JOHNSON vs JEFFRIES
With the downfall of Kauffman and Ketchel, all immediately available contestants for the championship were disposed of. The demand for a white champion was growing louder every day, and many promoters were diligently searching for someone to pit against me.
Jim Jeffries, once champion, one of the hugest and hardest fighters America ever produced, had retired. He had voluntarily relinquished the belt to Marvin Hart, who had been whipped by Burns. - Therefore it was believed that Jeffries was in reality the champion, and whether or not he did hold that honor, it was declared he was the only logical man to send against me. For a long time he refused to fight me, contending that he was through with the ring, but ultimately friends and the demand of the public prevailed on him and he consented to meet me.
Tex Rickard and Jack Gleason got together and arranged to promote the fight, offering a purse of $101,000. Articles for the encounter were signed between us in Hoboken, February I, I9I0. Immediately upon signing of the articles, Jeffries took advantage of the publicity which the forthcoming fight occasioned and made several profitable theatrical engagements. He was now termed the "undefeated champion," notwithstanding that my fight with Burns gave me the recognized official title. This fight attracted more attention than the Burns encounter. There was a strong belief that Jeffries, having never actually been whipped, would regain the title. There was much bitterness preceding the fight and every effort was brought to bear to strengthen Jeffries with the public as well as to condition him for the bout.
For some time I continued my theatrical engagements and on May I5, I gathered my party and went to San Francisco, where it originally was planned that the fight was to be held. After I arrived on the scene preparatory for my training, the California governor' decided that he would not permit the fight. Thus interrupted, Rickard and Gleason sought another location, and after considerable delay selected Reno, Nevada, setting the date for July 4, 1910.
When the day of the big fight arrived I was in the best condition of my career. I had trained conscientiously and meant to do my very best. It was likewise announced that Jeffries' condition was perfect. The ring was built in the outdoors in the center of a natural amphitheater. It probably was the most picturesque fight scene ever staged in the history of boxing.
A tremendous crowd was in attendance and there was a suspense that at times was almost unnerving. The fight meant more than any that had ever taken place among heavyweights. My staunch and eager friends were numerous but there was a bitterness against me that probably was. more manifest than upon any other occasion. Rumors had come to me that there actually was talk of a chance shot at me if I whipped Jeffries. It was hinted that gunmen had been hidden in the crowd and that if my boxing opponent did not dispose of me a bullet would. I took little stock in this. I could not imagine any sportsman sunken to such depths, yet such rumors served to indicate' the hostilities that existed.
When the fight began and as it continued I was jeered by my enemies and cheered by my friends. The taunts I received were calculated to disturb my poise. But these efforts failed. A red hot sun poured down upon our heads. The great crowd was burning to a crisp. One can easily imagine what a gruelling it was for us battling in the ring. However, despite the sun and the jeering mob and the occasional thought that there might be a gunman somewhere in that vast array of humanity, I do not recall that I was greatly disturbed.
"The golden smile" for which I have become famous, I am told, never deserted me, and there was no reason why it should have. Jeffries at no time made the going very difficult for me, and in the fifteenth round I knocked him out. . Whatever possible doubt may have existed and did exist as to my claim to the championship was wiped out. I had again. demonstrated the material of which I was made and I had conclusively vanquished one of the world's greatest boxers.
In the gathering of spectators who saw the encounter was another huge group of newspaper writers and photographers, and round about us telegraph instruments clicked off a description of the fight blow by blow. I recall that occasionally I took time during the exchange of these blows to suggest to telegraph operators what to tell their newspapers.
Notwithstanding the long years I had been boxing and the numerous fights I had been engaged in, the Jeffries fight brought me the only real money I had ever made out of my profession comparing the purses of those days.
I got 60 per cent of the purse, or about $60,000. A bonus of $10,000 was given me and the picture rights netted me another $50,000 or about $120,000 in all. After this fight I believed that the bitterness which had actuated some of those interested in boxing had subsided. Some of my greatest enemies were silenced and many who had been almost venomous toward me grew a little more restrained. None could deny that I had fought persistently and conscientiously. I had won all I had attained myself by sheer hard training, fighting and confidence in myself.