The most impressive performance last weekend — when measured against the level of expectation – was turned in by Cletus Seldin. Fighting at the Nassau Coliseum in an undercard bout that was part of the HBO telecast, Seldin knocked his opponent Roberto Ortiz to the canvas in the first 30 seconds and continued his assault into the third frame when the bout was stopped.
The 31-year-old junior welterweight brought an undefeated record into his match with the 31-1-2 Ortiz, but that record was deceiving as he had been well coddled. In his most recent fight, Seldin was extended the full distance by Renald Garrido, a feather-fisted Frenchman with a 19-16-2 record.
The Garrido fight was held at the Paramount Theatre, a nightclub in Huntington, Long Island, where Seldin had built a strong following while compiling a 20-0 (1 ND) record that included 17 knockouts. Prior to meeting Ortiz, Seldin had sixteen of his 21 fights there. He trod the same path as former Paramount house fighter Chris Algieri. Both were local guys the patrons adopted as one of their own as they were climbing up the ladder.
Seldin attended high school in the town of Shirley on Long Island’s Suffolk County. On the map, Long Island encompasses two counties (Nassau and Suffolk) and two boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens), but the map is at odds with public perception as Long Islander’s don’t consider the city folk in the two boroughs to be part of the entity. There are a few pockets of extreme wealth in Suffolk County (e.g. the Hamptons), but, by and large, it’s a blue-collar county. In the 2016 presidential election, Suffolk went for Donald Trump, unlike neighboring Nassau County whose residents live closer to New York City.
Suffolk County was considered the hinterland through the first half of the last century. The great Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski was raised on a potato farm in Suffolk County. But Suffolk County recently inched past more densely populated Nassau County in total population.
There haven’t been many good boxers to come out of Suffolk County. The best was arguably Brentwood’s James “Buddy” McGirt. Now a prominent trainer, McGirt briefly held the IBF 140-pound world title and retired with a 73-6-1 record. Other notables include Gerry Cooney and the aforementioned Algieri (both from Huntington) and light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. who grew up down the road from Cletus Seldin in Mastic Beach. (Errol Spence Jr. was born in Suffolk County but left as a toddler when his parents moved to the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Texas.)
Cletus Seldin is a throwback. His fighting style harks back to Rocky Graziano, which is to say that he is a no-nonsense fighter who seeks to overwhelm his opponents with incessant aggression. He did just that to Roberto Ortiz, a former WBC “Silver” champion whose lone prior defeat came at the hands of Lucas Matthysse.
Seldin’s boxing trunks are likewise a throwback. They are adorned with the Star of David, congruent with his nickname, the “Hebrew Hammer.”
At the onset of the Great Depression, Jews were the dominant ethnic group in boxing, at least east of the Mississippi River. It goes without saying that their ranks have been thinned to next-to-nothing.
Prior to World War I, most Jewish boxers adopted an Irish or ethnically nebulous ring name. Many did so in hopes of hiding their chosen profession from disapproving parents. That all changed when the great lightweight Benny Leonard bubbled into a hot ticket-seller in the early years of the 1920s. Promoters in urban precincts now saw the value in having at least one Jewish fighter on their cards. Fighters who were marginally Jewish such as Max Baer took to accentuating the Jewish strain in their bloodline by wearing the Star of David on their boxing trunks. A few Jewish boxers weren’t Jewish at all. There were several King Solomons, the most prominent of whom was exposed as a gentile from Panama.
The last native-born Jewish boxer of note was Dana Rosenblatt who defeated the likes of Howard Davis Jr., Glenwood Brown, Terry Norris, and Vinny Pazienza in their second meeting before retiring with a record of 37-1-2. Before Rosenblatt there was Mike Rossman who upset Victor Galindez to win the WBA world light heavyweight title in 1978 and made one successful defense before surrendering the title to Galindez in a rematch. Rossman was the son of Jimmy DiPiano. To improve his marketability, he adopted his mother’s surname and wore the Star of David on his trunks.
Cletus Seldin had no need to change his name. He is Jewish on his father’s side. His paternal grandfather came out of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where he reportedly was the leader of a motorcycle gang.
Akin to Rosenblatt, who is now a mortgage broker, Seldin does more than wear his Jewishness on his sleeve, or rather on his boxing trunks. “I go to all these little events on Long Island to push the Jewish boxing name that I have right now,” he told a press gathering. He thinks it’s important to make young co-religionists aware of their rich boxing heritage.
Another thing that makes Seldin unique is his unusual first name. It’s a name, he notes, with a Southern flavor, hardly the sort of name one would associate with a Jewish guy from Long Island. He was named after former New York Yankees third baseman Cletis (note the different spelling) Boyer, a friend of his grandparents. Cletis “Clete” Boyer came from a little town in Missouri near where the “Show Me” state rubs against Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Seldin’s blowout of Ortiz was reminiscent of Joe Smith Jr.’s smashing one round demolition of Andrzej Fonfara. It was a “W” with the wow factor by a boxer previously thought to be little more than a club fighter. Long Island construction worker Smith, Seldin’s stablemate, went on to emboss his ledger with a second signature win, halting legendary but mildewed Bernard Hopkins before being taken to school by Sullivan Barrera.
We suspect that Seldin’s career will follow the same path, with him winning at least one more fight in impressive fashion before meeting his Waterloo in a well-paying match with a more skilled opponent. Speaking in 2015, the noted trainer turned TV commentator Teddy Atlas described Seldin as “one-dimensional.” Brawlers can only advance so far unless they own a ferocious left hook and Seldin boxes from an orthodox stance.
Perhaps this isn’t giving Seldin enough credit. Regardless, at the moment he’s in tall cotton, to purloin an old Southern expression. Middleweight stalwart Daniel Jacobs and the alluring heavyweight Jarrell Miller topped the marquee at the Nassau Coliseum on Nov. 11, but the Hebrew Hammer from Suffolk County stole the show.
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