"How did I get the nam "Fields? Well, in the amateurs they said, "How can you fight with a name like Finklestein?" A Jew wasn't supposed to be a tough fighter. A Jew is supposed to be a guy with books. So they said pick another name.The first one I could think of, the first high class name was Marshall Field's, from the deputy [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Chicago. And Jackie, Jackie is just American for Jacob.
Jackie Fields, welterweight champion, 1932
Ross's mother . . . was distraught at her son the fighter. But he eventually convinced her that it was a worthy occupation. As a symbol of acquiescene, she sewed a Star of David on the inside of his boxing trunks.
"I took it to Rabbi Stein and he made a blossing over," she said to him. "Now I want you to wear it every time you fight so you'll have protection from God." He wore it in the ring from then on.
on Barney Ross, lightweight champion, 1972
Ira-Berkow wrote those lines in his book in his book "Maxwell Street," a chronicle of a Jewish ghetto in Chicago. Jackie Fields and Barrey Ross rose up from the street to fame in the boxing ring. All the way they hid their faith, for it was not a good time for Jews.
Mike Rossman now fights with the Star of David prominent on each leg of his trunks. Another Star of David is tatooed into his right calf. Eight days ago he won the world light heavyweight championship, becoming the first Jewish championship since Ross was beaten in 1938.
"Michael's been wearing the Star since the first day he went into a gym seven years ago," said his father, Jimmy DePiano. His mother is Jewish, and that makes him Jewish. He gets up this cap all the time about Your father is Italian." That's why he got the tatoo. They give him that crap, he just lifts the leg of his pants and shows them."
Times change, and if Fields and Ross needed to deny their Jewishness, everyone around Mike Rossman is making hay with his race and religion. Jews once fought their way out of Maxwell Street the way blacks fight to escape today's ghettoes. The fight game now is black. And here comes Mike Rossman, a Jew, winning a championship.
Cash registers are ringing.
The fighter's father and manager, Jimmy DePiano, hears them.
All over, he's been drawing big crowds." DePiano said. We had 10,000 in Philly. We sold out Atlantic City. You know why. There's not many white fighters. Partly, too, it's because he's Jewish-half-Jewish and half-Italian. the Jewish and Italian people all love sports. Besides, he gives the people good fights and he's good boy. He doesn't get smart with people. When people write him letters, he answers them back."
A nice Jewish boy who can win a world boxing championship is a valuable commercial property.
Bob Arum, president of Top Rank, Inc., knows it.
The morning after Rossman beat championship Victor Galindez eight days ago on the Ali-Spinks card, Arum, the fights promoter, announced he had signed Rossman to a three-fight contract. Not missing a trick, Arum invited the national press, assembled for Ali, to talk to Rossman. And Arum waved a telegram that he said was a $500,000 offer from an English rock promoter for a Rossman fight.
"Outside of Muhammad Ali, who is in a different, super category, Mike Rossman is the most attractive fighter in the world," Arum said.
Is there big money to be made by Mike Rossman?
"Yes," Arum said.
For 35 years, Jimmy DePiano has made peanuts at the fight game. He hung around Philadelphia gyms, doing odd jobs, never getting in the ring himslef. DePiano's oldest son, Mike, was 15 when he first walked into a gym with his father. Two years later, lying about his age, Mike DePiano turned pro. That was only five years ago.
First thing they did was change the kid's name to Mike Rossman. "I am his father, right, but Rossman, that's my wife's maiden name, and if your mother's Jewish, and it just sounded nice," DePiano said. "It came to me from out of the blue. Mike Rossman. Sounds good."
Rossman now has won 35 fights, 22 by knockout, lost four and drawn three. He is 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, a broad-shouldered jabber with a taste for combat. In his championship fight eight days ago, he cut Galindez early was savage in his pursuit of the wounded fighter. His upset victory of a championship who had won 41 straight fights pleased the Superdome crowd.
"Mike's had lots of offers since the fight," his father said. "Three or four movies stars, like, they asked if Michael would be interested in movies. Movies, TV, autographing things. Michael will make more money with those things than fighting."
Jimmy DePiano once owned a bar called Fatty Jim's but he sold it 10 years ago. "I haven't done nothing since except work with fighters," he said. "Now I don't have to work at all, having Mike Rossman."
Rossman's next fight likely will be with the European championship, Italian Aldo Traversaro. The fight will be either Nov. 18 or Dec. 8 in Las Vegas or New York, depending on television's demands. Barney Ross and Jackie Fields never fought on television.