Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Contributed by guest sportswriter Paul Zanon
Gershon Mandeloff. Does that name ring any bells? He was one of Britain’s best ever boxers, but you might know him as Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis.
Born in Whitechapel on 28 October 1893, Lewis was the son of a Jewish cabinet maker. Rumour has it, a police officer witnessed him in a street fight and suggested he took up boxing. Consequently, he headed down the Judean Sporting Club, Whitechapel, started training and turned professional on 29 August 1909, against fellow debutant, Kid Da Costa. Losing on points, the 16-year-old Lewis fought two weeks later against another debutant, Johnny Sharp, once again losing on points. Da Costa would retire with a record of 1-2 and Sharp with an undefeated sheet of 1-0.
Lewis hardly looked like a prospect in the making. However, the 'Aldgate Sphinx' would not only prove the doubters wrong over his extensive career in the ring, he would raise the bar for British boxing, becoming a three-weight champion. Often fighting, three to four times per week and sometimes twice in one night, by the age of 19 Lewis had racked up over 130 fights, with 115 wins to his name. On 6 October 1913 at the Covent Garden Sporting Club, Lewis made history by becoming the youngest British champion, 22 days shy of his 20th birthday. Stopping Alec Lambert in the 17th round of a scheduled 20 round contest, Lewis not only picked up the coveted British featherweight strap, but the vacant European title too.
Having fought almost exclusively in the UK up to this point, and with World War One in full flow, Lewis became a road warrior, proving his fistic credentials in Australia and the US in particular over the coming years. He met his wife to be, Elsie Schneider, in New York and also became close friends with one of the most famous actors in history – Charles Spencer Chaplin. Charlie to you and I. Chaplin would become godfather to Lewis’s son and also managed to get him into a few films. Unsurprisingly, ‘The Kid’ tended to play the part of a boxer.
On 31 August 1915, he locked horns with American, Jack Britton for the world welterweight title, successfully beating the self-proclaimed ‘Boxing Marvel,’ over 12 hard rounds. They had a rematch four weeks later and Lewis repeated the result. The pair would clash 19 times over the coming years, of which, 18 of the encounters were for the world welterweight title, mostly won by Lewis. Possibly boxing’s biggest ever rivalry?
After an unsuccessful attempt at the world middleweight title against Mike O’Dowd on 1 September 1919, six months later he beat Johnny Bee to become the British middleweight champion. Over the next 11 months he dropped back down to welter, winning the British, Commonwealth, European and world titles again.
By October 1920 he’d become British and European middleweight champion, then a month later, British light heavyweight champion. Six months after his latest crowning, he raised the bar again, but was unsuccessful as he attempted to rip away the European heavyweight and world light heavyweight titles from the teak tough Frenchman, Georges Carpentier. Unfortunately, Lewis was knocked out in the first round from a short right hand.
Campaigning from welter up to light heavyweight, Lewis continued to pick up and defend British, Commonwealth and European honours, before retiring on 13 December 1929 at the age of 36. He’d reportedly fought 239 times, with 193 wins, 32 losses, 14 draws. Interestingly, throughout his career, he was self-managed.
Incredibly, two years after retiring from the square ring, Lewis stood for parliament, working alongside controversial figure Sir Oswald Mosely. Unsuccessful in his campaign, he drifted from both politics and Mosely over the coming years, the latter due to his extreme fascist views, which Lewis detested. Although investment into a bookmaker’s shop proved not as lucrative as he’d hoped, between refereeing, a few roles in films, and personal appearances, Lewis kept himself busy.
Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis died on 20 October 1970 at the age of 76. An English heritage Blue Plaque commemorating his life can be found at Nightingale House, Nightingale Lane, Balham, SW12 8NB, a Jewish retirement home, where he spent the last years of his life.
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Paul Zanon, has written eight books, with almost all of them reaching the No1 Bestselling spot in their respective categories on Amazon. He has co-hosted boxing shows on Talk Sport, been a pundit on London Live, Boxnation and is a regular contributor to Boxing Monthly magazine amongst other publications.