Harry Jeffra: Forgotten Man

By Clarence George on November 25, 2013
Harry Jeffra: Forgotten Man
“Anyone who beat the fighters he did deserves to be in the Hall, no question about it."

Jeffra, who fought from 1933 to 1950, became the Bantamweight Champion of the World by defeating the great Sixto Escobar…

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.”—George Eliot

While checking out boxing goodies coming up at auction, I came across a St. Nicholas Arena ticket stub – Box 322, Row 1, Seat 1; original price, $1.65 (at least $20 today). Written in blue ink on the pink stub the names Jeffra and Costantino. Jeffra? Harry Jeffra? The bantamweight and featherweight titlist? I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t thought of the very good indeed Baltimore-born Eyetie (real name, Ignacius Pasquale Guiffi) since I don’t know when. No fruit cup for me. Even more self-punitive, I deprived myself of a shot of Talisker.

Not that Jeffra should be remembered for his bout with the limited, however durable, Lulu Costantino (136 fights), which took place on April 13, 1942, and which Jeffra won on points. No…not for that bout.

Jeffra (94-20-7, 28 KOs), who fought from 1933 to 1950, became the Bantamweight Champion of the World by defeating the great Sixto Escobar via unanimous decision at New York’s Polo Grounds on September 23, 1937. According to the New York Times, Jeffra “so far outclassed Escobar as to make the match surprisingly one-sided.”

The bout was one of four title matches on promoter Mike Jacobs’ Carnival of Champions card. The others were Lou Ambers vs. Pedro Montanez for the lightweight championship (won by Ambers), Barney Ross vs. Ceferino Garcia for the welterweight championship (won by Ross), and Fred Apostoli vs. Marcel Thil for the International Boxing Union middleweight championship (won by Apostoli).

Jeffra and Escobar had five fights, the Baltimore native winning all but one. In the last bout of his career, the Puerto Rican lost to Jeffra on points at Carlin’s Park in Baltimore on December 2, 1940.

On May 20, 1940, Jeffra became the New York State Athletic Commission’s featherweight champ by beating Joey Archibald via unanimous decision at the Coliseum in Baltimore.

Although Jeffra hit with all the impact of a little girl hosting a tea party with miniature pink cups, he was tough as teak, stopped only twice in his 17-year career, by Danny London via fifth-round TKO in 1935 and Chalky Wright via 10th-round TKO in 1942.

Jeffra, who would have celebrated his 99th birthday on November 30, died at age 73. He was inducted into the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1962, the Ring Hall of Fame in 1982, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998.

As for the reluctant International Boxing Hall of Fame…in the words of Boxing.com’s Mike Silver, preeminent boxing historian, “Anyone who could be a bantamweight or featherweight contender in the thirties and forties deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Those divisions were loaded with talent. To win a title back then, that was quite an accomplishment. Anyone who beat the fighters he did deserves to be in the Hall, no question about it.”

Said boxing historian Hank Kaplan when asked if Jeffra should be inducted into the Hall, “Absolutely, he was a great fighter.”

No fruit cup for you, IBHOF…never mind Talisker.

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  1. Clarence George 11:12am, 01/04/2015

    Delighted by your comment, Lauren…what a great way to start the new year.

  2. Lauren 07:35am, 01/04/2015

    I’m Harry Jeffra’s grand daughter.  Thank you for remembering him.  He would be thrilled.

  3. nicolas 03:30am, 11/30/2013

    Also Harry Jeffra is also in that World Boxing Hall of Fame

  4. Clarence George 09:24am, 11/28/2013

    Overlin’s in the World Boxing Hall of Fame, but that has nowhere near the prestige of the IBHOF.  The same is true, by the way, of Ceferino Garcia.  What a disgrace.

  5. beaujack 08:11am, 11/28/2013

    Dan Cuoco, I was surprised that Ken Overlin was not in the HOF. I thought that he was after his great career…During his prime Overlin was called the “poor man’s Harry Greb” because of his frenetic bouncing style. But Overlin was quoted ” I am convinced that Harry Greb would lick me and my top contender both on the same night, with no time off between bouts”. Heady words indeed…But Overlin was a helluva fighter who was good enough to decision and draw with the rising star Ezzard Charles, while on the downside of Overlin’s career…

  6. nicolas 12:08am, 11/28/2013

    TED: what do you mean that the BWAA members are conflicted?

