HENRY HANK, ONE OF BOXING'S FORGOTTEN
By Dan Cuoco
There are many stories of past
greats and famous boxers that have been written and rewritten over the years.
But what about the many who fought and made a name for themselves but seem to be
forgotten as the years pass by. Henry Hank is one of them.
Henry was born Joseph Harrison in
Greenville, Mississippi on February 9, 1935. He moved to Detroit with his
parents when he was 6 years old. He later changed his name to Jusuf Salaam when
he embraced Islam in 1971, near the close of his professional career. Young
18-year-old Harrison took the name Henry Hank out of admiration for triple crown
hall-of-famer Henry Armstrong.
Hank was a murderous punching
middleweight with an aggressive style. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he was
considered pound for pound one of the hardest punchers in boxing. He was always
moving forward with his right hand cocked and ready to explode, and his left
hand held below his waist ready to counter. He created an air of tension and
excitement whenever he entered a ring. He fought with the cold cockiness of a
man who knew exactly what he could do.
Inconsistency was his biggest
downfall. He was either knocking guys out, or clowning his way to defeat. He was
capable of having an off night when least expected, especially against clever
boxers. The pattern was always the same. Henry would let them get away with
murder in the early rounds; they usually would build up a points lead while he
was enjoying himself; then, by the time he would get around to trying for a
knockout he either had lost steam, or his opponent had solved his style. On
other occasions he would come out firing in the early rounds and win by early
knockout. It seemed he had to get hurt or cut, or knocked down, or not like his
opponent to go all out. If he had a killer instinct who knows what he could have
Henry made his professional debut
17 days after his 18th birthday on February 26, 1953 in Detroit
against former University of Michigan boxing champion Del Monroe. Monroe was
also making his professional debut and was dropped three times in the first
round, the final time for the full count. A splendid turnout of 10,124 on hand
to witness Pat (Spunky) Lowry against Detroit’s Tommy Leedle left the arena
talking about Henry’s impressive and devastating debut. Henry was just as
devastating in his next two fights as he overwhelmed Earl Battle in one round
and battered Toledo Golden Glove champion Bob Wilson helpless in the third
After a five month layoff the
inexperienced Hank, 3-0-0 (3), came in as a last minute replacement against 24
year-old Jed Black. Black was a highly decorated amateur with an impressive
professional record at the time of 20-1-0 (14). Henry gave a very good account
of himself before losing a six round decision in his first start over four
rounds. Henry finished the remainder of the year unbeaten with one stoppage win
and two decisions.
Henry continued to hone his skills
in 1954 winning two out of three decisions over fellow prospect Larue Harvey,
fighting a draw with highly acclaimed amateur star Rudy Gwin, and stopping
highly regarded Henry Bronko and Gene Poirier. His one round stoppage of Poirier
was quite impressive because Poirier had never been stopped before and counted
former welterweight champion Tony DeMarco among his victims.
Less than three weeks after
stopping veteran Jesse Gray in four rounds, Henry was pitted against future
welterweight champion Virgil Akins in his first eight rounder. The 26 year-old
Akins entered the ring with a record of 23-13-0 (10) compiled over seven years
in the ring. Needless to say, the more seasoned Akins won handily. Akins showed
he could punch efficiently from any position. Henry was dropped for nine counts
twice, from a right cross in the first round and from a beautiful left hook in
the third. Defensively Akins blocked most of Henry’s punches or rolled with
them. Although he lost, it was an important learning experience. The 19 year-old
Hank’s record at the end of his second year as a professional stood at 14-3-1
1955 was not a good year for 20
year-old Hank. He engaged in five fights, winning two by knockout and losing
three by decision. He started the year off with a bang by scoring a clean-cut
second round knockout over the dangerous Chuck Coleman before dropping three
straight six round decisions to Leffie Walker, Lloyd Triplett and Gordon
Wallace. Henry was favored over both Walker and Triplett, but for the first time
began to display his occasional lackadaisical approach to boxing that was to
unfortunately define his career. He allowed both opponents to jump out to big
early leads cocksure that he would land a big bomb to end the fight at any time.
Against the seasoned Wallace, the former Canadian light-heavyweight champion,
Henry was unlucky to come out on the short end of a split decision. On July 28th
he traveled to Pittsburgh and stopped Bob Stecher in three rounds. He did not
return to the ring again until March 1956.
