As Related by the Champion to “BOXING’S” Representative in Chicago, and explaining just how the contest went the way it did.

MOST people over here seem agreed that Jeff’s own statement that “he couldn’t come back” provides the truest explanation of his defeat, and therefore strive to justify their previous confidence in the old hero on those grounds. But not a few critics, and these some of the more experienced, incline to the belief that even in his best days Jim Jeffries would have gone down before Jack Johnson. In their opinion, it would have been a much longer and harder struggle, but they believe that the result would have been the same.

Jeff, Then and Now.

In each instance it seems, however, to be a case of acquired wisdom. No one can really tell to-day. All that the Reno fight proved conclusively was that Jeff could not take his gruel and come back as he used to be able to do when he fought Sharkey and Fitzsimmons. It is true that he took a lot of punishment from Johnson, but he sure took worse from old Bob, without tiring any, so that the absurdity of engaging only old-timers for his sparring partners stands revealed in all its nakedness.

The opinion has been expressed that “Johnson is the greatest piece of fighting machinery the world has ever seen,” and Billy Delaney (who ought to know) is credited with the assertion that the negro is better than Jeff ever was; but these opinions are not obtaining any great amount of support. (1)

Not that this is anything against them. People are a bit too sick over the result to discuss Johnson’s real merits. They are just cursing Jeff for having tried to come back, and are conveniently forgetting that he only did so because everybody (and the grumblers especially) pressed him so to do, and refused to give him a moment’s rest until he had consented to oblige them.

What Johnson Thinks.

I was able to get an interview with Johnson himself, when I asked him what he personally thought about the matter, and I may as well say right here that the black champion isn’t blowing about himself to anything like the extent people say. He wasn’t very willing to discuss the point as to whether he could have beaten Jeffries at his best, beyond saying that he thought he could have done so, and always wanted to have a try, five years ago even. “I felt sure I could beat Mr. Jeffries then,” said Jack, “when I was going round trying to get white men to fight me. The papers then acknowledged that I was the only one who would have a chance with him, but he had retired, and I couldn’t see a way of getting him to come out again.


The General Side-step.

“There were four other men all laying claim to the title: Jack O’Brien, Tommy Burns, Al. Kaufman, and Sam Berger. So I offered to fight them all in turn, feeling sure that I would win; when Jeffries would be practically forced to meet me. But, as you know, they all side-stepped me. I did get fixed up for a match at San Francisco with Kaufmann, but the club was short of permits, and kept me out of the running by matching Kaufmann with Sam Berger instead.

“I could see that there was a scheme on to side-step me all round, and it wasn’t till I got my chance with Tommy Burns that I could see a fight with Jeffries anywhere about. That is why I returned here and cancelled my European contracts, until I got the news that Mr. Jeffries would agree to meet me. That news was as good as a large-sized bunch of water melons to me, I can tell you.

“It was good, too, to learn that Mr. Jeffries was getting into such fine shape. I didn’t want to meet Mr. Jeffries and defeat him, only to hear people say that I had only beaten an old man.

“Jeffries must have worked hard to get himself as good as he was. I was afraid that he would never be able to get fit, because it was such a stiff contract for him. The knockers are saying to-day that he was just a shadow, but let me say right here that he was as strong as he was game. He could hit, too, as I found out, for though I came out of that fight in fine shape, and fit to fight another man the next day, he landed several punches that let me know that I had been hit. He wasn’t any more difficult or any easier than I had calculated.

How Jack figured out Jeff’s plans.

“I had figured that I would win without much trouble, but I had figured, too, that I should have to size him up properly and get him tired a bit before I could risk cutting loose on him. You may say that the fight went just as I figured it would. I guessed it would go about fifteen rounds, and I guessed, too, that he would try to haul and push me around a lot at first.

“How did I figure that out? Well, what else did he have Farmer Burns and Frank Gotch with him for? (2) They couldn’t teach him anything in the sparring game, and he could only have fixed up with them so as to work up some tricks with his arms and wrists in the clinch, which would help him to tire me out. I suppose he figured because be would be 20lb. or so heavier than me, that a scuffling battle would be the game which would suit him best. There was all that dope about his strength and his being a grizzly bear, too, but when Burns and Gotch joined his camp it looked a sure thing.

“That idea appealed to me. I wasn’t worrying much as to what style Mr. Jeffries might like to pick as a winner, because any style would have suited me. The long-range style would have suited me as well as the short one, because I reckon that I am a much better boxer than Jeffries ever was, but I hoped that he would play the close game, which has always been my strong suit. I don’t think there is a man in the world who can shove me around the ring, and you can let that go for Gotch, too.

