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Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Look Back: Ben Bril and Nathan Shapow

In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will offer monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.

This series so far has been reserved for professional Jewish boxers, but Ben Bril and Nathan Shapow, though neither ever fought professionally, are two amateurs who deserved to be remembered for the horrors they endured outside of the ring. Both men survived the Holocaust.

Ben Bril was born on July 16, 1912 in a poor Jewish section of Amsterdam, Netherlands. He was one of six children born to a fisherman father. Bril began boxing at an early age and made the 1928 Summer Olympics, held in his hometown, Amsterdam. A flyweight, he was only 15 years old at the time.

Bril was good enough to make the 1932 Olympics, but was barred by the Dutch Olympic committee because Ben was a Jew and the committee was led by an anti-Semite. Bril earned a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in 1935. He boycotted the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi-governed Berlin.

On May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Things soon became progressively worse for Dutch Jews. In 1941, the new German-led government began deporting a small number of Jews and the deportations only rose in size as time passed. Bril was deported to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany, with his wife and son. Amazingly, the trio survived the war. But almost all of the rest of Bril's family died in the Holocaust. Only one brother survived.

Bril would eventually become a boxing referee, officiating fights in the Netherlands, Germany, England, and Spain among other places. He oversaw separate fights involving heavyweight contenders Henry Cooper and Karl Mildenberger.

Bril, who died in 2003, has been honored with a movie and a biography in the Netherlands, but there is still too little about his life in English. The Ben Bril Memorial, featuring a series of boxing matches, is held every year in October in Amsterdam. Junior welterweight Barry Groenteman, a native of Amsterdam, has participated in the memorial multiple times. "It means a lot to me," he said.

"Ben Bril is a Jewish boxing legend in the Netherlands. It's a honour for me to carry his legacy. My biggest motivation is to tell our story to the world. I'm a very proud Jewish person and very proud to be a Jewish boxer." Barry continued, "It's important for me that in 2014 I will win all my fights. And to keep Jewish boxing in Europe alive."

Nathan Shapow was born on November 6, 1921 in Riga, Latvia. He had two brothers and lived in a two-bedroom house with his parents, Mordecai and Chaye. Shapow's boyhood hobby was boxing, a sport in which he honed his skills at local Jewish youth clubs. He soon fought in amateur bouts.

As the situation worsened for Latvian Jews throughout the 1930s, Shapow became more political. Keeping the family tradition, Shapow was a follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky, as is current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shapow would become a member of Betar, a right-wing militant organization that believed in Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionism.

Latvia was contested ground between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both countries occupied Latvia in the early 1940s. While in the Nazi-controlled Riga ghetto, Shapow was a member of a group called the "Strong Ones." These men stole what they could to stay strong in order to protect their fellow Jews from the anti-Semitic authorities. At one point, with a crunching straight right Shapow killed an SS officer that had come to kill him.

Throughout the Holocaust, Shapow was transferred to numerous work and death camps. He miraculously avoided certain death on countless occasions. One time he was saved by a man who he had known from his boxing days. During the hell he endured, Shapow's ability to steal food kept himself well-fed relative to other starving Jews. He was also generous with his filched bounty, giving away sustenance to fellow interred Jews.

In the camps, Shapow was forced to engage in boxing matches with other inmates for the enjoyment of gentiles. In his book, he claims he was quite successful against even professional fighters because of his tremendous power.

After the war, Shapow managed to make it to Palestine illegally and fought in the notorious Irgun and with the Stern Gang in the years before Israel's independence. After independence, he fought in the new nation's early wars. By  the 1960s, he had grown tired of fighting constantly and took part in a few different professions. He soon moved tot he United States, where he still lives.

Bibliography
"Ben Bril Memorial." benbrilboxing.com (in Dutch).
Shapow, Nathan. The Boxer's Story: Fighting for My Life in the Nazi Camps.2012.
Shoah Foundation. "Holocaust Survivor Nathan Shapow Testimony." 1994.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ahrens wins Fourth Fight

Junior middleweight Danny "Kid" Ahrens defeated Lewis Van Poetsch on October 17 by way of four-round points victory at the Park Plaza Hotel in London, England. After an eight and a half month layoff, Ahrens was more aggressive and landed the hard punches throughout most of the fight.

Van Poetsch, a British soldier and competent boxer, jabbed early in the fight. But he quickly cast aside that plan when Ahrens rushed him with power punches. Danny had the faster hands and Van Poetsch soon made sure his gloves were high in a defensive position for much of the first three rounds.

