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Articles of 2005

Johnson–Jeffries (Part 3): Full House




Undaunted by the fight’s banishment from California, Rickard, who had already sold $133,000 worth of tickets, with the strong backing of Nevada Gov. Denver S. Dickerson, a man of broad views, moved the fight to Reno. With a population of 40,000, few of them female or ministers, Nevada was the only state where boxing was legalized. Businessmen belonging to the Reno Athletic Club had promised to erect a $20,000 arena at E. 4th and Toano Sts., pay the license fee, and guaranteed a $250,000 return at the gate.

Rickard had offers from Goldfield and Salt Lake City, but he had chosen Reno because of its superior railroad facilities and because of Dickerson's patronage and the promises of local businessmen. Within hours after the new site was announced, San Francisco speculators had reserved all the hotel rooms in Reno. It was later estimated that Reno’s merchants, saloonkeepers and gamblers took in close to $1 million.

When Rickard had first approached Gov. Dickerson, the governor asked him just one question: “Tex, tell me man to man, is the fight on the level?”

Rickard assured him both men would be trying to win. Dickerson then assured Rickard that there were no reformers in his state, except, of course, for that one minister in Reno, and, said Tex, “everybody in the state knows he’s a nut.” To many Americans, Reno was a moral wasteland. They assumed the town's population of 15,000 was to some degree associated with vice and sin. Gambling was wide?open and going full bore. In one five?block area there were more than 50 saloons, with bare board floors and bar wooden walls but barrels of booze, and names like Jim May's Palace, Lacey's Louvre, The Casino, the Oberon, and the Mecca, all in all, a little slice of heaven. And Reno was the divorce capital of America. One popular song of the era went “Shoutin' the battle cry of freedom, I'm on my way to Reno.” After close observation, one British visitor, H. Hamilton Fyle, said: “Reno's attitude toward gambling, drinking and divorce tends to attract a class of visitors which cannot be said to shed any luster upon the town.”

Magazine writer Harris Merton Lyon described Reno as “a broad-shouldered, tan cheeked, slouch-hatted, youthful town, one that believed in red neckties and fireman’s suspenders.”

Dickerson's sole concern of a possible fix was an honest one, a worry that was surfacing more and more, and one that led Gillett to boot the fight from his state. From many quarters it was reported that Johnson had guaranteed a Jeffries victory, which partially explains why fat and old Jeffries was installed as a 10?7 favorite when the two fighters began to train near Reno. “You hear nothing but fake, fix, and double?cross everywhere,” wrote Tad Duggan, the San Francisco writer and cartoonist.

“If the black wins,” London wrote in one of his periphrastic tomes to The Herald, “it may be the last act of his life.”

Like most rumors in boxing, it failed to make any sense, not that many folks at the time seemed able to work it out. Johnson had a $2,500 loan from Rickard plus his $10,000 bonus, and he had wrangled his training expenses on credit. Even if he bet the whole $12,500 on Jeffries, his return would only be $9,000. The winner's end of the purse was $60,600, and if Johnson bet his bankroll on himself, at 10?7, his return would be another $12,000. It would have taken a freight car full of money to persuade Johnson to give up his title.

One of the guys turning up the heat on the fix rumor was Martin Julian, Bob Fitzsimmons's former manager, a nasty fellow who may have been trying to manipulate the betting. “I know that Jeffries is in no condition to fight,” Julian told a writer named Senator Ford. “Nobody can come back after laying off for five years. He not only has a lot of fat around his belly, but he has fat around his kidneys, and all the training in the world can't get that off without weakening him. Legs are important in a fight, and no man whose legs are in shape has to push himself up from a sitting position with his arms and hands (as Jeffries was doing.) But Jeffries's condition won't make any difference in this set?up. Hock your furniture and put your money on Jeffries. He's going to win. It's in the bag. Jeff wouldn't have come back if he thought he could lose. He may not be in on the deal but he must have an inkling of what's going on. As I got it, Johnson is to get $90,000 for laying down.”

