John Henry Lewis

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Name: John Henry Lewis
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Died: 1974-04-18 (Age:59)
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 180cm
Reach: 192cm
Referee: Record
Pro Boxer: Record

Career Overview

  • Knocked out Sam Terrin in three rounds on March 11, 1931. Terrin never regained consciousness. An autopsy revealed that Terrin had entered the ring with an abnormal heart condition.
  • Became the first black American to win the World Light Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Bob Olin by a 15-round unanimous decision on October 31, 1935. Lewis successfully defended the title five times over the next three years.
  • Had 51 non-title fights as champion, the most of any champion who fought after the no decision era.
  • Defeated two future members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame: James J. Braddock and Maxie Rosenbloom. Lewis was 1-1 against Braddock and 2-3 against Rosenbloom.
  • On July 28, 1938, the New York State Athletic Commission stripped Lewis of their title for failing to accept the challenge filed by Tiger Jack Fox.
  • In his final fight, Lewis fought Joe Louis, his good friend, for the World Heavyweight Championship on January 25, 1939, and was knocked out in the first round. It was the only knockout loss of his career. Lewis was almost blind in one eye and his eyesight was deteriorating. Louis gave his friend the title fight so he could have one big payday before the eye problem forced him to retire.
  • Lewis scored wins over 6 of the men to have given him 8 out of his 11 losses. He also had wins over 3 of the 5 men to have drawn with him.
  • The September 2002 issue of The Ring named Lewis the 16th greatest light heavyweight of all-time.


Lewis was scheduled to defend the light heavyweight title against Dave Clark in Detroit, Michigan on March 31, 1939, but the fight was canceled on March 17 after two physicians from the Michigan boxing commission examined Lewis's vision and determined that the sight in his left eye was "almost nil" from "probable traumatic cataract." Lewis was banned from boxing in Michigan after he refused to submit to an eye examination by a specialist.

Lewis went to England in May 1939 to defend the title against Len Harvey, but the British Boxing Board of Control refused to sanction the bout after examining Lewis's eyes. He returned home without signing for any other fights in Europe.

"It is true that I had slight trouble with one eye," Lewis admitted. He said the eye was injured in a 1935 fight against Abe Feldman. "That dates four years back," he said, "but it didn't prevent me from winning the title from Bob Olin and I don't know how many other fights."

On June 19, 1939, the National Boxing Association stripped Lewis of their title. Lewis, at age 25, announced his retirement from boxing and took a job as a liquor salesman.


Lewis's father, John Edward Lewis, a former lightweight boxer who ran gyms in Phoenix, Arizona and Oakland, California.

Lewis had three brothers who boxed professionally: Joel Edward, Christy and Paul. Joel Edward, his oldest brother, had just a few pro fights. Christy, his older brother by less than a year, was a clubfighter who often appeared on John Henry's undercards. And Paul, his younger brother, was a middleweight main-event attraction in Northern California during the mid-1940s, primarily in the Oakland area.

Lewis claimed his great-great uncle was Tom Molineaux, a former American slave who migrated to England and fought for the British heavyweight championship.

Record Issues

Unconfirmed Lewis bouts (1928-30) that could not be confirmed in the Arizona Republic newspaper. It is likely that these were fought outside of Phoenix or were amateur bouts.


  • Buster Grant, Phoenix, W 4
  • Kid Tapia, Phoenix, KO 2


  • Jake Henderson, Phoenix, W 4


  • Dynamite Hunter, Phoenix, D 4
  • Louis Pete, Phoenix, KO 4
  • Roy Gunn, Phoenix, KO 3
  • Kid Val Don, Phoenix, KO 3
  • Sammy Bass, Phoenix, KO 1
  • Ray Imm, Phoenix, KO 4
  • Jake Henderson, Phoenix, KO 4
  • Young Tiger Flowers, Phoenix, W 6
  • Young Tiger Flowers, Phoenix, W 6