Ahrens attacked the body early with both hands. His looping overhand right rocked his opponent on several occasions in the first three minutes. Van Poetsch tagged Ahrens with a solid left hook towards the end of the opening round, but, to that point, he had been thoroughly outworked.

Van Poetsch tried to jab early in the second, but soon covered up instead. Ahrens overwhelmed Van Poetsch in the third round with left hooks to the body, Danny's relentless pressure and constant combinations forced Van Poetsch to focus on avoiding the punches rather than firing back.

Ahrens seemed to fade in the fourth. Van Poetsch, far and away the toughest opponent Danny has faced, went for broke in the final round. Ahrens continuously backed up and was often on the ropes. Van Poetsch landed a hard right in the round, his best punch of the contest.

After the fight, Danny acknowledged to Barry Toberman of The Jewish Chronicle, "The last round could have been better. I was a bit tired and my hand was a bit low, but this is something I’ll work on when I am back in the gym. I've had a long break since my last fight and it was difficult getting back into a rhythm."

Referee Robert Williams scored the bout 40-37; three rounds for Ahrens and one even. The Jewish Boxing Blog scored the bout 39-37 for Ahrens (4-0, one KO), giving the final round to Van Poetsch (3-4).

Ahrens is only 20 years old and has tremendous power and hand speed. He possesses a fighter's mentality and is willing to throw numerous combinations. However, he rarely jabbed and switched to southpaw to little avail.

Van Poetsch never threw a punch while Ahrens was in a  left-handed stance, but Danny throws slow arm punches as a lefty; he's much better from the orthodox stance. Defensively, Kid wasn't as open while throwing a punch as he's been in the past. He crouched under punches, which was effective in avoiding the blows, but didn't put Ahrens in good position to counter. Save for a couple of sharp one-two combinations during this last fight, the young man throws looping punches.

Criticism aside, Ahrens is a decorated amateur with the makings of an outstanding professional. If he can continue to improve, the expectations for Danny are very high.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Two Movies About Jewish Boxers

A movie chronicling the life of Victor 'Young' Perez hits the theaters in Israel next month.



Next year, a movie about Daniel Mendoza is slated to hit the big screen. Here's a clip:



And here's the story of Mendoza:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Seldin to Return on November 22

Cletus "Da Hamma" Seldin is scheduled to return to the ring on November 22. The bout will be held at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, New York. This be Seldin's seventh fight at Paramount.

Seldin is coming off of a shoulder injury. He hasn't fought since February and he is currently experiencing far and away the longest layoff of his career. The 11-0 had nine knockouts including eight in a row.

No opponent has as of yet been named to face Seldin in the scheduled eight round affair.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mike "Lefty" Brooks Video

Here is an interview Mike "Lefty" Brooks (10-0-1, 2 KOs) had with RingKingTV. He talks about Karl Dargan backing out of their scheduled fight in August and fighting Chip Perez instead. Brooks is scheduled to face the undefeated Dargan on November 16.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Groenteman Falls on Points

Junior welterweight Barry Groeneteman lost a surprise decision against Vango Tsirimokos earlier today. The fight took place at Theater Carré in Amsterdam, Netherlands as part of the Ben Bril Memorial.

The judges scored the fight 78-74, 77-76, 77-75 for Tsirimokos. After the fight, Groenteman vowed to be back and better than ever. Barry's record falls to 9-6-2 with 2 KOs. Tsirimokos moves to 5-2 with one KO.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Foreman, a Pillar of Discipline, to Fight in November

Junior middleweight Yuri Foreman is scheduled to get back into the ring on November 12 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. His opponent is slated to be Javier Gonzalez.

Foreman is coming off of an eight-round decision against Jamal Davis last July. In that fight, Foreman, who is the consummate boxer, threw right hand leads and led more with power punches than he normally does. In a phone interview with The Jewish Boxing Blog, Foreman said he knew Davis would continue to come forward and put pressure of Foreman, so Yuri wanted to be more aggressive.

Foreman constantly moved, waiting for the moment that Davis was slightly off balance to strike. There were moments when Foreman was able to trap Davis in the corner or push him against the ropes, but Foreman usually waited for the referee to break the two men. Yuri noted that he used this strategy because "Davis has decent power and is a good inside fighter."

Yuri stayed disciplined throughout the bout and stuck to his strategy. "I'm always working to perfect my own style," he said, "I'm not going to play by the rules of my opponent. I'm in control; I'm going to do my own thing."

