IT says much for the social significance of boxing that monuments are being unveiled around the world to honour the fistic greats of the past 100-plus years. The latest is a plaque to commemorate the world heavyweight title fight between Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson. It stands on a footpath in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, Australia, near the former site of the Sydney Stadium, where the bout was held in 1908.
Johnson had chased Burns around the world to get the fight. As a black man in the early 20th century, his greatest battle was outside the ring, combating widespread racism, and this made the job of securing a shot at sport’s greatest prize a gargantuan one.
Jack had followed Tommy to London, where the latter picked up some soft fights, flattening outclassed Brits Gunner Moir and Jack Palmer. Upon his arrival, Johnson visited Arthur “Peggy” Bettinson at Covent Garden’s National Sporting Club, and Peggy offered to stage a world title fight between him and Burns for a $12,500 purse. Burns, though, found the offer laughably low and demanded $30,000 to defend against Johnson.