicago, USA              W PTS  6

1930-07-01 Eddie Koppy               Detroit, USA              W PTS  6

1930-08-07 Luis Kid Perez            Chicago, USA              W KO   1

1930-09-19 Young Terry               Chicago, USA              D PTS  8

1930-10-14 Sammy Binder              Chicago, USA              W KO   2

1930-11-06 Petey Mack                Chicago, USA              W KO   1

1930-11-21 Harry Dublinsky           Chicago, USA              D PTS  8

1931-01-14 Henry Falegano            Chicago, USA              W PTS  8

1931-02-20 Young Terry               Chicago, USA              W UD  10

1931-03-20 Jackie Davis              Chicago, USA              W PTS  6

1931-03-27 Roger Bernard             Chicago, USA              L PTS  8

1931-04-08 Midget Mike O’Dowd        Moline, USA               W PTS  8

1931-04-24 Lud Abella                Chicago, USA              W TKO  2

1931-05-01 Jackie Dugan              Moline, USA               W KO   2

1931-05-13 Billy Shaw                Chicago, USA              W PTS  8

1931-07-15 Babe Ruth                 Benton Harbor, USA        W TKO  4

1931-07-30 Jimmy Alvarado            Detroit, USA              W PTS  8

1931-10-02 Glenn Camp                Chicago, USA              W PTS 10

1931-11-04 Lou Jallos                Chicago, USA              W PTS  8

1931-11-13 Young Terry               Moline, USA               W PTS  8

1931-11-18 Jimmy Lundy               Kansas City, USA          W PTS  8

1932-02-08 Mickey O’Neill            Milwaukee, USA            W PTS  6

1932-02-18 Billy Gladstone           Chicago, USA              W PTS  6

1932-03-02 Nick Ellenwood            Muncie, USA               W PTS 10

1932-04-05 Frankie Hughes            Indianapolis, USA         W PTS 10

1932-05-20 Dick Sisk                 Chicago, USA              W TKO  6

1932-07-28 Henry Perlick             Chicago, USA              W TKO  3

1932-08-26 Ray Miller                Chicago, USA              W UD  10

1932-09-15 Frankie Petrolle          Chicago, USA              W KO   2

1932-10-21 Battling Battalino        Chicago, USA              W UD  10

1932-11-11 Goldie Hess               Chicago, USA              W PTS 10

1932-11-25 Johnny Farr               Milwaukee, USA            W PTS 10

1933-01-30 Johnny Datto              Pittsburgh, USA           W KO   2

1933-02-22 Tommy Grogan              Chicago, USA              W PTS 10

1933-03-22 Billy Petrolle            Chicago, USA              W UD  10

1933-05-03 Joe Ghnouly               Saint Louis, USA          W PTS 10

1933-06-23 Tony Canzoneri            Chicago, USA              W MD  10

1933-07-26 Johnny Farr               Kansas City, USA          W TKO  6

1933-09-12 Tony Canzoneri            New York, USA             W SD  15

1933-11-17 Sammy Fuller              Chicago, USA              W MD  10

1934-01-24 Billy Petrolle            Bronx, USA                W UD  10

1934-02-07 Pete Nebo                 Kansas City, USA          W PTS 12

1934-03-05 Frankie Klick             San Francisco, USA        D PTS 10

1934-03-14 Kid Moro                  Oakland, USA              W PTS 10

1934-03-27 Bobby Pacho               Los Angeles, USA          W PTS 10

1934-05-28 Jimmy McLarnin            Long Island City, Queens, W SD  15

1934-09-17 Jimmy McLarnin            Long Island City, Queens, L SD  15

1934-12-10 Bobby Pacho               Cleveland, USA            W PTS 12

1935-01-28 Frankie Klick             Miami, USA                W PTS 10

1935-04-09 Henry Woods               Seattle, USA              W PTS 12

1935-05-28 Jimmy McLarnin            New York, USA             W UD  15

1935-09-06 Baby Joe Gans             Portland, USA             W KO   2

1935-09-13 Ceferino Garcia           San Francisco, USA        W PTS 10

1935-11-29 Ceferino Garcia           Chicago, USA              W UD  10

1936-01-27 Lou Halper                Philadelphia, USA         W TKO  8

1936-03-11 Gordon Wallace            Vancouver, Canada         W MD  10

1936-05-01 Chuck Woods               Louisville, USA           W KO   5

1936-06-10 Laddie Tonielli           Milwaukee, USA            W TKO  5

1936-06-22 Morrie Sherman            Omaha, USA                W KO   2

1936-07-22 Phil Furr                 Washington, USA           W UD  10

1936-11-27 Izzy Jannazzo             New York, USA             W UD  15

1937-01-29 Al Manfredo               Detroit, USA              W PTS 10

1937-06-17 Chuck Woods               Indianapolis, USA         W KO   4

1937-06-27 Jackie Burke              New Orleans, USA          W TKO  5

1937-08-19 Al Manfredo               Des Moines, USA           W NWS 10

1937-09-23 Ceferino Garcia           New York, USA             W UD  15

1938-04-04 Henry Schaft              Minneapolis, USA          W TKO  4

1938-04-25 Bobby Venner              Des Moines, USA           W TKO  7

1938-05-31 Henry Armstrong           Long Island City, Queens, L UD  15

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