|The Redemption of Al ‘Bummy’ Davis
By John Raspanti, DoghouseBoxing.com (May 23, 2009)
Al Davis came right out of a Dead End Kids movie. Tough, tenacious, and even tender, Davis made no excuses for his failings and took no bull from his enemies. Born Abraham Davidoff on January 26, 1920 he grew up in a rough and tumble section of Brooklyn called Brownsville, where Davis learned the ropes early. During prohibition, Davis was a lookout for his daddy, who ran a legitimate candy store on the outside and an illegitimate liquor store on the inside. Davis also figured out pretty early that his big brother Willie, whom he idolized, hung out with a pretty dangerous crowd. Actually both of his
brothers were collectors for a group of gangsters called Murder Inc. who answered to nobody except the National Crime Syndicate.
Al stayed clear of the nefarious gangsters with Brother Willie playing guardian angel. Willie sensed something special in Al as did his parents who called him ‘Vroomeleh” or Vroomy a name that stuck in his tough neighborhood. The hoods from Murder Inc intimidated most of the young men in the neighborhood. That is except Al, who had no problem standing up to goons like “Kid Twist” Abe Reles which in turn infuriated the Kid. Willie had enough power to keep Reles away from Al, but still when his boxing career began to take off Reles played the proverbial ‘thorn in the side’ by making Al’s rise slower and more difficult.
Davis’s rise as a boxer actually started as a kid on the streets of Brownsville, where at the ripe old age of eight he was in charge of a push cart. Davis began boxing professionally as a teenager after a pretty successful amateur career. He often used aliases when fighting like, Giovanni Pasconi. He was blessed with a beautiful left hook that could knock the head off of most of his opponents. With his aggressive style and pulverizing hook, Davis was soon drawing huge crowds. His manager came up with the idea of calling him ‘Bummy’. Davis hated the name but it stuck like bee to honey. The nickname created the buzz the promoter liked, even though Al hated it more every day. He knew he was no bum, but that’s all he would hear during most of his fights and especially on November 1st, 1939 when he took on a faded but still legendary ex champ by the name of Tony Canzoneri. Davis destroyed Canzoneri inside of three rounds, but the booing was even louder. Now he had graduated from just being booed, to being the outright villain. This was all very difficult for Al to understand. If an athlete says he can’t hear the fans booing, thery’re lying. Davis heard it all and then some. The catcalls hurt, the insults stung deep and Davis began to get a little cynical about professional boxing. But he soldered on fighting all the top rated fighters and maintaining a protective friendship (since they were young kids) with a retarded young man named Charlie who everyone knew was Al’s friend.
Davis won his first thirty three pro bouts until running into hall of famer Lou Ambers who boxed his ears off. The taunting of the crowd was so demoralizing that Davis retired for a spell. He was not only a villain but a demon with a left hook. A demon most everyone hated. Happily in Brownsville, he was celebrated as an example of a young man who had pulled himself out of his murderous surroundings and done well. Everyone who knew him recognized this version as closer to the truth. Davis returned to the ring in 1940 and fought Fritzie Zivic. Unfortunately the Zivic fight could be considered the most famous or infamous of his career. Fritzie was known for dirty tactics and he lived up to his reputation very early on in the fight. He thumbed Davis repeatedly in the eyes, and eventually Al lost all semblance of his cool and began to retaliate. He walked up to Zivic and started hitting him low, over and over and over until the fight was stopped. He was banned from boxing professionally in New York for life after the fight. Davis really didn’t care. He joined the military and got hitched. After hearing witnesses from the fight the boxing commission re-instated Al. He promptly fought Zivic again (Zivic had apologized to him before the rematch) and lost but at least the taunting wasn’t so intense. He donated his entire purse to charity. Davis kept fighting even though deep down the desire was dying. He didn’t know what else to do.
He won four of his next five fights and then took on former and future lightweight champ Bob Montgomery. The fight figured to be easy pickins for Montgomery as the word was out that Davis had lost his zeal for fighting. The fight ended in the very first round, with not the 10-1 favorite Montgomery the victor but Davis. The upset shocked the boxing community. Davis fought for another two years losing to the great Henry Armstrong and being stopped by the Rock, as in Rocky Graziano. The crowds weren’t booing and taunting him as much. At home the slugger was now a daddy, welcoming his son into the world in early 1945.
Sadly Al’s days were numbered. He opened a bar and grill that didn’t do very well and ended up back in the ring, out of shape and fifteen pounds over his prime weight. He still managed to win most of his bouts.
On November 21, 1945 he was hanging out at the same bar and grill that he once owned. He noticed four men with guns enter the bar. Unarmed he stood up and walked right over to the four, as always the aggressor. One of them called him a bum, he knocked him out with one punch and was shot. The other three high tailed it out of the bar with Davis in hot pursuit. They kept firing and Al kept coming. He was finally felled by a fatal shot but his heroics allowed the police to nab the robbers. He was 25 years old.
So Al Davis, known as ‘Bummy’ his entire boxing career and after was now being called a hero. What an irony, the former ‘bum’ was now the ultimate ‘hero’. His family and friends felt vindicated, the truth was out about there ‘Vroomy’ but still the price he had to pay, his life was a mighty steep one.
For more information on Al Davis, I highly recommend Ron Ross’s compelling account in-titled Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Mafia and an III-Fated Prizefighter.
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