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Articles of 2004

Is Jack Johnson Free at Last?



“If I felt any better,” Jack Johnson quipped a hundred years ago, “I’d be scared of myself.”

Jack Johnson was the first African American to win the heavyweight title. He was a great champion, one of a kind, decades ahead of his time, but because of his race and uppity ways, because he rankled the establishment, he was deemed an enemy of the state and paid the price.

Jack Johnson is a heavyweight legend. He may have lacked the killer instinct of Jack Dempsey, the consistency of Joe Louis, the beard of Muhammad Ali, but Jack Johnson was a ring genius, before those words lost currency from over usage, a towering figure in boxing history.

John Arthur Johnson was born to former slaves in Galveston, Texas on March 31, 1878. After learning the ropes in the Battle Royals – spectacles featuring blindfolded black boys fighting for pennies – Papa Jack turned pro in 1894 at the age of eighteen with a kayo over John Lee in Galveston, Texas.

Jack Johnson, aka Papa Jack, aka the Galveston Giant, aka Li’l Arthur, fought anyone, anywhere, any time a match could be made, but his progress was hampered by racism, the law, and his lack of formal training. Johnson was a small town phenomenon taking on all comers.

On February 25, 1901, Johnson fought Joe Choynski, the great Jewish heavyweight from San Francisco, who was barnstorming through Texas. Choynski was 32-years-old and past his prime, but he had sixty-eight bouts to his credit, including fights with John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Jeffries. Johnson offered Choynski $200 for the match. Choynski accepted the money and took Jack Johnson to school. Johnson threw a lazy left jab in the third round and Choynski countered with a straight right to the chin. Johnson never knew what hit him. He went down and was out cold. The ref raised Choynski’s hand in victory.

Because boxing was illegal in the Lone Star State, the Texas Rangers entered the ring and placed the fighters under arrest. The men were jailed while their case dragged through the courts. Johnson and Choynski served their time by sparring in the jailhouse. During their twenty-four days in captivity, Choynski taught Johnson all he knew. Jack Johnson got a crash course from a professor in the art of demolition.

On February 3, 1903, Johnson won the black heavyweight title from Denver Ed Martin in Los Angeles. Johnson successfully defended that title many times during the next two years, including wins over Sam McVey, Joe Jeanette and Sam Langford.

Johnson flattened former heavyweight champ Bob Fitzsimmons in the second round when the two men met in Philly in 1907. Now Johnson was gunning for the title. He challenged the heavyweight champ Tommy Burns to a fight. Burns responded by embarking on a world tour . . . with Jack Johnson in hot pursuit.

The two men met on December 26, 1908 at Rushcutter’s Bay in Sydney, Australia in a fight that changed the face of boxing forever, even though it was a mismatch. Burns was not big enough, not skilled enough, not fast enough, not black enough to deal with Jack Johnson. Johnson could have starched Burns in the opening minute, but he toyed with the champ, he humiliated the champ, he made mincemeat of the champ. When Johnson wasn’t pounding Burns with stinging lefts and rights he attacked him with his mouth. “You punch like a woman, Tommy,” Johnson taunted. “Who taught you how to fight, your mother?” The ref waved it off in the fourteenth.

Jack Johnson held the heavyweight title for seven tumultuous years. He lived large, did it his way, and had a taste for the finer things in life. Diamond jewelry, tailored suits, Cuban cigars, fine wine, fast cars and white women were his daily bread. Johnson loved nothing more than to rub his excesses in the face of polite society. Caucasians across the land hated the champ.

The words “Great White Hope” first entered the lexicon during Jack Johnson’s title reign. The search was on for someone, anyone, so long as he was white, to try to “remove that golden smile from Johnson’s face.” Eventually former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries was dragged kicking and screaming out of retirement at the age of thirty-five to try to wrest the crown from Papa Jack. The Boilermaker knew better and should have stayed on his alfalfa farm, but out of loyalty to his race he betrayed his better judgment and agreed to fight Jack Johnson.

The two men met in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910 and Johnson gave Jeffries the beating of his life. After fifteen grotesque rounds, Big Jeff’s corner threw in the sponge. The best black man in America beat the best white man in America to a bloody pulp on the Fourth of July, and the black man’s brothers went crazy in celebration. Race riots, followed by retaliatory stabbings, shootings and lynchings, followed the fight. Hundreds were injured. Dozens of Johnson’s fans were murdered.

In 1912, Jack Johnson, while still champ, was arrested under the provisions of the Mann Act. The Mann Act outlawed transporting women across state lines “for prostitution or debauchery or for any other immoral purpose” and was used to convict syndicates involved in the white slave trade. That law had never been applied to an individual before. But Jack Johnson was a special case. He did transport a minor across state lines. The teenager was a former prostitute from Pittsburgh. She was white and they had sex. But Belle Schreiber, the alleged victim, was a willing accomplice.