    DAN: I probably myself would vote in Joe Calzaghe, Oscar and Felix into the hall. For the following year I have to say that there are not any fighters who I would pick as first time eligible. But 2008 was a year where three hall worthy fighters did retire. I just wish the IBHOF would recognize that Old Timers being retired in 1942 is a little silly.

  7. Ted 06:25pm, 11/27/2013

    Because the IIBHOF is closely linked with the BWAA which in turn has many members who have been conflicted—one of whom plays a major role in who gets into the BWAA, I give the Hall little attention.


  8. Dan Cuoco 11:37am, 11/27/2013

    Clarence you are 100% correct. Only three (3) moderns will be chosen on December 4th. And based on the number of voters (younger outnumbering older voters) you can go to the bank on the three being elected: Joe Calzaghe; Oscar de la Hoya; and. Felix Trinidad. While I have nothing against the three, I just didn’t want to waste my 3 votes on them.

  9. Clarence George 10:46am, 11/27/2013

    Thanks very much, Dan, for your kind words and for your support of Harry Jeffra and other neglected warriors. 

    It seems to me that the IBHOF has become increasingly preoccupied in recent years in pandering to the preferences of younger fans and voters, rather than recognizing the worthiness of previous generations of fighters and helping to keep alive the sport’s rich history.

  10. Dan Cuoco 10:18am, 11/27/2013

    Thanks for remembering Harry Jeffra. Harry is another of the outstanding fighters on the IBHOF ballot (MODERN) that are constantly being neglected by the younger voting bloc. My three votes this year are in alphabetical order: Tiger (Jack) Fox; Harry Jeffra; and, Ken Overlin. The only way these three are going to be elected is if the IBHOF adds a category between the 1943 cutoff and the present day. 

  11. Ted 09:24am, 11/26/2013

    CG , The Ring is in the loooooooong line of people and/or organizations that can kiss my ass. The line has now passed Abilene, Kansas and is heading north towards the Dakotas. It’s been building since the 70’s.


  12. Clarence George 07:10am, 11/26/2013

    Beaujack:  An incentive in writing such articles is the hope that you’ll comment and reminisce. 

    The comment section sometimes serves as a needed woodshed, and that’s the case here.  In my eagerness to highlight Jeffra, I gave short shrift to Costantino.  Referring to him as “limited” is arguably misleading.  He was a very good featherweight, to be sure.  But I think his career ultimately ran out of gas, as his increasingly spotty record indicates.  Ultimately, he was just outclassed by some genuinely outstanding fighters.

  13. beaujack 06:42am, 11/26/2013

    Lulu Costatino was a helluva featherweight prospect who was unbeaten in about 54 or so bouts..A native of the lower East Side of NY ,Lulu was a pal of Rocky Graziano and Tough Terry Young, all who I saw time and again…Lulu was on his way to the FW championship until he met another fine classy chap by the name of Willie Pep, and Lulu could not keep up with the Hartford speedster. Thanks for bringing up the name of Harry Jeffra a fine featherweight of that rich era along with Sixto Escobar, Joey Archibald, Phil Terranova [who beat Sandy Saddler],and the hardest punching featherweight of that era ancient Chalky Wright….These chaps were overshadowed by the great Willie Pep….

  14. Mike Schmidt 06:36am, 11/26/2013

    Irish Frankie, all kidding aside, thanks as always for the post comment.

  15. Clarence George 08:41pm, 11/25/2013

    You need to build up some rage?  Toward the “Ring”?  Jeez, Ted, as it is we couldn’t read it without the goggles they used during the atomic-test blast in “The Amazing Colossal Man”!

  16. Ted 07:36pm, 11/25/2013

    Soon. I need to build up some rage.

  17. Clarence George 06:51pm, 11/25/2013

    Mike:  Thank you, and I laughed uproariously at your post.  Connie Stevens was very hot.  And Dyan Cannon was another.  Still a sizzler in “Out to Sea”...when she was 60!

    Ted:  When are you going to write that “Ring” article you promised?

  18. Ted 06:16pm, 11/25/2013

    No, you are not missing anything. The RING is absurd and should be avoided as a source of info.

    Every time to give them a click or a penny, you are colluding in a conflict of interest that only Teddy Atlas has the balls to call them on. Once and for all, the Ring is totally conflicted.

