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One Hundred and Eight Years Ago Jeffries and Johnson Fought


By: Ken Hissner

On the 4th of July in 1910 James J Jeffries was “forced” by his pastor during a sermon saying “we have a coward among us” and started a mistaking comeback. He had to shed 100 pounds and 6 years of inactivity. Who knows prime time to prime time what the then unbeaten Jeffries, 19-0-2, would have done to Johnson, 52-5-10.

Jeffries had drawn with Joe Choynski, 37-6-3, who had knocked out Jack Johnson in 1901. Jeffries was known as “The Boilmaker” and was from Carroll, OH, living later in Burbank, CA. Johnson was known as “The Galveston Giant” being from Galveston, TX.

The bout was scheduled for 45 rounds but ended in the fifteenth. Tex Rickard was the referee and promoter. President Taft declined to be the referee. There were 16,528 in attendance.

The “White Hope” era started with Johnson. Jeffries had beaten the first black to claim being a champion in Peter Jackson, 51-3-13, in 1898, knocking him out in 3 rounds.

Johnson would later be knocked out by big Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba, in 1915 in a fight many say he “fixed” as he lay on the canvas with his arms shielding his eyes from the sun.

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Why Jeffries Came Back for Johnson & Marciano Didn’t for Johansson!


Why Jeffries Came Back for Johnson & Marciano Didn’t for Johansson!
By: Ken Hissner

James J “The Boilermaker” Jeffries was considered one of the all-time great heavyweight champions when he retired after defeating Jack Munroe in 2 rounds in August of 1904. His record was 19-0-2 (16).

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When Jack “The Galvestan Giant” Johnson became the first black champion defeating Tommy Burns in December of 1908 the white race seemed to be quite upset especially due to the arrogance of Johnson. Johnson had four defenses with the first a draw with light heavyweight champion Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, NWS decisions with Tony Ross 11-6-2, NWS with Al Kauffman 18-1 and came off the canvas to KO12 middleweight champion Stanley Ketchell.

Johnson as you can see was running out of opponents though also drawing “the color line” not defending against any of the black opponents since becoming champion. On the other hand even Jeffries Pastor in front of his congregation was embarrassing him saying “we have a coward amongst us” in trying to bring him back to take back the title from the black champion.

Jeffries had gained over 100 pounds and hadn’t fought in 6 years minus a month. He unwisely came back at 227 to Johnson’s 208. Jeffries was 224 in his last fight some 6 years before. Jeffries was stopped in the 15th of a scheduled 45 round scheduled battle. In those days if you took a knee the round was over. Johnson was 38-5-7 going into this fight outdoors in Reno, NV.

In Marciano’s decision not to return after retiring coming off the canvas to knockout light heavyweight champion Archie Moore in his last bout in September of 1959 he had no plans to return to the ring. Floyd Patterson would defeat Moore for the vacant title. There was talk of a Marciano Patterson fight but Marciano who would take months prior to a fight away from his family wanted to spend time lost with his wife and children. At retirement he was 49-0 (43) with 6 title defenses the first was a KO1 over “Jersey” Joe Walcott whom he won the title over with a KO13 while behind in the scoring 4-7, 5-7 and 4-8 needing a knockout to win.

Marciano went onto KO11 Roland LaStarza in 1953 who he had won a split decision over in 1950 before becoming champion. He then defeated the former champion Ezzard Charles twice. The first was a decision 8-5, 9-5 and 8-6 and in the rematch Charles split Marciano’s nose so bad a only a knockout would save his title from the referee or ring physician possibly stopping the fight though ahead 5-1 and 6-1 twice. Then after 8 months he knocked out the British Empire champion Don Cockell 66-11-1 in 9 rounds with the Moore fight to follow.

Patterson after defeating Moore for the vacant defended his title 6 times all by knockout until he was knocked out by Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson. This is when Marciano felt he would come back to bring the title back to America. He spent time alone nearby his home trying to get back in shape. He said the desire wasn’t there anymore. Patterson would come back to win the title from Johansson bringing back the title to America.

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Don’t Call It A Comeback: Johnson-Jeffries


Don’t Call It A Comeback: Johnson-Jeffries
By: Sean Crose

Jack Johnson was not only the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, he was also quite the character. A freewheeling womanizer, Johnson committed the – at the time – unforgiveable social sin of sleeping with white women. If that wasn’t bad enough for some Americans of the era, Johnson also liked to flaunt his wealth and fame. Stories still abound. My favorite? The time Johnson got pulled over for speeding. He offered to pay more for his violation than was required. The officer pointed this out to Johnson, but the champion replied that all was well – he’d be speeding again on the way home.