A few days before the fight, Julian had changed his tune. He told Ford: “The fix is off.”

After the fight, Julian, who could not seem to make up his mind, told Ford: “I told you the fix was on and it was. But Johnson double?crossed the fixers. In the shape Jeffries was in, Johnson could have flattened him with a couple of punches. But he was under orders to give the suckers a run for their money. Look at the movies of the fight; take a good look at Jeffries's legs when he's introduced. He can hardly stand up, and the muscles in his legs quiver like a kootch dancer. I guess he knew what was coming.”

Most writers must have believed the rumors: Only Rube Goldberg and Tad Dorgen picked Johnson to win. Asked for his opinion, Bat Masterson, the famed lawman turned sportswriter, said, while changing trains in Chicago: “Johnson stands no chance of winning.”  Of the former world champions, only Burns and John L. Sullivan picked the challenger. Even some of the country’s top black heavyweights, Langford and Jeanette, stood solidly in Jeffries’ camp. Observed Jeanette, who fought Johnson eight times: “Why, Jeffries can lose half his strength, have his endurance cut in two, carry a ton of extra weight and still whip Johnson. He has the head and the heart to do it.”

At least one cynic I know suspects Jeanette maybe have been interviewed while standing in the shade of an oak tree by a dozen guys wearing sheets and carrying a rope.

Langford, expelling bitterness no doubt for Johnson’s refusal to fight him, said, “I hope that the first punch Jeffries lands will end the fight. Johnson is entirely overrated as a fighter. He never would fight me again, because I knocked him down and after that he was afraid of me. I know the champion has no punch and that he does not like to take a beating.”

Johnson and Langford fought once, on April 6, 1906, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Defending the “colored” heavyweight championship, Johnson knocked the 156-pound Langford down twice and won a 15-round decision. Johnson said Langford was the toughest man he ever fought and told a friend, “and it won’t happen again.” According to James Butler in his “The Fight Game,” after glowing reports of his prowess after he had knocked out Tiger Smith, a gnarly Welsh southpaw, in four rounds, Langford said: “Hey, boss, I’m not the best out there. There is a big smoke back home called Jack Johnson who is unbeatable. He licked me good in Massachusetts last year and he is improving every month.”

Johnson had heard the fixed-fight rumors as well. On the Friday before the fight, scheduled for Monday night, he sent a message to Jeffries's camp telling him there was no fix and Jeffries had better be ready to fight. Years later, in an affidavit given to ­Ring Magazine­, Johnson said he sent that message because he had been approached about a fix and wanted to give fair warning.

Johnson even named the woman he claimed was involved in the plot.

Before the fight, Johnson told Charles Mathison of the New York Press­: “I'll do my best to prove that the fight is on the level and I'll give Jeffries the licking of a lifetime, just to show up some of the newspapermen who have been riding me and have been belittling my ability in an effort to scare me.”

One of the first of the celebrity writers to appear on the scene in Reno was Rex Beach, the author, who considered himself qualified as a boxing writer because of the action scenes in his novels. Like Jack London, he was paid 10 cents a word for his daily prose. After visiting Jeffries at his California camp at Rowardennan, Beach wrote for his newspaper syndicate: “I pick Jeffries because after watching the caveman's work for a month I can't picture that huge bulk lying on the floor…On the other, I can picture Johnson, dazed and bewildered. ­The difference is in both breeding and education.”

One has to have doubts that Beach, well bred and immaculately lettered, was ever in a serious fistfight.

Arriving just behind Beach was London, in the company of a couple of hoboes named Watertank Willie and Seattle Sam, and with a face swollen from a fight with a bartender in Ogden, Utah. London's observations were just about as penetrating as those of Beach. Obviously, he took his boxing expertise with the same solemn seriousness that seems to afflict all literary giants, most of whom would not know a right cross from a $3 hooker, whenever they are thrust upon the scene of a heavyweight championship fight.

