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What if there was no Jack Johnson?

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88Chris05
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What if there was no Jack Johnson?  Empty What if there was no Jack Johnson?

Post by The Boss Thu Jun 28, 2012 3:46 am

Afternoon Fellas,

Well the title is fairly obvious in what direction I'm going here. Recently I started reading "Unforgiveable Blackness" again and have reached the middle chapters discussing the lead up to the Jeffries fight. Now I believe that Jeffries knew he didn't have a chance of beating Johnson especially after such a long time off. He knew his lay-off would have taken his toll on him and regardless of the race matter I believe he knew how fine a fighter The Galveston Giant was.

However, Johnson had taken the sole reserve of the white man, The Heavyweight Championship of the world. There were no worthy candidates to take it off him and public pressure had grown and grown on Jeffries to take back the title. He had very little choice but to come back. It can be interpreted, though, that the win over Jeffries by johnson, validated Johnson in the eyes of all America. Did Jeffries create a bigger "monster"?

The main point of the article is to determine whether Johnson was the only personality strong enough to cut through the colour line? Would any of the other black fighters have went to the extrememes that Johnson did to get a title opportunity? Or did the fighter that came after just follow in the trail that he blazed? Were the other black challengers at the time talented enough at Heavyweight tomake the White world sit up and notice? I mean, where they good enough to toy with white challengers and create. The buzz that Jack did?

Now I know that Johnson did a lot of harm to black fighters in the short term, with them being denied chances but it is without a doubt that he was a pioneer for black fighters all over the world. Langford was the next man in line but was he good enough, at heavyweight, to create the legacy and embarrass challengers as Jack did? Did anyone that came after have that unique mixture of sublime skill and larger than life personality?

I know this leads to wild subjectivity and speculation but...

Would anyone else have blazed THAT trail?
What would have happened if there was no jack Johnson?

Cheers

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Post by 88Chris05 Thu Jun 28, 2012 4:07 am

Rowley would have been a happier man, for a start!

It's a tough one to decide on, really. Certainly, I don't see too many other personalities amongst the top black Heavyweights of the time to match Johnson, who was one hell of a self-publicist. Langord, for instance, was a more reserved character and was still being forced to play by white society's rules, so to speak, given that he was still having to throw a number of fights, the 'Newspaper Decision' affair with Ketchel, for instance, being one such fight where he was under orders to fight within himself in the hope that he'd be rewarded with a 160 lb title shot.

Given that Burns was such a tiny Heavyweight, I suppose it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Ketchel (before his untimely death) could well have dethroned him to replicate Fitzsimmons' legendary feat. The title would still have found its way to Dempsey eventually, and it's here that Harry Wills comes in. Remember, the primary reason for Wills never getting his shot at Dempsey's title was due to Rickard's caution, as he'd promoted and refereed the Jeffries-Johnson bout and, in light of the huge riots afterwards and torrent of hatrid aimed towards both of the fighters, was highly reluctant to stage a mixed race world title fight again. Had Johnson never been around, he wouldn't have had these fears and, as such, would probably have made sure that Wills got his big chance against Dempsey.

Would Wills have been as charismatic and forthright a champion as Johnson, had he won? Unlikely. Would he have been as unwilling to give his fellow black fighters the subsequent chances they deserved? Well, Wills (by all accounts) was a damn sight less egotistic and selfish than Johnson, so you'd have to imagine that this would be unlikely, too. Therefore, without Johnson, I think it's entirely possible that Harry Wills may well have emerged as the trail-blazer for black Heavyweights, had he been able to overcome Dempsey, of course.


Last edited by 88Chris05 on Thu Jun 28, 2012 4:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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Post by The Boss Thu Jun 28, 2012 4:11 am

He would have just found something else to vent his anger on! Haha

Never considered the whole Harry Wills/Jack Dempsey angle! Also with the fact that burns was such a small heavyweigh its not beyond my imagination that Langford could have got a fight and beat him and even Ketchel?

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Post by Rowley Thu Jun 28, 2012 4:43 am

Aah a world without Jack Johnson, if only!

Whilst I am not convinced that Langford beats Johnson I am confident he would have beaten Burns as 1908, when the fight took place was very much the beginning of Sam's purple patch. Also think he beats pretty much any of the challengers Jack faced during his reing, most pretty handily because if we're honest they were a grim old bunch and most were no better than Jeannette and McVea who Sam was handling during the same period.

Whilst I don't doubt Sam's ability to beat Burns should the chance arise as you have alluded to the big question is if that chance arises because as Chris has said Sam seems a lot more reserved character, had unwavering and justified belief in his ability but was less prone to shout it from the rooftops.

If there was no Jack Johnson sooner or later someone would have got a title shot because that is progress, may have been Langford whose form around 1908-12 was nothing short of exceptional but as Chris has said Wills would appear to be the more likely candidate because whilst Dempsey was not exactly chomping at the bit for the fight he signed for it at least once so would have taken it had push come to shove, and given Rickard himself acknowledged the fight would be a million gate you have to think without the memory of Johnson vs Jeffries he has less problem with making the fight

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Post by Imperial Ghosty Thu Jun 28, 2012 4:55 am

Without Johnson I think you end up with a far better boxing landscape in the years that followed, progress had started with Dixon and Gans winning titles but Johnsons attitude (didn't actually do anything wrong I should add) seemed to effect the opportunites of other black fighters of the time. In the preceding years of Johnson winning the title only Siki and Flowers were afforded title shots when they were a host of talented black fighters more than worthy, most notably to me Kid Norfolk.

Johnson it could be said also had a knock on effect on the black murderers row who to each man was more than capable of winning a title were they given their rightful opportunities. Without Johnson I don't think we have LaMotta, Maxim, Mills, Levinsky, Basilio, Sexton and a host of other fighters around the welterweight to light heavyweight divison ever being champion. You had a very small minority of Robinson, Armstrong and Moore who got the titles they deserved.

It's not until Frazier won the heavyweight title that I think Johnsons influence started to wane.

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Post by superflyweight Thu Jun 28, 2012 5:33 am

Given Burns' willingness to fight anyone regardless of colour as long as the money was right, Langford may well have got a shot at Burns if Johnson hadn't been around. Given the lack of credible challengers to Burns, Langford would have soon found himself at the head of the queue and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that someone would have put up the money for Burns' pay packet. However, it was probably Johnson's refusal to play by the rules that earned him his shot and Langford's tendency to toe the line may have led to him being overlooked again.

As Chris suggests, Ketchel may have been the big winner.


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Post by manos de piedra Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:24 am

I think its difficult to say because so much depends on whether or not the colour line gets broken at that stage without Johnson.

Johnson had to be very vocal in order to get a shot so without that element its unclear if Langford or any other black fighter would have managed to get a shot at that stage.

Johnson was the best out of the crop of black heavyweights but his actual title reign was weak and he froze out the top black heavyweights. If Langford, McVea or Jeanette had of got a shot instead then its unlikely they would have done the same so it could have opened the door for a quite competitve heavyweight division of black contenders rahter than Johnsons weak reign. Im not quite sure if socially this would have worked at that point in history though and I cant really see America embracing a mainly black heavyweight division at that time. With Johnson it became all about finding the great white hope to beat him but Im not sure how primarily black heavyweight division would have been viewed.

As has been mentioned, Wills would probably have been the next best candidate without Johsnon. Whether one of the other black fighters had got a shot by then or not, the liklihood is that Wills would have emerged from the pack and probably at a time before Dempsey came on the scene.

So one way or another a Dempsey/Wills fight would probably have been the longer term outcome without Johnson I think.

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