"The Galloping Ghost"
By Evan Lerner
Boxing writers of the era, having rarely seen a fighter faster on his feet or with quicker hand speed, fondly referred to him as "The Dancing Master of the East Side". The Bible of Boxing, Ring Magazine called him, "the speediest fighter of his generation". And when Damon Runyon called Sid Terris, "The Galloping Ghost of the Ghetto", the name stuck.
Sidney Terris was born one of five children of Fred and Gussie Terris on September 27th 1904 on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the 1910¹s and 20s the Lower East Side was veritable breeding ground for prizefighters. Hundreds of fighters, some of the best of a generation came from this impoverished neighborhood of Jewish immigrants.
Fred Terris passed away suddenly when Sid was eight years old, leaving Gussie to care for the entire family herself. Encouraged by her to focus on his studies and desperate to help support the struggling family, Sid decided he would grow up to become a lawyer. But he was a natural athlete; fast, agile and rangy and instead of focusing on his studies, everyday after school he and his friends would make their way to one of the local gyms to shoot some hoops.
One afternoon at Rutger's gym, the neighborhood boxing instructor, Dan Caplin noticed thirteen year-old Sid's footwork. Caplin, a bespectacled schoolteacher by trade, signaled over to his brother and fellow trainer, Hymie. Dan and Hymie Caplin were streetwise, low level trainer/managers in the New York City fight game, where if you had a hot prospect, there was profit. Dan was sure he had found unmined gold in young Sid Terris, and Hymie, blond and pink-cheeked took one look at the kid's footwork and agreed. That day Dan Caplin convinced Sid to take boxing lessons at the gym.
Much like his Hebrew Schoolmate, Ruby Goldstein, Sid was an instinctive, scientific boxer and he had an unparalleled speed and agility. He took to the "sweet science" as quickly and easily as his feet moved him around the ring. He was short on punching power, but he moved like Mercury; Hymie Caplin figured his lightning feet would propel him to the lightweight championship if he couldn't get there with his fists alone.
To test train their new protégé, the Caplin's began entering Sid in amateur tournaments. He coasted through the ranks winning the Metropolitan, New York State, National, and International amateur titles. The Caplin brothers turned Sid pro in 1922 and by then he had chalked up 50 consecutive amateur wins. After 20 fights in his first year as a pro, Sid lost only twice. The fleet-footed kid, now a handsome, tall 19-year-old, was suddenly a prominent lightweight contender.
1924 was a star-making year. He delivered eighteen straight wins, the most notable in August when he fought Benny Valgar. In his fights around New York City, the Ghetto Ghost was drawing huge crowds.
In October of that year, the bible of boxing, Ring Magazine wrote, "There is no stopping Terris in his quest of the 135-pound laurels. Many are of the opinion that in six or eight more months he will defeat [Benny] Leonard".
That was quite a statement to make. Benny Leonard had been the undefeated lightweight king since 1917. His fists and feet were the picture of speed, but what made him most dangerous was his punch: it was nothing if not persuasive. Leonard with his smooth, slicked back dark hair was fond of declaring that it was a rare event it ever got mussed in a fight. To this day he is considered one of the top five lightweights of all time. For Sid to unseat the man they called The Ghetto Wizard, he would need to out class the master.
On Thanksgiving Day Sid faced Chilean fighter Luis Vincentini. In the 3rd round, the South American landed a haymaker sending Sid to the canvas. He was up before the referee counted 5 and shaking off the effects, danced his way out of the round. Using his boxing skills, flicking Vinentini with his jab and making him miss again and again, Sid won the decision on points. But Vincentini was not the toughest fighter in the world. Sid was going to face better fighters in the future, slicker fighters, and boxers that would rival him in speed and power.
At the end of 1924, Tex Rickard, best known as the promoter of the first million-dollar gate and his handling of Jack Dempsey, published his top ten lightweights of the year in Ring Magazine. Right there behind the champ Benny Leonard was Sid Terris.
But the title shot Rickard and the writers at Ring hoped for was never to come. Benny Leonard hung up his gloves in January of 1925 after an historic seven-year reign, leaving a promising field of lightweight contenders with no apparent heir.
The lightweights in the early 1920's were a formidable crew. There was Sammy Mandell, Rocky Kansas, Jimmy Goodrich, Stanislas Loayza, and depending on what neighborhood you lived in or what country your parents had sailed to America from, any of them could be considered the next in line to be champ.
On January 13th Sid beat top contender Jimmy Goodrich on points after 12 rounds. If they could keep Sid on a clean winning streak the Caplins felt they could have a champ on their hands by the end of the year. But the field would become clearer before winter was out.
In February Sid took on ranked # 3, Sammy Mandell. By no means as nimble on his feet as the Ghost, the "Rockford Sheik" was an exceptionally clever fighter and fought relentlessly on the inside. In the eyes of the boxing fans and the press, the winner of this fight would be considered the legitimate claimant of the vacant lightweight title.
13,000 fans packed the old Madison Square Garden as if it were a title fight. Tension mounted in the early rounds as these evenly matched fighters tried to outsmart, and out slick the other. In the 3rd, a moment presented itself. Sid slipped inside, faked with a left then sent a streamlined right hook to Mandell"s jaw. He went crashing to the canvas.