Henry returned to the ring in 1956
after an eight month layoff with renewed energy and enthusiasm. In his first
bout back he stopped 23-year-old Cleveland prospect Rudy Gwin in four rounds to
avenge an earlier draw. In April he returned home to Detroit an avenged another
blot on his record with an eight round decision over Leffie Walker and in July
he put away Chuck Craig in two rounds. The veteran Charley Cotton of Toledo, OH
stopped Hank’s four fight win streak with a ten round decision in Toledo on
September 28th. The 25 year-old Cotton, 31-11-1 (20), coming off of
two decision wins over Joey Giardello was just too experienced for the still
young 21-year-old Hank.
Disillusioned with boxing, Henry
only fought once in 1957 winning an eight round decision Leffie Walker on June
15th in Bay City, Michigan in their rubber match.
1958 turned out to be Henry’s
breakout year. Returning to the ring after an eight month layoff and only
appearing in his second fight in 17 months Henry avenged his last defeat with an
eight round decision over the crafty Charlie Cotton. He then went on an eight
fight knockout streak with knockouts over George Boddie, Sherman Williams, Rudy
Ellis, Joe Fusco, old foes Charlie Cotton and Leffie Walker, Charlie Glover and
Sherman Williams again. In the first William’s fight, Williams was coming off an
impressive win over previously undefeated Detroit knockout artist Jimmy Remson.
Henry had no trouble with Williams and put him away in the first round. Henry
followed with the biggest win of his career when he knocked out highly touted
South Haven, Michigan prospect Rudy Ellis in the fourth round. The streak ended
when another hot and cold fighter Ernie Burford, 17-4-0 (9) out hustled him in
Detroit on November 25th. But, two weeks later Henry avenged yet
another defeat when he outscored Burford in a ten rounder in Toldeo, Ohio.
Henry returned to Toledo to start
his 1959 campaign and again knocked out George Boddie (only Boddie’s third
knockout loss in 27 fights – he went the distance twice with Del Flanagan, and
once with Spider Webb) and outpointed tough Philadelphian Jimmy Beecham. Then
it was off to New Orleans for a series of fights that would carry him through
the end of the year. First up for Henry was the veteran Charley Joseph. The 26
year-old Joseph had a record of 49-10-2 (18) and owned victories over Spider
Webb, George Benton, Charlie Cotton, Holly Mims, Willie Vaughn, Milo Savage,
Charley (Tombstone) Smith, and Jimmy Beecham. In 61 professional fights he had
never been stopped. The fight turned out to be an exciting affair with Hank
hammering away at Joseph with devastating results in the early rounds. However,
Joseph came back strong to take a good lead into the ninth because he was busier
while Henry was only flurrying toward the end of each round. Henry came out fast
to start the final round and dropped Joseph with a left hook. Joseph got up
without a count and claimed it was a slip. The referee scored the fight for Hank
6-3-1, while the two judges had Joseph ahead 5-4-1. The decision was unpopular
with the fans and they were immediately rematched.
Three weeks later they were at it
again. A highly motivated Hank gave Joseph a terrific beating and the fight was
stopped in the sixth round. This was the first time Joseph was stopped in 62
fights. This victory made Henry a local idol in New Orleans and matchmaker Lou
Messina quickly capitalized on his popularity. Following the two Joseph fights,
Henry was matched with the very capable and experienced 26 year-old Californian
Willie Vaughn. Vaughn kept close to Henry for nine rounds and had an
insurmountable lead. Henry realizing that his only chance for victory was by
knockout pulled it off. Just seconds into the final round Hank caught Vaughn
with a terrific left hook to the jaw. Vaughn’s head hit the canvas with a thud
as the crowd of 3,644 jumped to their feet yelling and screaming. Willie rolled
over at the count of six in an effort to beat the ten count but to no avail.
Then came his fight with Neal Rivers of Las Vegas. Rivers, like Vaughn, was more
than holding his own with Henry for nine rounds. But in the tenth, “Hammering
Hank” let go with his famous left hook and dropped Rivers on all fours. Rivers,
game as they come, survived a nine-count, and ran into another battering.
Bleeding from nose and mouth, and his right eye closing fast, the referee
stopped the fight with only 20 seconds remaining.
