from the Mike Casey Archives...
Greatest Light Heavyweight? Jack Delaney, Said Benny Leonard

By Mike Casey

The great Benny Leonard, still considered by many to be the supreme lightweight of all time maintained that the finest light-heavyweight he ever saw was the Canadian-born master from Bridgeport, Connecticut, known as ‘Bright Eyes’: Jack Delaney.

To which I am fairly sure that many of today’s younger fans will cry, “Who?”

It’s a fair question. Others of a greater vintage with more accumulated knowledge will just as surely shake their heads in the belief that King Benny’s praise was far too fulsome. They will know that Delaney was an exciting, highly efficient ring mechanic who could punch commandingly with both hands. But greater than Tunney, Langford, O’Brien, Moore, Charles, Foster or Michael Spinks?

Well, let us backtrack a little and remind ourselves that Benny Leonard was speaking of the light-heavyweights he SAW. The Ghetto Wizard shuffled off the mortal coil in 1947, so he certainly didn’t see Mr Foster or Mr Spinks. Benny might not have seen much of Moore and almost certainly regarded Tunney, Langford and Charles as heavyweights. Only in relatively recent times has that stellar trio been grouped among the light-heavies.

Plenty of Benny’s contemporaries, however, rated Delaney above the two old-time masters of Langford and George Dixon in the Canadian pantheon of legends. Let me say here and now that I cannot do likewise. What I do find strange is why Jack Delaney’s name so rarely crops up when old champions are discussed.

Jack didn’t lack fistic talent or charisma. He possessed both in abundance. He was also a product of the Roaring Twenties, when boxers were hugely significant sporting icons and frequently commanded the front pages of the newspapers.

I am loath to say that Jack is ‘forgotten’ or ‘unappreciated’, since these have become very trendy terms that don’t always hold water. So often, it transpires that fighters bearing such descriptions were really no better or worse than their original classification by their peers. Cult figures are frequently fashioned in this way, whereby their few successes are magnified to the hilt and their shattering failures are quietly swept under the rug. Wladimir Klitschko, some would have you believe, suffered a couple of aberrations against Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster but is now well on the way to becoming one of the greatest heavyweights. Ho-hum.

So what was the juice on Jack Delaney? Why was he so revered by the fistic gurus of his age and how did he then manage to slip off the radar?

The significance of the much-maligned light-heavyweight championship would appear to have much to do with it. It has never been a glamorous weight class.  The light-heavyweight fighter, historically, is probably the ultimate misfit, as the very name of the category implies. He is boxing’s great transient, a guy passing through and looking for richer pickings. In days gone by, his only option was to move up to the heavyweights in order to make hay. This nearly always proved too demanding a task for most natural 175-pounders. Even the creation of the modern cruiserweight division has failed to change the belief of history-seeking light-heavies that a straight jump to the ever-weightier dreadnoughts is worth the risk.

The stock of the light-heavyweight division in Jack Delaney’s time was of a particularly low value. It was a place to hang out and make some pocket money while you dreamed of some day hooking up with the million dollar kid, Jack Dempsey.

When Delaney took the 175lb championship from Paul Berlenbach in 1926, it didn’t spark the beginning of what would probably have been an impressive reign. Jack went hunting the big boys, just as Fitzsimmons and O’Brien did before him, just as Tommy Loughran and many others would do subsequently.

Sadly, Jack’s largely moderate success among the heavyweights tended to soil his record and stick in the memory. Where a fighter last lay his hat can often colour our perception of him. Fitzsimmons was arguably the most devastating middleweight that ever lived, yet the majority of fans know him as the man who won the richest prize in sport by lowering the boom on Jim Corbett.

In the last years of his great career, hampered by a hand injury and drained of his desire to train thoroughly, Jack Delaney dropped decisions to Jim Maloney, Johnny Risko and Tom Heeney, and got knocked out in a round apiece by Jack Sharkey and Tony Tozzo. To the immediate fan, Delaney was the good-looking fellow who couldn’t cut the mustard where it counted.



Now let us consider some of the men Jack Delaney defeated when he was in his natural element. His hit list boasted the illustrious names of Paul Berlenbach (thrice), Lou Bogash, Augie Ratner, Jamaica Kid (twice), Tommy Loughran, Tiger Flowers (twice), Mike McTigue and Maxie Rosenbloom.

Benny Leonard said of Jack, “Delaney understood the art of self-defence.”

Nat Fleischer, the erstwhile dean of experts, lavished similar praise on Delaney, calling him, “a boxer of extraordinary cleverness with a rapier-like jab.”

