WHITECHAPEL’S IDOL

Look­ing back on the ca­reer of one of Bri­tain’s best-ever ghters

Boxing News - - YESTERDAY’S HEROES -

IN 1986, au­thor John Hard­ing was the right man in the right place at the right time when he at­tended a meet­ing of the Lon­don Ex-box­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. He was search­ing for old friends of the 1930s foot­baller Alex James, the sub­ject of a planned bi­og­ra­phy. John got more than he bar­gained for when he spoke to the en­gag­ing, ec­cen­tric ex-world cham­pion Jack “Kid” Berg. “What d’you wanna write a book about him for?” asked Berg, be­fore sug­gest­ing his own story would be a bet­ter sub­ject.

Hard­ing was so taken with Berg that he put the James bi­og­ra­phy on hold to pen a book on the “Kid”. In so do­ing, not only did Hard­ing pre­serve the mem­o­ries of a leg­endary cham­pion, but he put on record an out­stand­ing ac­count of a fistic era that was about to fade from liv­ing me­mory. It’s 31 years since Hard­ing’s su­perb bi­og­ra­phy of Berg was first pub­lished. So who ex­actly was “Kid” Berg? Jack “Kid” Berg was the nom de guerre of Ju­dah Bergman, a Jewish East En­der of im­mi­grant parent­age born in Whitechapel in 1909. Berg’s en­try into pro box­ing was un­con­ven­tional and un­ex­pected. In 1923, Berg was out­side the fa­mous Premier­land box­ing hall, mind­ing a car for a man who had paid him to keep it safe. When an older youth spat on the ve­hi­cle and pushed Berg, Jack tore into him. The com­mo­tion caused one of Per­mier­land’s own­ers, Vic­tor Ber­liner, to come out. “Why fight for noth­ing?” he said, and of­fered the 14-year-old Berg a bout on one of his shows.

From that hum­ble start sprung a ca­reer that would ce­ment Berg among Bri­tain’s greats. Start­ing at Premier­land, then grad­u­at­ing to bills at the Royal Al­bert Hall and fi­nally Amer­ica, Jack proved him­self the best of a gen­er­a­tion of ex­cep­tional Bri­tish-jewish box­ers. His scalps in Bri­tain in­cluded cham­pi­ons Johnny Cuth­bert, Harry Cor­bett and Johnny Cur­ley, and fu­ture world feath­er­weight ti­tlist An­dre Routis. Dur­ing two spells in Amer­ica, Berg beat the best around, in­clud­ing Bruce Flow­ers, Mushy Cal­la­han and ex-world feather champ Tony Can­zoneri.

US fans loved Jack’s re­lent­less, swarm­ing style and soon con­sid­ered him a wor­thy world ti­tle con­tender. In Fe­bru­ary 1930, Europe’s pro­mot­ing king, Jeff Dick­son, matched Jack with Amer­ica’s Mushy Cal­la­han for the ‘ju­nior­wel­ter­weight’ (140lbs) world ti­tle at the Al­bert Hall. The only trou­ble was, this rel­a­tively new divi­sion did not ex­ist in Bri­tain, and even in Amer­ica its va­lid­ity was ques­tion­able. When the name ‘ju­nior-wel­ter­weight’ was an­nounced be­fore the fight, Lord Lons­dale sprung from his ring­side chair and yelled: “There is no such ti­tle!”

Nev­er­the­less, Berg beat Cal­la­han in 10 to claim the crown. Back in Amer­ica, the new cham­pion won 12 bouts in 14 months and de­fended his ti­tle six times against tough op­po­si­tion. In a ca­reer-best win, Jack snapped the un­beaten record of Cuba’s Kid Choco­late (then 55-0-1).

In 1931, Amer­ica’s NBA for­mally recog­nised Jack as ‘ju­nior-wel­ter’ world cham­pion, pre­sent­ing him with a belt. But Berg lost the ti­tle in a crush­ing three­r­ound de­feat to previous vic­tim Tony Can­zoneri when he chal­lenged for Tony’s world lightweight belt. Jack then lost a close re­turn for both ti­tles and never fought for a world cham­pi­onship again.

In 1934, Berg re­turned to Bri­tain. Though just 25, his fran­tic fight sched­ule had taken a lot out of him. Even so, he was still good enough to wrest the Bri­tish lightweight crown from the gifted Harry Mi­zler. Jack fought on for 11 years.

For decades, Berg was in the ab­surd po­si­tion of be­ing feted in Amer­ica while de­nied recog­ni­tion as a world cham­pion in Bri­tain. That changed when the BBBOFC brought in a 140lb weight class, and to­day recog­ni­tion of Jack’s achieve­ments is universal.

The Whitechapel Whirl­wind: The Jack “Kid” Berg Story by John Hard­ing is now avail­able in pa­per­back from Pitch Pub­lish­ing.

Alex Da­ley@thealex­da­leyHis­to­rian & au­thor

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