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A barnstormer (or "barnstorming") is a term used to describe a boxer who goes from small town to small town, taking fights, often against local heroes, for cheap, but frequent paydays. Barnstorming was common among black fighters before 1940. It was also done by heavyweight champions such as Jack Dempsey, in the form of exhibition tours. In some instances the barnstormer, if already well known, would come to town with his hand-picked opponent. Although this would usually provide him with a safe foe, it often provided for a mismatch and a disappointed crowd.

Origin of the Term

The term "barnstorming" comes from the shows put on by 1920s aviators who flew above small towns, performing stunts to draw the attention of the locals. After they had done that, they would land at a local farm, and then negotiate cash deals with the townsfolk for rides and tricks they could perform. Barnstorming shows were big events in small towns, and would sometimes turn into local holidays. Barnstorming was also done by theatre actors, politicians, and baseball teams--particularly Negro League teams.

Notable Barnstormers

  • Max Baer - During his 1936 comeback; his opponents were often handpicked.
  • Primo Carnera - during his 1930 initial invasion of America, fought a string of often handpicked opponents, who have been alleged to have taken dives.
  • Fireman Jim Flynn - specifically at the end of his career, when he chased paychecks off his name recognition.
  • Tiger Jack Fox
  • Buck Smith - 1990s boxer, who built up a nice record fighting frequently on small club shows.
  • Young Stribling - probably the most notable white barnstormer, who specialized, throughout the United States, in beating a town's "local hero."