Tough Bummy Davis, by Jeffrey Sussman

Al (Bummy) Davis, welterweight contender, was active from 1937 to 1945.

Bummy Davis was shot four times. He was only 26 years old. A lot of people thought he could have become a welterweight champ. His manager and trainer, Johnny Attell, thought that Bummy could have gone right to the top.

One of my mother’s cousins grew up next door to Bummy in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in the 1920s. I quizzed cousin Joe about his memories of Bummy Davis, for I have been a boxing fan since age 12 and have been a sponge when it comes to soaking up boxing information. My knowledge of Bummy had been, at best, sketchy, and I wanted to learn from an actual witness. Here’s what I was told:

“Bummy’s real name was Avrum Davidoff, but he was known to the kids in the neighborhood as Al. His dad owned one of those old-fashioned candy stores; you know, ones with soda fountains and a row of twirling stools and racks of comic books. You’d buy an egg cream or a cherry Coke and thumb your way through some comics. Old man Davidoff never made us pay for the comics, unless we didn’t put them back on the racks. He really didn’t need the money from comics: He had better sources of income.” 

“It was during Prohibition, and Davidoff was selling bootleg booze out of the back of the store. Little Bummy was his lookout. If a cop was passing by or coming in for a pack of cigarettes, the kid alerted his dad, who would shut down the back of the store. Old man Davidoff never got caught, and, though all the neighbors knew what he was doing, no one ever squealed on him.”

“Al had two older brothers, and it was thought that they might have been working for Murder Inc., not as killers, but as debt collectors. Of course, if they came calling, debtors knew who backed them up, and so they always paid up. The collectors got a percentage, just like collection agencies do.”

“Bummy never had anything to do with that mob, was never interested in joining them. He always wanted to be a fighter. One day, when I was a teenager, I saw Bummy actually bump against Abe Reles on the street. You know who Reles was? He was known as Kid Twist for the way he killed people for Murder Inc. Well, Reles cursed at the kid, and Bummy told him to fuck off. Reles knew that Bummy was a tough kid, on his way to becoming a professional boxer, and so he just walked away. You can imagine what that encounter did for Bummy’s reputation with us kids!”

“Eventually, my dad moved us to the suburbs, where he had bought a nice house. Though I didn’t see Bummy in Brownsville anymore, I would go to his fights. The most amazing was against Fritzie Zivic. Right away, Zivic thumbed Bummy in one eye, then the other. And the ref did nothing. Bummy complained about it, but still the ref did nothing. Bummy said the hell with it and went after Zivic, pounding him with several low blows. This time the ref stepped in and wanted to give the fight to Zivic. That infuriated Bummy, so he kicked the ref, and all hell broke loose. Fans were screaming and throwing objects into the ring. Cops were called. Bummy was fined and his boxing license was revoked. He eventually got it back, but his career had its highs and lows. In 1945, after he got out of the Army, he fought Rocky Graziano and suffered a technical knockout. He had one more fight, then quit the ring.”

“Bummy had wanted to retire for a few years, but his manager always convinced him to continue. Bummy was tired of fighting, but he wanted to build up a nest egg. He always felt the crowds were against him, especially after he knocked out Tony Canzoneri. He was ready to hang up his gloves and he did. He bought a bar; I think it was called Dudy’s.”

“Well, one night he’s sitting in the back room of the bar with some old pals, including an off-duty cop. I think they were playing cards and just bullshitting, when four holdup punks came into the bar. Bummy saw what was going on and confronted them. You know he was the kind of guy who would punch first and not bother asking questions. He knocked one guy to the floor, and a second guy shot him in the neck. The holdup guys took off, and Bummy put a napkin or handkerchief to his wound and ran after his attackers. He was gaining on them, when one of the thieves turned around and fired three more bullets into Bummy. He died on the sidewalk and became a hero in all the news stories. The off-duty cop ran out of the bar and wounded one of the punks, but he could not stop them. They got away, but not for long. The cop was a good friend of Bummy and he tracked down the killers.”

“How did Al get the name Bummy?” I asked, changing the subject.

“I’m not sure, but I heard that Johnny Attell told him that Avrum Davidoff didn’t sound like a tough guy fighter and so no one would come to see him box. He renamed him Al (Bummy) Davis. And you know what? Bummy, regardless of his name, was a genuine tough guy, and not just in the ring and when facing down Abe Reles, but especially when he chased those punks who tried to stick up his bar.”

“After the cop tracked down the killers were they tried and sentenced?”

“Yup. They all did major time in prisons and never forgot that they had made a big mistake when taking on one of the toughest young fighters who came out of Brownsville, which you know produced a number of tough boxers. But of them all, Bummy was unique, a true original.”


Jeffrey Sussman is the author of “Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing,” published by Rowman & Littlefield and recently optioned by an independent film production company. He lives part time in East Hampton.