Lew Tendler  
Author:  Paul Hindley

As all fans can appreciate being around at the time of a dominant champion can be tough on a fighter even in the modern era, but with 17 weight divisions and four major title belts the situation does not necessarily spell the death knell for a fighter’s title ambitions. However in the days of 8 divisions and one world title finding your prime coinciding slap bang with the prime of a true legend of the sport was a tough break. In the history of the sport there can be few fighters who have been unluckier in this respect than number 7 on our list, Lew Tendler who had the serious misfortune of finding his best years around the time the peerless Benny Leonard was ruling the roost at lightweight.
Born in Philadelphia in 1898 Tendler first showed an ability to look after himself when working as a newsboy selling newspapers on the street corner, with eight papers in circulation and the best spots for sales fiercely competed for, newsboys frequently had to fight to protect their corner and despite his small size and wiry frame Tendler proved himself adept at doing just this. A friend who saw Lew’s ability with his fists suggested there may be a living to be made in the flourishing Philly boxing scene for Lew. Despite resistance from his parents to him fighting Lew began to win and establish himself as one to watch.
The fight that first gave Lew national press attention was when he beat future world bantamweight champion Pete Herman, despite this being a no decision affair few in attendance or reporting on the fight were in any doubt about who deserves the nod. On the back of this Tendler’s handlers were to step up his level of opposition but it matters little as Lew went nigh on unbeaten for nigh on six years beating fighters as good as the likes of Johnny Dundee, Rocky Kansas and Richie Mitchell.
With his all action style and knockout power Tendler was becoming a box office attraction all over the country and the demand to see him in with lightweight king Benny Leonard was growing all the time. The fight was scheduled first in August 1921 but Leonard withdrew with an injured finger, many Philly fight fans accused Leonard of a hoax, fanning the flames of an already heated intercity rivalry and intensifying the anticipation for the match between the two. The rescheduled fight in July 1922 has passed into boxing folklore, being a no decision affair Tendler had to stop Leonard to take the title and in the 8th it looked like he was on the cusp of doing just that, when he rocked Leonard to his boots with a shot just below the heart. What happened next is a topic of some debate. What is agreed on at this point is Leonard spoke to Tendler and bought himself enough time to recover from the shot, opinion differs on what he said but many have claimed Benny said to Lew in Yiddish “that was a good shot Lew, but if you want to get fresh, I’ll get fresh too” and by the time Lew had translated this to English Benny had bought himself the time he wanted and desperately needed. Whatever happened it was enough to see Benny through to the end, where he retained his title on the no decision rule.
Tendler received another shot at Leonard 12 months later but Benny had learned the lessons from their first engagement and did not give Lew any chance to improve on his near success of the last fight, boxing rather than brawling with Lew, and running out the comfortable winner. Despite these setbacks Lew was to remain a top class fighter throughout his career, he held his own in a welterweight challenge to the all-time great Mickey Walker and finished with a record of only 16 losses from 165 fights, during which he fought 19 world champions a total of 14 times. Of his 16 recorded losses only one was by knockout, to Jack Zivic which was later avenged. Tendler remains one of the finest southpaws the ring has ever seen and but for a certain Benny Leonard would surely have enjoyed a long and impressive reign as lightweight champion of the world.