Born Luigi D’Ambrosio in November 8, 1913, Lou Ambers grew up in tiny Herikmer, New York. With little to do as a boy in a small town in 1920s upstate New York, Ambers learned to box in the basement of his local Catholic church and under the tutelage of the parish priest. That priest, Father Gustave Purificato, would prove to be a loyal fan and reportedly went to all of the fights of Ambers’ Hall of Fame career.
Standing 5’4 1/2″ and with a 70″ reach, Ambers was a small, but extremely talented lightweight. In an era when boxers typically learned by doing and even top fighters had several blemishes on their records, Ambers would shoot to the top with only a single loss to his name. Despite the “Hurricane” moniker, Ambers was a skilled boxer with fleet feet and a keen understanding of how to use space in the ring. He carried his hands low to leverage sharp hooks and uppercuts, had a masterful feint, and relied on his feet and his head movement instead of his arms and gloves for defense. Trained by the legendary Charley Goldman, Ambers was a dedicated, hard-working student of the game, and in the 1930s he was one of the fighters who made boxing a truly sweet science.
Lou Ambers turned pro with a June 1932 bout in Brooklyn, and by the end of his first year as a pro held a 14-0-2 record. He didn’t lose his first fight until May 1934, when Ambers dropped a 6-Round points loss to Steve Halaiko in Syracuse, New York. It was the only fight The Herikmer Hurricane would lose until he entered world title contention, and as previously noted, that was an extreme rarity for fighters in the 1930s.
Vaulting up the rankings, Ambers fought his first contender in March 1935, when he met 50-14-3 Sammy Fuller. Fuller was a former 130 lbs champion, but Ambers out-pointed him in a 15-Round non-title bout. That win got Ambers into a fight for the vacant World Lightweight Title with Tony Canzoneri, a former champ and veteran of almost 150 fights. Despite his five-inch reach and five-year age advantage, Ambers just did not have the stuff to beat the wily, tough veteran that night, and lost a 15-Round Unanimous Decision.
Undaunted, Ambers took a fight with “The Croat Comet,” Fritzie Zivic in his very next bout. Zivic was a welterweight, and had already earned his enduring reputation as the dirtiest of boxing’s great fighters, a true master of both the art of boxing and of fouling in the midst of an all-action brawl. Lou displayed both his grace and his guts that night, as he boxed his way to a points win even after Zivic broke his jaw in the 9th. The fight was in danger of being stopped, but Ambers sucked up his pain and fought out the 10th and final round to clinch the win.
That fight was the first in a series of big wins. In 1936, Ambers beat contenders Frankie Klick and Mexican featherweight legend Baby Arizmendi, along with a succession of journeymen. With 14 straight wins in less than a year, three over solid opponents, Ambers was ready for a rematch with Canzoneri. Ambers had improved markedly, and this time he boxed his way to a lopsided points victory and to the World Lightweight Title.
Division-jumping was a popular pursuit for top boxers in the 1930s, and after winning the title Ambers tested the welterweight waters in a pair of bouts with bigger men. He lost both, and later described one of those 147-pounders as the hardest puncher he ever fought.
Returning to lightweight, Ambers fought several non-title bouts, which included close win over Davey Day and a loss to Pedro Montanez, before meeting Canzoneri in a rubber match in May 1937. Although he never quit, Canzoneri was thoroughly thumped by Ambers, with one scorecard ruling the fight a complete shut-out for Ambers. The Herkimer Hurricane then gave Montanez a rematch, this time for the title. One of four world title fights on the September 1937 “Carnival of Champions” event, Ambers and Montanez boxed a hotly contested fight that saw Ambers win, albeit just barely. Squeaking by on defense, Ambers won a Majority Decision.
Ambers was an established champion by 1938, and although he had a close call with Montanez, many thought he was unbeatable. He beat rising contender Jimmy Garrison and then gave a rematch to Baby Arizmendi. Then he met another hurricane in the form of “Homicide Hank,” Henry Armstrong.
The Armstrong Rivalry
Henry Armstrong had already captured two of the three titles that would make him an all-time great, the World Featherweight and World Welterweight crowns. Lou Ambers was effectively bracketed by those accomplishments, so Armstrong vs. Ambers was almost inevitable. They met at Madison Square Garden in August 1938, and although Ambers was noted as an accomplished boxer, he chose to slug it out with Armstrong in a thrilling war before a crowd of almost 30,000. It was a bad tactical decision, as Armstrong’s ferocity and greater power put Ambers on the canvas in the 5th and 6th, and hurt him again in the 14th. Henry Armstrong would have won that fight by a big margin had his rough tactics not cost him four round in point deductions. The result was a Split Decision which saw Ambers lose the fight and his crown. Ambers was covered in blood by the end, but the irony is that most of it was Armstrong’s; the inside of Armstrong’s mouth was so badly cut up he needed 15 stitches.
Ambers was soon on the comeback trail, and within a year he had a string of wins under his belt, including a third win over Baby Arizmendi and a knockout of contender Paul Junior. In August 1939, Ambers met Henry Armstrong in a rematch for the World Lightweight Title. Ambers boxed better, and once again Armstrong was hamstrung by his roughhousing, which cost him a whopping five points. Although some observers felt Armstrong had been robbed, such a claim ignores Armstrong’s constant fouling of Ambers, which would have earned a Disqualification in modern times. Ever the gentleman, Ambers did not retaliate in kind, and he won back his title fair and square. In so doing,
Lou Ambers became the first man in boxing history to win back the World Lightweight Title from the same man he lost it to. After losing the 135-lb championship, Armstrong concentrated on his welterweight crown and left the lightweight field to Ambers, thereby leaving their personal score at 1-1.
Before the War
Soon after winning back his title, Ambers got married to a hometown girl. He consolidated his second reign as champion by whipping Al “Bummy” Davis, an undefeated, rough-and-tumble welterweight contender. Then in May 1940, Ambers met Lew Jenkins. What was unknown going into the fight is that Ambers, who had fought at four or five pounds above the lightweight limit for all of 1938 and 1939, had desperate trouble making weight for the Jenkins fight and the defense of his title. His efforts had actually sent him to the hospital only days before the Jenkins fight, so its unsurprising that Jenkins knocked Ambers down four times en route to a TKO3.
Lou Ambers and Lew Jenkins fought a non-title rematch in February 1941, and this time Ambers showed up at a more comfortable 140 lbs. It didn’t help much, however. Ambers was floored three times over seven rounds, leading to a TKO7. Following his second knockout defeat, Ambers was only 27 years old and wanted to continue,
Ambers died in 1995. He retired at 91-8-7 with 28 KOs, and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1992. He had a distinguished reign as champion, and beat a host of world class fighters. Although Ambers lost a few, the only man he did not beat in turn was Lew Jenkins, and that came at the end of his career. In many ways, he was the defining lightweight of the mid-to-late 1930s.
Ambers had made enough money to enjoy a degree of financial security after boxing. He also opened a restaurant and worked in public relations.