On August 10th Henry
headlined another card, this time against the very cagey Holly Mims of
Washington, D.C. Mims, 46-18-6 (11), had met the best in his division and held
victories over Johnny Bratton, Jose Basora, George Benton, Spider Webb, Jimmy
Beecham, Lester Felton, Milo Savage, and Willie Troy. He also drew with Bobby
Dykes and Bobby Boyd, while losing competitive decisions to Sugar Ray Robinson,
Rocky Castellani, Joey Giardello, and Ronnie Delaney. In 70 fights he had never
been stopped or badly hurt in a fight. Mims used his exceptional boxing and
defensive skills to walk away with a unanimous decision.
A month later Henry had a return
match with Neal Rivers, Henry had an easy go this time around. He dropped Neal
in the second round, gave him a good pasting in the third and dropped him for
the full count in the fourth with a left hook.
Two months after losing a decision to Holly
Mims, Henry was back in the ring with him in a 12 rounder. Henry kept his record
intact of not losing to the same fighter twice as he wore down his 30 year-old
adversary with a relentless attack. The win over Mims propelled him into the
ratings for the first time. For the rating period ending October 1959, Henry
entered in the number nine slot.
Two weeks after defeating Mims he
was matched with the dangerous George Benton. The 26 year-old Philadelphian
entered the ring with a record of 36-5-1 (19). His victims included Holly Mims,
Charlie Joseph, Lester Felton, Joe Dorsey, Clarence Hinnant, Young Beau Jack and
Bobby Boyd. Henry built up an early lead and entered the final round with a
clear margin. But in the tenth he went after Benton as if he needed the round.
He caught George with a left and a right causing George to hold on. Henry broke
away from the clinch and buckled Benton’s knees with a left hook and had Benton
helpless on the ropes when the final bell came to his rescue. The decision in
Henry’s favor was unanimous.
Henry’s final fight for the year
in New Orleans was against the number three ranked world light-heavyweight
contender Jesse Bowdry of St. Louis. The 21 year-old Bowdry was a murderous
puncher with a record of 27-3-0 (22). Bowdry, with a nine pound advantage in
weight, entered the ring a heavy favorite. Henry shocked Bowdry and his handlers
with a tenth round knockout victory. Bowdry, insisting that he took Hank lightly
asked for an immediate rematch. Six weeks later the two met in Chicago in a
nationally televised fight. Henry was making his national TV debut and became an
instant hit. In one of the best fights seen at the Chicago Stadium in years,
Henry hurled bombs at Bowdry with such accuracy that he stopped him in the sixth
after having him on the floor three times, twice in the third round and once
again in the sixth round before referee Frank Sikora stopped the fight without
bothering to count Bowdry out.
Less than a month later Henry, now
the number fourth world ranked middleweight contender, was back on TV against
number five world ranked light-heavyweight contender Sixto Rodriguez of San
Anselmo, CA. The 22 year-old Rodriguez, who was also the California
light-heavyweight champion, entered Chicago Stadium with a record of 23-2-2 (5)
for their nationally televised fight.
Hank again excited Chicago fans
and a nationally televised audience with an exciting and explosive performance.
Noted boxing journalist Robert Thornton: “Hank fights like a combination Bob
Satterfield-Clarence Henry, driving in all the time, right hand cocked way back
ready to explode.”
Henry came out trying for a kayo
with every punch, but the shifty Rodriguez made him miss his punches by just a
hair. In the fourth a cocky Hank dropped both his hands to his sides and shoved
out his chin and defied Rodriguez to hit him. Sixto tried his best, but Henry
wouldn’t budge. In the sixth Henry finally got to Sixto when he staggered him
with a right hand. Henry moved in for the kill and jolted Sixto with a left hook
that sent him into the ropes and followed up with another right hand that spun
him around. The referee jumped in at this juncture and called a halt to the
fight before Henry could any further damage.
hot Hank was now off to San Francisco to meet former top ranking middleweight
contender Rory Calhoun of White Plains, NY. The 25 year-old Calhoun came into
the fight with a record of 43-9-2 (21). His victory ledger included Dick Tiger,
Rocky Castellani, Joey Giambra, Bobby Boyd, Franz Szuzina, Randy Sandy, Yolande
Pompey, Ralph (Tiger) Jones, and draws with Joey Giardello and Dick Tiger. Henry
was at his devastating best when he put away Calhoun in two rounds. Rory had a
slight point advantage when Henry unleashed a wicked left hook that sent Rory
crashing heavily to the floor. Rory barely made it to his feet before the fatal
ten count but was in no shape to defend himself and the referee wisely stopped
Henry was now clamoring for a
world title shot against either World Middleweight Champion Paul Pender or
National Boxing Association (NBA) Middleweight Champion Gene Fullmer. Hank was
the NBA’s second ranking contender behind Germany’s Gustav Scholz. His record
stood at 42-10-1 (31); he was on a seven fight win streak; and he had won 22 of
his last 25 fights, avenging all three of his losses.
