FROM the moment author Jack London called upon former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries to come out of retirement and “wipe that golden smile” from the face of Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, their meeting at Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910 was destined to become: “not merely a boxing contest between two champions, but a gigantic trial of strength between the white and coloured races.”
Details of the “the greatest ring contest in history” were cabled from ringside directly to London and, as editor J. Murray explained: “As fast as the messages arrived, they were handled and passed on to the compositors seated at 12 linotype machines, who were busy tapping out the details as fast as they received them.”
Over a three-day period copies of Boxing – as this paper was then known – containing news on the big fight were printed at the rate of 15,000 an hour, yet still struggled to cope with demand, such was the overwhelming interest.
Jeffries started well, taking the first round and had the crowd roaring in the fourth – his best round – after drawing blood from Johnson’s mouth. But from that point onwards the champion took total control, and by the sixth could feel Jeffries was getting weaker.
“I knew then that I had the fight safe,” Johnson later told Boxing, but nevertheless remained cautious and waited until the 11th round before going all out. “Some people say that I might have finished things quicker, and perhaps I might. But it wasn’t safe to take chances with a man like Mr. Jeffries. I nearly had him down twice in the 14th, but he still staggered at me.”
Then came round 15: “Jeffries again staggered forward and Johnson sprang at him like a tiger, and with a succession of left swings on his jaw sent him through the lower ropes where he lay until he was counted out. Johnson must be congratulated on the magnificent skill with which he retained the championship of which he despoiled Tommy Burns. It is early yet to say whether the contest will rank in history with the most famous battles of the ring, but it must always remain on record as a simple masterpiece of ringcraft on the part of the victor.”