Jack Johnson’s trial was held on May 13, 1913. Based on Belle Schreiber’s testimony, a jury of Johnson’s peers found the defendant guilty as charged and sentenced him to a year and a day at Joliet. Rather than have his freedom curtailed, Jack Johnson disguised himself as a ballplayer on Rube Foster’s Giants, a Negro League baseball team, and made his way out of the U.S. by train to freedom in Canada. The heavyweight champ was a fugitive from justice.

Jack Johnson successfully defended his title in Paris in 1913 and 1914. On April 15, 1915 Johnson met 6’6” Jess Willard at a Havana, Cuba racetrack in a fight scheduled for forty-five rounds. Johnson was thirty-seven at the time and the good life had taken its toll, but it wasn’t until the twenty-sixth round, under a blistering Caribbean sun, that the lumbering Willard caught Johnson coming off the ropes and clubbed him to the canvas with a combination. Johnson was counted out. It would be another twenty-two years before another black man (a quiet soul named Joe Louis) was heavyweight champion of the world.

Johnson kept fighting. He kayoed the mad punching poet Arthur Craven in Barcelona in 1916. He fought several times in Madrid and Mexico. In 1920, after seven years on the lam, Jack Johnson surrendered to the U.S. authorities and served eight months in Leavenworth.

After his release from prison, Johnson fought sporadically, a bout in Canada in 1922, a bout in Mexico in 1926, followed by fights in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Illinois. Jack Johnson had his final fight in 1938 at the age of fifty in Boston. He retired with a record of 91-14-12 (51 KOs).

Jack Johnson continued to live in high style. He gave boxing and wrestling exhibitions. He opened a nightclub. He was a journalist and author. He was a bullfighter. Papa Jack could do it all. He sang and danced like a pro. He played many musical instruments. He spoke a number of languages fluently. And, last but not least, Jack Johnson could fight.

Jack Johnson died as he lived – with the pedal pressed to the metal. He wrapped his speeding Lincoln Zephyr around a telephone pole in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1946. Papa Jack was sixty-eight.

And now, many years after Johnson’s triumphs and violent end, several Congressmen have petitioned President George W. Bush to exonerate Jack Johnson. This move was spearheaded by the film maker Ken Burns, whose documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” airs on PBS in January. Burns studied the subject and believes Jack Johnson deserves a posthumous presidential pardon. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as well as Bernard Hopkins, Vernon Forrest, Sugar Ray Leonard and the actor Samuel L. Jackson, also hope Jack Johnson shall be released.

Articles of 2004

2004 Boxing Pound for Pound List



The final boxing pound-for-pound list of the year for 2004.

1. Bernard Hopkins: The top guy from beginning to end, Hopkins took care of Oscar De La Hoya with a body shot in the biggest fight of 2004. Now, he'll wait for Jermain Taylor to progress a little further, or he'll go the rematch route with Felix Trinidad. Either way, Hopkins stands to earn a lot of money in 2005 and extend that all-time middleweight reign.

2. Floyd Mayweather: How long has it been since we've seen Mayweather in a meaningful fight? Certainly not in 2004, when he outpointed the difficult DeMarcus Corley. He's slated for a January outing against a no-name. Enough stalling, already, “Pretty Boy”. Fight someone we care about (preferably Kostya Tszyu), or you'll lose your #2 position sometime in 2005.

3. Felix Trinidad: “Tito” stormed back with a magnificent knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in 2004, and now hopes to capitalize on it with big money fights. He'd like nothing more than a rematch with his only conqueror, Hopkins, but he may also opt for old nemesis Oscar De La Hoya. Either way, Trinidad is sure to fight a big fight sometime in the coming year.

4. Kostya Tszyu: What a difference one fight makes. As recently as late October, the boxing world was wondering whether Tszyu was even serious about the sport anymore. We found out with a second round demolition of Sharmba Mitchell. And that made the junior welterweight division very attractive. Tszyu has several options now, including Arturo Gatti and Mayweather or even a hop up to welterweight to challenge Cory Spinks. Let's hope one of them happens in 2005.

5. Manny Pacquiao: Pacquiao fought twice in 2004, and what a fight the first one was. His thrilling war with Juan Manuel Marquez was the best brawl of the year, and there is a chance that the two rivals will go at it again in 2005. If not, Pacquiao has a list full of options: Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, etc. Pacquiao will fight one of them in the next year.

6. Marco Antonio Barrera: Another guy thought to be washed up when the year started, Barrera resurrected his career for the second time with a masterful victory over Paulie Ayala and a close decision over rival Erik Morales in another great fight. Barrera is obviously shooting for a return with Pacquiao, who decimated him in November 2003. Barrera says it was an off-night. Hopefully, we'll find out if that was the case.

7. Winky Wright: Winky entered the “superstar” realm in 2004 with a pair of decision victories over Shane Mosley. The first was very impressive, as Wright practically shut Mosley out. The second was closer, but proved once again that Winky was the superior fighter. He'd like a shot at Trinidad or Oscar De La Hoya, but neither will happen. He'd probably be best off shooting for a name like Fernando Vargas or Ricardo Mayorga.

