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, often pointing to a picture of himself on the canvas shading his eyes from the sun as his proof. Because there has always been doubt the fight 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, as well as a share of the moving picture rights. He would also be helped to gain re-entry to the United States. Although winning easily, Johnson (205½) was tiring rapidly. 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 different. With Willard (230) being so big and strong, Curley stated that 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, having surrendered himself to Federal agents Johnson 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 pts 10 at the 135th Street AC, Manhattan, NYC, New York on 6 April 1915) before being outpointed over 12 rounds at the Atlas AA, Boston, Massachusetts seven days later by Joe Jeannette.

After claiming the 'black' title Jeannette met Battling Brooks (nd-w co 4 at the Vanderbilt AC, Brooklyn, 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 at Sohmer Park, Montreal, Canada on 10 May). 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 at the St Nicholas Arena, Manhattan on 19 May) and Battling Jim Johnson (nd-w pts 10 at the Gaiety Theatre, Montreal on 9 June). 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. This, 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.

After McVea lost his claim when outpointed over 12 rounds by Wills at the Atlas AA on 7 September, the winner defended against Langford (nd-w pts 10 at the Harlem AC, Manhattan on 3 December). Wills again made a successful defence against Langford (w pts 20 at the Tulane AC, New Orleans, Louisiana on 3 January 1916) 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, on 17 February, while Jeannette risked his ‘black’ title claim when beating Silas Green (nd-w co 6 at the Canadian AC, Montreal on 26 February 1916) and George Kid Cotton (nd-w co 2 at the East New York AC, Brooklyn, NYC on 24 March).

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