The following is a copy of an interview with the great lightweight, Benny Leonard, that was conducted and written by esteemed boxing writer from the past Robert Edgreen in 1921
“Study is the thing that makes a successful fighter nowadays,” said Lightweight Champion Benny Leonard.
We were sitting in a room at the New York Athletic club talking over Benny’s career. “Yes,” Benny went, on, “the day of the boy with a strong back and a thick skull has gone by. You have to be a student to get to the top and stay there. I’m champion and any other lightweight could make a fortune by beating me, yet nothing can induce the best of them to meet me in the ring. I’m in a funny position as a champion without a contender for his title. Tendler, Jackson and the others know I can beat them, but they don’t know why. They think it’s because I have an awful ‘kick,’ ‘They think I’m bigger and stronger than I am.
They don’t realize that I can beat them because I’m a better student. When I began fighting as a boy I used my legs at first instead of my brain, and I was called a feather duster boxer because I only danced around and tapped. But I began to study, and I knocked out Mandot. I met Welsh three times. I learned a lot fighting Welsh. The third time I knew enough to beat him and win the title. I’ve gone on studying ever since.”
“You have to study three things to be a first-class fighter. First, your opponent’s mind and habit of thought, second, your own mental control of timing and movement, and last, physiology.” Here Benny Leonard stopped and thought for a moment, while I wondered where he got his supply of language, which was rather novel for a fighting man.
“I learned about the importance of understanding physiology while I was in the army,” said Benny “While I was boxing Instructor at Camp Upton Lieutenant Smith was instructor in Jiu Jitsu, which he learned in Japan. We worked together and he taught me Jiu Jitsu. I learned a lot of things about the nerves and the vital organs. Do you know what a knock-out is? It’s simply a shock to a nerve, carried to the brain. There are three knock-out points on the head, each where nerves lie near the surface. For instance, a straight blow on the end of the chin isn’t a good knock-out punch. But hit a man on either side of the chin, an inch or so back, or above the eye tooth, and you deliver a shock to a nerve connecting with the brain. The nerve telegraphs the brain, that you’re knocked out, and down you go. A Jiu Jitsu expert can put a man out by digging at certain nerves with his thumb. It isn’t necessary to deliver a smashing blow.
Leonard’s Favorite Blow
“One of, my favorites is the blow that started Welsh to defeat. It’s a body blow, delivered with a lifting twist. Sam Langford was a master of that lifting punch, it can be a short blow and not very hard, but it must lift or It’s no good. A lifting blow drives the intestines up against the heart, causing a weakening shock. The effect is only temporary, and isn’t dangerous.”
“Men on whom I have used that blow thought I was hitting a terrific punch, because it felt that way. But I wasn’t. I never consider it anything but a weakening blow that would make an opponent leave an opening for a knockout punch and render him too slow to block it.”
“If I haven’t had a chance to study an opponent before a fight I study him as well as I can in the early rounds. First his mental limits and then his physical power. I see how quickly he can think, how quick he is to defend and how quick to lead, or counter. Then I look for his weak spot. A funny thing – some fellows you can’t hurt with the standard knockout punch. I remember one welterweight I knocked out almost by accident, and learned something by it. I won’t tell his name because it would be a tip off of his weak spot to other fighters.”
I hit him with every punch I had. His body was covered with muscles that made a solar plexus punch useless. I couldn’t catch him relaxed. He didn’t seem to feel a punch on the chin or behind the ear. I accidentally caught him on the temple and he dropped. Now when I box a tough fellow whose nerves don’t respond to the usual treatment, I tap around the skull until I find where I can hit him to make him dizzy.
Italians Hardest to Knock Out
“Another thing I size up in a fighter is the matter of heredity! Different weak spots are characteristic of different races. The English, for instance, often have bad teeth. You see a man with bad teeth in the ring, and you’d be fairly sure his body is his weak spot.
“I’ve found the Italians the hardest to knock out. They can fight all the time and not tire. Their vitality is astonishing. “Fellows like Johnny Dundee and Jack Sharkey are tireless and can stand an immense amount of work without going stale. That’s because their ancestors for a thousand year” back have been workers and have lived on plain food and little of it. A loaf of bread was a feast to those birds.
“Now for myself. I study myself most of all, because after all it’s my machine that does the work. Every blow I use, I’ve practiced thousands and thousand of times, studying every detail of delivery. I’ve put as much study into the delivering of a lifting, right hand body punch, as a man would need to learn Greek, I follow every inch of the blow and try to improve it in detail.
“See here,” said Leonard, suddenly jumping up and into boxing pose. “I deliver the blow like this – I have been feinting so my opponent doesn’t see my position. My hand drops back to here and starts forward, my wrist turning and the knuckles driving upward at the finish. At the same time, my body goes forward, my head is turned a little, which makes my body swing behind the blow and takes my chin out of the danger line. My left straightens and my knee turns in and as I come up on my right toe my ankle turns out so that I’m in a pigeon-toed position. I’ve done that slowly thousands of times, until I do it mechanically every time I use that blow. It gives the greatest possible driving power with the proper speed and snap a blow that shocks has to be a snappy blow, not a big push.
Six-inch Punch a Myth
‘Now about those ‘six-inch punches’ they say I use. I’ve heard hundreds of people talk about my knocking fellows out with a six inch punch, the way they used to say Bob Fitzsimmons did. I never knocked anybody out with a short punch. I don’t believe any other fighter ever did. “What I do is just this… I fool the eye. The speed of your arms in feinting counts. I feint rapidly with my arms well in advance, and suddenly I strike. The feinting is intended to fool my opponent so he won’t know when my real blow starts, and if it fools him, it fools the spectators, too. You see me feinting and hitting, and what your eye catches is the general effect, because my arms are moving as fast as I can move them.”
“You don’t know that when I struck the blow my elbow was drawn farther back that one time, and instead of striking six inches or a foot I really drove my fist two feet or more. They say Dempsey uses short punches. Dempsey takes twice as long a drive as he seems to take and, as for Carpentier, I watched him beating Levinsky, and he puts the punch into the finish of a blow that travels a yard or more”
“Aren’t you giving away your trade secret'” I asked Benny “Why, no,’ laughed the champion “Some of my rivals will read this, and if they think they understand it they may get courage enough to give me a fight.
Robert Wadsworth Edgren (January 7, 1874 – September 9, 1939) was a nationally syndicated American political and sports cartoonist, reporter, editor and Olympic athlete.
Video Footage of The Great Benah
Below is some footage of Benny Leonard in his early years and during his comeback at the age of 36 and after a seven year layoff.
As you can see in the video, with the deft footwork, economy of movement, ring generalship, timing, feinting, and regardless his advanced years and for all that time he had away from the ring, Leonard was something of a boxing genius.