Jack was all of that. A precise and almost classical boxer, he made himself so defensively adept that his dark good looks were rarely ruffled or tarnished. The more knowledgeable members of the boxing fraternity frequently referred to him as the Bridgeport Adonis. Along with his more popular name of Bright Eyes, a vision of a fleet-footed Fancy Dan might well come to mind to those who never saw him. But there was nothing flashy or negative in the way that Jack Delaney went about his business.

He was a very correct and methodical fighter, who was often content for his opponent to make the first move before countering with accurately placed punches that carried great authority. Jack could be a quick and ruthless killer when the opportunity presented itself. The wise old heads that constituted the average Madison Square Garden crowd in days of yore had serious reservations about Delaney until he blasted out Tiger Flowers with a single, thunderous right to the jaw.

Jack was of French Canadian ancestry and his birth name of Ovila Chapdelaine immediately presented an awkward problem to the urgent and direct world of boxing. Long names that might be difficult to pronounce just wouldn’t do in Delaney’s era, so some inventive soul kept rolling ‘Chapdelaine’ around in his head and decided that it didn’t sound a million miles away from ‘Jack Delaney’.

Jack made his professional debut as a middleweight in October 1919, just three months after the Dempsey era had begun in earnest at Toledo. Delaney started out as a middleweight and quickly established himself as a smart boxer and damaging puncher. However, the caution often evident in Jack’s work led many fans to question his desire to mix it and his ability to take punishment. Those doubts would persist until his dramatic annihilation of Flowers six years later, by which time Jack had proved that there was little lacking in his impressive armoury.

Like so many other prospects in an intensely competitive era, Jack encountered a few bumps in the road on his way to the top. He dropped a decision to Tommy Robson in 1921, bounced back to out-fight Lou Bogash over 15 rounds for the New England State title in 1922, but then lost his way temporarily when he caught a couple of tartars in Augie Ratner and Young Fisher. Ratner stopped Jack in the first round, while Fisher knocked him out in three.

Delaney learned from the mistakes of these defeats and was soon rolling again. He avenged his loss to Ratner by posting a 12-rounds decision over Augie in 1923, and then made a spectacular start to 1924. Now campaigning among the light-heavyweights, Jack achieved a remarkable double inside a month when he outsmarted the boxing master of the age, Tommy Loughran and followed up with a stunning fourth round knockout of New York hit man, Paul Berlenbach. A classy boxer and ferocious puncher, Berlenbach carried the intimidating nickname of the Astoria Assassin and would leapfrog Delaney to the light-heavyweight championship before meeting up with him again further down the road.

Jack was big news after those sparkling victories. Few men out-hit the immensely dangerous Berlenbach or outboxed the brilliant Loughran. Jack’s foxy wait-and-see tactics worked perfectly against the aggressive Berlenbach, whose menacing advances were repeatedly thwarted by Delaney’s intelligent countering.

But there was another smart cookie in the mixer, a gifted boxer whom Delaney could never figure. That man was Jimmy Slattery from Buffalo, one of the cleverest natural boxers ever to grace the game. If ever a man squandered his potential, it was Jimmy. It was a measure of his talent that he would still win the world championship in spite of his disdain for the discipline and dedication that makes truly great fighters.

When he clashed with Delaney, Slattery was a wiry, nineteen-year old prodigy who danced on his toes, rifled fast and unerringly accurate punches from his sides through the tightest of defences and was virtually impossible to trap. Sound like someone who came along much later?

Ted Carroll, for so long a marvellous writer and sketcher for The Ring magazine, described the Delaney-Slattery fight thus: “In this meeting, which was limited to six rounds because of Slattery’s age, the Buffalonian did look the cleverest boxer of all time. The ‘sprinters’ distance was made to his measure. Delaney was the most deliberate of fighters. He required time to adjust his sights and zero in his finishing blows. Slattery never gave him a stationary target, flitting about the ring high on his toes, like a ballet dancer, his arms dangling at his sides.

“Delaney found his mastery thwarted by an elusiveness he had never before encountered. Slattery’s speed of foot was the difference. His punches darted from the sides of his body with bewildering swiftness, penetrating Delaney’s scientific defence with enough regularity to gain him the decision. Of course the short distance was all in his favour too, whether he could have survived a longer route left the onlookers guessing but the victory was his.

“This setback cost Delaney some prestige. When he returned to the Garden again to face a third ring sensation, he was the underdog to Deacon Tiger Flowers. If Slattery’s style proved unsolvable to Delaney, Flowers’ was an open book.”