“But I wasn’t going to take any chances. If Jeffries was practising up tricks in this department – well, I would keep busy at it. So I made all my sparring partners, young, strong, husky fellows, you remember, haul me about all they could. I told them to do as much as they could of it, and to use every trick they had ever seen or heard about. It was good practice, and I enjoyed it all the time.

No belief in secret punches.

“Then there was all that dope about the new stunts which Corbett and Jeffries were working up. That was just ridiculous dope for the papers, and made me think that they weren’t feeling quite happy at Rowardennan. (3) There aren’t any new stunts in the fight game. At least, there weren’t any which I wasn’t likely to know, and which they could think I didn’t know.

“I never do rash things in a fight. There is no sense to it. I just planned to fight my usual fight, to be as sure and careful as I could, and never take a chance with my hands once.

“I figured that it would take me about three rounds to size up the situation and lay my plans, and then I would know just the way to beat Jeffries. If I found I could beat him to the jab, well, I would just go right ahead with it and never change. If I found I could win by meeting him with right-crosses, I would just keep to it. If I found I could so throw him around and beat him at in-fighting, well, I would just do all my work that way. When you find that you are winning all right with any stunt, there’s no use trying any new one.

“As you know, the fight went pretty much as I had figured it would. Mr. Jeffries feinted a bit, and then tried the clinching game. I was ready, and we did a lot of pulling about, landing only a few punches in the first round. Jeffries crouched and let out at long range in the second, but I dodged him, and got home left and right, and we had another clinch. We wrestled a bit, and I was feeling very comfortable. Mr. Jeffries was pushing me about, but I was feeling quite fresh and going easily, able to hit him when I wanted to, while, though he was looking happy and easy, I could tell that he wasn’t going to beat me for strength. He was fighting the way I wanted him, so I didn’t see any reason for a change. We wrestled a lot more in the third. I could tell that things were going my way. Jeffries seemed happy and easy in his mind, but I could see that Corbett was beginning to get anxious. He had been talking at me all the time, trying to locate that “yellow streak” of mine, I suppose, but he was telling Jeff to take it easy, which showed that he was noticing that the roughing game wasn’t going to pay against me. (4)


Jeff’s Big Effort.

“Jeffries started out to cut me down in the fourth, which was about the only round he did real well in. But he didn’t do me any much harm, except when he opened that old cut in my mouth. He got home some hard ones to my body as well, and I went back into the ropes at times, but I was going back as he struck, so the blows didn’t tell as the crowd thought they did.

“He started out confidently next time, rather as though he meant trying to hit me off my feet. I didn’t reckon that he would, but it was just as well to avoid risks, so I blocked his left and let him have it from both hands, cutting his mouth and bringing him into another clinch. I upper-cut him as well, and this made him shove me about. I went quite easily, but the work and the heat tired Jeff more than it did me, and the game was suiting me fine.

I felt Jeff was going weak.

“He crouched again for the sixth, and we had a little spell of long distance work. That was when I showed them that I had the left punch they all said I hadn’t got, and cut his right cheek open. He rushed at me, and we went into more clinches. I talked to him a lot, but I don’t think that he was worried any. He kept cool, though he missed all the hard ones he sent at my face, and I could feel that he was getting weaker.

“I knew then that I had the fight safe, but I didn’t want to throw it away by being careless, so I just met him with my left when he tried rushing. We had a clinch or two, but I was getting home easily, and could tell, too, how weak he was getting. I don’t know how he was feeling himself, because he kept very cool, but his punches weren’t anything like so hard as they had been, and he was missing me more than he had been doing.

“It was clear that he felt that he couldn’t box with me, because he kept rushing at me in the eighth, hoping to beat me down, perhaps, with body blows at close range. I was dead sure that he couldn’t do that, but though I didn’t mind him clinching, I felt that I would jab him some as he came in.

That was a game that was suiting me all right as well, so there was no reason why I shouldn’t play it for a while. He did some more pushing about, and landed a few blows, but he was feeling pretty sore as he went to his corner, I can tell you.

“Corbett was getting rattled, and tried some more talk next time, and Jeffries pulled himself together. He came at me like a bull in the ninth, and got home some heavy blows to the stomach. He did a lot of pushing as well, and felt much stronger to me. I bashed him in the face and body, but he didn’t appear to mind, though he was badly cut about.

Jeff’s Gameness.

