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May 11, 2009


Otis Jefferson Brown

Assertion = fact. Two sources in agreement = proof. That's called internet research.

Axel Sprengtporten

Otis is right on the money, as usual. The word "welterweight" derives from the German "welt," coined when Young Dutch Sam became the first recognized champion in that weight division.

Otis Jefferson Brown

You’re not alone. I too have spent many a sleepless night over this vexing question.

The answer, I think, lies in the origins of boxing’s welterweight division England in the mid-19th century. According to boxing maven Nat Fleischer, “the greatest welterweight ever produced in England” was a boxer called Young Dutch Sam (1808-1843), illegitimate son of Jewish boxer Dutch Sam Elias, who was born in the same Whitechapel area of London that later produced legendary Jewish fighters Jackie Berg and Ted Lewis. Young Dutch Sam was, in Fleischer’s words, “an extraordinary phenomenon, graceful of foot, and most accurate with his blows, which were brutal. He could whip any man with only his left hand, as demonstrated in his bout with Gypsy Cooper... His backer, Mr. Hughes Ball, a young man of wealth prominent in society, never lost a wager on Sam.” Early boxing historian Pierce Egan, in “Boxiana or Sketches Of Ancient and Modern Pugilism," called him "one of (if not) the best fighting man in the kingdom."

Young Dutch Sam’s ethnicity probably offers the light at the end of our tunnel of ignorance, suggesting a simple explanation for the word “welterweight.” (In these matters, simplest is often best.) It’s not difficult to imagine that after being repeatedly hailed in England’s German- or Yiddish-language sporting press as the “Weltmeister” or, perhaps, “Welt-champion,” Young Dutch Sam came to be known to non-German-/Yiddish-speaking Englishmen as, simply, “the welter.”

Of course further investigation is needed. As a non-academic, I’m not equipped with the scholarly discipline for this task, but fortunately, you are. All it requires is that you spend a few years poring through the archives of the British sporting press c. 1840 printed in Yiddish, German and English, and I’m sure the answer will become clear. Let me know what you find, and perhaps then we’ll both get a good night’s sleep.

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