THIS WEEK ...
Jack Johnson, born this week in 1878, was the world’s first black heavyweight boxing champion. He held the title for seven years, from 1908 to 1915.
Jack Johnson packed a powerful punch. It was so powerful that other boxers would say that it would not only knock out an opponent but his whole family, too.
He was born in Galveston, Texas, and fought his first bout in 1893, when he was 15, and kept on punching away until turning professional in 1897. In 1901, Johnson met up with a former heavyweight champion who trained him in Galveston. The first meeting of the two was not the best. The trainer knocked out Johnson. Police were called, and both men spent a month in jail. Boxing was against the law almost everywhere in the United States at the time. The two used the jail time to train Johnson in secret. When he was released from jail, he was unstoppable.
Like boxers, such as Muhammad Ali who came around about 50 years later, Johnson developed a style that would have him float in the ring while his opponent swung punches at the empty air. In the end, tired out, that opponent would make a split-second mistake, and Johnson’s hammer of a fist would take advantage and knock him out.
On the day after Christmas in 1908, Jack Johnson, 30 years old, won the world heavyweight championship in a fight held in Sydney, Australia. He held the title for seven years and continued to fight for five more years afterward. He retired in 1920, opened a nightclub in Harlem, New York, and eventually moved to North Carolina, where he died in a car crash on June 10, 1946. His boxing record remains impressive today. Johnson won 79 fights, had 8 losses and tied in 12 other bouts.
Jack Johnson was known as a smart fighter who used his brain rather than just his body to defeat his opponents. Now use your brain and see if you can complete these sentences.
1. Jack Johnson was the first black ______________________ boxing champion.
2. In the early 1900s it was ___________ ______ ______ to fight in a boxing match almost everywhere in the United States.
3. Johnson’s boxing style was to ____________ in the ring until his opponent made a mistake, and then he would knock him out.
4. Johnson was _______ years old in ________ when he first won the boxing title.
5. Looking at Johnson’s overall record and totaling up all of his professional bouts, Johnson fought _________ matches before retiring in 1920.