“Mr. Jeffries is a good game fellow. He must have known by now that he was in for a beating, but he laughed and joked when I landed on his jaw and ear. He again got home on my mouth, and though I had his eye nearly shut he was as cheerful as at the start. But his wind was going fast, and the end wasn’t very far off. It was only a question of how long he could last.

“He came at me for all he was worth next time, and he fought as hard as he could. He got right home on me several times, and hoped, I dare say, to knock some of the strength out of me. But I didn’t mind mixing it at this stage. I was beating him in every department of the game, and open fighting would only mean punishment for him. The crowd cheered him, but he wasn’t feeling good himself, and he was getting weak and wild before the gong came. We had wrestled a bit, too, and this sort of thing wasn’t doing Jeff any good. His arms were getting weak, and he couldn’t put them up to block or stop my blows.

The Counts-Out.

“The rest doesn’t want any telling. The only thing left to be decided was how much Jeffries could take. 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. He had pulled round once or twice, and had come at me so fiercely that I couldn’t be certain he wouldn’t be able to do it again, and it was surer to get him well beaten before I went in to finish him. But he took a lot of finishing. Don’t let there be any mistake about that. Mr. Jeffries fought a square fight and a game battle. No one can say he didn’t do his best. I went all out for him from the eleventh round, but though he was weak and badly beaten, he was still so strong that I didn’t judge it wise to take any chances. He was almost blind, and badly cut about, but though I landed all sorts of upper-cuts, and hit him hard, he wouldn’t drop till the fifteenth round. I nearly had him down twice in the fourteenth, but he still staggered at me in the next, and struggled up to his feet twice after going down. He was counted out twice, as you know, and I might have cut that last knock-out out, but I didn’t want to take chances in a wrangle.

“Yes, I was a bit sore when they introduced Mr. Jeffries as the champion of the world, because you see I fancied that that title belonged to me all right. Well, it does now, you know, so I am not kicking about it at all any more. (5)

“No, I don’t guess that I shall fight again for a year, at least. Yes, I’ve heard that one or two men are after me. There’s Tommy Burns and Sam Langford, but – well, I don’t calculate on fighting again this year. I’ve got some good Vaudeville engagements, and I don’t mind easy money at all.

Explanatory Notes

1 Billy Delaney

The pre-eminent trainer of his day, Billy Delaney is probably most famously remembered for discovering and guiding James J. Corbett to the heavyweight championship. 

Delaney also trained and managed Jeffries for much of his career, but when the latter failed to fight Bill Squires – a match Delaney organised – their friendship ended. 

According to John L. Sullivan, the sight of Delaney working as chief second in Johnson’s corner took “the heart completely out of Jeffries when he entered the ring at Reno.” 

2 “Farmer” Burns and Frank Gotch

Martin “Farmer” Burns and Frank Gotch were wrestling champions. 

As the search to find a “White Hope” to defeat Johnson grew increasingly desperate, even Gotch was eventually asked to face the champion, an offer the wrestler declined.

3 Rowardennan

Jeffries’ training camp was situated at the tiny village of Rowardennan, California, deep in the Santa Cruz mountains. The quiet solitude of Rowardennan was the ideal location for the former champion, a private man who hated attention and distrusted newspapermen. However, three weeks before Johnson and Jeffries were scheduled to meet, political and religious pressure resulted in the fight being thrown out of San Francisco and moved to Reno, where both fighters were forced to relocate their camps.

Johnson took the disruption in his stride and everyone was made welcome at Rick’s Roadhouse, his new training base. Meanwhile, at nearby Moana Springs, an unhappy Jeffries also began attracting large crowds who came along to watch his afternoon workouts.

4 Corbett’s “Yellow Streak” jibe

Among the retinue of people Jeffries brought in to help prepare him for his bout with Johnson was former champion James J. Corbett (who Jeffries twice defeated). 

Corbett detested Johnson and before the fight claimed that “the black boy has a yellow streak and Jeff will bring it out when he gets him in the ring.” 

In round 15, as Jeffries rose wearily from the canvas for the second time and Johnson prepared to strike, Corbett cried out: “Oh don’t Jack; don’t hit him!” But Corbett’s plea fell on deaf ears, their time for conversation was clearly over and Johnson delivered the knockout blow.

5 Ring introductions

According to Geoffrey C. Ward, author of Unforgivable Blackness The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, ring announcer Billy Jordan introduced Jeffries as “the champion of champions, the great unbeaten white champion of the world.” Jordan announced Johnson as the “coloured heavyweight champion of the world.”

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