Berg, Jackie "Kid"

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BERG, JACKIE "KID" (Judah Bergman ; 1909–1991), professional boxer, junior welterweight champion 1930–31, member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame. Born in the Whitechapel section of London's East End to Orthodox immigrant parents from Poland, Berg was one of nine children and had to quit school early to earn a living to help feed the family. Yiddel, as he was known, fought his first professional fight on June 8, 1924, 20 days before his 15th birthday, thus justifying his nickname "Kid." When Yiddel Bergman introduced himself to the fight's promoter, Lewis Kurtz, the latter said, "You can't go in there with a respectable Jewish name. We'll change it around a bit and call you Jack Berg."

Kid Berg spent his early career fighting in London, winning his first 20 fights and 56 of his first 59, with 25 knockouts. He gained the sobriquet "The Whitechapel Whirlwind" from his perpetual motion, piston-shooting style of fighting, which was neither boxing nor punching.

At 19, he moved to the U.S., winning 10 of his first 11 fights with his only loss to Billy Petrolle, the first time Berg was knocked out in 62 fights. He proceeded to win his next 18 fights, including one on October 21, 1929, against Bruce Flowers at Madison Square Garden in New York, in a benefit fight on behalf of the "Palestine Relief Fund," which raised $101,000 from the crowd of 20,000.

Berg beat Tony Canzoneri on January 17, 1930, and then defeated fellow countryman and Jew Mushy Callahan in London on February 18, 1930, for the junior welterweight title, defending it six times over the next 14 months. Berg was considered by then one of the five best, if not the best, pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

On April 24, 1931, Berg again fought Canzoneri, who was now world lightweight champion. Berg was 88–4–5 coming into the fight at Chicago Stadium, having won 58 of his previous 59 fights over a five-year stretch. But Canzoneri scored a ko in the 3rd round, retaining his lightweight belt and winning Berg's junior welterweight title, as both fighters were under 135 pounds. Berg fought and won six more fights before challenging Canzoneri in a rematch at New York's Polo Grounds on September 10, 1931. Berg was fouled at least three times, was knocked down twice, and suffered a terrible gash below the eye, and lost the fight on points in 15 rounds. Berg was never the same champion boxer after his two losses to Canzoneri, though he continued fighting for another 14 years. The last fight of his 21-year-career was May 19, 1945, when he won a fifth-round ko over rookie fighter Johnny McDonald to retire a month shy of his 37th birthday. His record was 157 wins with 61 kos, 26 losses, and 9 ties, with 14 of his wins coming on disqualifications – an all-time record for winning on fouls; he was knocked out eight times.

Berg was proud of his Jewishness, and, as many Jewish fighters have done in history, would wear a Star of David on his trunks, with his Hebrew initials "Yod-Bet" in the center. But Berg added a singular Jewish touch – he would also wear tzitzit into the ring, hanging them on the ring post. "It's comforting to have God on your side no matter what you are doing," he said.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]