Poem of the Month
By Tom Smario
Book Excerpt by Mike DeLisa
Entertaining Fighters and Prospects
Fatty Langtry: Pudgy
Pugilist of the Past
By Robert Carson
John Klein: 19th-Century
By Pete Ehrmann
By Ron Lipton
Incentives in Professional
By Rafael Tenorio
Book Excerpt by Tim Dahlberg
The Regulation of Boxing
Towards a Pan-Indian
Spotlight on Cut Man Lenny DeJesus
by Pete Ehrmann
Jack Johnson: The Dates,
the Events, the Sources
by Stuart Templeton
Touching Gloves with...
"Irish" Art Hafey
JACK JOHNSON: THE
By Stuart Templeton
Johnson and his wife, Lucille, left Spain on
the steamship Esperanza in late March
1919 and arrived in Veracruz, Mexico, on the 24th of that month. Johnson's own reporting
of his travel was confused: He reported leaving Spain on March 28, 1919.
In his first Mexican interview in Veracruz, Johnson stated that he had thrown his 1915
fight with Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba, with the understanding that he would be allowed
to return home to the U.S. for a rematch. This admission did not inspire great confidence
that his future bouts in Mexico would be fought honestly. Johnson's promoters said they
had telegraphed Willard offering him $30,000 and expenses to come to Mexico to fight
Johnson, with Johnson's earnings to be donated to the Red Cross.
Newspapers referred to the proposed Johnson vs. Willard bout as the "barbarous spectacle
of boxing." On March 31, a sportswriter reported that Johnson was then the hottest topic
in sports, and also alluded to the possibility that the city authorities, leery of the
sport's legitimacy, would not permit boxing exhibitions in Mexico City.
Johnson was met at the train station in Mexico City by an excited crowd of more than 2,000
people. A band played bullfight music and his fans screamed "Viva Johnson" and "Bravo
Jack," as they tried to get close enough to touch the ebony hero. A reporter who
interviewed him in his hotel was as impressed by Johnson's wardrobe as anything else. He
described Johnson's baggage as equal to that of an operatic tenor's; The 18 trunks
contained "90 suits, 50 pairs of shoes, and the entire output of a necktie factory."
In his first exhibition, on June 22, Johnson toyed with a smaller man named Bob Roper for
10 rounds -- to the audible disapproval of the fans, who had come to see a display of Jack
Johnson power. Seated near the ring, Mrs. Johnson quietly watched the bout, and "don Jack,
whenever he could in the clinches, cast loving and tender gazes at his beautiful wife."
During the fight, some spectators expressed their disappointment with Johnson's defensive
performance by screaming insults at him, producing a disturbance that was quelled by the
police. One reporter theorized that Johnson had not wanted to use up Roper, as he was his
only visible opponent for future matches.
Before the exhibition, news articles had predicted it would be a landmark event for sports
and explained that it would not be a bloody spectacle or fight to the death, but rather a
contest of strength, stamina, and agility, suitable for all "virile amateurs."
The Johnson vs. Roper match "would initiate in Mexico this sport of physical energy and
rigorous application of rules." Advertisements for the exhibition included a list of the
Marquees of Queensberry Rules that would be used. The bout was filmed, and the boxers'
performances were said to "contrast the agility and strength of the black man and the
knowledge and elegance of the white.
When Roper arrived in New Orleans, he said he had paid Johnson a lot of money for two
months of training and instruction that he received in Mexico, and that Johnson was in
In August, Johnson fought Jerry Smith in the Venecio Theatre in Tampico with bets
supposedly as high as 10,000 pesos. Smith was so much smaller than Johnson that the crowd
began protesting as soon as he appeared. Johnson spent the first two rounds laughing, and
the screams of the crowd for their money to be refunded and the promoter to be imprisoned
led to the fight being stopped by the municipal president and the police commander. The
ticket sales were impounded and taken to the city treasury.
In late August the English boxer Tom Cowler was in Mexico City and challenged Johnson to a
In early September, Johnson appeared in court again, this time as the accuser. He said he
had invited Cowler to Mexico, given him a $600 advance, and was already advertising their
bout, when he learned that Cowler had run out on him. Johnson discovered that Cowler had
caught the train for Laredo and wanted the Mexican police to capture him before he could
leave the country.
