Boxing History Jack Johnson Beats Jim Jeffries in Their Own Words Part 1

About the history of the boxing match between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in a first-hand account.


Jack Johnson Cuts Down Jim Jeffries (1910)

The "battle of the century," as it was billed, was fought in Reno, Nev., on July 4, 1910. The defending champion was the first black titleholder Jack Johnson, the son of an American slave. Arrogant, flamboyant, an unashamed courter of white women, Johnson was hated by most of white society.

Jim Jeffries, 35, a former champion, was urged out of retirement to become "the great white hope" and defend the athletic superiority of his race. Jeffries had retied undefeated in 1905 and had never been knocked down, much less out.

The betting was 10 to 6 on Jeffries, but the talk had it more like 1,000 to 1. The talk also had it that Johnson had never before gone up against a "real" fighter, and that in fact he was a typical example of his race in that he lacked "heart" and possessed, instead, a "yellow streak." The crowd applauded when the band played "All Coons Look Alike to Me."

Tex Rickard, the fight's promoter and referee, had the foresight to divest the 20,000 customers of their handguns at the entrance to the arena, racial theories notwithstanding.

The fighters did not shake hands at the opening of round one, a customary amenity at such affairs; its neglect was due either to Jeffries himself or to the urgings of his corner. Johnson, however, remained unaffected both by this lack of grace and by the presumed ferocity of his opponent. From the outset it became obvious, to the shock and dismay of the crowd, that the issue was not really in doubt.

Jeffries tried to crowd Johnson and rough him up in the clinches, but the black man slipped and blocked his blows with ease and delivered powerful counters in return. By the 5th round, Jeffries was already taking a terrible beating; from that point on, his face was never free of blood.

Jim Corbett, a former heavyweight champion himself, was working Jeffries's corner. Corbett spent the fight screaming insults at Johnson, but, with each slur, the black man promptly administered even more devastating blows to Jeffries. Soon Johnson was flashing his golden smile--he'd plated seven of his top teeth in 14-karat gold--and delivering some colorful repartee of his own.

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