Ross, Barney

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ROSS, BARNEY (Barnet, Dov Ber, David "Beryl" Rasofsky , "The Pride of the Ghetto"; 1909–1967), U.S. boxer, three-time champion as lightweight (1933–35), junior welterweight (1933–35), and welterweight (1934, 1935–38), only Jewish fighter to win two different world championships, member of Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame. Ross was born on the Lower East Side of New York to Sarah and Isadore, religious immigrants from Brest-Litovsk, Russia. The family moved to the Maxwell Street neighborhood of Chicago when Ross was two, where his father, who was also a rabbi, ran Rasofsky's Dairy store. A week before his 14th birthday in December 1924, Ross' father was shot to death during a store robbery. His mother suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be taken care of by relatives; Ross and his older brother, Morrie, moved in with a cousin, and the three younger siblings were placed in an orphanage. In his anger, Ross rejected his Orthodox lifestyle and became obsessed with reuniting his scattered family. He became a petty thief and numbers runner, and worked for Al Capone, who reportedly gave him $20 and advised him to go straight. He turned to the ring, changing his name to Barney Ross so that his mother would not know he was boxing, and fought as often as five times a week, pawning his winning medals for three dollars apiece. In 1929, Ross won the Western and Inter-City Golden Gloves featherweight titles. His first professional fight was on August 31, 1929, and his big break came on June 23, 1933, when he fought Tony Canzoneri in Chicago for the world lightweight and junior welterweight titles, winning by a split decision and becoming the first fighter in the modern era to win two titles simultaneously. "Winning the titles was almost an anti-climax," Ross said later. "My big thrill came a few weeks before the fight. That was when I was able to take the younger kids out of the orphanage asylum and reunite them with Mom." His most famous fights were three welterweight championship bouts against Jimmy McLarnin in 1934 and 1935 – Ross won the first and third, the latter despite breaking his left thumb in the sixth-round – which captured the nation's attention and drew huge gates. Ross became only the third boxer in history to win world titles in three divisions. His last fight was on May 31, 1938, against Henry Armstrong. Referee Arthur Donovan moved to stop the bout in the late rounds and award Armstrong the victory, but Ross pleaded to allow the fight to continue, saying, "I've got to go out like a champion. Let me finish." He lost the title in a 15-round decision and retired after the fight, having never been knocked out in over 300 professional and amateur fights. His record in 81 bouts was 74 wins including two newspaper wins (22 kos), four losses, and three draws.

In World War ii, Ross fought at Guadalcanal, and while on patrol on November 20, 1942, he and three comrades ran into an advance party of Japanese. With the others wounded, Ross defended them through the night while reciting Hebrew prayers from memory. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Presidential Citation. At the military hospital where he was treated for shrapnel in his legs and sides, Ross became addicted to morphine. His habit cost him $500 a week until Ross sought admission to a federal drug treatment facility, where he kicked the habit.

Ross, who was tremendously popular among American Jews, became active in the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, also known as the Bergson Group. He also was active in another Bergson committee, the American League for a Free Palestine, which sought to rally American support for the creation of a Jewish state. His autobiography, No Man Stands Alone: The True Story of Barney Ross (1957) was made into a Hollywood movie, Monkey on My Back (1957). He is also the subject of a biography, Barney Ross, by Douglas Century (2006). Ross was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1956 and to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]