Far more famous “expert writers” covering for various papers were Corbett, Robert Fitzsimmons, Abe Attell, Battling Nelson, Tommy Burns, Frank Gotch and William Muldoon, an ex?wrestler with more than a nodding acquaintance with a punch in the nose. Reviewing that list, author Beach lamented that there were not more of his literary lot. “I lament at the absence of 'Walloping' Dean Howells of New England. He may not possess the literary style of Joe Choynski or an Abe Attell, but he has a certain following nevertheless. And 'Battling' Howey James, the Devonshire Demon…His diction is stilted, perhaps, and lacking the fluent ease and grace of 'Philadelphia Jack' O’Brien, but he is entitled to be heard from.”

A good editor would have removed the last word – ‘from” – from his copy.

Another of the athletic experts was John L. Sullivan, there at Rickard's invitation as the elder statesman of boxing, and reporting for the New York Times. Sullivan had not touched hard liquor for five years, which did not make him a bad man, and had grown immensely fat, giving him the outline of Santa Claus, if not the laugh; like all reformed drunks he needed little time to establish himself as a pain in the ass. Hardly had he alighted from the train, when the ex?champion proclaimed loudly and soberly: “It looks like a frame?up to me.”

When Jeffries was told of Sullivan’s remark at his training quarters in a roadhouse in Moana Springs on the Truckee River, he said: “That big stiff had better not come here or I'll turn the fire hose on him! I always hated a knocker.”

Five days before the fight, Sullivan interviewed Johnson, who told him: “Cap'n John, I'm going to win. I'm as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.” Later that day, Johnson wired his brother Claude in Chicago: “Bet your last copper on me.”

Awakened one night by an aide who thought he might like to witness the passing of Haley’s Comet, Jeffries snarled at the messenger: “I told you not to wake me up to see no comet. Who cares about comets? I want my sleep!”

Johnson's camp at a place called The Willows, four miles east of Reno, was more relaxed. The champion enjoyed watching the desert sunsets, and at the end of the day's work he could be found outside, as one Los Angeles biographer of his told his readers, “watching the blue sky turn to amethyst and rose.” From his perch he could hear the mechanical piano in The Willows taproom playing “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” one of his favorites. Going inside, he would often grab a bull fiddle, and the party would be on.

Johnson had volunteer masters of ceremonies: wine agents Bob Vernon and Harry Lehr, a social consultant to Mrs. Styvesant Fish of New York City. Near dusk, Vernon and Lehr would arrive as the vanguard of a parade of automobiles loaded with Eastern society ladies and huge hampers of champagne. The pair came armed with Japanese butlers to pour the bubbly. The society ladies were not there for the fight; their mission in Reno was to obtain divorces under Nevada's profitable six?week residency law.

Johnson's training base was an armed camp. The champion had two pistols, one in his pocket, and the other near his bedside. After everyone had left for the night, a sentry, a former National League catcher named Cal McVey, armed with a shotgun, patrolled beneath Johnson’s bedroom window. As most readers quickly surmised while reading Mes Combats, Johnson possessed a lively imagination; he once claimed he had been pursed by a 19?foot shark.

Never far from anyone’s thoughts was the fear of robbery. Reno had become a gathering place for some of the more noted thieves in the country. One was the eminent bank robber Cincinnati Slim, and rumor had it that the Sundance Kid was due any day. (The Kid had yet to be shot to death in South America.) Also there were such underworld figures as Won Let, a hit man for the New York branch of the Hip Sing tong. Let, it was said, had 30 notches on his hatchet handle. Along with the more famous thugs, there were hundreds of minor crooks: three?card Monte players, pick pockets, pimps, politicians, prostitutes, muggers, lush rollers, gamblers, conmen, burglars and robbers, plus a large detachment of hobos and bums that had passed through Chicago during the second week of June and headed for Reno after being urged westward by the Chicago cops. Also well represented was a colorful assortment of Indians, cowboys, Mexicans, cattle rustlers, miners, and and, it was said, two train robbers.

