WAIL! | The CBZ Journal | September 2004






Table of Contents

Rinsing off the Mouthpiece
By GorDoom

Current Champions, Top Contenders, and Fighters to Watch Out For
By Adam Pollack

Hopkins-De La Hoya: A True Boxing Super Bowl
By Dean Vios

They Sure Don't Get Any Easier
By Orion Foote

The Best Argentinean Fighters of All Time, Class by Class
By Martín Cameron

Hand Speed Among the Big Fellows
By Don Cogswell

Flashback to the 2003 Hall of Fame Inductions
Pictorial by Dan Hanley

Vince Martinez
By Dan Cuoco

Black Dynamite: Len Johnson
By Rob Howard

Wes Ramey
By Tracy Callis and Keith Palmer

Henry Hank, One of Boxing's Forgotten Warriors
By Dan Cuoco

Joe Gans, the Old Master

Joe Gans: Championship Years
Two Articles By Monte Cox

































(October 22nd 1902- September 28th 1974)

by Rob Howard 

 Click for Len Johnson's Career Record

          Born in Manchester, England, Len Johnson learned the noble art on the boxing booths of Bert Hughes and ‘Professor’ Bill Moore, and eventually became the owner of his own booth – travelling the roads and towns of England with fairgrounds.  Johnson developed into a highly skilled boxer, with an educated left hand and a slippery defence that made him difficult to hit and left his features largely unmarked throughout his career.

          Managed by his father, Bill, Len embarked on a conventional boxing career in 1921 that saw him win more often than he lost, but seemed to be headed nowhere in particular.  In the first three years, Johnson was regarded largely as a journeyman performer whose real interest lay in his itinerant life on the booths.  Throughout his twelve-year ring career Johnson had a virtual ‘love affair’ with the open-air life of the travelling boxing booth.

          Len Johnson’s boxing career took a dramatic turn in early 1925 when he was matched with Roland Todd, the reigning British and former European middleweight champion, in a non-title fight.  Johnson took this opportunity very seriously indeed, whilst Todd, somewhat jaded after returning from a campaign in America, was below his best form.  The result was a conclusive 20 rounds points verdict for Johnson, and this had a considerable effect on re-aligning the Manchester man’s fistic aspirations.  From this point onwards, Johnson steadily began to dominate the British middleweight division, with wins over Roland Todd in a rematch, former World Welterweight Champion Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (stopped in nine rounds), Len Harvey, Gipsy Daniels, George West, Ted Moore, Jack Etienne, Harry Crossley, Leon Jaccovacci, Michele Bonaglia, plus many other leading British and European middle and light heavyweights of the period.

          Unfortunately for Johnson, British boxing operated a rule known as the ‘colour bar’ in the 1920s (repealed in 1948) that prevented any coloured boxers from fighting for championships.  This rule had tacit support from politicians, and had its origins in an irrational long-term fear felt by the ruling classes of insurrection amongst the black colonial inhabitants of what was then the British Empire.  It was believed that black fighters defeating white fighters would undermine the Empire, and incite rebellion.  The consequence of this for Johnson was that he could neither fight for championships nor persuade anyone with political influence to effect a change in the status quo.  Johnson lobbied newspapers and politicians over a period of several years, only to meet with an unchanging negative response and indifference to his situation.

          Johnson spent the first half of 1926 in Australia, where he won the British Empire middleweight championship by defeating local hero Harry Collins.  Johnson was popular and very successful in his six months Down Under, returning home to get married.  On arrival in England, Johnson discovered that his Empire title – won fair and square against a formidable opponent – was not recognised by the National Sporting Club, who controlled British boxing at that time.  In fact, the NSC had installed Scotland’s Tommy Milligan as British Empire champion – openly snubbing the man now generally regarded by boxing fans everywhere as Britain’s best middleweight, albeit unofficially.  Johnson’s Empire title victory, and two successful defences – all in Australia – only entered the boxing record books many years later, due to the intransigence of officialdom.

          In 1930 Johnson visited America on three occasions looking for fights, on trips organised by New York promoter Jimmy Johnston, but proposed contests did not materialise.  In the same year, Johnson became the proprietor of his own booth – realising a long-held ambition.  From this point onwards, however, eyesight problems and the onset of rheumatism caused a steady decline in Johnson’s ring performances.  In 1932 he lost a rematch with Len Harvey in a contest that promoter Jeff Dickson billed as being for the British middleweight championship, in defiance of the British Boxing Board of Control.  The BBB of C (formed in 1929) had taken over control of British professional boxing from the NSC, but had retained the colour bar in its constitution.  Later the same year, 1932, Johnson travelled to Paris where he was forced to retire after eight rounds against the rugged Marcel Thil, then fighting at peak form.  By the end of 1933, Johnson had retired from boxing, concentrating thereafter on running his travelling booth.

          Shortly after war broke out in September 1939, Len Johnson sold his boxing booth and dedicated the next few years to the war effort by joining the Civil Defence.  This marked the end of Johnson’s active involvement in boxing, although he did, in the 1950s, write a boxing column for the Communist Party newspaper, The Daily Worker.  After the war, he joined the Communist Party and also became active in trade union matters, causing himself to become a thorn in the side of officialdom.  Although Johnson failed six times to become elected to Manchester City Council, he acted for many years as an unofficial representative of the city’s black community – personally intervening in disputes involving racism.  Len Johnson is remembered by many today as a figure who spent a lifetime in a personal battle against injustice and racism.

          Anyone wanting to read about Len Johnson’s life and boxing career should read Never Counted Out, written by Michael Herbert (1992).  Michael Herbert writes in detail about Johnson’s ring career and about the origins of the racism that was endemic in British boxing prior to the Second World War.  Mr Herbert explores the flagrant injustices suffered by Johnson during his boxing life, and also examines his subsequent involvement with the Communist Party in the post-war years that was born out of his experiences.  Never Counted Out  (published by Dropped Aitches Press, ISBN number is 0-9519526-0-9) tells a story which present day generations may find hard to believe actually happened – probably the most shameful episode in British boxing’s long history.  Essential reading for all boxing fans and social historians.

Click for Len Johnson's Career Record

Top of Page

Upcoming Fights Current Champions Boxing Journal CBZ Encyclopedia News Home
© 2004 CBZ Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.