Jim Jefferies at the Bar

By George Thomas Clark on January 23, 2014
Jim Jefferies at the Bar
I’m sure some gamblers wanted to ride the long odds. They bet on Johnson and got rich.

More than forty years ago right here in San Francisco at this very bar, must’ve been around 1904, I was drinking with some admirers when Jack Johnson strutted in and demanded I fight him for my heavyweight championship of the world. For about a minute I listened to his boasts about speed and defense and how he’d carve me up, then told him to get out before I knocked him out. Johnson persisted, what an obnoxious fellow he was, so I reached into my coat, grabbed about two grand, and slammed it on the bar and said, let’s go down to the cellar, and this money’s yours if you make it back up the stairs.

I ain’t no cellar fighter, he said. You’re afraid of blacks.

This way, I said, pointing the index finger of a big left hand ready to flatten him.

Johnson darted the other way, out the door.   

What he said’s a lie and I’ll show you why. Look at our records. I beat Joe Choynski at his best in 1897. The slender but savage left hooker got enough sympathy points to receive a draw after twenty rounds. Any sober observer knows I won the fight and he survived. In 1901 aging Joe stiffened young Jack Johnson with a single left high on his head, and not even Johnson would claim Joe could’ve ever done that to me.

And what about Hank Griffin, a good black fighter I knocked out in 1896 and battered four rounds in 1901, letting him survive so he could collect a hundred bucks. Let me tell you, Hank Griffin outboxed Jack Johnson about six weeks later to win a decision and the following year twice confused and fought him to a draw. Really, I’m glad a man weak as Johnson didn’t go into that cellar with me. He’d have fallen like Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Corbett, white heavyweight champions I knocked out twice each.

And let’s take a look at Peter Jackson. Right, Jackson was about thirty-six at the time but I’d been reading since I was a kid that this “magnificent black warrior” was the best fighter in the world, far better than the great John L. Sullivan. Thirty-six isn’t that old. Admit it. Jackson couldn’t match or avoid my power, and twice I decked him in the second round and stopped him in the third.

That’s the record, I said, pounding the bar top with my open right hand. I fought and beat black boxers and gave Jack Johnson a chance right here.

So what happened against Johnson in 1910, a gentleman asked.

By god, I’m telling you I was poisoned and don’t know why I didn’t understand that then but damn sure do after thinking about it forty years. There’s no other way Jack Johnson could’ve beaten me, even when I was thirty-five and hadn’t fought in six years. In training camp I lost all fat and beat hell out of sparring partners and was good as ever. You know damn well. I was dizzy and confused and weak. Now, I’m not saying Johnson was guilty. I’ll give him this: he believed in himself. I’m sure some gamblers wanted to ride the long odds. They bet on Johnson and got rich. 

Some whites wanted me to defend their manhood and battle Johnson again but I was sick of fighting or else wouldn’t have quit the first time when I was only twenty-nine. Not many champions have the sense to do that or leave forever after that first miserable comeback. 

George Thomas Clark is the author of Uppercuts, a collection of boxing stories available as an eBook at Amazon.com and other Digital Stores. His short story collection, The Bold Investor, is also available. See the author’s website at www.GeorgeThomasClark.com.

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  1. nicolas 01:23pm, 01/24/2014

    I should have written, the ref said he was more aggressive and that is why he gave the decision to Hart.

  2. George Thomas Clark 01:10pm, 01/24/2014

    Johnson certainly wasn’t ready for Jefferies in 1901 when Joe Chyonski’s left hook knocked Johnson down for the count.  It’s really a question of when would he have been ready.  By 1904-1906 Johnson had fought Langford, Jeannette, and McVea and was, somewhere in there, the best in the world.  But Jefferies retired at age 29, 1904-05, and was unavailable. 

    We don’t have any film of Hart and Johnson, but we have written accounts.  How many people really believe Marvin Hart won the fight?

  3. nicolas 02:59am, 01/24/2014

    I think had they fought in 1904, when Jeffries was at his prime, that Jeffries would have beaten Johnson. It might have been controversial, but I think he would have won. Not long after, probably a gift decision, Marvin Hart got a win over Johnson. It was only the referee who decided. Though Hart was battered, he was more aggressive and got the win over Johnson.

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