Tiger Flowers was proving a revelation and inducing even the most experienced of boxing writers to reach for fresh superlatives. Strong and aggressive, with a daunting and intimidating countenance, Flowers was on a big winning streak and hadn’t been officially beaten in more than 40 fights when he squared off with Delaney at the Garden on January 16, 1925. Just a month earlier, Tiger had taken just three rounds to wreck former world middleweight champion, Johnny Wilson, a tough and formidable scrapper in his own right. The menacing Deacon had also seen off Billy Britton, Dan O’Dowd and Joe Lohman. Writers Hype Igoe and George D Underwood described Flowers as ‘invincible’.

Then Jack Delaney bloomed and showed the doubting Garden fans what he could do. Forty-three seconds into the second round, he knocked out Flowers with one right hand blast to the jaw. Jack plotted the victory in his usual, meticulous manner. He spent the first round getting the measure of Flowers and assessing Tiger’s style and strength. This didn’t prove easy, as Flowers alternately switched between orthodox and southpaw, but Jack soon began to find the range with some stiff right uppercuts. Throughout his career, Jack would execute the right uppercut quite beautifully and with very damaging effect.

When Flowers upped the ante and attacked in the fateful second round, he was playing straight into Delaney’s dangerous hands. Jack worked him into a clinch and cleverly turned his head away from Tiger’s vicious uppercuts. Delaney put a lock on Flowers’ arms and the referee broke them up.

Tiger shot a left to the face, but Jack kept his head low to avoid the punch and then crossed a terrific right to the chin. Flowers went down with a big thump and was in complete disarray as he rolled onto his back. The effect of the blow made his body convulse, but he made a brave attempt to rise before falling back to take the full count.

Tiger’s seconds helped him to his feet and he soon regained his balance as Delaney gave him a consoling pat on the shoulder. Jack’s win showcased his true talent as well as his hidden courage. He had been fighting with a broken left rib sustained in an earlier fight.

The result was a big blow to promoter Tex Rickard, as Flowers was his best draw at the time. But wise old Tex always had an alternative game plan and promised that he would match Delaney in a return go with Paul Berlenbach. That match-up gained additional glamour four months later, when Paul lifted the world championship from Mike McTigue at Yankee Stadium.

Delaney weighed 163lbs for the Flowers fight, while Tiger tipped the beam at 166. Flowers was a natural middleweight who would dethrone the great Harry Greb just a year later, and Delaney was really not much more. Jack would rarely get his weight above 180lbs for his later heavyweight adventures, which goes a long way to explaining his failures in those far choppier waters.

Delaney lost a little of his momentum after his win over Tiger, dropping successive decisions to Allentown Joe Gans and old nemesis Jimmy Slattery. But then Jack embarked on the run that would take him to a shot at Berlenbach’s championship by knocking out Flowers again at the Garden, this time in the fourth round.

Delaney was favoured to take Berlenbach’s crown in December 1925 but missed his chance as the Astoria Assassin put on a show of great courage and resilience to win the day. Decked in the fourth round and badly hurt in the sixth and seventh sessions, Paul rallied superbly to pass the tiring Delaney for a thrilling points win.

Jack, however, was now in the form of his life and reeled off eleven successive wins over the next seven months, including a fourth round knockout of Mike McTigue and a decision over Maxie Rosenbloom. Bright Eyes never looked brighter by the time he faced Berlenbach for the third time at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn in July 1926.


Capacity crowd 

A twenty-four hour postponement of the fight failed to dampen the enthusiasm of a capacity crowd of 45,000 at the famous old home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But it did put Delaney at a greater weight disadvantage. At the time of the weigh-in, Delaney scaled 166lbs to Berlenbach’s 174 1/4lbs. By fight time, however, Paul was up to 181 to Jack’s 169.

This time, before an enraptured and excited crowd, it would be Jack Delaney who would furnish the great comeback rally. Berlenbach was in tremendous form, a proud champion determined to stay on his throne. He displayed his great power of punch repeatedly through the first ten rounds of the battle, and the hardy Delaney appeared to be tiring under the effects of the steady flow of punishment.

Then Jack dug in and found a new lease of life, launching a tremendous drive over the last five rounds that would have Paul fighting desperately for survival. Such was the unlikely intensity and passion of Delaney’s great charge that it would be described by reporters and fans as one of the greatest comebacks in ring history.

Jack launched a sustained, two-fisted attack to win the day, which seemed to take Berlenbach completely by surprise and knock the resistance right out of him in those final, decisive frames.

While Delaney couldn’t floor Berlenbach as in their previous fights, Jack did everything but. Most remarkable was that Jack’s left hand should play such an instrumental role in inflicting the decisive damage. Only on returning to his dressing room did he discover that he had suffered a small fracture in his left thumb.