Randy Roberts' biography of Johnson mentions Cowler as one of Johnson's opponents, and an
inventive and florid Johnson biography by Denzil Bachelor even reproduces conversations
that were supposed to have taken place between the two boxers during their fight, but I
saw no evidence that the match ever materialized.
In September one of Johnson's representatives contacted Jack Dempsey proposing a Johnson
vs. Dempsey fight to be held in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. Although the
seriousness of this proposal was open to question, news items such as this one continued
to keep Jack Johnson's name before the public.
Apparently, Johnson's most successful Mexican exhibition was with Kid Cutler, an old
acquaintance whom he had boxed many times. They met in Mexico City's bullfight arena, "El
Toreo," on Sunday, September 28, with 3,000 spectators in attendance, and although their
fight itself was not considered interesting enough to report, a newsworthy event did take
place at ringside. A preliminary bout ended with a controversial action of the referee,
Antonio Sarabia. Sarabia left the ring amidst tremendous whistling and yelling from the
crowd and was immediately approached and criticized severely by one of the judges. They
argued heatedly, the crowd still going wild, and Johnson and Cutler climbed into the ring,
hoping to calm the situation down.
The program seemed to be back on track, the two boxers leaving their corners to begin the
first round, when two shots rang out. Military and police officers pulled out their
pistols. People dived for cover, and bedlam returned to the arena. What had happened was
that referee Sarabia had borrowed a pistol from a friend, returned to ringside, and shot
the judge who had criticized him. The chief of the secret police, along with General Juan
Merigo, one of the principal figures in the Sanborn's incident, overpowered Sarabia and
controlled him until the police could take him away.
Johnson's last exhibition reported in Mexico City was with his nephew, Gus Rhodes, in
January of 1920. The program included punching bag and medicine ball work and a show of
strength where Johnson was to overcome the combined force of 20 spectators, 10 with each
It was also reported in January that Johnson had been challenged by "Sam MacBea" (probably
Sam McVey) to a 25-round fight with a bet of $100,000, but there was no indication that
any such fight was held.
Johnson made the Mexico City papers several more times before leaving the capital for
Baja, California, early in 1920.
In his last mention in Mexico City newspapers, Johnson was to referee a bout between two
Mexicans on February 21. Another referee was actually used, so Johnson may have already
left the city by that date.
He traveled by train, mule, and boat to Baja, California, where he opened a saloon and
cooled his heels for a few months before giving himself up to U.S. authorities at the
border in July. His own account of the trip from Mexico City is in typical Johnsonian
style. According to Johnson, the Yaqui Indians who waylaid the train in Sonora not only
had heard of Jack Johnson -- he was a great hero to them.
In summary, or what I can see from all the information found regarding Johnson's exploits
in Mexico here: No serious bouts occurred during this time -- no fault of Johnson's,
because either the authorities wouldn't allow it or there was no viable opponents for him.
The record should it read as follows:
June 22: Bob Roper, Mexico City, exh. 10
Aug. 15/16: Jerry Smith,
Mexico City, Exh. 2, municipal police stopped contest
Sept. 28: Kid Cutler, Mexico
Jan. 1-12: Gus Rhodes, Mexico City, exh.
March 24: arrives in
March 25: first Interviewed and quoted in the news
March 27: Johnson's
manager, Luis Andrade, reports Johnson would fight Jack Dempsey within the next six
June 22: Bob Roper, exh. 10
Aug. 16/17: Jerry Smith fight stopped after 2nd
Sept. 28: Kid Cutler, exh.
Jan. 1-12: Gus Rhodes exhs.
Johnson, Jack Johnson Is a Dandy, 106-107, 111
Papa Jack, 211
Batchelor, Jack Johnson and his Times, 165-166
Universal, 1919: March 25; April 15, 16; June 19, 22, 23; July 2, 4, 8, 11, 14; Aug.
18; Sept. 4, 21, 29; Nov. 22, 23, 28.
El Democrata, 1919: June 20, 23; July 4,
5; August 21, 30.
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