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Slants on Sports

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“They never come back,” is an axiom tried but not always true. Sometimes they are like Jackie (Kid) Berg. Less than three months ago the former junior welterweight champion of the world sprang something of a sensation by winning on a knockout over Harry Mizner, lightweight titleholder of Great Britain. Last week in London he stopped Gustave Humery in what was virtually a battle for the European title. Only a year ago Berg was through.

Yesterday we said that Kit Klein’s triumph in the women’s national title speed skating events proved that champions can come back. The odds are against them. Most of them fall by the wayside. Singer, Terris, the great Leonard, and Ruby Goldstein all were champs. They tried to travel the tortuous trail of the comeback route but failed. But, when a champ still has the stuff that set him on the road to glory and fame he will come back to the top again. This is just what Jackie Berg did.


Jackie Berg was born in 1906 in the ghetto district of London, better known as Whitechapel. His name then was Judah Bergman. Like many American Jewish kids of the East Side Berg had to develop the use of his fists to live and let live. He began boxing in the small time arenas of London in 1923 at the age of seventeen and four years later made his debut in this country. He fought six times in 1927 scoring two knockouts and four wins.

In every fight in this country during the early days of his climb Jackie gave plenty of evidence of the stuff that was in him. In his long and steady climb to the top he gave ample proof why he was nicknamed the Whitechapel Whirlwind.


Year before last he engaged in only four bouts. In two of these he was defeated and his showing was most disappointing. Then, in January of last year, after an interval of three months, he tried once more. In this match he met Cleo Locatelli, and his showing was very poor. He looked so bad that his American managers, Sol Gold and Frankie Jacobs, advised Berg it would be for the best if he hung up the gloves for good.

“You would still be a money maker for us,” Sol told him, “but money doesn’t mean so much to Frankie and me that we want to see you stay in the ring until you get hurt. You are too game a fighter to escape serious injury. You’ve made plenty of money, you’ve been a champion, and you still have your health. It’s time to call it a day so far as the ring is concerned.”

Berg was pretty well convinced of this himself. There had come a letdown in the one quality that made him stand out among the men of his weight and that has earned him the cognomen of the White Chapel Whirlwind. Who that saw it will ever forget the fight more than five years ago that made Berg an overnight sensation. It was his third and last bout with Bruce Flowers.


The crack Negro lightweight was running in top form at the time and was regarded as a serious threat for the 135-pound crown. He had developed a style that was highly effective. His most successful trick was a matter of packing himself and then, in the final seconds of a round putting on a whirlwind finish to the session. Barney Ross tried this same method of attack in the first McLarnin fight. It was Barney’s flurries in the final thirty-second of every round that won from the Irishman.

Berg proceeded to step on it from the opening bell. Though he set a dizzy pace from the start and kept going for the first two minutes the onlookers were only mildly interested. Wait until the other man in the ring gets going. Wait until the last minute of the round, they said. Suddenly, as anticipated, Flowers opened up. Then something happened. Berg not only met the Negro’s flurry of leather by maintaining his own wild pace, but actually put on an even greater burst of speed, and his torrent of blows became so terrific that even the fast punching Flowers could not keep up with the English Jew. Before the bell ended the exchange Flowers was forced to give ground and was being fought across the ring.


Seldom had there been such a demonstration in Madison Square Garden as followed the close of that round. The spectators were yelling and whistling madly and from the gallery and balcony torn pieces of programs and newspapers came floating down like huge snowflakes.

Along with the rest of the crowd I thought that Berg surely could not repeat this dazzling fistic exhibition. But, he proved that he could. Well, then, he could not keep up this high geared stuff for long; he would burn out in a hurry. But he swept his way through opponent after opponent until even the great Tony Canzoneri was among his victims. Then in 1931 he started to slow down. He lost to Canzoneri, being stopped in three rounds.


His fighting fell off badly until his managers advised him to quit and Berg promised to do so. He was 27 and had been fighting for ten years. Before sailing back to England with his wife—he sailed down to Miami where he met Jimmy Johnston. Jimmy voiced the opinion that if Jackie stayed out of the ring for six or seven months and took the right care of himself he still had some good fights left in his system. Berg laid off for nine months and then came back to win the title from Harry Mizner, the former Jewish champion of Great Britain.

“The lay-off must have brought back the old speed,” said his former manager, Frankie Jacobs, “The old heart was always there.”

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