Benny Leonard (born Benjamin Leiner; April 7, 1896 – April 18, 1947) was a Jewish American professional lightweight boxer. Widely considered one of the all-time greats, he was ranked 8th on The Ring magazine's list of the "80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years" and placed 7th in ESPN's "50 Greatest Boxers of All-Time". In 2005, the International Boxing Research Organization ranked Leonard as the #1 lightweight, and #8 best pound-for-pound fighter of all-time. Statistical website BoxRec rates Leonard as the 2nd best lightweight ever, while The Ring magazine founder Nat Fleischer placed him at #2. Boxing historian Bert Sugar placed him 6th in his Top 100 Fighters catalogue. Leonard is a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Ring Magazine Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Benny Leonard was born and raised in the Jewish ghetto, which was then located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States, on whose streets he learned to fight. He was the son of Minny and Gershon Leiner, who immigrated from Eastern Europe.
Leonard was known for his speed, excellent boxing technique and ability to think fast on his feet. He also was a hard hitter, who scored 70 KOs out of his 89 wins. Leonard was defeated 6 times and was held to a draw on 1 occasion. As was common in the era in which he fought, Leonard engaged in several no-decision matches and is believed to have fought 96 bouts.
Leonard debuted on a Saturday in November 1911—the exact date is unknown—losing in three rounds at the Fondon Athletic Club in New York when the fight was stopped because he was bleeding through the nose. He won 12 of his next 18 bouts (three were no-decisions), establishing a reputation as a good local fighter before meeting Canadian Frankie Fleming in May 1912. Leonard was knocked out for only the second time in his career. He lost a rematch with Fleming 16 months later. (Not surprisingly, Fleming got the first shot at Freddie Welsh, failing to unseat the lightweight champion in a May 1915 fight the newspapers awarded to Welsh.) Leonard's next big test came when he took on featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane in Atlantic City in April 1915. Kilbane won six of ten rounds to win the decision. "Leonard might have beaten the champion if he had a little more confidence," the Chicago Tribune said, "but even when he was having the best of the going he shut up like a clam and clinched for all he was worth."
Leonard then reeled off a string of 15 straight victories (interrupted by two draws), which earned him the chance to meet Freddie Welsh for the lightweight championship on March 3, 1916. Although newspaper reporters at Madison Square Garden believed that Leonard had won, Welsh retained his title in a bout that was officially recorded as a no decision. The two fighters met again four months later in Brooklyn, and this time Welsh won decisively, staggering Leonard and nearly putting him down with a right to the jaw in the sixth.
On February 28, 1917, he fought onetime Bantamweight Champion Jimmy Reagan at the Manhattan Casino in Manhattan, New York, in a ten-round match, that the New York Times considered a draw bout. The Des Moines Register considered the fact that Reagan had gone ten rounds without being knocked out by the extraordinary champion a remarkable accomplishment. According to the Ogden Standard, "Dozens of times Jimmy seemed on the point of going down, but always he kept afoot. The Standard also wrote of Leonard, that "there wasn't a punch that he didn't aim at Reagan, and there wasn't one that was forceful enough to keep the Californian at bay."
Winning 17 of 19 bouts after his second loss to Freddie Welsh, the 21-year-old Leonard fought Welsh for the third time in the Manhattan Casino on May 28, 1917. The challenger floored the champion three times in the ninth round before referee Billy McPartland stopped the bout, making Leonard the lightweight champion of the world. He officially defended the title seven times over the next eight years.
Moving up a weight class from the World Lightweight Championship which he already held, Leonard challenged welterweight Champion Jack Britton for his title on June 26, 1922. He lost the fight when he was disqualified for hitting Britton when he was down in the thirteenth round.
