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here are plenty of people that would like to ban boxing. The arguement is, boxing is dangerous, so it should be banned. From a deaths in the ring point of view it can be proven to be not as dangerous as some sports. However it has too be accepted it is a sport where the idea is to inflict enough damage on your opponent to stop them. Some people would like to see it banned just because of this fact. I do not get into a boxing ring due to the very real chance of being hit whilst in it, anyone that does get in that ring must have a pretty shrewd idea what is going to happen. Whatever the arguements I have not heard of one which is specific enough or compelling enough to ban boxing.
So lets forget all that nonsense immeadiately.
Jack Johnson gave Tommy a ferocious beating but always making sure he never delievered a knock-out blow
Get two or three boxing fans together and eventually the conversation is going to get around to that old chestnut, 'Who was the greatest of all time?'
It is going to be a heavyweight on the basis that a good big 'un is going to beat a good little 'un.
Odds are those three people are never going to agree and usually one is going to have to act as referee as the other two come to blows. Boxing is just one of those sports which inspire encyclodeadic knowledge in its supporters. In the average British pub you can guarantee at least one person is going to be able to correct any factual error you make in regard a boxing match.
I am not even going to give you an answer to the question, 'Who is the greatest' for the simple reason I cannot even make up my own mind. What I am going to do though is offer you some of the more likely candidates.
You know how some people mention something obscure in an effort to get a reaction. You know the type, 'Who was your boyhood hero?' Asks A. 'Oh that's easy' replies B, 'without doubt Milton Friedman.' They cannot wait for you to ask who? So they can tell you all about a Jewish economist who pushed the monetarist doctrine and coined the phrase, 'There is no such thing as a free lunch.' It is usually an effort to appear a deep thinker.
As the years drift by (and I am still at an age where they drift rather than rush) this boxing hero is slowly drifting into that, 'Look at me I'm so darn clever' area, people just tend to forget after a while.
So time to remember him.
Jack Johnson (John Arthur Johnson to his parents no doubt) was born in Galveston, Texas on the 31 March 1878. At the age of 12 he ran away from home and drifted, eventually settling in Boston.
At the age of 17 he was a pretty fine physical example and he secured work as a sparring partner to Jersey Joe Walcott. Jersey Joe was much impressed by the youngster and predicted a grand future for the young Jack.
However Jack was not for settling down just yet and took a job at a race track. When a horse kicked him and broke his leg it was time to think again. Drifting for a period after his leg healed he decided to return to the ring to face opponents.
Boxing might be a rough sport today but nothing to what it was at the turn of the century. Jack would be taking parts in 'battles royal' to gain the price of a meal. The basic premise was lace gloves onto four fellows and put them into the ring together, the last man standing won.
This was basically his training camp.
By 1902 things were going quite well for Jack, he was hitting the national papers and there were plenty of fights being lined up for him. Over the following few years there were plenty of fights, plenty of wins and a good deal of money. He took to wearing a bowler hat, sporting a cane, wearing kid gloves over his massive hands and a rather flashy tie-pin. Quite the gentleman and it only goes to show Chris Eubank was not the first to go this route.
Although he was earning money pretty fast as can be seen he had an ability to spend it faster, again proof positive there is nothing these old 'uns cannot teach the young 'uns.
In 1903 he had two important fights against Sam McVey (Ogdens Pugilists & Wresters, 1909 #51) Both the bouts went to full gruelling 20 rounds Johnson being victorious on both occassions.
Sam was not one to admit defeat with any great ease and the two met again in 1904. This time though Sam took the sort of beating which would be criminalised today. In the final round Jack connected with the cut and swollen face of Sam McVey which knocked him clean out. After that Sam refused point blank ever to go in the ring with Johnson again.
World Champion, Jim Jeffries retired rather than face Jack Johnson in the ring. Partially because of Jack's fearsome ability and partly because Jim supported the colour bar which was in place.
The other leading contestants were Tommy Burns (Cohen, Weenan & Co's, Famous Boxers, Black back , #8) and Marvin Hart. Tommy beat Marvin on a points decision in Feb, 1906 at Los Angeles to become World Heavyweight Champion. At 5 foot 7.5 inches and weighing in at 12.5 stone, it seemed like a darn good idea to avoid Jack Johnson.
