THERE ARE those who consider Lew Tendler the greatest southpaw who ever lived. If he were still alive today, fellow Hall of Famer Benny Leonard would likely agree.
One of the best fighters in boxing history to never win a title, Tendler was a newspaper boy who began fighting on the streets of Philadelphia to preserve territory. He began boxing professionally at the age of 15 in 1913. As a young pro he competed at bantamweight and later developed into one of the hardest punchers in the lightweight division.
The early portion of Tendler's career took place in an era where lawmakers banned decisions on boxing contests, therefore the majority of his fights (95 of them) ended in No Decisions. The theory was that by eliminating decisions, boxing would rid itself of corrupt judges and referees. The winner was generally determined by which fighter garnered a favorable account in the newspaper the following day. Among the greats Tendler met in "No Decision" bouts were future world champions Pete Herman (bantamweight) and Rocky Kansas.
On May 5, 1922, Tendler positioned himself for a title shot when he earned a 15-round decision over future Hall-of-Famer Johnny Dundee. Two months later, he met lightweight champ Leonard in a 12-round bout that some record books list as a title fight while others consider it a No Decision bout. Nonetheless, it was a grueling contest. In the eighth round, Tendler staggered Leonard with left hand. A follow-up left to the body nearly floored the champion. Leonard, always a cunning tactician, complained that the punch was low. The fighters briefly exchanged words and the pause in the action afforded Leonard enough time to recover. Leonard held on to earn the decision.
Tendler and Leonard met in a rematch on July 24, 1923 and this time there was no question that the lightweight title was at stake. The bout was the first title match held at Yankee Stadium and 60,000 fans witnessed the event. Leonard learned his lesson well from the first match and boxed his way to a comfortable unanimous decision.
On June 2, 1924, Tendler moved up a division to challenge welterweight king Mickey Walker at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. After seven rounds, the fight was even on the scorecards. But in the eighth, Walker connected with a strong left hook that changed the momentum and allowed him to retain the title with a 10-round decision.
Among the other notable contenders Tendler met over the course of his career were Frankie Callahan, Richie Mitchell, Jack Zivic and Ace Hudkins. He retired in 1928 after a fifth-round knockout over Nate Goldman. After his career, Tendler became a successful restaurateur in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.