Leonard announced his retirement from boxing on January 15, 1925, as the reigning World Lightweight Champion because his mother wanted him to. He lost most of his considerable fortune in the stock market crash of 1929, and embarked on an ill-advised comeback in 1931. Although described as pudgy and slow, the balding Leonard won 23 fights, albeit against nondescript opposition, before meeting a championship caliber fighter. On October 7, 1932, his career ended when he was TKOed in 6 rounds by future champion Jimmy McLarnin.
|Loss||Jimmy McLarnin||TKO||6 (10)||1932-10-07||Madison Square Garden, New York, New York|
|Win||Lew Tendler||UD||15||1923-07-24||Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York||Retained World Lightweight Title.|
|Win||Lew Tendler||UD||15||1923-07-24||Boyle's Thirty Acres, Jersey City, New Jersey||Retained World Lightweight Title.
|Win||Rocky Kansas||TKO||8 (10)||1922-07-04||Floyd Fitzsimmons' Arena, Michigan City, Indiana|
|Loss||Jack Britton||DQ||13 (15)||1922-06-26||Velodrome, Bronx, New York||For World Welterweight Title.|
|Win||Rocky Kansas||UD||15||1922-02-10||Madison Square Garden, New York, New York||Retained World Lightweight Title.|
|Win||Rocky Kansas||NWS||12||1921-06-06||Federal League Baseball Park, Harrison, New Jersey||Retained World Lightweight Title.
|Win||Charley White||KO||9 (10)||1920-07-05||Floyd Fitzsimmons' Arena, Benton Harbor, Michigan|
|Win||Johnny Dundee||NWS||8||1920-02-09||4th Regiment Armory, Jersey City, New Jersey||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||James Red Herring||TKO||6 (8)||1919-12-19||Southern A.C., Memphis, Tennessee|
|Win||Johnny Dundee||NWS||8||1919-09-17||1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Johnny Dundee||NWS||6||1919-06-16||Shibe Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Willie Ritchie||TKO||8 (8)||1919-04-28||1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey|
|Loss||Willie Ritchie||NWS||4||1919-02-21||Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, California||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Johnny Dundee||NWS||8||1919-01-20||1st Regiment Armory, Newark, New Jersey||Newspaper Decision|
|Draw||Kid Lewis||NWS||8||1918-09-23||Weidenmeyer's Park, Newark, New Jersey||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Jack Britton||NWS||8||1918-06-25||Shibe Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Jack Britton||NWS||10||1917-10-19||Harlem S.C, New York, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Johnny Kilbane||TKO||3 (6)||1917-07-25||Shibe Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Win||Freddie Welsh||TKO||9 (10)||1917-05-28||Manhattan Casino, New York, New York||Won World Lightweight Title.|
|Win||Johnny Dundee||NWS||6||1916-11-15||Olympia A.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Newspaper Decision|
|Loss||Freddie Welsh||NWS||10||1916-07-28||Washington Park A.C., Brooklyn, New York||For World Lightweight Title.
|Draw||Johnny Dundee||NWS||6||1916-11-15||Madison Square Garden, New York, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Freddie Welsh||NWS||10||1916-03-31||Madison Square Garden, New York, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Draw||Johnny Dundee||NWS||6||1916-03-08||Madison Square Garden, New York, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Rocky Kansas||NWS||10||1916-02-28||Broadway Auditorium, Buffalo, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Win||Joe Mandot||KO||7 (10)||1915-12-17||Harlem S.C., New York, New York|
|Loss||Johnny Kilbane||NWS||10||1915-04-29||Federal A.C., New York, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Loss||Johnny Dundee||NWS||10||1915-03-02||135th Street A.C., New York, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Loss||Frankie Fleming||NWS||10||1913-08-16||Fairmont A.C., Bronx, New York||Newspaper Decision|
|Loss||Frankie Fleming||KO||4 (6)||1912-05-03||New Polo A.C., New York, New York|
After his boxing career was over, Leonard was a front man for National Hockey League owner Bill Dwyer of the New York Americans, who had secretly purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates of that league. Leonard was supposed to appear as if he owned the team. The team suffered both at the gate and on the ice. The team moved to Philadelphia for 1930–31 and then folded.
Later, Leonard became a boxing referee. After refereeing the first six bouts of the April 18, 1947, card at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York, Leonard was stricken with a massive heart attack during the first round of the next bout, between Mario Ramon and Bobby Williams, toppled to the canvas, and died in the ring. He was 51 years old. Benny Leonard was interred at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale, New York.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Benny Leonard.|
|World Lightweight Champion
May 28, 1917 – January 15, 1925