With both champions expressing no
interest in getting in the ring with him he decided to remain busy hoping that
public demand would force either champion into the ring with him.
Less than a month after his
sensational victory over Calhoun an over confident Hank took on unranked San
Francisco middleweight Hank Casey. The 25 year-old Casey was the reigning
California middleweight champion and possessed a fine record 23-2-5 (4).
Although not a hard puncher, Casey was an excellent boxer with a rock hard chin.
Regardless of whether or not Henry was at his best, Casey made him miss quite
often by rolling with the punches, slipping in counters and consistently beating
Hank to the punch. When Henry did land Casey was able to absorb Henry’s best
shots. The unanimous decision was quite popular with the pro Henry Hank crowd.
The loss dropped Hank to fifth in both the Ring and NBA ratings.
Although disappointed by the loss,
the still confident Henry was back in the ring six weeks later against tough
hard-punching Argentine slugger Victor Zalazar. The 24 year-old Zalazar was
coming off two tough losses by decision to Dick Tiger and Yama Bahama. Among his
victims in his 20-5-1 (15) ledger were Yama Bahama, Wilfie Greaves, Tony Dupas
and Andres Selpa. All five of his losses were by decision. Fighting before his
hometown fans in Detroit for the first time in nearly 18 months he didn’t
disappoint. Henry swarmed all over his rugged opponent and shook him up early in
the opening round. Henry backed off during the second and third rounds. In the
fourth after moving back from a furious exchange of infighting Henry caught
Victor flush with a terrific left uppercut. The punch hurt Zalazar badly and
Henry moved in on his rubbery legged opponent and landed a beautiful three punch
combination that dropped him flat on his face. It was at least a full minute
before Victor who had never been knocked down or out before, could be revived.
Two months after his upset loss to
Hank Casey, Henry preserved his record of having never lost a rematch by
outworking Casey in a ten rounder in New Orleans. Casey stated after the fight.
“Henry would be an even greater, only he needs a fire built under him. I built
one fire by beating him last time. So did those other guys.”
Henry’s next televised appearance
was in a rematch with hot middleweight prospect Rudy Ellis. Since his knockout
loss to Henry over two years previous Rudy had won seven of his nine fights:
defeating Jesse Smith twice on points, outscoring Rory Calhoun and scoring
impressive knockouts over Jimmy Beecham and Bobby Boyd. These victories had
brought him to the cusp of a world rating and he was anxious to defeat the third
ranked Hank and avenge his only knockout loss and propel himself into the world
ratings. Although Henry was favored to again defeat the talented Ellis, the end
came sooner than expected. Henry didn’t come out for the first round looking for
an early knockout. But after a couple of minutes of feeling one another out
Ellis left a big wide opening and quick as a flash Hank landed a potent left
hook to the stomach and an even more powerful right hand to the chin. Ellis was
down and out at 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the first round.
Henry’s title aspirations took a
severe hit in September 1960 when unheralded and unranked Jesse Smith of
Philadelphia held him to an upset draw in Chicago and two weeks later Henry lost
his rubber match with Hank Casey in Casey’s hometown of San Francisco.
Smith, 28-6-3 (21), loser twice to
Hank victim Rudy Ellis, earned a draw by simply outhustling the overconfident
and lackadaisical Hank. Henry dropped Smith in the closing moments of the last
round to pull out the draw.
Two weeks later Henry was in San
Francisco determined to vindicate himself after being held to a draw by Smith.
In the opposite corner was San Francisco’s shifty, smooth-boxing Hank Casey.
Henry was the odds-on favorite to defeat Casey. But, once again Henry
disappointed when he lost a lop-sided decision to the talented Casey, who also
became the first fighter to defeat Henry twice. Casey used flicking lefts and
sharp rights to build an insurmountable lead. Henry realizing he was behind on
points began scoring heavily to the body and head in the last round but was to
tired to pull out the fight with one of his patented finishes. The loss saw
Henry’s standing in the middleweight division plummet to number nine.
Henry returned to the friendly
confides of Detroit for his next fight with veteran New York middleweight Randy
Sandy. Henry won an easy decision despite fighting the last five rounds with a
severely bruised left hand.