Against this roving pack of human predators, Gov. Dickerson amassed a strong force of armed and deputized citizens; Pinkerton detectives from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco; a detachment of Nevada State Rangers; and a patrol of Arizona Rangers headed by a well?known tough lawman, Captain Cox, who carried two pistols and believed in expediency when dealing with the lawless; he shot them dead on the spot.

Said Colonel Abe Slupsky, a St. Louis politician who arrived with $3,000 under a porous plaster on his chest: “It was the only way to carry money in Reno. I would have stuck it on my back except there wasn't anybody I could trust to do it for me. The night before the fight, I kicked away twenty empty wallets on the planked walks. The dips would take the money and toss them away.” Col. Slupsky also reported seeing gutters lined with cheap tin watches, which indignant pickpockets had thrown away in disgust.

Armed and protected, Johnson spent his nights strumming on the bull fiddle – “I've Got Rings on My Fingers”; “By The Light of the Silvery Moon”; and “I Love My Wife.” He also liked clowning with writers in the traditional vein of watermelon?devouring, chicken?stealing humor expected of his race. “No stolen chicken ever passes the portals of my face,” he would say, flashing that golden smile. “Chickens see the gleam in my eye and keep out of my way. Chicken and corn fritters are affinities. They are meant for each other and both are meant for me.”

Another time a writer asked the champion if he was worried. Johnson nodded seriously. “Yes,” he said gravely. “I tell you in the strictest confidence…”

The writer leaned in, better to hear the soft words.

“…I am worried that a fat rooster I saw killed this morning will be overdone if I don't get in to dinner.”

An almost daily routine at Johnson's camp were the court sessions, with Johnson acting as the judge, handing out sentences as he saw fit. Most of the victims protested, but they all paid whatever penalty the champion handed down.

Once his happy crew mutinied, demanding a new judge be appointed. “All right,” said Johnson, “we'll settle this fair and square. We'll have an election.”

Chips from a roulette wheel were distributed: a white for Johnson, a red for Frank Sutton, who ran against him. The result was a tie: 8 and 8.

“But there are only 15 of us,” someone pointed out. “The champ stuffed the ballot box.”

Johnson leaped up, grinning. “I'm still the judge and I'm gonna clear the courtroom.” After he had laughing wrestled them all out the door, Johnson pronounced a sentence on Professor Burns, a musician in the group. He was sentenced to one night’s exile from the piano.

Another time Johnson sentenced two newsmen for malicious mischief; their crime was inducing a cartoonist to lampoon the champion. Doyle of the San Francisco ­Chronicle­ delighted in drawing cartoons of Johnson depicting him as a blackface buffoon. The two guilty newsmen were held face down on a stool while Johnson paddled them with a plank.

Wrote one of the paddled, Jack Dansham of the ­Chronicle: “The big fellow did not know how much he hurt them, but he did hurt. The victims are now taking their meals from the nearest approach to a mantel?piece they can find in Reno.”

London was still hard at work on his racist assaults. After visiting Johnson at his training camp, he wrote that the champion's “happy?go?lucky” disposition resulted from Johnson's concern only for the moment and his genetic inability to plan for the future.

Another writer, Alfred Lewis, took it a step beyond: “As essentially African, Johnson feels no deeper than the moment, sees no farther than his nose, and is incapable of anticipation…The same cheerful indifference to coming events has marked others of the race even while standing in the very shadow of the gallows. Their stolid unconcern baffled all who beheld it. They were to be hanged; they knew it. But having no fancy, no imagination – they could not anticipate.”

Asked writer W.P. McCloughlin: “Is Johnson a typical example of his race in that lack of that intangible 'something' that we call 'heart?' I have observed closely Jack's alleged 'impenetrable' guard and do not see any reason why it is so designated.”

However, in Jeffries McCloughlin saw “the hope of the white race, a gradually growing sullen ferocity.”