It looked like the Ghetto Ghost had done it.
But when the count of 9 was given, Mandell was getting back up. Screams came from the fans at ringside for Sid to finish him off. But there was no rapid fisted attack to close out the match. Sid played it cautious and Mandell was able to evade for the rest of the round and recover.
The steam went out of Sid in the final rounds and the fight went the distance. Although he was not able to knock down the Ghost, Sammy Mandell hung on to win a unanimous decision from the judges.
This was Sid's weakness as a fighter. He lacked "killer instinct". If he didn't get the other guy down and out quick with one shot, he resigned himself to using his quick style and footwork to outpoint his opponent. All too often, this would burn up his energy before the final bell. And since the fight with Vincentini, his chin was suspect.
In this respect, Sid was the typical Jewish fighter: clever with fistfulls of guile, but short on the ruggedness it took to survive a dragged out scrap.
* * *
In March 1925 the New York State Boxing Commission announced an elimination tournament for the vacant lightweight championship. Participation in the tournament was not mandatory and the Caplins had a strategy. At only 20 years old (Rocky Kansas and Goodrich were 25 and 30 respectively), they felt Sid should sit out the tournament where his inexperience and questionable chin could mean an early elimination. After a winner was announced, and still being a ranked contender, they could make a clean challenge for the crown.
Sid bounced back from the loss to Mandell without a blink and 1925 would end up being a golden year for the Ghost. By December, he would have faced 7 former and future world lightweight champions. Barring Mandell, he defeated them all.
In May and again in June, Sid faced former junior lightweight champ, Johnny Dundee. The "Scotch Wop" had been one of the greatest fighters in the light and featherweight class: fast, clever and aggressive with fantastic endurance. Sid's back to back defeats of Dundee followed a wins over the "Nebraska Wildcat" Ace Hudkins and a win by disqualification over Rocky Kansas left the Caplin's thinking that their strategy to keep Sid out of the elimination tournament was working brilliantly.
The tournament left Jimmy Goodrich as the new champion. Sid had handled Goodrich in their bout earlier in the year, now they needed to line up a shot. But within the next year the title would change hands twice, first to Rocky Kansas and then to Sammy Mandell. The Caplin's could not secure a championship fight for Sid.
The Ghost faced "The Fargo Express" Billy Petrolle in June of 1926. Although never a titleholder, Petrolle was on the greats of his generation. Sid's defeat of Petrolle made him the undisputed top ranked contender for the title. Sammy Mandell would have to fight him.
But in July of 1926 Sid dropped out of professional boxing. The reasons have been lost to time; there may have been a managerial dispute of some kind with the Caplin¹s, but whatever the case was, Sid did not step into the ring again until February of 1927. For a fighter used to constant training and a bout at least once every other month, a lapse like this could have a crippling effect.
Sid took the year to pound his way back into the spotlight. But in his first big fight of the year, Billy Wallace dropped him three times. The word in the press was that at the tender age of 23, The Ghetto Ghost had lost his fighting legs.
Despite the critics, his comeback continued with big wins over Stan Loayza and New York favorite Ruby Goldstein in which he knocked out his former Hebrew School mate in the first round in front of 50,000 screaming fans at the Polo Grounds. [SEE RUBY GOLDSTEIN BIO FOR MORE ON THIS FIGHT]. And regardless of his sabbatical, Sid¹s stellar performances in 1927 put him at #3 in the lightweight rankings. But here was a new fighter now between him and the champ: "Baby Face" Jimmy McLarnin.
McLarnin looked to have a championship career ahead of him. He had knocked out four of his last six opponents including the former featherweight champ, Louis "Kid" Kaplan. Sid would have to slug it out with him for a chance at Mandell and the title.
Just months before the fight, Ring Magazine wrote, "Sid Terris is on the warpath. He stands aces high in the division and will surely win the crown if he can get Sammy Mandell in the ring." In New York City, Sid was considered the uncrowned lightweight champion. It seemed the whole city was behind him.
The fight with McLarnin was a shut out.
In the first moments of round one Sid was boxing in top form, sticking and moving, leading with stiff straight left jabs. McLarnin had yet to throw a single punch. Sid jumped in with another right hand lead as "Babyface" threw his first punch of the night, a simultaneously thrown hard right over the top nailing Sid on the jaw. Both punches connected; Jimmy's legs buckled and wobbled, but Sid couldn't stand the force. He went down as was counted out.
Years later McLarnin told a reporter, "Had Sid's punch landed an inch lower, it would have ended in a double knockout!"
back from defeat three months later, but he was never the same fighter. He was knocked out in the first round
by Ray Miller later that year and through 1929 and 1930 some of his former
opponents got rematches and were able to defeat him.
After a loss on points early in 1931, The Ghost of the Ghetto decided to put away his well worn boxing shoes. He retired officially from the ring in 1933 without ever getting his chance to fight Sammy Mandell for the title.
Sid lived out his later years with his family in Miami, Florida among many of his old friends and opponents. He died in 1974 at the age of 70.