Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight world champion, but also blazed a trail for future athletes in the ways of trash talking, flashy bling and openly shagging white women in an era when this behaviour could quite literally get you lynched. Jack was everything Muhammad Ali would be; only he was doing it at the turn of the century, nearly sixty years before Ali would become the champ. The lynching is also no exaggeration – Johnson was only one generation away from being born a slave himself. Instead he became the most famous and notorious African-American on Earth.
Johnson was a phenomenal fighter, redefining the art of boxing with a style that would be recognised by some of the greatest fighters that followed. He won the heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in December 1908, after stalking the Canadian fighter around the world and taunting him in the press for a fight for two years. After he became champion, racial animosity ran so deeply that the media openly pined for a “Great White Hope” to come forward to beat him, and set the ethnic hierarchy back to its natural order. Former champion James J. Jefferies accepted a reputed $120,000 to come out of retirement to fight Johnson, simultaneously satisfying both the white masses and fans of alliteration. Johnson completely dominated the "Fight of the Century" against the older man, knocking Jefferies down twice for the first time in his career. Jefferies’ corner threw in the towel in the 15th round to avoid a complete knockout on his record.
|Johnson knocking fifty shades of shit out of racial oppression|
Outside of the ring, Johnson’s hobbies included racing flashy sports cars, travelling the world and a lifestyle that makes Mario Balotelli look like a Trappist Monk. He showed off his gold teeth and gold handled pimp cane whilst sipping champagne and taking his pet leopard for walks. Remember this was over eighty years before Mike Tyson bought a tiger and started flashing his own gold gnashers.
Johnson spent time as a jazz musician, Chicago nightclub owner, stage actor, dock worker, coral fisher, bullfighter, volunteer secret agent in World War I for the US government and as a beer salesman. He was a legendary eater and drinker, and spent time in Russia downing vodka shot-for-shot with Rasputin. Johnson was a doer, there’s no doubt about it – he even had the balls to deliver a speech on sportsmanship and fair play to the KKK. Fascinated by fast cars and racing, Jack was once pulled over for speeding and told to pay a fine of $50, a very large sum at the time. He pressed a crisp $100 dollar bill into the officer’s hand and told him to keep the change, as he was going to make the return trip even faster.
|"Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how amazing I am."|
It should be noted that nothing in the previous paragraph was a joke. All of these things actually happened. The man was actually a bloody bullfighter! Jack’s sex life was equally as impressive. High profile women he was romantically linked with included Moulin Rouge star Mistinguette, German spy Mata Hari, and sex symbols Lupe Velez and Mae West.
In 1913 Jack was convicted of violating the Mann act by “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes”, despite the fact that the incidents in question took place before the Mann act was passed, the woman in question was his future wife and the accused was the greatest sporting maverick the world had ever seen.While in prison, Jack eschewed violent gang rape in the showers, preferring to spend his time smoking, drinking and inventing a new type of spanner, which he patented in 1922. The patent drawings of which can be found here.
So next time you struggle pathetically to assemble some Swedish flat-pack furniture, think about how that spanner in your hand may have been invented by Jack Johnson, former heavyweight champion of the world...whilst in prison. And try and stop yourself climbing into the IKEA box to have a little cry.
Jack died in a car crash in 1946, racing angrily from a diner that refused to serve him. The American government is in the process of granting him a posthumous presidential pardon.
By George Odling