Wrote one observer in the ­Inter?Ocean­, about Jeffries: “Under his skin of bronze the muscles rippled like the placid surface of a body of water touched by a gentle breeze.”

When Jeffries read that, he said it made him sick to his stomach.

Writers trying to approach Jeffries had a serious problem. Never overly friendly, now he was sullen and mean. Writers compared him to an injured bear. Wrote one: “He growls and snarls and grumbles like an old grizzly when strangers come around…He has a bear's aversion to being disturbed???particularly when he eats.” Wrote Roberts: “There obviously was a concerted journalistic effort to soften the ex?champion's image: stories poured forth on how he was kind to his wife and sparring partners, and that his home life was clean and wholesome – but there was a difficulty trying to gloss over his irritable and unfriendly disposition. Eventually reporters stopped trying to get close to him and began to submit fictional pieces about how friendly Jeffries might be if he wasn't so damn unfriendly. Writers assigned to Jeffries' camp survived on inspiration.”

At the other camp, unlike the dyspeptic Jeffries, Johnson seemed totally relaxed. Writers at the scene were puzzled by the champion’s calm. One wrote: “Though sharp as a razor in a sort of undeveloped way, he seems oblivious to the seriousness of his task. He fiddles away on his bull horn, swaps jokes with a ready wit, shoots craps, plays baseball, listens dreamily to classic love songs on the phonograph.”

At a cost of a dime a word, London’s longwinded June 26th dispatch to the New York Herald­ said this about Jeffries:

“…His legs are like columns???not gnarled and knotty columns, but clean?swelling columns, soft?lined and in keeping with the soft?lined strength of the rest of him. There is little doubt that in the history of the ring there was never a heavyweight so well and symmetrically proportioned.

“His thighs are so mighty that they remind one inevitably of the legendary Teutonic warrior who, by the grip of his thighs, made his war horse groan beneath him. It would have to be an armor?plated, steel?trussed horse that Jeffries could not make groan.

“Lean?bellied as a Greek athlete, the muscles of his torso begin their long, deep swell outward and upward from the waist. His back muscles played in matted masses, while those of his shoulders and biceps leap into a twisted roll at the slightest uplift of those arms.”

One has to wonder if London was there to write about Jeffries or ask him out on a date.

That John L. Sullivan went to Jeffries camp is fact. There are, however, what happened after he did arrive at the camp comes in two versions:

There was this one: When Sullivan finally turned up at Jeffries' camp, Jeffries forgot about his threat to turn the fire hose on him. Instead he asked the old champion's advice on how to fight Johnson. “I know you didn't mean what you said about me, John,” said Jeffries. “I don't know why I have to be the favorite.”

Sullivan studied the big man. Then he replied: “Jim, all I know is God Almighty hates a quitter.”

Even on his best day, Sullivan was never the brightest ember in the firebox.

And this one: A few days after his now famous “frame?up” quote, Sullivan made his way to the Jeffries camp on the Truckee. Jim Corbett, who had taken his title from him on Sept. 7, 1892 (KO?21, New Orleans), greeted him at the gate. There was little love lost between the two American icons.

“What the hell do you want?” the slender Corbett asked.

As fat and out of shape as he was, it was not a question one would want to ask John. L., not even Corbett. An angry argument started, heat words were exchanged. Onlookers feared a dustup.

Finally, Sullivan snarled: “If you're running the camp I don't want to see him.”

As Sullivan drove away, Walter Kelly remembered: “I had a lump in my throat as I watched John. L. drive away. He was leaving the camp of a heavyweight champion without even the tribute of a handshake or a goodbye. For some reason, it did not seem right.”

No matter. Both were typical of the dark mood of Jeffries's camp. Jeffries had prepared for the fight as if getting ready for a funeral, his own. By the evening of the fight his friends feared that he was overwrought. Unable to eat that night, Jeffries retired early, but could not sleep. William Muldon remembered him pacing about his room. Mrs. Jeffries went to his door once and spoke to him, but he told her to shut up and go back to her own room. He remained alone in his room for almost 12 hours.

