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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Review of Augie's Secrets

Augie's Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip
By: Neal Karlen
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013.

Karlen investigates the seedy side of Minneapolis during the first half of the twentieth century. Along side with a detailed history of Jewish Minnesota mob and corrupt local politicians is the narrative of Sammy "Augie" Ratner, Karlen's great uncle.

Augie is a diminutive and lovable yet buffoonish nightclub owner, an ex-boxer and bootlegger, who befriends local gangsters and sports stars alike. But Karlen surmises that Ratner's clownish schtick was a ploy. He shrewdly understood his best chance for survival was to be liked and trusted by everyone. And playing the fool was the best way to avoid making enemies.

Ratner as ex-pugilist is an important character feature in this tale, but the career details of the journeyman Jewish fighter merits barely a mention. A fellow Jewish boxer from Minnesota, Ernie Fliegel, makes an appearance. As does Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion of the world, and friend of Augie's.

While this book doesn't focus on boxing, it highlights some other interesting subjects. If you're a fan of Jewish gangsters, particularly those in Minnesota, this book is for you. Kid Cann and Davie "The Jew" Berman garner their own chapters. Nationally known Jewish mob members such as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegal take on less prominent roles in this story.

This book delves into Minneapolis history, particularly the relationship between local politicians and organized crime. And if Jewish gangsters from Minneapolis is your interest, this is the book for you!

Karlen also infuses his prose with numerous Yiddish phrases, which in other books can come across as forced or hokey, but is much appreciated here.

This book doesn't have much boxing, but it is an enlightening portrait of the Jewish mob in Minneapolis.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Lazarev to Face Col on June 19

Lightweight Igor Lazarev is scheduled to fight Marius Col on June 19 at the International Hotel Casino north of Varna on Bulgaria's eastern coast. This will be the 35 year old's first professional boxing match in the southeastern Balkan country.

Lazarev won his first six fights with an aggressive style and vicious body punches before he ran into Binali Shakhmandarov last September. After suffering a stoppage loss, Lazarev faced an overmatched opponent in his comeback fight last December. Col signifies a logical step up from Igor's December foe.

Col is a 22 year old from Moldova. He won his first two fights by pressuring his rivals. The tactic didn't work in his third fight. Against Evhenii Pylypchuk, Col kept eating shots as he pressed forward and wasn't able to land his favorite punch, a looping right hand.

After falling by decision to Pylypchuk in May of 2019, he moved up ten pounds from featherweight to lightweight. In his next contest, he changed his strategy and looked to counter more, but he dropped a decision to Kristian Bejko in December '19. Coincidentally, Bejko and Lazarev were scheduled to face last summer in Albania, but the show was shutdown at the last minute by authorities due to covid-19 restrictions.

Col was stopped for the first time in his career in his last fight. Leandro Xhelili is a common opponent; he stopped Col in the third round of their February 2020 bout. Lazrev beat a game Xhelili in September of 2019 by split decision.

Igor has also taken part in several contests in something called Xtreme Knock-Out MMA in which the combatants apparently box in an MMA-style octagon. He's 7-1 with 3 KOs in pro boxing while Col is 2-3 without a KO. This bout is slated for six rounds.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Ineffective Aggression

Aggression seems to be a defining characteristic of the modern United States. Today in America, you can get yelled at for wearing a mask in a crowded indoor venue, or you could receive a judgmental glare for not wearing a mask while attempting to enjoy some fresh air and solitude. The person yelling or glaring at you most likely cares not a whit for the scientific expertise of any notable independent virologists. And if, for some reason, a boxing judge scored your interaction, especially one from Texas, you would almost certainly receive nine points for the round regardless of any salient counterpoints you may have made.

Too often nuance is disregarded in favor of brute force these days. In the ring, merely throwing punches irrespective of whether your forays land can be enough to convince a judge you've made an articulate case to win the round. Loudmouths fill our screens and grab our attention far more than calculated examinations of policy or pugilism.

This is the context in which Yuri Foreman attempts his comeback. A former world champion and the greatest Jewish boxer of his his generation, Foreman is a ballet dancer in the ring, gracefully improvising in timely fashion. Instead of pliƩs, he punches. But he glides on his toes just the same.

The question is not whether, at 40, Yuri is too old to make noise in the 154 pound division. His skills, speed, and stamina remain intact. The question is whether the game has passed him by. He is James Baldwin, and boxing is Sean Hannity. Yuri's style requires a literary eye for the intricacies and subtleties that distinguish clean punching from ineffective aggression. Simply because an opponent is moving forward in a fight does not mean he isn't suffering for his ambition.

Foreman is 25-0 in fights that reach the final bell. Twenty four of those decisions came in 2015 or earlier. In his first fight in nearly four years, Foreman outboxed Jeremy Ramos over eight rounds. In an ominous omen, the Kentucky judges, channeling their Texas brethren, impossibly scored the bout a split decision. Two judges misunderstood their task and declared the comeback kid a winner by two measly points. The third astonishingly believed Ramos deserved a majority of the rounds.

I remember visiting a  friend of mine several years ago and trying to impress him with my musical taste. While sitting in the passenger seat of his car, I pretentiously popped in a Coltrane CD. After listening for a few minutes, my friend pressed the button to change the track. "I can't take any more of that horn," he declared. I'm no music expert, but my friend showed the same mindset it takes for a judge to score that fight for Ramos over Foreman last December.

Yuri's other job is a rabbi. A successful rabbi, of course, must be philosophical and thoughtful. They must listen and examine. When they speak, it is usually from a place of intense consideration. Most rabbis don't spew political catchphrases from the small end of a bullhorn. They wrestle with nuance. Yuri's rabbinical work and his form of boxing go hand-in-hand.

The beauty of Rabbi Foreman's  hit-and-don't-get-hit style of boxing is going the way of intelligent good-faith debate in the United States. In boxing, wild swings that end on elbows are given more credence than a well-timed jab that snaps in a scoring position. This shift will only serve to hurt the sport just as the lack of informed political conversation will weaken American democracy.

If we glorify ineffective aggression in boxing or political discourse, we begin to mistake fiction for fact. Whether it's determining if a punch landed or understanding the potency of covid-19 or determining exactly what happened on January 6 at the Capitol, some of us have lost the ability to do just that, separate fact from fiction. For the sake of Yuri Foreman's comeback, and the rest of us, let's hope more and more folks can tell the difference.