Michael Strauss Jacobs (“Uncle Mike”) was a U.S. boxing promoter, member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame. Strauss was one of 10 children born in New York’s Greenwich Village to immigrants Isaac and Rachel (Strauss). His family was poor, forcing Jacobs to work as a boy selling newspapers and candy on Coney Island excursion boats.
After noticing that ticket purchases for the boats were often confusing to prospective passengers, Jacobs began scalping boat tickets, bought concession rights on all the ferries docked at the Battery, and eventually ran his own ferryboats. Jacobs then became the premier ticket scalper in New York, buying and selling theater, opera, or sports events tickets, and began sponsoring events himself, including charity balls, bike races, and circuses.
Jacobs opened a legitimate ticket agency across from the Metropolitan Opera House, becoming the “standout ticket agent of New York,” and invested his money in several other successful enterprises, including real estate development, Enrico Caruso’s concert tour, and a series of lectures by British suffragette Emily Pankhurst.
Jacobs began his career in boxing promotion in 1921 by working with Hall of Famer Tex Rickard, raising $100,000 in cash in just eight hours to help Rickard promote the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier heavyweight championship bout. The result was the first $1 million gate in boxing history. Jacobs also helped Rickard in financing the building of the Old Madison Square Garden in 1925. But four years after Rickard’s death in 1929, Jacobs formed the Twentieth Century Sporting Club with three reporters, including Damon Runyan, to compete with the Garden for the biggest boxing promotions.
From 1935 until 1949, Jacobs was arguably the most powerful man in boxing, controlling practically every world title bout between Featherweights and Heavyweights, and the stretch on Manhattan’s 49th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue was known as “Jacobs Beach.” “Nobody else ever exerted such absolute dictatorship as his over any sport,” wrote columnist Red Smith.
Jacobs’ main attraction was heavyweight Joe Louis, whom Jacobs promoted at a time when Madison Square Garden was reticent about staging fights with blacks. Jacobs persuaded heavyweight champion Jim Braddock to break a contract with the Garden to fight Louis in Chicago, and Louis won.
When Louis fought Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938, some Jewish groups opposed giving Schmeling a platform, and several of them applied pressure on Jacobs to cancel the fights. Jacobs offered to donate 10 per cent of the gate to groups helping Jewish refugees. A story in the American Hebrew in 1946 praised Jacobs for giving Joe Louis the opportunity to strike “a terrific blow to the theory of race supremacy.”
Jacobs solidified his position as a top promoter when he staged the Carnival of Champions on September 23, 1937, at the Polo Grounds in New York, featuring four world championship bouts in one night. Madison Square Garden subsequently leased the arena and the outdoor Madison Square Garden Bowl to the Twentieth Century Sporting Club. Jacobs’ relationship with the Garden changed from tenant-landlord to a partnership, with Jacobs staging 320 shows there from 1937 to 1949.
In 1944. he obtained the first commercial sponsorship of a television fight, featuring the Featherweight title bout between Willie Pep and Chalky Wright. Jacobs, who promoted 61 championship fights including three million-dollar bouts during his career, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1946, and finally sold his empire to Madison Square Garden in 1949.
Jacobs was elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1982, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He was the subject of a biography by Daniel M Daniel, The Mike Jacobs Story (1950).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.