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Old Chester, PA: Biographical Sketches

Bobby Burman

Bobby Burman, 1957; Photo courtesy of Dave Burman

Bobby Burman

Bobby Burman, 1920's; Photo courtesy of Dave Burman

Bobby Burman

Photographs courtesy of
Dave Burman, Grandson,

Bobby Burman

(A biographical sketch by Matt Zabitka, The Chester Times, 1/25/1957)

Contributed by his grandson, Dave Burman, Chesterclippers@aol.com 



By Matt Zabitka

Bobby Burman in the 1920's 
CHESTER - They say you never should judge a book by its cover. The same applies to fighters. One look at raspy-voiced, sawed-off Bobby Burman, the well known local news dealer who makes his home at 203 E. 22nd Street and you would never believe (unless you knew in advance) that this same chunky, cigar-smoking character was at one time one of the finest, smoothest pieces of ring machinery in action during his day. 

Burman, who had more than 140 fights, with at least 100 of those being being as a professional, was never knocked out, while he captured half of his victories via the KO route.

Bobby, who now weighs 170 (because 'I love to eat'), fought in three different classes, 110, 118 and 122. He was as tough as they come and feared no man in his weight department.

He fought the best, guys like Danny Kramer, Kid Wagner, Al Gordon, Joe Mandell, Joe Ritchie, Roach Rogers, Frankie Conway and Joe O'Donnell.

His most memorable bout as a pro was the first time he went up against Kramer, who was then the runnerup to the world champion in the featherweight division.

Burman entered the ring as a 10-1 underdog against Kramer, and then went on to shock the boxing world by defeating the heavy favorite in an eight-rounder.

So stunning was the upset that Burman was practically forced into meeting Kramer in a rematch only 11 days later and lost a "newspaper" decision. The pair met again a couple of years later, with Kramer again winning on a "newspaper" decision.

In those days, it was illegal to give decisions at the arena immediately after the fight. The winner was not usually known until the next day when the newspapers would announce their verdicts. And the fighter who got the most "newspaper" votes was recognized as the winner.

Getting back to the three fights that Burman had with Kramer, the Chester native received $350 for the first bout, $400 for the second match, and $500 for the third scrap. The lowest amount Burman ever received for a pro fight was $50, for battling Jimmy Costa at the Cambria AC.

Burman held his last fight in 1931 at the Chester Armory against Eddie Johnson. Johnson, a present member of the Chester Police force, was in his teens at the time. "I had been retired for eight years," said Burman, "and was coaxed into making a comeback by matchmaker Jack Lenny of Philly.

"I agreed to the bout, but I warned Johnny O'Donnell, the manager of Johnson, that I was still in very good shape. I suggested to O'Donnell to tell Johnson to stay down for the count of nine if I accidentally hit him too hard, and I would then carry him through.

"Something must have gone haywire," continued Burman, "for when I hit Johnson in the first round he went down for the full count of 10. After the fight it was discovered that Johnson had a broken nose. "That was enough for me. I quit for good after that fight."

Burman, who has been selling newspapers in this area for 33 years was actually born at 3rd and Christian Streets in South Philly. He moved to Chester in 1923. He got into the fighting game more of necessity than rather for a love of the sport.

As an eight-year-old he sold newspapers (Evening Ledger, Bulletin, Evening Times, at 1 cent apiece) near the Reading Train Terminal in Philly, a real good spot. He was constantly being challenged for that lucrative post, and to keep his stand he had to beat all other boys who threatened him.

He had his first fight inside a real ring when he was 14 battling on the stage of the old Gayety Burlesque House at 8th and Vine Streets in Philly. He had over 40 fights as an amateur and went on to win three prize rings, as he copped titles in three different classes.

Burman turned pro at 17 and fought until he hit 23 when he got married.

Bobby quit the beak-busting game when he found out that because of so many other great fighters in his class at that time, guys like Johnny Kilbane, Benny Leonard, and others, he could never possibly become a champion.

Bobby Burman - 1957 
Burman had some real rugged battles in the ring during his long career, but his toughest of all occurred outside the squared circle. He was 14 years old at the time and the spot from where he sold his newspapers near the Reading Terminal was being challenged by a bully.

"We fought for two solid hours in back of the Terminal at 12th and Filbert Streets," recalled Burman with a chuckle, "and after it was all over I had two black eyes and a bloody mouth, but I won and kept my corner."

Burman went right to the task for selling papers after the bloody battle.
What does Burman think of the present day fighters?

"They're lousy," he roared. "The whole bunch stink. They have no appeal, and I've lost interest in the bums."

Burman feels that Jack Dempsey is the greatest fighter of all time, even better than Joe Louis. Burman also feels that gambling has ruined the present day fight game. He also advocates the abolishment of the mouth piece. Thinks the mouth piece is responsible for making fighters punch drunk.

-- from "The Chester Times" 1/25/57





If you have any information and or pictures that you would like to contribute about individuals in Chester, please forward it to john@oldchesterpa.com

2002 John A. Bullock III.

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