On November 9, 1960 Henry made his
New York debut when he headlined a card at Madison Square Garden against number
ten ranked middleweight contender Gene (Ace) Armstrong of Elizabeth, NJ.
Armstrong displayed little regard of Henry’s tremendous punching power by
outspeeding, outboxing and at times outfighting him. Henry was able to score
with some lusty body punches but he had difficulty reaching Armstrong’s chin
with solid punches. Armstrong was able to duck and slip Henry’s power punches.
Offensively Armstrong looked good as he used an effective left to jab and hook
and sneaked in an occasional right to the head and frequently had the better of
the fast exchanges. The judges scoring in Armstrong’s favor was strange to say
the least. Judge Nick Gamboli 8-1-1; Judge Frank Forbes 6-3-1; Referee Al Berl
What a difference three months can
make. Henry went from a high point on August 3, 1960 (his first round kayo over
Rudy Ellis) to his loss to Armstrong on November 19, 1960. During that period he
went from being a top world rated contender to unranked.
On March 29, 1961 Henry returned
to the scene of his biggest triumphs New Orleans and stopped Cleveland’s
Clarence Alford in seven rounds. Feeling revigarated after the victory Henry was
ready for a new assault at the brass ring – the middleweight title.
On July 10, 1961 Henry and future
hall-of-famer Joey Giardello appeared in the first boxing attraction at the new
Convention Arena segment of Cobo Hall. 6,693 witnessed an outstanding fight
between Hank and Giardello, 86-20-6 (33). Hank and the 7th ranked
Giardello engaged in an exciting slugfest that had the crowd going wild. Both
fighters fought furiously throwing punches at a steady clip with neither fighter
willing to back off. Giardello used his left jab throughout, trying to set up
Hank for his sharp right cross. Hank applied constant pressure with his
aggressive free-swinging style. It was Hank’s harder and more accurate punches
that earned him a popular unanimous decision. With the victory Henry reentered
The Ring world ratings at number eight.
Henry took another step in his
upward march to the top when he outpointed durable Franz Szuzina of Germany
46-21-14 (24). Henry managed to shake up his opponent on several occasions to
win a unanimous decision. The win also moved Henry into the number six slot in
the world ratings.
Henry continued his winning ways
with a seventh round stoppage of light-heavyweight Jerry Luedee in New Haven, CT
and number six ranked light-heavyweight contender Chic Calderwood of Scotland in
Detroit. Both victories were instrumental in moving Henry to a number five
Calderwood, 30-1-1 (22), made his
U.S. debut against Hank in Detroit before an excellent crowd of 7,500 vocal
fans. Henry set the pace from the opening bell. A left hook to the body dropped
Calderwood in the second round. Calderwood was game as they come, but couldn’t
match Henry’s punching power in losing a unanimous decision.
Henry, however, couldn’t seem to
handle prosperity well. After his impressive victory over Calderwood Henry
traveled to Miami to take on Jamaica’s Allan Harmon, 19-7-3 (13), an unranked
light-heavyweight in a tune-up fight for his rematch with Joey Giardello. Old
habits caught up to Henry once again when an unmotivated Hank was held to a ten
round draw. But Henry was never one to let a bad performance jeopardize his
next start. And he proved it when he and Joey Giardello engaged in a slugfest
that was chosen The Ring magazine’s fight of the year.
On January 30, 1962, 20 days after
his draw with Harmon, Henry met Giardello at Convention Hall in Philadelphia
before 6,000 fans.
The Ring’s coverage of their epic
One of the
hardest fought, bloodiest fights seen in many months was the middleweight setto
between 31 year old Joey Giardello of Philadelphia and 26 year old Henry Hank of
Detroit fought before 6,000 fans at the Convention Hall in Philadelphia.
took a frightful pasting in the first round. He was knocked back on his heels by
the fury of Henry’s attack. In the second a left hook split open a deep wound in
Joey’s upper lip and it bled profusely for the remainder of the contest.
plenty of courage and came back to carry the fight to Hank in the next three
rounds. He outboxed Hank, who has a tendency to “loaf”. Henry landed the harder
blows but he fought in spurts late in each round while Joey kept his jabs and
rights to the body working most of the time. Hank picked up the pace and had a
shade the better of it in the sixth with a strong closing rally.
was one of the best rounds of the fight. Both got off good flurries but Hank had
Joey in trouble when he corned him against the ropes and pounded away.
came fighting back to hold a slight edge in the eighth and ninth as once again
Hank let him take the play away from him.
round was a humdinger as hank went all out. Joey tried to match him punch for
punch, but didn’t have the fire power or stamina left and it was a good round
officials scored it 47-46, 46-45 for Giardello and 46-46 for a draw.
didn’t like the verdict.
