The first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson was a pioneer for racial change and a sporting legend.

Born in 1878, the third child of nine was a brave athlete who only recently has been posthumously acquitted of the discriminatory charges made against him. Today he would have been 145 years old.

His heroism acknowledged by former US President Donald Trump, 105 years after his ‘criminal’ conviction, the Galveston Giant is arguably most famous for beating James J Jefferies in 1910’s ‘Fight of the Century’ – a contest that forever silenced his critics.

Transcending his sport and helping to promote diversity, Johnson won his first world coloured heavyweight title in 1903 – a 20-round bout that resulted in a points victory. From then onwards, success was second nature, the Texan a reigning champion for 2,151 days following his initial takeover as the coloured world champion.

Defending his belt 17 times, the next step was the world heavyweight title. Facing Canadian Tommy Burns in Sydney, 1908 was a year that changed history, Johnson named the first black heavyweight world champion in front of 20,000 people and after 14 rounds in Australia.

With a high profile came extreme abuse. Tormented by well-respected and established American newspapers, the country wanted a white champion.

Venturing out of retirement after six years, The Boilmaker, Jefferies, agreed to fight a dangerous Jack Johnson.

“I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro,” he said.

In 1910, the overweight former world champion took on the contest for a $3.3 million pay cheque (in today’s money).

Safety a concern, guns and alcohol were banned from the event. Thousands of spectators flocked to witness a fascinating spectacle inside the especially built Reno, Nevada ring.

Referred to as a fight that would define 20th Century boxing, tensions rose enormously prior to the event. Whilst Jefferies avoided the media, Johnson embraced it, the former simply stating, “may the best man win,” the latter drawing in the eyes of the world.

Despite security issues, fight night went ahead. The tie was eventually stopped by Jefferies’ corner, who threw in the towel after 15 rounds dominated by Johnson. Several opinions quickly began to change. Using his unique fighting style to come out on top, the Galveston legend, as he usually would have done, fought defensively in the bout. Waiting for his opponent to tire out while becoming more aggressive as the rounds went on, Johnson’s patience punished his opposite number, as did his elegance and seemingly effortless ability.

Whilst the result of the fight triggered riots, it also acted as a symbol for hope. The world’s first lineal heavyweight gloved boxing champion, John L. Sullivan, provided his analysis.

“It was a poor fight as fights go. Scarcely has there ever been a championship contest that was so one-sided. Jefferies wasn’t in it from the first bell tap to the last,” he said.

Married three times, a night club owner and an author, Johnson on several occasions had the last laugh.

On his way back from a diner that refused to serve him in 1946, Johnson died in a car crash. Leaving behind a legacy that includes a film, numerous Hall of Fame inductions and praise from those such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Sylvester Stallone, today we at Boxing Guru fondly remember one boxing’s favourite sons, Jack Johnson.


Noah Abrahams articles


Héctor ‘El Travieso’ Valdez: The Storm is Coming!


The best punch trackers on the market

The best punch trackers on the market