The reformers remained in force. Mr. Rockwell of Cincinnati, with nearly 200,000 of his postcards not yet posted, had them readdressed and mailed to Gov. Dickerson, who, it is said, found a use for them in his fireplace. Said the Rev. M.P. Boynton, the pastor of a Baptist Church in Chicago: “Prizefighting has been driven into the nation's backyard, that portion of the country that seems to have to promote and protect the sins of the nation that have been outlawed everywhere else. There should be some way by which our nation could recall the charter of a state that has become a desert and a moral menace. Nevada has no right to remain a part of our nation, with the powers of a state.”

Still the special trains pulled into the Southern Pacific yards from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Denver, San Francisco, Bloomsburg, Pa. and Schenectady, N.Y. One 10?car train contained a party of Illinois sports headed by racing man Lou Houseman, who after one quick stroll around town, observed: “There is ample opportunity for a man to lose a bankroll here. It can cost a man plenty if he spends time in the many specially rigged gambling joints set as traps for the unwary.”

Among the morally bankrupted were the fight writers, an army of them, covering an event about which Henry Wales of the Chicago Tribune­ years later wrote “no event in modern times so permeated the mind of the world until Charles Lindbergh's flight from Long Island to Paris 17 years later.” By Wales’ count, more than 300 writers were at work in Reno by the end of June. (Twice that number covered the actual fight) At that time newspaper pages were broad and deep and, except for headlines, set in small type. The stories were torturously long; more than a million words – the equivalent if not equal of 25 Jack London novels – were filed each day.

­On the morning of the Fourth, the day of the fight, for breakfast Johnson ate four lamb cutlets, three scrambled eggs, and several slices of rare Porterhouse steak. He passed on desert.

Jeffries took only a little fruit, toast and tea, and then proclaimed: “When the gloves are knotted on my hands tonight and I stand ready to defend what is really my title, it will be at the request of the public, which forced me out of retirement. That portion of the white race that has been looking to me to defend its athletic superiority may feel assured that I am fit to do my best. If Johnson defeats me, I will shake his hand and declare him the greatest fighter the sporting world has ever known.”

Countered Johnson: “Every fighter on the eve of his fight declares that he hopes the best man wins. I am quite sincere when I say that I do, and if Mr. Jeffries knocks me out or gains a decision over me, I will go into his corner and congratulate him as soon as I am able. My congratulations will not be faked. Let me say in conclusion that I believe the meeting between Mr. Jeffries and myself will be a test of strength, skill and endurance. I plan to gradually beat him down and finally make him take the count. However, should I meet defeat I will have no excuse to offer and will proclaim Mr. Jeffries king of them all.”

As one may have guessed, ghostwriters had prepared both formal statements well in advance.

Less statesmanlike was Abbott of the Defender,­ who penned in apparent frenzy: “If our Johnson is forced to fight Jim Crow delegations, race prejudice, and insane public sentiment, and if he wins in the face of all of this, he is truly entitled to a Carnegie Hero Medal. When the smoke of battle clears away, and when the din of mingled cheers and groans have died away in the atmosphere, there will be deep mourning throughout the domains of Uncle Sam over Jeffries' inability to return the pugilistic scepter to the Caucasian race.”

The pastor of St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church, located near Abbott's office, felt no such certainty. The minister opened the sanctuary early the morning of the Fourth of July for a prayer service that continued through the fight. Numerous Negro congregations across the nation did the same. In Hutchinson, Kansas, the Colored Holiness Church announced that it would hold special services to pray for Johnson. To counterbalance that plea for heavenly help, a Midwestern white minister announced that he would pray for Jeffries. The Rev. H.E. Trials of the First Baptist Church in Omaha told his congregation: “Every man with red blood in his veins should see Jim Jeffries regain the heavyweight championship from Jack Johnson.”

