Former Baltimore boxer, manager and promoter Leon Luckman, who fought for more than a decade under the name Izzy Caplan, died of heart failure yesterday at Francis Scott Key Medical Center. He was 81.
For the past 40 years, he owned Leon's Bar at the intersection of Fa- gley and Lombard streets in the city's Highlandtown neighborhood. But he was never far from the sport that was the dominant part of his life.
Luckman began fighting as a teen-ager in his East Baltimore neighborhood, and sought help from the boxing coach of the local Americus Athletic Club -- not only lessons, but also some way to hide the activity from his parents, including another name.
The coach, Herman Gunn, renamed his new fighter Izzy Caplan -- the first name for Corporal Izzy Schwartz, a noted flyweight of the era, and the other drawn from Louis "Kid" Kaplan, the world featherweight champion.
The names fit quite well, since the 17-year-old "Izzy" was a scrappy, left-handed 112-pound flyweight.
Over the next few years, Izzy Caplan won numerous amateur titles, including the South Atlantic, Maryland, Pennsylvania and old Baltimore Post championships. But he won what was likely his biggest headline for a losing bout in the quarterfinals of the 1930 national championships in Boston.
Caplan, a winner in the tournament's first round over Ohio flyweight champ Joe Boldin, was leading New England champion Georgie Ostrow when, according to Post sportswriter Yale Merrill, "Izzy received a low blow that virtually put an end to his title aspirations."
From the late 1920s through the '30s, Caplan fought several hundred amateur and pro bouts in the flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight divisions -- many of them in California, where he also was a welder in an aircraft plant.
Notable among them were victories against Lou Salica, Harry Jeffra and Tony Marino -- all of whom eventually held world championships.
In later years, Luckman trained and managed local fighters, helped finance Mack Lewis' East Baltimore gym and promoted boxing events -- chiefly at Steelworkers' Hall -- starting in 1971, when he attempted to breathe life into the sport in the Baltimore area.
He was named to the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame in 1974.
Luckman, a bachelor who lived on Highland Avenue, is survived by two brothers, Sam Luckman of Pikesville and Isadore "Ish" Luckman of Highlandtown, and a sister, Eva Jacobson of Baltimore.
A graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Har Sinai Benevolent Society Cemetery, 6300 Hamilton Ave.