Sunday, March 8, 2015

Book Review: Bummy Davis vs Murder, Inc.

The Sunday Book Review by Peter Silkov
"Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Mafia and an Ill-fated Prizefighter"   By Ron Ross

Al “Bummy” Davis was a hard-hitting welterweight who had one of the sport’s most feared left hooks during the 1930s and 40s. Davis had a roller coaster career, which saw him shoot up to contendership almost over night, and then suddenly fall from grace, becoming one of those fighters that the fans and the press loved to hate. In the end, people had to totally re-evaluate Bummy when he died a hero trying to tackle armed raiders with just his bare fists.

Ron Ross brings Bummy to life, along with the multitude of characters that surrounded him. 40 years before Mike Tyson emerged snarling and raging from the depths of poverty in 
Brownsville, Al “Bummy” Davis came out of the same dark 
 and deprived streets, looking to escape with his gloved fists. Davis grew up in the midst of the Jewish mob, and his older brother was a notorious racketeer, but Bummy himself always resisted the pull of the underworld, despite what many in the boxing press seemed to believe. In a irony that would colour his whole life, Bummy was targeted and smeared by many in the press who believed that he was guilty by association, and that his brother’s crimes were his as well.

This biography shows in great detail Bummy Davis’s efforts to distance himself from the gangsters with whom he had grown up, while at the same time, remaining loyal to his brother, and the code of the streets.

In a boxing career that would last from 1937, to his premature death in 1945, Davis would cram together 79 fights, of which he won 65 against 10 losses and 4 draws, with 46 of his wins coming inside the distance, often by virtue of his dynamite left hook. Davis fought such notables as Tony Canzoneri, Tippy Larkin, Joe Ghnouly, Lou Ambers, Fritzie Zivic, Beau Jack, Bob Mongomery, Henry Armstrong, and Rocky Graziano. Yet, although he had some notable wins, his best being over Canzoneri and Montgomery, Al Davis never got to fight for a world title.  Indeed, after reading this book you come away with the belief that Davis was one of those unlucky people in this world who just turn out to be in the wrong places at the wrong time, though really no fault of their own.

Al “Bummy” Davis comes through these pages as a man who was much more than simply the ‘tough guy’ whom he revealed on the surface. He was a man with hopes, dreams, and a code of morality that didn’t always sit well with the environment in which he found himself growing up. As for boxing, the vehicle in which he had pinned his hopes of making a better life on, Bummy soon found out that the fight game was in its own way as much as a racket, as the rackets on the Brownsville streets that he had fought so hard to avoid. Although Bummy was only 25 years-old when he was fatally gunned down in the street by four gunmen, he was already at the stage of his boxing career where his dreams of glory had given way to a jaundiced and battle scarred view of the boxing world, especially the men that run it.  Davis’s life was one tainted with irony, from the nick name “Bummy” which he hated, to his death as a hero tackling the armed hoodlums holding up his friend’s bar. 

This is a book full of atmosphere and a host of colourful characters, from the sweat and blood stained boxers, to the often ruthless and psychotic gangsters. We are shown a fascinating panorama of the gangster subculture of the 1930s and 40s, and how it was intertwined with the sport of boxing, and we see how Bummy struggled to keep himself free of the underworld shadow, even while his honesty was being besmirched by members of the press.  Unfortunately, Bummy Davis’s life ended with an act of stubborn, useless, yet, admirable bravery, which made nearly all his detractors think again about Bummy Davis.

Ron Ross’s biography of Bummy reads like a great novel and would fit well on the movie screen.  It is a great boxing story, but more than that, it is a great human life story about one man trying to make good against all the odds, and  how he eventually finds a bittersweet redemption in his heroic death.

Copyright © 2015 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to 
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  1. OT: Manny Pacquiao fans check this out! Watch this cool vid of MP Manny Pacquiao Security gets in trouble at the official Manny Pacquiao Youtube Channel!

  2. Highly recommend this bio by Ron Ross. It brings the late 30s to mid 40s boxing era alive to the reader. My uncle battled Bummy Davis twice within six weeks to two split decisions in Philly back in 1943 after bouts with former champs Armstrong and Jenkins among others, and insisted that Bummy had the most lethal left hook in the game.