Hank Kaplan, 88, who went from Brooklyn to Florida with a love for boxing that stretched out for decades while he compiled the world’s greatest boxing archives, died at his suburban Miami home Dec. 14, 2007.

“Hank Kaplan loved the sport of boxing, its history and, most importantly, the boxers,” said International Boxing Hall of Fame Executive Director Edward Brophy. “The Hall of Fame joins the boxing community in mourning the loss of our friend.”

The hall’s flags flew at half-staff over its Canastota, New York, headquarters in honor of Kaplan’s passing.

Kaplan was founder and editor of World-Wide Boxing Digest magazine and served as boxing consultant to Sports Illustrated and HBO. He was Florida correspondent for The Ring, boxing’s premier magazine, and wrote for boxing publications worldwide.

He received many awards, including the James J. Walker Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America for “Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.” He was a member of the boxing hall of fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

He was the first elected president of the World Boxing Historians Association, and is permanent Chairman of the International Boxing Hall of Fame Selection Committee. Kaplan was elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.

Boxing in Brooklyn

Kaplan was born April 15, 1919, in Brooklyn, and began following boxing when it sported a significant number of Jewish fighters up from the ghettoes and poor neighborhoods of New York, Philadelphia and other cities. He spent much of his childhood in an orphanage after his father died.

Kaplan became interested in boxing when his nose was bloodied at a summer camp, attended his first professional fight at age 14, fought as an amateur middleweight and won his one professional match.

During World War II he joined the Coast Guard after hearing that boxing great jack Dempsey had become the service’s physical training director. He worked at the U.S. Public Health Service, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) at Dundee Brothers’ Fifth Street Gym, Miami Beach, Florida
Muhammad Ali at Dundee’s Fifth Street Gym

He became a publicist in the 1950s and 1960s for the brothers Chris and Angelo Dundee, at whose Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach he met the young Cassius Clay (later, Muhammad Ali, of course).

Kaplan also archived information on unknown and forgotten fighters.

“Even when I was 16 or 17, I said there’s got to be some way to remember them,” Kaplan told the Sun-Sentinel in 1995. “If someone were to ask me why I keep the archives, I guess that’s what I’d say: Someone has to be charged with remembering them.”

Detailed boxing archives

He kept detailed records on virtually every professional boxer and trainer in history and had files in such subjects as Jewish and Italian boxers who adopted Irish names, a common practice in the 1920s and 1930s.

Kaplan owned every edition of Ring magazine, as well as foreign boxing journals and books dating to 1812. His 500,000 boxing photographs are believed to be the largest collection in the world.

Squaring the circle, Kaplan’s archives are being donated to Brooklyn College.

Mark Aymar of InsideFighting.com, wrote:

“I met Hank Kaplan in person a few years ago and had the honor of talking boxing with him over a couple of dinners and a luncheon with several boxing writer guests. I felt like a kid sitting with true boxing royalty. I think I won him over by recounting articles I had read and reread dozens of times as a youngster in his Boxing Digest, arguably the best magazine boxing ever had.

“Hank was truly boxing’s greatest ambassador. He was kind, brilliant, humble and an all-around nice guy.

“I remember feeling self-conscious trying to pick his brain the first time I met him, realizing that I was sitting next to boxing’s all time undisputed greatest historian and asking him questions that he had probably answered thousands of time before.

“At one point I asked him if he minded my constant questions and without hesitation he stated that he loved talking boxing and then flattered me by saying it was actually a pleasure to converse with a true fan. To this day I think of that compliment as my greatest achievement in boxing.”

Kaplan’s wife of 56 years, Sylvia, died last year. Survivors include his daughter, Barbara Kaplan Haar, and a son, Dr. Steven Kaplan, both of Miami; a brother; and two granddaughters.

A memorial service and burial will be at on Monday, Dec. 17, 2007, at Mount Nebo Memorial Gardens, 5900 SW 77th Ave, Miami, Florida.