Premier sport broadcaster Al Bernstein introduces and pens the Foreward for a new book on the history of boxing. The First Black Boxing Champions: Essays on Fighters of the 1800s to the 1920s, recently released by McFarland & Company, Inc., is a compilation of newly written, meticulously documented, biographical essays on some of the most intriguing fighters ever known, with over 100 photos and illustrations. The book commemorates Bernstein’s 30th anniversary as a boxing analyst and broadcaster, and is edited by Colleen Aycock and Mark Scott. Al Bernstein, the editors, and many of the contributors will be appearing at the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend at the IBHOF in June at Canastota, New York.
Many of the essayists have spent years researching the boxers, and the collection is the result of their finely tuned analyses and additions to their research. The book follows the lineage of the “Colored” titles that were inevitably invented when white champions refused to battle any of the black men of exceptional talent, the men who threatened their prominence. The essays dispel many of the myths surrounding the black battlers, and chronicle the success as well as the often tragic demise of the stars of the early professional sport.
In the essay on Tom Molineaux, Billy Calogero explains how the early American bare-knuckle battler was cheated out of his claim of being America’s first heavyweight champion In his battle against Tom Cribb in 1810, where malicious audience participation determined as much of the outcome as the fighters’ bloody battle. In lieu of the title, however, Molineaux won the hearts of the British ladies who lustfully sought after the pugilist in ways which would have caused him to be lynched back in America.
Tony Triem tells how George Godfrey, a man called Old Chocolate, lived and fought in the shadows of John L. Sullivan and Peter Jackson (who eventually won Godfrey’s title in a most anticipated match for the “colored” heavyweight championship.) Triem includes in its entirety, the round-by -round description of Godfrey’s incredible battle with the “Great” Peter Jackson. Bob Petersen’s scholarly and detailed essay on Peter Jackson sheds light on several controversies surrounding his tempestuous life. Petersen shows how Jackson was much more complex than history has previously depicted. The book includes a reprint of the newspaper and the actual photo of Jackson posed nude on a slab of marble, which artists and academics at the time hailed as the best example of the “perfect man.”
Former NBA star, Mike Glen shows how George Dixon won three weight classes and dominated in two for two decades. He also dispels the common misconception of Dixon’s drug addiction. Kevin Smith, scribe of the early black battlers, tells how Bobby Dobbs became the ultimate boxing professor and father of the sport in France and Germany, even going so far as to attempt to create a new sport—boxing on horseback. Like many of the battlers, Dobbs maintained a boxing paycheck late in life in the carnivals and circuses, appearing as the “masked marvel.”
Colleen Aycock adds to the Joe Gans research by describing the Old Master’s early roots in Baltimore’s “Bottom”– in local fights, on steamships, and in William Muldoon’s Boxing and Variety show. She includes a synopsis of the fighters who gave Gans a difficult run for title—including a photograph of “Elbows McFadden’s wicked tactics.
Dave Holly had the distinction of having outfought four of history’ s greatest fighters and yet never won a title. Writer Doug Cavanaugh explains how Holly, a magnet for bad luck, had his career cut short by a bizarre accident that caused his death. Barbados Joe Walcott, though only five foot two and one-hundred forty-five pounds, hit hard enough to knock out some of history’s greatest heavyweights. Mike Schmidt’s essay provides new insight into Walcott’s rise to the welterweight championship and his final years at Madison Square Garden.
Cathy van Ingen writes the first documented biography of the “trickster” Dixie Kidd–boxing’s little-known, early version of Muhammad Ali. Joe Bourelly tells how Jack Blackburn, the future teacher of Joe Luis, became one of the greatest fighters and one of the most feared men on the street, in his or any other generation. Blackburn wore two deep slashes on his face, souvenirs of a saloon knife fight. His boxing career was cut short when he was convicted of murder, and yet his greatest deeds were still ahead of him.
Clay Moyle, the recognized authority on Sam Langford, provides yet more insight into the life of the globe-trotting champion of Australia, Canada, and England. Alex Pierpaoli’s essay on Sam McVey and Joe Jennette includes (for the first time in English) a complete blow-by-blow description of their legendary 49-round slugfest in Paris. The author dispels much of the false information that has previously been recorded by boxing historians and gives the reader a look at the some of the earliest recorded uses of oxygen and drugs at ringside. Mark Scott analyzes Jack Johnson’s most controversial fights from a former boxer’s point of view. Frame-by-frame analysis of the Galveston Giant’s bouts separates fact from fiction.
Few historians have tapped into the wealth of information on the U.S. military’s traditions of boxing. Chris Cozzone shows how Speedball Hayden won his Army Middleweight championship as a part of General Pershings’s pursuit of Poncho Villa. Battling Siki’s saga is perhaps the most tragic of all of the fighters included in the book. Peter Benson crosses three continents to explain boxing’s most enigmatic champion, and to solve the mystery behind the murder of the short-lived Senegalese who won the light-heavyweight championship.
The book has been hailed as a remarkable piece of scholarship, deserving of a permanent spot in boxing libraries.
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