The best of all time A to Z: Jack Johnson
This is the 10th in a 26-part series in which RingTV.com endeavors to name the best boxers of all time based on last name – A to Z. We’ll post one letter each day for 26 days. Our criteria in making the selections were fairly simple: Accomplishments in the ring, with heavy emphasis on strength of opposition, as well as impact on the sport. This wasn’t easy, as our first installment — the letter “A” (Armstrong vs. Ali) — demonstrates. However, we’re confident that our choices are arguably the best. We also are including five more fighters for each letter to indicate others that were considered. Also, noted author and boxing historian Bert Sugar — who provided input — tells us where he ranks our choices among the greatest fighters pound-for-pound and gives us a thought on each selection. And, finally, we’d love to get your thoughts on the project. Here goes ÔÇª today’s letter: “J.”
J: JACK JOHNSON
Hometown: Galveston, Texas
Record: 55-12-7 (35 KOs)
Weight class: Heavyweight
Titles: World heavyweight
Sugar’s ranking: No. 10
The thought process: One could argue that Eder Jofre is the most-accomplished fighter whose name begins with “J.” The Brazilian started his career with a 50-fight unbeaten streak, held a bantamweight title from 1960 to 1965 and then added a featherweight belt in 1973. His only two losses came against Fighting Harada, two disputed decisions in Harada’s native land of Japan. It’s no wonder many consider Jofre the greatest bantamweight ever. However, when success and impact on the sport is factored in, Jack Johnson edges Jofre. First, Johnson’s ability as a fighter might be lost to some degree because of his fame. By all accounts, he was ahead of his time in the ring. He was an extremely clever boxer with Mayweather-like defensive skills but also considerable power. Records are somewhat sketchy but, according to boxrec.com, he lost only three fights from 1901 to 1926 – to future champ Marvin Hart, a DQ against Joe Jeanette and his famous setback against Jess Willard when he was 37. And many of his victims were great fighters, including fellow African-Americans who fought each other repeatedly because many whites refused to face them. THE RING magazine founder Nat Fleischer, at ringside for many big fights during much of the 20th century, always said that Johnson was the best heavyweight he ever saw. His place in history is even more important, though. He broke every racial taboo of his time, living life as he pleased in spite of the anger he engendered in racist whites. An ancestor recently marveled that he survived. His victory over “Great White Hope” James J. Jeffries in 1910 was an epic moment in race relations, setting off riots across the country. He ultimately was convicted on trumped-up charges of transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes and fled the country. “Here was a man [Johnson] living life as he saw fit who legitimately won the heavyweight title,” said documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. “And the undefeated ex-champion, overweight and over aged, is brought in to win back the title for the sake of the white race. It was a microcosm of the tragic and fascinating history of race.” Johnson was a great fighter – and a great symbol.
Five more (alphabetical order): Beau Jack, James J. Jeffries, Lou Jenkins, Eder Jofre and Roy Jones Jr.
Sugar quote: “He was one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time, which few people recognize. He’d play patty cake and catch all his opponents’ punches until he got bored. Then he’d knock the guy out.”