Born: November 20, 1927
The 1940′s was a remarkable decade for the sport of boxing, both on the national scene as well as the home front. The Upper Midwest Golden Gloves, or Northwest Golden Gloves as it was called at the time, was the one of the great epicenters of blue-chip prospects that boxing managers and promoters alike, focused on for finding their next big fighter. Historians regard the 1940′s amateur boxing scene to be the stiffest competition the Upper Midwest has ever known. Amidst the thousands of registered fighters Minnesota boasted of at the time, was a prodigy from Hopkins that was drawing no small amount attention whenever he fought. Those from Hopkins were not surprised, as the good-looking Irish kid had possessed the Midas touch on most any endeavor he pursued from basketball to golf, and even jitterbug dancing contests. So adroit was he, that the newspapers dubbed him “The Jim Thorpe of Minnesota.” It was fitting. So when he followed the lead of childhood friends, Glen & Del Flanagan into boxing, people immediately pegged young Slavin as a man to watch. Former all-time Minnesota greats Mike Gibbons and Mike O’Dowd, also chimed in and stated that he was destined to be one of the great ones.
In the mid 1940′s, Jerry Slavin joined the Golden Gloves and fought for the Ascension Team out of Minneapolis, and was an immediate hit. He trained at the famous Potts Gym on 6th & Hennepin under the tutelage of one of the state’s great trainers in Earl Kaehn. Kaehn instilled in Jerry a near perfect jab, and an old-school Gibbons’ style of flashy boxing, one in which mistakes were very rare. Jerry proved to be an astute student, picking up the finer points rapidly. He captured Minneapolis Golden Glove titles in 1944, 45′, and 47, including winning the Northwest Championships in 44′ and 45′. Jerry was in California serving in the military when he decided to turn pro, and news traveled quickly back to the Twin Cities. His name carried quite the swagger in those glory days of prospects and pros, and the sports editors all wrote how local fans would miss his pro debut. Jerry made short work of Rocky Corkins in March of 48′ at Ocean Park Arena, taking him out in the 2nd heat. He took out California prospect Ted Coleman even faster just a few weeks later at the same area, blasting him out in the opening round, on a card headlined by Hall of Famer, Lauro Salas. A few weeks after that, he whipped Al Hernandez over 4 rounds, and then followed that up with a 6 round Draw with Tag Mayfield. By this time, the Santa Monica newspapers were claiming Slavin as their own, and local promoters wanted to sign him. Jerry broke their hearts when he informed them he was under contract with Kaehn and was moving back to Hopkins. The news was music to local boxing fans’ ears…and promoters.
He first appeared in Minnesota on December 2, 1948 against Jimmy Carroll and iced him in the opening stanza. It was homecoming for Hopkins’ favorite son, and the papers all documented his impressive poise mixed with aggression. He then fought the power-punching Bob Rossie, in back-to-back affairs and outclassed him both times. Slavin was now 7-0 and considered hot property in the boxing world. Though still a pre-lim fighter, Kaehn was developing Slavin alongside his other two hot prospects in the Flanagan bothers, and the three were nicknamed “The 3 Aces”, and Earl Kaehn was holding the prized hand. Slavin rattled off 10 more consecutive victories before agreeing to step it up big-time and face world-rated Don Lee. Lee was no joke, as he had 4 times as many fights as young Jerry, including major victories over top contenders such as Buzz Brown, Howard Bleyhl, Milo Savage, and Vince Foster. He also had close fights with world champions Sugar Ray Robinson and Bobo Olson. No one wanted to fight Lee, but Slavin believed he was ready. Turns out, he was right; sort of. The judges gave it to Lee on a controversial split decision that the fans of South Dakota booed loudly at. Slavin couldn’t believe it himself. Perhaps the judges gave Lee the benefit of the doubt given his impressive resume. Nevertheless, Slavin had his first taste of defeat. He rattled off two more wins, one via KO, before getting Lee to agree to a rematch. The rematch would prove to be another close battle, with the newspapers of California claiming Jerry got robbed, as the two fought to a Draw over 10 hot rounds, in which most fans saw Jerry winning 7 of them. The result frustrated Slavin, who twice should have had career-boosting wins that would have garnered him a top 10 world ranking and bigger paydays. “After the two matches with Lee, I knew I was top tier stuff and so did the boxing experts,” said Slavin in 2011, but I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was fighting my heart out, getting busted up, and for peanuts, so I quit shortly after. That’s my one regret about boxing; that I quit too early. I wonder sometimes what I might have achieved and what my record might have looked like had I continued, but I didn’t. I never reached my full potential.” The Hall of Fame voters disagreed with the athlete who had it all, and voted in Slavin by large margins this year. Former boxing trainer, Bill Kaehn stated, “Jerry had all the skills and all the moves. He really did. Most of our best fighters from the 1970′s on, would have all had a hard time beating Jerry in a prize ring.”
Tonight, “The Jim Thorpe of Minnesota” and the pride of Hopkins, no longer has to wonder where his place in state history is…it’s right here in the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame, and that will outlive us all.