1915-04-05 Jess Willard w co 26 (45) Jack Johnson, Oriental Racetrack, Havana, Cuba - WORLD

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1915-04-05 Jess Willard w co 26 (45) Jack Johnson, Oriental Racetrack, Havana, Cuba - WORLD. Referee: Jack Welch. To his dying day, Johnson insisted that he had been forced to throw the fight and would often point to a picture of himself on the canvas shading his eyes from the sun as his proof. Although there has always been doubt, Johnson’s story has never been proved one way or the other and remains one of the sport’s great mysteries. Promoted by Jack Curley, the story goes that Johnson would get $30,000, win, lose or draw and a share of the moving picture rights. He would also be helped to gain re-entry to the United Stated and, hopefully, be given a Federal pardon. Although winning easily, Johnson (205½) was tiring rapidly and it was rumoured that once he had received the signal from his wife, who was in the audience, that the remainder of the guarantee had been paid he took the full count at 1.26 of the 26th session after walking into a solid right uppercut. Curley’s account was that with Willard (230) being so big and strong he made the fight for 45 rounds, knowing full well that the challenger would outlast the out-of-condition Johnson.

Following his defeat, Johnson moved on to Spain, fighting four times while there, before moving on to Mexico and having seven more fights. On deciding to go back to America, Johnson surrendered himself to Federal agents and was sent to Leavenworth Penitentiary for a year, being released on 9 July 1921. Whilst in prison Johnson took part in six exhibition bouts before having nine further contests prior to retiring and eventually being killed in a car crash at the age of 68.

Although the ‘white’ title stopped with Willard’s victory, the ‘black’ title would survive, mainly due to the fact that it was believed with some conviction that coloured fighters would continue to be avoided when it came to world title bouts. At this point in time, the recognised ‘black’ champion was Sam Langford, who defended against Battling Jim Johnson (nd-w pts10 on 6 April 1915 at the 135th Street AC, Manhattan, NYC, New York) before being outpointed over 12 rounds at the Atlas AA, Boston, Massachusetts seven days later by Joe Jeannette.

After claiming the title, Jeannette met Battling Brooks (nd-w co 4 at the Vanderbilt AC, Manhattan, NYC, New York on 19 April), but could only draw over 12 rounds with Sam McVea at the Atlas AA on 27 April prior to meeting Battling Jim Johnson (nd-w pts 10 on 10 May at Sohmer Park, Montreal, Canada). Shown in some record books, Jeannette supposedly met Brooks again (nd-w co 5 in NYC on 14 May), but as yet I have been unable to trace it happening.

Dissatisfied with the decision after the Jeannette fight, McVea claimed the ‘black’ title, putting it up for grabs against Harry Wills (nd-w pts 10 on 19 May at the St Nicholas Arena, Manhattan) and Battling Jim Johnson (nd-w pts 10 on 9 June at the Gaiety Theatre, Montreal). Then, on 29 June at the Atlas AA, following a 12-round points win over Langford, the Boston Post reported that the winner, McVea, should be seen as the ‘black’ champion, despite the fact that Jeannette, who defended his claim against Bill Watkins (nd-w pts 10 at the Nicholas Rink on 2 July), had recently beaten Langford and drawn with McVea in the same city.

McVea lost his claim when outpointed over 12 rounds by Wills at the Atlas AA on 7 September and the winner defended against Langford (nd-w pts 10 on 3 December at the Harlem AC, Manhattan). Wills again made a successful defence against Langford (w pts 20 on 3 January 1916 at the Tulane AC, New Orleans, Louisiana) prior to the latter turning the tables with a 19th-round kayo win at the Tommy Burns Arena, New Orleans on 11 February 1916.

Langford then gained a ten-round press decision over McVea at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan just six days later, while Jeannette risked his ‘black’ title claim when beating Silas Green (nd-w co 6 in on 26 February 1916 at the Canadian AC, Montreal on 26 February 1916) and George Kid Cotton (nd-w co 2 on 24 March at the East New York AC, Brooklyn, NYC).

In three no-decision bouts, Langford extended his claim when meeting Cleve Hawkins (nd-w pts 10 on 28 February 1916 at the Long Acre AC, Manhattan), Wills (nd-l pts 10 on 7 March 1916 at the Broadway AC, Brooklyn) and Dave Mills (nd-w rsc 2 on 23 March 1916 at The Arena, Syracuse, New York).