Louis “Kid” Kaplan

Inducted into Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, 1983

Born in Russia, Kaplan came to the U.S. with his family at age 5 and settled in Meriden. With a fifth-grade education, he was peddling fruit when a street gang framed him for stealing from a vendor. He beat the gang’s leader so badly that a police officer suggested he try his luck at boxing. He trained at the Lenox Athletic Club and boxed as an amateur for four years before stepping into a ring as a professional at the age of 15.

Boxing was an accessible sport – when Kaplan took it up, he needed nothing more than sneakers, a belt, and a pair of tights. Training as a boxer was attractive to many immigrant Jewish boys because it strengthened self-defense skills often needed in the streets and held the promise of winning prize money. Boxing gyms were widely available and open late hours, making them more accessible than team sports organized by schools. Like many other immigrant parents, Kaplan’s mother opposed boxing and he hid it from her initially by fighting under a different name.

He became known as the “Buzzsaw” for his aggressive punch. His career ring record was 108 wins (with 26 wins by knockout) and 17 losses. In 1925, he became the world featherweight champion at Madison Square Garden, defeating Danny Kramer of Philadelphia. He defended his title three times before outgrowing the featherweight division. With his first prize earnings, he was able to buy a house for his parents as well as a horse and wagon to lighten the workload of his father, a junk dealer. He fought as a lightweight until 1933.

Kaplan exhibited pride by sporting a Jewish star on his boxing trunks, which helped make Jews aware of the sport and gave them someone to cheer for. His daughter recalled that “the Jewish people were certainly very proud of him and youngsters all around thought he was great and could relate to him.”

In addition to serving as a referee and training young fighters in the gym, Kaplan continued to offer inspiration to the Jewish community. After speaking at the Jewish Community Center of Hartford in 1936, director Seymour Carroll wrote, “We want you to know that we appreciate sincerely your appearing, […] with your remarks you encouraged the continuance of the Center and instilled a new spirit into the Jewish Community.”

Learn more:
Connecticut Explored magazine:

Jewish Boxing Blog

Jews in Sports

When Boxing Was a Jewish Sport