The loss didn’t hurt Henry’s standing in The
Ring ratings where he remained in the fifth slot, while Giardello moved into the
Henry exacted revenge on Jamaica’s
Allan Harmon in his next fight held in Detroit. Henry cut Harmon’s eye in the
first round and piled up a good lead before the fight was stopped in the seventh
Three weeks later a confident
Henry took on top rated Dick Tiger in a nationally televised fight from New
York’s Madison Square Garden. Future hall-of-famer Tiger scored a nearly
flawless victory over Henry.
Although the official scores were
10-0, 9-0-1, and 8-1-1, the fight was much closer and tougher than the scoring
would indicate. Henry was dangerous throughout the fight, but Tiger was just too
rugged, durable and persistent for him. Tiger consistently landed his left hook
and jabs with uncanny accuracy and kept Henry off balance with body blows that
hurt. Henry landed many effective blows of his own in the early rounds before he
tired, but Tiger’s tight defense and solid chin helped stop Henry’s offense. In
the end Henry was simply outscored, out-maneuvered and out-hustled by a far
Henry traveled to Glascow, Scotland for his
next fight against 27 year-old John (Cowboy) McCormick, 32-4-0 (14). McCormick
was down for two counts in the first from heavy rights to the jaw. In between
these knockdowns he dropped Hank. In the second Hank again dropped McCormick for
a count of "8." With his face crimson red, McCormick boxed on the retreat and
scored well over the aggressive Hank. As the bout progressed McCormick overcame
Hank's big early lead by coolly boxing on the retreat. In the final two rounds
McCormick stood toe to toe with Hank, eventually gaining the upper hand to gain
a points win from sole arbiter referee Frank Wilson.
The loss to McCormick dropped
Henry to the number eight position in The Ring ratings.
Road warrior Hank’s travels
brought him to Louisville, KY to take on hot prospect (and future NBA
heavyweight champion) Jimmy Ellis. Although the 22 year-old Ellis was only
taking part in his 13th professional fight he had an extensive
amateur background which included an amateur victory over Cassius Clay (Muhammad
Ali). As a professional his record was 11-1-0 (4). His resume included points
wins over solid veterans Holly Mims (who won their first fight on points),
Johnny Morris, Wilfie Greaves and Johnny Alford; and knockout victories over
Rory Calhoun, Rudolph Bent, Arley Seifer and Clarence Riley. Henry proved too
ringwise and won a unanimous decision.
After the Jimmy Ellis fight Henry
decided to enter the light-heavyweight ranks. Henry stated that making the
middleweight limit was hurting his stamina and effected his last three efforts
against Tiger, McCormick and Ellis. He stated. “I couldn’t get any steam on my
In his first fight as a light-heavyweight
Henry couldn’t have picked a tougher opponent than Peru’s Mauro Mina. This is a
true testimony to Henry’s fighting spirit. He never ducked any opponent and
fought the best middleweights and light-heavyweights of his era. The 29
year-old Mina was the world number two ranked light-heavyweight and was making
his North American debut against Henry in Madison Square Garden. Mina entered
the ring with a solid professional record of 39-2-2 (21). . Mina, a natural
light-heavyweight, was bigger and stronger than Henry (who was in essence to
today’s standards a super middleweight). But in the first four rounds a
tentative Mina back-pedaled as Henry forced the action. Mina displayed a strong
chin, however, whenever Henry was able to reach him. Several of Henry’s hardest
punches exploded on Mina’s jaw without effect. In the fifth, Mina became
aggressive and began to break a tiring Henry down with a versatile attack to
both head and body. It was obvious that the extra weight Henry was carrying was
a handicap rather than a help. Henry gradually wilted under Mina’s steady
assault and fought the remainder of the fight on the retreat aside from an
occasional rally. The decision in Mina’s favor was split. Mina 6-3-1 and
5-3-2, and Hank 6-4. This ended Henry’s 1962 campaign. At year’s end he world
ranking changed from number six middleweight to number eight light-heavyweight.