Foreman's next opponent, Javier Gomez, sports a 14-11 record with 10 KOs, but he's been stopped eight times. Gomez has been knocked out by some good fighters such as Eddie Gomez and Victor Cayo, but he has also been stopped by men who have very little experience and didn't having winning records. Foreman said he doesn't feel any pressure to knockout his opponent, "Why would I put extra pressure on myself? As my coach says, 'If it comes, it comes.'"

Foreman has been in rabbinical training and has submitted his final exam answers to his rabbi; he's now waiting for a response. When asked which he more identifies himself as, a boxer or a rabbi, he said, "It's not one or the other. There are times to be a boxer and there are times to be a rabbi."

There is clearly some overlap between the two professions. Foreman described boxing as "a thinking man's game. The goal is to outsmart the other guy." He also noted, "A good boxer can control his emotions. He can think calmly in a difficult situation." Rabbis need some of the same skills.

A month before his next fight, Foreman isn't yet thinking much about that night. He's focused on the physical and mental development it takes to train for the contest. With regards to fighting away from his New York home in Florida, Foreman says it's simply part of the profession. "I'm a boxer; the job requires traveling," Foreman said matter-of-factly. His wife will likely stay in New York for the fight and Foreman will miss what he describes as her "good analytic eye."

This will likely be Foreman's final eight-rounder before he moves up to ten rounds. About future fights, Foreman explained, "The goal is to win on November 12. We'll see from there."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Brooks and Chilemba to Fight on November 16

Michael "Lefty" Brooks and Isaac "Golden Boy" Chilemba are scheduled to fight in separate bouts on November 16 at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York. Brooks is slated to face fellow undefeated prospect Karl Dargan while Chilemba does not yet have an opponent scheduled.

Brooks was supposed to fight Dargan in August, but the latter backed out of the fight. Brooks (10-0-1, 2 KOs) won against replacement Chip Perez. Perez, whose opponent also dropped out on the same card, is a good fighter, but was too small for Brooks. While Dargan (13-0, 7 KOs) marks a big step up for Brooks, Brooks also marks a step up for Dargan. Dargan hasn't fought a southpaw since 2009 win over Rynell Griffin and no lefty near the caliber of Brooks.

Chilemba (20-2-2, 9 KOs) is returning to the ring for the first time since his disputed loss to Tony Bellew last May. Chilemba signed with the promotional company Main Events earlier this month and hopes to work his way back into the top ten in the light heavyweight division.

Select fights from the card will be shown on NBC Sports Network in the U.S. Both fights are scheduled for eight rounds.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Salita to Face Bracero

Welterweight Dmitriy Salita is scheduled to face Gabriel Bracero on November 9 at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn, New York. Both men are from Brooklyn and both have only one career loss apiece. The winner could earn a fight against a contender.

Bracero marks Salita's toughest opponent by a good margin since his 2009 world title challenge against Amir Khan. Salita (35-1-1, 18 KOs) hasn't fought since last October 20. Dmitriy had two fights with Hector Camacho Jr. cancelled over the past year.

Bracero (22-1, 4 KOs) has fought three times since last October, winning all three against journeymen with winning records. His lone loss came at the hands of DeMarcus Corley, a former world champion who had lost his previous six bouts at that point. On paper, Salita will be the toughest opponent of Bracero's career.

Despite Bracero's paltry KO percentage, he's not a boxer. He prefers to come forward and pressure his man. He has more power than his knockout total suggests, but he doesn't have a finishing impulse. His best win came against Danny O'Connor, a good boxer who has less power than Bracero. In the loss to Corley, Bracero was confused by his opponent's southpaw stance. Int he second round of that fight, Corley hesitated in mid-punch freezing Bracero before landing a straight left that badly hurt the Brooklynite. Bracero was knocked down three times in the fight, but showed the courage and toughness to fight back in losing a decision.

Salita is the bigger man and the bigger puncher. While Bracero has never weighed in over 146 pounds for a fight, Salita has done so in each of his previous five bouts. Salita is also two inches taller and has more experience in the ring although he's a year younger.

Bracero will need to come forward, get inside, and be busier than he usually is to be successful in this fight. As long as Salita can keep Bracero away with his jab, his best punch, Salita will have a great chance to win. If Salita is then able to walk Bracero down, a stoppage could be in the works.

The fight is scheduled for ten rounds.