Jack continued the gruelling fight schedule which was so much a part of the early boxing game and in 1906 found his toughest opponent to date. He met Sam Langford, a middleweight of 151 lbs against Johnson's, 187 lbs (such contests were a regular part of a fighters canon). Langford (Ogdens, Boxers, 1915, #23) took him the distance and many consider him unfortunate to lose on points.
By 1912, Langford is described as a heavyweight in the Cohen & Weenan set, Famous Boxers, where it declares he had over 100 fights under his belt and mysteriously says, 'his greatest desire has been to meet Jack Johnson, but his challenge has never been accepted.' I presume this to mean as a heavyweight.
In 1907 Johnson met Bob Fitzsimmons, born on 4th June 1862 in Helston, Cornwall, he was until recently the only British Heavyweight Champion of the World (Ogdens Pugilists & Wresters, 1909 #51) As can be seen from the dates Bob was getting towards the end of his brilliant career. In fact a mighty blow to his jaw in the second round finished the issue. Despite a desire to get to his feet his head remained stubbornly fixed to the canvas although he half raised his body on two occassions before being counted out. Mind you, Bob should be long remembered as the fellow known for saying, 'The bigger they come, the harder they fall.'
Tommy Burns was not keen to fight Johnson and literally fled to England to avoid the challenge. When Jack and his manager finally raised the money to get to England they were amazed to hear Burns had gone to the other side of the globe to avoid the contest.
Eventually funds were raised (by promising the truimphant Jack would defend his title in England against Sam Langford)
The two men met in the ring at Rushcutter's Bay, Sydney. Enemies for some years there was plenty of bad blood between them.
At the sound of the first bell Jack rushed across the ring and knocked Tommy down with a swift uppercut. Getting up after six he was soon on the canvas again.
This was not going to be a quick defeat though. Jack Johnson gave Tommy a ferocious beating but always making sure he never delievered a knock-out blow. Round after round Jack hurled abuse and punches with equal vigour. Tommy was capable of only standing up and squeezing out a few insults between being hit. The fight was stopped in round 14 when police invaded the ring fearing Tommy was about to be beaten to death. Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion of the world. All this gets mentioned in Churchmans, Boxing Personalities
One of the first things Jack did as champion was refuse to go to London and defend his crown. This enraged the National Sporting Club and from that moment on refused access to any coloured boxer. Something that was maintained until 1948 when it was broken by the arrival of Dick Turpin.
He then sacked his manager and friend for many years, Sam Fitzpatrick which can certainly be considered harsh.
The writer Jack London, implored Jim Jefferies to get back into the ring and beat the living daylights out of Jack. On 4 July 1910 at Reno, Nevada, Jack and Jim squared up to one another. Like many a fight before and after Jack was at the peak of his fitness and Jim was failing fast. The fight was brutal, lasting 15 rounds Jim Jefferies was counted out, slumped over the ropes as riots broke out within the stadium.
In fact race riots often broke out when Jack fought, a good number of spectators losing their lives and a good many more being seriously injured.
Jack did not fight for two years after this and managed to get himself a prison sentence for taking a woman over a state line for immoral purposes, a law that had recently been popped on the books by Senator Mann. You could hardly think it possible, but there it is.
The act was repealed in the 1960's because of continual misuse by the F-B-I (and you were doing so well Clarice.) where it was being used as a catch-all when nothing else would do. Johnson is cited as an example as is Charlie Chaplin and Chuck Berry.
Not wishing to be imprisoned Johnson fled to Europe where he fought a number of fights but spent money faster than he could obtain it.
In 1915 he took a bout against Jess Willard (Ogdens, Boxers, 1915) which was set to take place in Havana, Cuba in the belief they was not going to be the complication of a prison sentence.
However it all went wrong. An unfit Johnson survived 26 rounds before being knocked out by Willard. Some authorities call this a dubious decision on the basis the US authorities wanted Jack put back in his place.
Unfortunately the prison sentence was not going away and Johnson fled to Spain.
Money ran out in 1919 and Jack returned and accepted his prison sentence.
As a fighter he was spent but continued to take bouts until 1924 when eventually he retired.
In 1946 Jack's car left the road late one night at Raleighe, North Carolina, killing him.
So there you have it my first heavyweight contender for the title 'The greatest of all time.'