Later he would go on to beat future hall-of-famer
Bob Foster (Foster’s only professional loss to a light-heavyweight).
Unfortunately a serious eye injury would end Mauro’s career prematurely while
still at the top of his game
Henry started his 1963 campaign in
Oakland California where he engaged in two fights: a ten round decision over old
foe Sixto Rodriguez and a one round knockout victory over Dick Young. He
returned to Detroit where he took on local favorite Ed Zaremba for the Michigan
Light-Heavyweight Title. The unbeaten but untested Zaremba, 15-0-1 (13) was
lucky Henry was in a charitable mood. The match was scheduled for 12
(two-minute) rounds and went the distance because Henry generously allowed his
outclassed opponent to go the distance.
On October 29, 1963, Henry, the
fifth world ranking light-heavyweight was matched with Eddie Cotton of Seattle,
WA, the third world ranking light-heavyweight for
Michigan’s version of the light-heavyweight championship. Although the winner
would only be recognized as champion by the State of Michigan both fighters were
confident that a victory would strengthen the winner’s chances for a title fight
against world champion Willie Pastrano.
The 36 year-old Cotton, 48-14-1
(26) was a late bloomer whose only losses in the past three years had been to
Harold Johnson in an N.B.A Light-Heavyweight title fight and top-ranked Mauro
Mina in Lima, Peru. For the 28 year-old Hank, 56-16-3 (37), this was his biggest
profile fight in years. Unfortunately for Henry his many disappointing
performances had jaded his once adorning fans and only 800 showed up for his
fight in Flint, Michigan. Cotton, with a six-inch reach advantage, won the fight
on the strength of his strong left jab, which he landed with frequency on
Henry’s face. Cotton’s jab was not only an offensive weapon, but a defensive one
as well. He kept the hard-hitting Hank off balance by stabbing him with the
left, throwing Henry’s timing off and avoiding any of Henry’s murderous punches.
In addition, the crafty veteran also employed a steady stream of right hands to
the body that eventually sapped some of Henry’s strength. Henry’s best round was
the ninth when he caught Cotton with a powerful left hook that shook him badly.
However, Cotton was able to survive by cleverness and a straight left jab.
Henry’s rally in the last two rounds failed to turn the tide. After 15 rounds
the referee and one scored the fight for Cotton 146-140 and the other judge
A thoroughly dejected Hank stated
after the fight: “Why is it I can’t win, though I know I deserve the
decision. In Philadelphia I easily whipped Giardello and the decision was given
to Joey. I did the same with John McCormick in our fight in Scotland, but he got
the verdict. Now this one. I was not beaten by Eddie. I kept after him from the
opening bell and what did he do? He kept backing away. I think its time I quit
the ring and got myself a taxicab and went out working. There’s no use trying to
He should have quit after that
fight. His confidence was at an all-time low and his record since his win over
Chic Calderwood was 5-5-1. It was all down hill for Henry after that. But he
didn’t quit. Henry had gone through a lot of bad streaks before and he didn’t
let them get him down too long. He was still world ranked at number seven so he
decided to continue. Five weeks after his loss to Cotton he was in Philadelphia
in a nationally televised ten rounder with future hall-of-famer and former
light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson, now the number one world ranked
light-heavyweight. Henry must have rationalized that a win over the number one
contender would put him right back in the thick of a title opportunity.
But if that was Henry’s intent he
didn’t show the intensity needed to defeat Johnson. Johnson appeared somewhat
paunchy even though he only weighed 176 pounds. Henry at 172 pounds was much
faster but did not seem to take the fight seriously and was only impressive in
the sixth and eighth rounds with his wild-swinging bobbing and weaving attack.
Henry was outboxed the rest of the way. Hank reached the peak of his clowning in
the second, third and ninth rounds when he put on a woozy, semi-stunned act
after receiving a few punches on the head on each occasion. The 1,353 in
attendance booed his performance in the ninth round. The loss was further
damaging as he was dropped from the world ratings.
Henry took eight months off and
returned to face number nine world ranked light-heavyweight (number 5 in the
W.B.A.) Johnny Persol of Brooklyn, NY in the last Gillette televised Fight of
the Week at the Garden. After twenty years Gillette decided not to renew their
television contract that began on September 29, 1944, with Willie Pep against
Chalky Wright in a featherweight title match. For 29 year old Henry it was just
another fight, but for 24 year-old Persol it was a major crossroad fight.
