Sports

John Jarrett reminds us of The Great Benny Leonard


Longtime boxing writer John Jarrett focused his literary powers to tell the story of lightweight boxing great Benny Leonard in a new biography. 

Boxing is one of the oldest international professional sports. It has a rich history, but there’s little known about many of the original titans of the sport. Benny Leonard is arguably the best lightweight in history, but many people don’t remember his legacy.

Boxing scribe John Jarrett does something about that with his latest biographical work titled The Great Benny Leonard.

Leonard was born Benjamin Leiner in 1896. The 5-foot-5 battler reigned as the world’s lightweight champion from 1917-1925. You can look up his boxing record on Boxrec.com, but that only tells a cursory bit of Leonard’s life as a boxer.

Before Jarrett’s book, the only other biography on Leonard that this writer is aware of is Nat Fleischer’s Leonard the Magnificent, which dates back to 1947.

Jarrett’s talents as a journalist shine in The Great Benny Leonard. He must have searched far and wide for the multitude of boxing articles he unearthed on Leonard. Jarrett’s sourcing was immaculate, with articles from 1917 to the modern day. He found gems of knowledge on Leonard from obscure newspapers like the Kokomo Daily Tribune and the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, to name a few.

Through a mix of his own words and a tableau of journalistic voices that stretch back over a hundred years, Jarrett builds a fascinating mosaic of Leonards’s career in the ring and his life outside it.

The Great Benny Leonard digs deep into the drama of lightweight great Leonard’s career and life

Beyond Leonard’s boxing career, The Great Benny Leonard also schools its readers on the boxing business in the 1920s and 1930s. Rules and regulations differed from state to state, and no decision bouts muddy the waters of a fighter’s record.

For example, on paper, Leonard has a record of 89-6-1, with 70 KOs. Jarrett dives beyond those numbers and includes the stories of Leonard’s 119 no decision contests. By his tally, Leonard went 96-16-7 in those bouts. Newspapers were often responsible for rendering those unofficial decisions in their fight recaps, which were seen as gospel by boxing fans of the day.

Like many boxers of that time, Leonard pushed his body to the max in a frenetic boxing schedule. At times, he would fight multiple times a month, with only a week between fights in some cases. Boxing was much different in those days, which is why Leonard and the great champions of his era and before deserve so much credit. They were true iron men.

The 311 pages of Jarrett’s work provide an extensive education regarding Leonard’s life and boxing history as a whole. FanSided gives The Great Benny Leonard four out of five stars. The only thing that this writer would have appreciated more of is Jarrett’s knowledgeable boxing voice. Jarrett implicitly offers his opinion on Leonard’s place in history, but I can’t get enough of Jarrett’s take on boxing history as a whole.

The Great Benny Leonard is out now. You can purchase it on Amazon for $26.71, or you can order it directly through Pitch Publishing.



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