  19. MIke Schmidt 06:05pm, 11/25/2013

    Great read. Irish Frankie what can I tell you. For years these fookers at boxing.com had me parking the cars at head office. Then they moved me up to the coat and hat check room. That was superb as the two girls that worked the shift with me were ringers for Connie Stevens and Jill St. John. All good until our Fearless Editor mentioned to Sir Clarence about the coat check deal—“Do you think Schmidt is getting fed up working with the girls doing the hat and coat check.”  Next thing you know I am back parking cars….I got a feeling, you know, that somehow Sir Clarence…. ah hell!!! You wonder why me peak is past!!! Don’t even get me started on Sares corner office—we are trying to get a key so we can break in at night, steal all his old boxing posters on the wall, ebay the living shit out of them and retire!!!

  20. Clarence George 02:51pm, 11/25/2013

    Which reminds me (getting more and more like Irish every day), any thoughts on the wonderful tale of Danny London having his powers of speech and hearing restored thanks to a blow to the head during a boxing match?

  21. Clarence George 02:25pm, 11/25/2013

    Nothing to do with this article, gentlemen, but I can’t resist sharing this with you.  Looking through the most recent issue of the “Ring,” I came across a listing of the U.K.‘s top 10 boxers, followed by “Five more (in alphabetical order):  Jamie McDonnell, Paul Butler, Nathan Cleverly, George Groves and Matthew Macklin.”  Is it me?  Am I missing something?

  22. Clarence George 01:28pm, 11/25/2013

    Ted:  Delighted you liked it.

    Nicolas:  I like your suggestion.  In fact, I recently read an article (can’t remember where) that raised very similar points.

    Irish:  Ha!  Thank you.  I’m not really sure why Busby Berkeley comes to mind.  Maybe because his heyday was the 1930s?  As for Mike Schmidt…  Look, the consensus is that he pretty much peaked between 1948 and 1952 (opinions differ), but we carry him for sentimental reasons.  According to our computer model, Ted Sares is expected to peak between June and December 2014.  We’re playing it safe…despite the expense, a doctor will be placed on retainer beginning this coming May.

  23. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:59pm, 11/25/2013

    Clarence George-You have to help me on this….why the heck do I think of Busby Berkeley when I read this….anyway…..I really enjoy your work as you can probably can tell and much like Ted Sares and Mike Schmidt it’s clear to me that you haven’t peaked yet either.

  24. nicolas 12:05pm, 11/25/2013

    Escobar was elected to the IBHOF on the old timers list because he retired before 1942, which I believe is the criteria by the IBHOF to be inducted into that list. I would suggest that we all write to the IBHOF to make the old timers from now on fifty years ago, and that would I think make Jeffra the leading candidate of that list that is now among the 45 fighters who are voted on. I would also make a change in the pioneer list, make that 100 years so that someone like Marvin Hart might get inducted. Recently Dwyer of Gamblers Advisory on YouTube suggested that David Haye was Hall Of Fame Worthy. I agreed with him, in 2114 on the Pioneer list.

  25. Ted 11:01am, 11/25/2013

    Thanks for a nice trip back into the past, CG. Didn’t know much about this chap.

  26. Clarence George 09:50am, 11/25/2013

    Thanks for your good post, Chuck, and your point about Costantino is well taken.  I came across as somewhat disrespectful and dismissive, and that wasn’t at all my intention.  Collateral damage in my desire to elevate the outrageously neglected Jeffra.  But Lulu deserves better, and I thank you for bringing that to my attention.

  27. chuck h. 09:20am, 11/25/2013

    HARRY JEFFRA, world champion in two divisions, defeated Sixto Escobar four out of five times. Escobar was elected to the IBHOF years ago, Jeffra is still languishing on the ballot. What is wrong with this picture.
    Thanks for the story about this forgotten great.
    I respectfully take issue to your comment about Lulu Costantino, though, Lulu who won 54 straight at the beginning of his career was considered a speedy, brilliant boxer, with great footwork. At least that’s what some of the old-time railbirds I spoke to who saw Lulu in action recalled. Newsclips in his prime were also of high praise of his ability.

  28. Mike Casey 08:00am, 11/25/2013

    Agreed, my friend!

  29. Clarence George 07:49am, 11/25/2013

    Can’t allow these guys to disappear into the mists of time, Mike.

  30. Mike Casey 07:30am, 11/25/2013

    Thanks for remembering Harry Jeffra, Clarence. Hank Kaplan was right - Harry was indeed a great fighter.

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