8. Juan Manuel Marquez: After several years on the outside looking in, Marquez is finally in a position to make some money after his courageous performance against Pacquiao. He rose from three first-round knockdowns to wage the fight of his life in a fight that was ruled a draw. It would also be interesting to see Marquez against countrymen Barrera and Erik Morales.

9. Erik Morales: “El Terrible” fought another great fight against Barrera, but, again, it was in a losing cause. He has now lost two of three to his fierce rival, and probably wants nothing to do with him anymore. But, eventually, talk of Barrera-Morales 4 will come up again. In the meantime, Morales could shoot for Pacquiao or Marquez.

10. Glencoffe Johnson: The newest entry, Johnson pumped some life into boxing in 2004 with a pair of upsets of Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver. Now, he's set to make some really big money in rematches with either, or a shot at old conqueror Hopkins. Either way, Johnson is better than anyone imagined.

11. Jose Luis Castillo: Castillo made some comeback noise of his own in 2004, beating Juan Lazcano for his old vacant title and decisioning Joel Casamayor for another big win. He says he wants Kostya Tszyu next, and if that materializes, boxing fans will be in for a treat. If not, Castillo vs. Diego Corrales is a great fight.

12. Oscar De La Hoya: Hard to erase that picture of De La Hoya grimacing in agony courtesy of a Hopkins shot to the ribs, but the “Golden Boy” had no business fighting at 160 pounds. He should drop down to junior middle or even welterweight again if he has any hope of regaining his past form. But 2005 could be the final year for one of boxing's all-time great attractions.

On the brink: Antonio Tarver, Diego Corrales, James Toney

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Articles of 2004

Heavyweight Joe Mesi Bringing Lawsuit




As reported by the Buffalo News, Joe Mesi is suing the New York State Athletic Commission and the MRI center that conducted tests on the heavyweight boxer after his bout with Vassiliy Jirov. Mesi reportedly suffered brain injuries in the Jirov bout, which has left his boxing status uncertain.

The lawsuit alleges Mesi's medical records were improperly released to the NYSAC. The records, the lawsuit goes on to allege, were then released to the media, prejudicing Mesi's right to have his status reviewed by the appropriate boxing authorities.

The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary damages, as the extent of damages will be affected by whether Mesi is able to resume his career as a leading heavyweight contender.

Mesi hopes to have his status reviewed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission within the coming month. The ruling of the NSAC promises to be key in whether Mesi will be able to resume his boxing career.

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Articles of 2004

The Best in Chicago Boxing Returns




Dominic Pesoli's 8 Count Productions and Bob Arum's Top Rank Incorporated along with Miller Lite presents SOLO BOXEO DE MILLER, THE ARAGON RUMBLE, another installment of The Best in Chicago Boxing on Friday, January 14th, broadcast live internationally as part of Telefutura's Friday night professional boxing series.

The newly remodeled Aragon Ballroom is located at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. near the corner of Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood and is easily accessible, just 4 blocks west of Lake Shore Drive and just 4 miles east of the Kennedy expressway. There are three large parking lots located within a 1/2 block of the Aragon Ballroom. Additionally, the Howard Street Blue Line stops just across the street. Doors will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

Headlining the action packed card is the American debut of super-bantamweight Ricardo “PIOLO” Castillo, 12-2 (6KO's) of Mexicali, Mexico as he squares off in a scheduled ten rounder against WBO Latino Champion, Edel Ruiz, 24-12-3 (13KO's) of Los Mochis, SI, Mexico. Castillo will be accompanied to the ring by his brother, World Lightweight Champion Jose Luis Castillo.

In the co-main event of the evening, one of Chicago's most popular fighters, middleweight “MACHO” Miguel Hernandez, 14-1 (9KO's), battles hard swinging local veteran “MARVELOUS” Shay Mobley, 7-4-1 (2KO's), of One In a Million a scheduled eight rounder.

The huge undercard bouts include;

Carlos Molina vs TBA, six rounds, junior middleweights
Frankie Tafoya vs TBA, four rounds, featherweights
Ottu Holified vs. Allen Medina, four rounds, middleweights
Francisco Rodriguez vs. LaShaun Blair, four rounds, bantamweights
Rita Figueroa vs. Sarina Hayden, four rounds, junior welterweights

Said Dominic Pesoli, President of 8 Count Productions, “it was a terrific evening last month and our fans were thrilled to be at the Aragon to watch David, Speedy and Luciano. David Diaz's fight against Jaime Rangel was a fight people will talk about for a long time. Our commitment to our fans is to make every event of ours better than the last one. This main event is terrific, both guys are very tough Mexicans who won't take a step back.

The fans love Miguel and Mobley figures to be a very tough opponent. Him and David Estrada had a six round war last June at our show. And the undercard showcases a lot of new, younger talent that is coming out of Chicago right now. Tafoya and Holifield have both had very successful beginnings to their careers and Francisco Rodriguez comes with fantastic amateur credentials and David Diaz says he has all the talent to be a great pro.”

“We've got big plans for 2005 and this show should take up right where last months show left off. The huge crowd loved the action last time and I'm sure they'll say the same thing this time.”

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