Wrote Arthur Rhul in Collier's­ magazine: “The betting was 10 to 6 on Jeffries and the talk about 1,000 to 1. You couldn't hurt him – Fitzsimmons had landed enough times to kill an ordinary man in the first few rounds, and Jeffries had only shaken his head like a bull and bored in. The Negro might be a clever boxer, but he had never been up against a real fighter before. He had a yellow streak, there was nothing to it, and anyway, 'Let's hope he kills the coon.'

“That was the mental atmosphere as Johnson, wrapped in a dressing gown and smiling his half?puzzled and rather pleading smile climbed into the ring,” Rhul's report of the fight went on. “I had a seat directly opposite Jeffries, and I can unhesitating state that I have never seen a human being more calculated to strike terror into an opponent's heart than this scowling brown Colossus as he came through the ropes, stamped like a bull pawing the ground before his charge, and, chewing gum rapidly, glared at the Black man across the ring. If looks could have throttled, burned, and torn to pieces, Mr. Jack Arthur Johnson would have disappeared that minute into a few specks of inanimate dust. The Negro had his back turned at the moment, and as he took his corner and his trainer and his seconds, crowding in front of him, concealed the white man, a sort of hoot, wolfish and rather terrible, went up from the crowd. 'He daresen't look at him! Don't let him see him.' And when Jeffries pulled off his clothes with a vicious jerk, and standing erect and throwing out his chest, jabbed his great arms above his head once or twice, I don't suppose one man in a hundred in that crowd would have given two cents for the Negro's chances.”

Ignoring his own man, Gentleman Jim Corbett studied Johnson. Later he would admit that a terrible fear assailed him as he studied the champion’s Herculean body. An expert on conditioning, he knew Jack had not acquired that rippling flatiron stomach eating watermelons and fried chicken and leaning against a bar. “Jeffries will find his yellow streak,” Corbett muttered to Farmer Burns, another corner man. He knew if he were mistaken, and he feared the worst, Jeffries was in for a painful beating.

By fight time, 600 or so journalists were there, swelling the crowd to just over 16,000, none of them packing weapons or hard liquor. Rickard had installed curtained boxes for the women, and had posted deputy sheriffs at each of eight entrances to confiscate pistols and strong drink. At that time, cheap, nickel?plated revolvers sold in general retail stores for as low as $1.50 and most male citizens carried at least one. Rickard's worry was over himself: as the referee, he would have to announce the decision, should it go to that. He felt more comfortable knowing that if it should turn out to be Johnson, the audience would not be allowed to retrieve their weapons until after he and the principals were well beyond small bore range.

Across the nation, the public awaited telegraphed reports of the fight. The ­Kansas City Star­ had rented the city's convention hall for a crowd of 14,000, which had a blow?by?blow account telegraphed from the ringside and bellowed by announcers at the hall through megaphones. On Long Island, a more select audience gathered at the Edgemere Club, where folks like William K. Vanderbilt, Howard Gould, Lawrence Drake and others of such wealthy ilk followed the fight through the New York Times­ bulletin service. The Edgemere clubmen had hired an agent to stand in front of the Times­ to run to a telephone booth and pass the word after each bulletin was posted. In Chicago, the warden of the county jail had installed a special wire so that a description of the fight could be shouted through the cellblocks by a trusty. At the Chicago Coliseum, a great crowd, including many Blacks, watched as illuminated electrical figures nine feet high reenacted every move on an electrical scoreboard. At the Pekin Theater, at 27th St. and State St. in the Black belt of Chicago, Robert Motts, the manager, stood on the stage and read reports from slips of paper brought by a telegrapher posted in the wings. At Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, who had declined to cover the bout as a reporter, set aside a special assembly room to received telegraphic reports from Reno.

In Chicago, one very tiny Black lady sat alone under a single spotlight on the stage of the Ebony Star theatre. Johnson’s mother would be handed the round-by-round bulletins from Reno. Hundreds of the champion’s fans paid $10 to watch the old woman change expressions.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More




A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights





Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

Phil Woolever



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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