In an effort to link the past with the present, The Jewish Boxing Blog will offer monthly a short biography of notable former Jewish boxers.
Artie Levine, an extremely hard puncher, engaged in over 70 fights during his career, but, above all else, he is remembered for one second of action in the ring. In that one second, he knocked down Sugar Ray Robinson with a left hook.
Born on January 26, 1925, Arthur L. LeVien grew up in Brooklyn, New York the youngest of seven children. His father was Jewish, but his mother wasn't. In 1946, Artie met a Jewish woman named Mimi at a social club in Brooklyn and a fell in love. Mimi and her family were concerned that Artie's mother wasn't Jewish. So he went to a mikvah and was circumcised. Artie told Allen Bodner about the experience:
"I had my pecker, I couldn't use it for a month. I had gotten married a couple of days later. I was incapacitated; it was terrible. I had about half an inch cut."
Artie injured himself playing football when he was 13 years old. His doctor recommended that he work out his leg in a local gym, where Artie cultivated a love of boxing. He entered professional boxing as a 16-year old in 1941 and used the surname Levine. He attempted to keep his new profession secret from his parents as long as possible. While he described his parents' economic status as "quite comfortable"- a rare condition for a boxer's family- he admitted that he became a boxer to earn money. But Levine later regretted the decision, saying, "I should have stayed in school is what I should have done. Stayed in school, gone to college, which I could have done."
Levine showed his ability to swat from the get-go. He stopped his opponent inside of two rounds in five of his first seven bouts, although he wasn't exactly facing world-beaters. He suffered only one defeat in his first 26 fights; all before the age of 18. Artie's trainer was Charley Goldman, who later trained Rocky Marciano. Levine fought mostly in New Jersey and near Goldman's Massachusetts base because Artie's home state didn't license boxers until they turned 18.
Levine described himself as possessing "two left feet." But his left hook was legendary. Truth be told, Levine had power in either hand. An attractive man, his long straight nose belied the fact that his defense wasn't impenetrable. He stood 5'9" and began his career at 140 pounds, eventually making his way up to middleweight.
In 1943, Levine joined the marines and fought only one bout from July 1943 until May 1944. Artie adopted the nickname "The Fighting Marine," which matched perfectly with the rhythm of his name and the controlled ferociousness with which he fought. He left the service in 1945.
Artie faced increasingly better opposition before taking on Jimmy Doyle on March 11, 1946. Doyle, who Levine called a great fighter, managed to reach Levine's face often during the first eight rounds, but in the ninth, Levine knocked Doyle down three times and gave him a concussion.
Robert Sacci wrote that referee Jackie Davis "should have stopped it, but he was too busy tallying up points, judging the fight." Doyle died a day after facing Sugar Ray Robinson in 1949 and, according to Sacci, the Levine fight may have softened him up. Levine told Bodner, "I knocked him out in the ninth, and he nearly died in the ring on me... It destroyed me in boxing. I lost my killer instinct after that."
Eight months and eight fights later, Levine faced Sugar Ray Robinson, widely recognized as the greatest boxer who ever lived. Artie entered Cleveland's Arena as a 4-1 underdog on November 6, 1946 with the great Ray Arcel in his corner. In the fateful fourth, Levine landed a right cross that threw Robinson into his own corner. Levine wailed away but couldn't touch Robinson until he opened up with a left hook that crashed down on the point of Robinson's chin.
Robinson was down and virtually out. Referee Jackie Davis, the same man who failed to stop Artie's bout with Doyle on time, marched Levine over to a neutral corner. Davis sauntered back to Sugar and incorrectly started his count at one. Robinson was in such bad condition that he didn't rise until the count of nine.
Twenty seconds had passed from the moment Robinson had slumped to the canvas and the moment he rose. Thomas Hauser wrote that it was "a quintessential 'long count'." Robinson later noted that Levine's left hook was the hardest he had even been hit.
Robinson wrote of Levine's power in his autobiography that after his trainer told him, "The eighth round is next, Robinson." Ray retorted, "The eighth? I thought it was the fourth." Robinson added, "That's how Artie Levine could scramble your brains." Robinson wrote that Levine had landed his lethal left hook in the fifth, but, as mentioned, the blow came in the fourth, yet another way Levine could scramble your brains.
Robinson was tagged and staggered with a left hook again in the ninth round. In the tenth, Sugar hit Artie with a left hook to the body. Levine retreated the ropes where Robinson rained punches on him. Levine finally fell back and sat on the bottom rope where the referee counted him out in ten seconds.
Two fights later, Levine took on Herbie Kronowitz at Madison Square Garden. Kronowitz boxed well early, but a right smashed into Kronowitz's chin in the fourth round. From that point on, Kronowitz was more careful. Levine won a unanimous decision with three scores of 6-3-1, although Herbie thought he deserved the victory.
From that point, Levine only went 5-5 in what would be his last ten career fights. His last bout took place in 1949. Artie ended with a record of 52-15-5 with 36 KOs. After his career, Levine, who made good money inside the ring, owned a meat business and later sold cars. He was also a boxing judge in the 1980s and was ringside as late as 2004. After his first wife died, he married a non-Jewish woman, which was a source of tension between Artie and his children. As Bodner writes, "So Artie Levine, the non-Jew who married a Jew, became the Jew who married a non-Jew."
Artie died on January 13, 2012.
Bodner, Allen. When Boxing was a Jewish Sport. 1997.
"Brooklyn Boxer Floors Robinson for Nine Count." Toledo Blade. November 7, 1946.
Hauser, Thomas. "Sugar Ray Revisited." SecondsOut.com.
Robinson, Sugar Ray. Sugar Ray. 1969, 1970.
Royal, Cliff. "The Club-House." Times Daily. December 8, 1945.
Sacci, Robert. Friday's Heroes: Willie Pep Remembers. 2008.