In the early seventies boxing magazines were easy to find on the newsstands. Publications like “The Ring”, “Boxing Illustrated”, “World Boxing” and “Boxing News” sold well thanks to the exploits of fighters like Ali and Frazier, Foreman and Monzon. Buchanan and Duran. Operating in a niche part of the market was a Michigan based newspaper, more of a glorified newsletter really, called “American Boxing News”. What it lacked in correct spelling, bad typesetting and articles of varying quality it made up for in a crusading zeal against what the founder and editor Elliott Harvith called “garbage”. The 400 lb / 180 kg Harvith used his paper as a vehicle to rally public opinion against boxing promoters who short-change the public by matching up and coming fighters with opponents whose only talent is to fall to the canvas as quickly as possible. It was said that the only reason American Boxing News was never sued for libel is that the victims of its criticism would have run up legal bills that would dwarf any possible winnings.
American Boxing News did have one unique selling point – it was the only place you can find reports on every fight that the promising Jewish heavyweight Solly “Bagel Boy” Nazerman had ever contested. Nazerman, a handsome, dark haired and moustachioed fighter who wore the Star of David on his trunks seemed to be a promoter’s dream. He had the looks, he had the ethnicity to build a following and, most importantly it seemed he had the talent.
His career began in places where even the keenest expert in American geography would have struggled to place on the map. Places like Mingo Junction, Ohio and Pumpkintown, South Carolina. It took him to one horse towns where the horse was probably lame, to backwoods places after the lumber company had been through and ghost towns that had been exorcized decades earlier. His opponents were straight from the Z list but only because that’s where the alphabet ran out.
He scored knockouts against such non-entities as Sweet Papa Finney and Wild Man Asher but importantly he kept winning and he kept knocking people out. The winning streak had reached 32 when he fought Battling Young in Irondequoit, New York, up on the shore of Lake Ontario. Young was dispatched in the first round, but the fight brought a little controversy when the boxing commissioner for the State of New York noted that Nazerman had never actually applied for a state boxing licence.
The Bagel Boy’s finest moment came in May 1972. He was scheduled to fight seven opponents consecutively in one night. The seven were beaten and none lasted to hear the bell for the end of the first round. Over the next six weeks he fought another four times and each fight ended with his rival on the canvas. 44 fights, 44 wins, 44 knockouts – the perfect record.
By now Nazerman was beginning to get noticed by the boxing organizations. There were rumours of a place in the world rankings and fights being arranged against better opponents and for bigger money.
And then it all ended.
The lead story in the August 1972 edition of American Boxing News was the death of Nat Fleischer, the boxing writer who had done much to instil an air of respectability to the sport but sharing the front page was the tragic news of the death of the “Bagel Boy”. It read that Nazerman had been driving his car on the night of June 29, 1972 when it was in collision with a delivery truck. The boxer had been killed instantly. The obituary went on “”Truly a waste and a sad end to the man who could whip any man in the world, as an everlasting tribute, a giant bagel with the number 44 inscribed on it will be placed on Sol’s grave”.
That last line may give you a clue as to what is happening here. The reason you’ve never heard of Nazerman is that he never existed. Nazerman was a figment of Elliott Harvith’s imagination, designed to draw attention to the lack of scrutiny by the boxing authorities. Film buffs may have recognized the name as the holocaust survivor character played by Rod Steiger in the Oscar nominated 1964 film “The Pawnbroker”. The Bagel Boy truly was the greatest fighter who never had his gloves laced or ever threw a punch in anger.
In the near fifty years since his demise boxing has lost some of its popularity but retained its ability to make some people very, very rich. Where once there was a single undisputed champion now there are many organizations proclaiming world champions thereby diluting the meaning of the title.
A few years after the sad demise of the Bagel Boy, one Rafael Lovera challenged for the WBC world light-flyweight title against Luis Estaba of Venezuela. It was only long after the fight that it was revealed that Lovera was a fraud and had never boxed in a single professional match.
Furthermore, as recently as 2015 Ali Raymi of Yemen was rated as the No. 11 junior flyweight in the world by the WBA. Problem was that Raymi had never fought outside the home country, had never fought an opponent of any quality and, more importantly, had died in a Saudi airstrike several weeks earlier whilst serving in the military in the Yemeni Civil War.
As ludicrous as the story of Sol Nazerman was, true life had a habit of being a lot stranger.