Persol entered their August 21, 1964 fight at Madison Square Garden with a pro
record of 12-1-0 (3). His victims included Eddie Cotton, Carl (Bobo) Olson,
Allen Thomas, Herschel Jacobs and Johnny Alford. His only loss was by technical
knockout to Eddie Cotton in their return match. Henry a 3-1 underdog fought
Persol toe-to-toe throughout the ten rounds and gained a draw. Persol was the
better boxer at long range, scoring with stiff jabs and right crosses. Henry had
the edge in close ripping hooks to the midsection and face, and scoring with
short powerful uppercuts, but neither fighter gained more than a minute’s
advantage. It was as close a bout as had been seen at the Garden in years.
Henry accepted an offer to meet 27
year-old up and coming light-heavyweight Bob Foster 16-3-0 (12) in Norfolk, VA.
Hank and future hall-of-famer Foster engaged in an all action fight that had the
fans screaming throughout. In the middle of the ninth round Foster sank a
terrific left hook to Hank’s breadbasket, dropping him for the count of 9.
Referee Paddy Mills decided Hank was not in condition to continue and called the
bout to an end. This would turn out to be the only time Henry failed to finish a
fight in 97 professional fights.
Henry’s stoppage loss to Foster looked like
he had finally hit the end of the line. But as it turned out Henry still had
enough left to make another run at a world rating.
In his very next fight, Henry traveled to
Oakland, CA to take on number seven ranked world ranked light-heavyweight
contender Roger Rouse, 21-4-1 (18), of San Jose, CA. Rouse went into the fight a
2-1 favorite over the hot-and-cold Hank who was now viewed as over the hill.
But, Henry had one of his on nights and walked away with a convincing decision.
Rouse jumped on Henry early and looked like he was on his way to an early kayo.
Henry came to life in the third round and took control of the fight from the
fourth through the seventh by bulling Rouse and nailing him with overhand rights
to the head. Henry had his biggest round in the sixth when he dropped Roger for
a nine count from a thunderous right cross. Roger rallied in the ninth and
carried over into the tenth, by jabbing and keeping Henry from getting off with
his heavy artillery. Henry’s impressive victory earned him a number ten ranking
in The Ring and a number seven ranking in the WBA.
How tough was Henry? His twelve round
rematch with murderous punching Bob Foster says it all. Before the largest crowd
ever in the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans (7,805) Henry put on one of the
gutsiest performances ever witnessed in a New Orleans ring. Foster used his
left jab like a rapier as he closed Hank’s left eye in the very first round and
kept pumping it into his battered features the full route. Henry was the
aggressor as he kept moving forward, at times running after his man, but no
matter how fast he went, he could not dodge the left of Foster. The fight was
closer than the scores of 10-0-2, 9-1-2 and 10-1-1 indicated. Henry landed some
good shots, but never had Foster in trouble.
He snapped Foster’s head back with a right
just at the bell ending the sixth round and both men continued to battle after
the gong, until the their seconds broke them apart. In the eleventh Henry shook
Bob with an over hand right on the jaw, but Foster calmly jabbed his way out of
danger. They also mixed it up after the bell as the crowd roared their approval.
Henry hung on for six more years and become
a trial horse for younger fighters building a reputation. During that stretch
(1966-1972) he went 5-10, with three knockouts. He did have one more brief
flirtation with The Ring ratings when he stopped Mark Tessman on cuts on
December 4, 1968 in the middle of their three-fight trilogy. His final
appearance in the world ratings was in June 1969.
During his 19 years in the ring he faced the
best fighters of his era, including five International Boxing Hall of Famers:
Joey Giardello, Dick Tiger, Bob Foster, Harold Johnson and George Benton.
Moreover, he was a rated contender for 59 months in two divisions, middleweight
and light-heavyweight. His first appearance as a world rated contender was
December 1959 and his last appearance was June 1969. His final ring ledger was
64-31-4 with 40 kayos. He was stopped once.
In 1971, near the close of his
professional career he embraced Islam and changed his legal name from Joseph
Harrison to Jusuf Salaam.
During his career Henry worked
part time at the Detroit Zoo to supplement his ring earnings. After his
retirement from the ring Henry went to work full-time for the Detroit Zoo as a
Henry died on July 2, 2004 at
Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit from complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was
My thanks to Michigan boxing historian Bill
Miley of IBRO for his insights into Henry’s career and for his valuable critique
of this article.