Jack Johnson vs. Jess Willard
1915-04-05 : Jack Johnson 225 lbs lost to Jess Willard 238½ lbs by KO at 1:26 in round 26 of 45
- Location: Oriental Park, Havana, Cuba
- Referee: Jack Welsh
- Promoter: Jack Curley
World Heavyweight Title
Johnson was guaranteed $30,000, plus one-third of picture privileges. Willard received 25% of total receipts and one-third of picture privileges.
After the fight, referee Jack Welch said: "If I had been compelled to give a decision at the end of the twenty-fifth round, it would have been Johnson's by a wide margin. Up to the twentieth round, Willard had one won only one round by a real margin and two or three others by the slightest shade. In the thirteenth and fourteenth, I was almost sure Johnson would knock Willard out, but Willard showed that his jaw and body were too tough. Johnson put up a wonderful fight to the twentieth round, but age stepped in then and defeated him."
On January 2, 1916, Johnson "confessed" to having thrown the fight. Johnson's confession was re-published in the October 1956 issue of The Ring magazine. This controversy was re-visited in the January 1969 issue.
Johnson claimed that Curley told him that he had politicians working on his Mann Act case, and Johnson would be allowed to return to the United States if he agreed to throw the fight against Willard.
Johnson's story was that his wife, who was sitting at ringside, was to receive a package of bills taken directly from the box office, and amounting to $50,000, which was to be his payment for throwing the fight in the 10th round. "But when that round arrived," Johnson stated, "the money had not been paid. It was nearing the 26th round when the money was turned over to Mrs. Johnson. I had specified that it should be in $500 bills so that the package should be small and the amount quickly counted. After examining it, she gave me the signal. I replied that everything was O.K. and she departed. In the 26th round, I let the fight end as it did."
Most boxing experts doubt Johnson's story. It is true that Lucille Johnson left the arena before the 26th round, but it is a great deal more likely that this was to avoid seeing Johnson defeated than to carry away a package of $500 bills. Indeed, bills of that denomination are so seldom presented at box office windows that this detail alone is enough to discredit the story.
Curley stated years later, "Nobody ever took Johnson's charges of fakery seriously. He was well past his prime, fat and dissipated, and he was worn down and knocked out by a strong, game and well-conditioned opponent." This was also how it looked to Willard, who merely said, "If Johnson throwed it, I wish he throwed it sooner. It was hotter than hell down there."
Johnson didn't return to the United States until 1920. He surrendered to federal authorities in San Diego on July 20, 1920. Johnson was sent to the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas to serve out his time of a year and a day for his Mann Act conviction.