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Needless to say, Johnson rankled some notable people, most especially the author Jack London. While London wrote some great stuff, he was not at all happy with Johnson being champion. Sure enough, London called for Jim Jeffries, the former heavyweight champ, to come out of retirement in order to beat the current champion. The thing about Jeffries is that he didn’t seem too eager to fight Johnson. Undefeated as a pro, the man simply appeared to be content in retirement. Still, there was no doubt a lot of pressure for him to face the current champ. There was undoubtedly a lot of money to be made facing Johnson, as well.

And so, Jeffries agreed to the bout. It’s understandable why it may have looked like an exciting match on paper for reasons that weren’t race related. For one thing, Jeffries had been some kind of fighter in his day. A former sparring partner of James J Corbett, Jeffries had gone on to best Gentleman Jim in the ring twice. He had also bested Corbett’s former conqueror, Bob Fitzimmons, twice as well. Word is that when he heard Fitzimmons might wear loaded gloves into one of their matches, Jeffries said that was fine with him – he was going to beat the tar out of Fitzimmons anyway. And indeed, he won the fight.

That was Jeffries….a man who was essentially fearless. Like John L Sullivan before him, however, Jeffries wouldn’t fight an African American for the heavyweight title. Oh, he’d fight black opponents – just not for the biggest prize in sports. One can’t help but get the impression that perhaps Jeffries was bulldozed by the opinion setters of his time. He’d fight African Americans, but not for the championship. He’d long been retired, but then came out and battled Johnson. Whether intentionally or not, the man looks like he may have had a tendency to head in the direction of the wind.

If that were in fact the case, the wind led him in the wrong direction when he signed on to face Johnson on the fourth of July, 1910. The bout was to be held in Reno, Nevada and it was to be an enormous deal. Papers from New York to San Francisco wrote about the affair, detailing the fighters in training and speculating on how the fight itself might go. The promoter, Tex Rickard, the eventual force behind Madison Square Garden, was a force to be reckoned with himself. Not that the bout would need more momentum than it already had.

Jeffries, to be sure, had his work cut out for him. The man hadn’t had a fight in around half a decade. What’s more, he reportedly had ballooned in weight. A good sized heavyweight in his time, Jeffries had apparently tipped the scales at or above the three hundred pound mark since retiring. It was a grueling training camp, no doubt, but Jeffries was able to shed significant weight. What of those missing years, though? Would ring rust be the story of the day?

Perhaps ring rust could, in fact, be blamed for what happened in the Johnson-Jeffries fight, but there’s just as strong an argument that the end result would have been the same. For Johnson dominated Jeffries. Dominated him. The man seems to have never stood a chance, much like Tommy Burns, the former champion who lost his crown to Johnson, never stood a chance. Jim Corbett, Jeffries old mentor and nemesis, was in Jeffries corner for the fight. It was arguable Corbett’s verbal battle with Johnson throughout the bout was more engaging than the bout itself.

For the once indomitable Jeffries couldn’t even land clean on his man. Once again, Jack Johnson made it look easy in a highly publicized battle. Things finally came to an end in the fifteenth round, when Jeffries crumbled on several occasions at the gloves of his clear better and the bout was stopped. People have referred to Jeffries as a great white hope. If that’s indeed how he was seen that July day over a hundred years ago, that hope was dashed in less than an hour’s worth of combat. Johnson was champ and there was to be no denying it.

An interesting take in all this is the behavior of Sullivan, the former champion, who witnessed the bout live and in person. Ironically enough for the man who had arguably created the color line, Sullivan was quick to let the world know that the day belonged to Johnson, that he was an excellent fighter and that he had won fair and square. This does not appear to have been an act of Sullivan hitching his wagon to a star. For there were clearly those who would have appreciated it if he had diminished Johnson’s performance.

Sullivan, though, simply called like he saw it, and was honorable enough to offer praise to where it was deserved. Not everyone would share Sullivan’s belated even handedness, however. London’s writing regarding the bout comes across as both disappointed and resigned – though he too made it clear Johnson was the better of the two fighters that day. Johnson may not have changed hearts by beating Jeffries (not that he had ever wanted to), but he seems to have changed some minds. The days of the Texan’s success being coughed up to a fluke were over. Jack Johnson was there to stay.

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