He employed the left hand with consistent accuracy and crunching effect in his big surge. Right uppercuts and powerful left hooks to the jaw were the weapons that began to unhinge Berlenbach and eat into his points lead, with the champion looked increasingly fragile and uncertain from the eleventh round.

That round almost certainly marked the turning point of the fight, as Delaney found the mark with a smashing right uppercut to the stomach that seemed to suck the wind from Paul’s sails and drain him.

Jack sensed that he had turned the tide and began his powerful run to home base, suddenly charged with new life and verve. He had dropped the previous four rounds and seemed to be finding Berlenbach’s withering power too hot to handle. With that pivotal eleventh round, however, the Brooklyn crowd knew that an already engrossing fight had taken a new twist.

Berlenbach very nearly went under in the fourteenth round when Delaney caught him with a big right to the jaw that dipped his knees. With the big crowd cheering Jack on, Paul made a grab for the ropes and then fell into the temporary shelter of a clinch.

Berlenbach was a mightily brave and gutsy champion. He took a tremendous pounding in those final rounds but weathered the storm with great courage and spirit. Paul never gave up and Delaney still needed to employ his evasive skills as the champion mounted defiant charges. Blood flowed from a cut to Berlenbach’s left eye through the last four rounds, which seemed to impair his vision.

The fifteenth and final round proved another torrid session for Paul and he needed all his heart and guile to survive it. Jack drilled a left to the head and a terrific right to the body that staggered Berlenbach. Then another short right, travelling just inches, found Paul’s chin and came close to sending him down.

Still the champion fought back gallantly, and the two men were hitting each other hard at the bell. Commissioner James A Farley announced that the decision was unanimous for the new champion, Jack Delaney, and the crowd gave Jack a tremendous ovation.



Jack Delaney made just one defence of his light-heavyweight championship before his harsh graduation to the heavyweight division. With one of his superbly executed right uppercuts, he knocked out Jamaica Kid in three rounds.

The talk had already begun in certain quarters that Jack might be matched with Harry Wills. Writer Grantland Rice argued that such a move would yield a very bad result for Delaney.

Mr Rice summed up the odds against Jack when he wrote: “If Jack Delaney had Paul Berlenbach’s stamina, rugged strength and his top weight, he would be the next heavyweight champion.

“Here is Jack Delaney with almost everything – a great boxer, a hard hitter, fast, cool and cunning in his generalship. But for the most important fight of his career, in perfect condition, he weighed in at 166lbs.

“They will tell you that Bob Fitzsimmons weighed even less. But Bob Fitzsimmons was a physical freak. Weighing only 160 or slightly more, he had much larger arms and a bigger chest than Jack Delaney at 166. And Dempsey, weighing 188, had forearms and upper arms as fully large as Harry Wills, weighing 215.

“Delaney has everything but weight and ruggedness. Gene Tunney put on 20 pounds after he had passed his twenty-fifth year by living and training in the open.

“Delaney, at twenty-six, might add at least ten pounds in a year, but with all his speed and skill, his beauty and grace of action, he isn’t going to win any heavyweight championship at 170lbs.”

Grantland Rice was right. Jack Delaney didn’t even come close when he started swinging with the big boys. But Jack was undoubtedly a great light-heavyweight. Everybody said it back in the days before his name mysteriously faded from consideration.

Writing in 1959, The Ring’s Ted Carroll concluded his thoughts on Delaney as follows: “Rated strictly as a light-heavyweight, Jack Delaney’s credentials as the best 175-pounder of them all are very strong. As a skilful boxer, he yielded nothing to such artists as Loughran, Conn, McTigue or anyone else you care to name.

“For sharp-shooting power punching, he has had no equal in his class. He was for a time regarded as the outstanding fighter in the ring. Retiring in 1932, his last years were unfortunate. Plagued by illness, he passed away at the early age of forty-nine in 1948.

“In any estimate of light-heavyweight champions, it is difficult to rank any of them on a par with Jack Delaney at his best.”

This writer cannot be so generous, placing Delaney 15th among the elite 175-pounders. Jack might have been just a little too methodical and programmed for the smarts of Tommy Gibbons and Billy Conn or for the lightning attacks of the hard punching Georges Carpentier. The slippery funkiness of Michael Spinks might also have puzzled Jack to a points defeat.

But surmise and conjecture merely lead us down the same old infuriatingly inconclusive path. Jack Delaney in his peak form was an exceptionally outstanding fighter and never a wise man to bet against!



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