Why Jack Johnson is Not as Great as You Were Told!

By Monte Cox on January 12, 2016
Why Jack Johnson is Not as Great as You Were Told!
Would Johnson’s skill set hold up in a modern ring against a more sophisticated attack?

Jack Johnson—if he were teleported from his championship days to a modern ring—would not do well against many of the more contemporary greats…

Jack Johnson, 78-11-14-2 NC*, was and is considered by many historians and sports writers as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time. There is no questioning Johnson’s historical significance as the first black world heavyweight boxing champion. The fact that he was able to ascend to the heavyweight throne against significant racism and retire from the ring virtually unmarked speaks volumes about his ability. Like Muhammad Ali he had great natural physical gifts, speed, reflexes, anticipation/judgment of distance and strength. He used these abilities as a renowned defensive boxer who could block and counter with a reputation rivaling that of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in our time. The question here is would Johnson’s skill set hold up in a modern ring against a more sophisticated attack? To answer that question we need to take a look at Jack Johnson the boxing stylist.

Nat Fleischer, founder of The Ring magazine, wrote in 1958 that Johnson’s “mastery of ring science, his ability to block, counter, and feint, are still excelled” in his book 50 Years at Ringside. Johnson was primarily a counter-puncher much like Roy Jones Jr. He was lightning-quick in his ability to leap in and score with surprising counter strikes. Like Roy he did not like to lead but preferred to let his opponent bring the fight to him. Johnson rarely threw a lead jab, but instead would slide straight back, glove block his opponent’s leads and then counter. Another thing Jack Johnson has in common with Roy Jones is his ability to fight inside or off the ropes. Jones would fire rapid flurries off the ropes, go to the body and counter. Johnson’s approach was a little different, he would stymie an opponent by holding, shoving their shoulders like George Foreman did against Joe Frazier and would arm lock them in place like Mike Tyson did against Francois Botha, and then use sizzling uppercuts inside while grappling with his opponents. Rarely did Johnson throw combinations but would counter with one or two punches and then slide back so as to lure his opponent to rush at him, like Tommy Burns did time and again, and then pick off their wide lead hooks and jabs negating their primitive rushes and then counter again with one or two punches. This Jack Johnson did better than any heavyweight of his era.

Jack Johnson, often called the “Galveston Giant,” was certainly bigger than most of his opposition which is why he was able to get away with things like the shoulder shove against a shorter fighter; the fact that Johnson was physically bigger and stronger than most of his opposition contributed to his success. The crowding style fighters of Johnson’s day lacked boxing refinement, resembling a nose tackle in American football jockeying for position at the line of scrimmage rather than the finesse of side to side movement that we see arriving with Jack Dempsey and later with Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson. Swarmers like Tommy Burns and Fireman Jim Flynn were cloddish in their aggression, completely lacking cunning and sophistication. Johnson looked like a defensive genius neutralizing their boorish aggression and toying with them with his superior physicality.

Let’s be honest, the heavyweights of this era look questionable on the films we have. One of the best available films is that of the Sam McVea-Battling Jim Johnson bout from 1910. Both McVea and Jim Johnson look completely crude showing no head movement, no side to side movement, little footwork with their heads often straight up rather than chins down, and moving straight back into the line of fire. The film reveals heads up linear attacks, some feinting but also wide open winging punches. Nothing that compares to the tight defense, head slips, and side to side weaving combined with countering that a modern swarmer like Mike Tyson implements. I am reminded of Jimmy Jacobs argument with Nat Fleischer from the Great Debate in the March 1968 Ring. In that article Jacobs relayed how he had shown some films with speed correction to a group of old-timers—without saying who the participants were—the old-timers would shout, “who are these bums” and when told the films were the likes of Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jim Jeffries. George Dixon and Abe Attell they were silenced. 

On the other hand the more recently found Sam Langford-Joe Jeannette film of the same period looks better. Jeannette had an educated jab and better movement while Sam looks indestructible with his power and aggression but even here Jeannette hardly resembles Ezzard Charles in his boxing acumen, nor does the powerful Langford look as sophisticated as the bobbing and weaving Joe Frazier in his attack, relying more on his strength, brutal power and toughness to take it to his opponents. It is noteworthy that Jack Johnson avoided the dangerous Langford once Sam reached the peak of his career. While Jack Johnson is given props for being the first black heavyweight champion it should also be made clear that he too drew the color line not giving Langford, Jeannette or McVea title shots once he was champion.

Mike Tyson spoke of the stylistic problems Jack Johnson would face in a modern ring. In the BBC video Tyson and the Heavyweights, 1988, with British boxing historian Harry Carpenter (this is available on YouTube) Mike explains that the things Jack Johnson did would be so much more difficult to do today because Johnson would block “a punch at a time” and today fighters “throw seven or eight punches, consistent punches.” Johnson could not just slide back and pick off punches out of the air against a fighter like Joe Louis or Evander Holyfield due to their multi-punch combinations. Nor would he be able to nullify a swarmer with a more complex and seasoned attack like that of Frazier or Tyson. Neither Frazier nor Tyson pursued in a straight line like the men that Johnson fought but instead gave angles and side to side upper body movement. Instead of coming straight forward as a perfect target for Johnson’s punches, they slipped to the side and attacked body to head and in combinations. Both of these men would be able to do what the crowding style fighters of his day could not and that is to take away Johnson’s space and force him to rush his punches. Frazier was able to force the greatest escape artist in history, Muhammad Ali, to stand his ground and fight him off. If Johnson tried to hold, Frazier would dig both hands to the body, if he tried to slide back and counter Frazier—and Tyson too—would bob and weave forcing him to miss and come around or up the middle with hammering counters of their own. Johnson would be forced to fight against fighters that were as big and physically strong as he was and who were much harder punchers.

This brings us to a final point, the quality of Johnson’s chin. Johnson was once knocked out by 168-pound Joe Choynski. Can one imagine a 168- or even 175-pound Roy Jones knocking out 21-year-old Mike Tyson? Forget that there was an agreement for Johnson to carry middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel, a middleweight’s punch put him on the canvas. Could Marvin Hagler have put Joe Frazier or Mike Tyson on the canvas? For those who live in a fantasy world please recall that Hagler never fought even a light heavyweight and realize that Frazier destroyed hard-hitting 175-pound Bob Foster in two rounds. If a 160-pound boxer’s punch could put Johnson on the canvas then what would Joe Frazier’s left hook or Mike Tyson’s barrage of punches do to him? What would happen in a Roy Jones versus Mike Tyson showdown? Jack Johnson’s chin is really no better than that of Roy Jones. Both men were able to avoid blows due to their superiority over their opposition but when caught folded like an accordion.

Jack Johnson is a fighter who is looked at through a pair of rose-colored glasses. He is viewed through the eyes of nostalgia and historical significance and not by how he and his contemporaries appear on film. It may not be popular to criticize him because of his place at the forefront of black champions but Jack Johnson—if he were teleported from his championship days to a modern ring—would not do well against many of the more contemporary greats.

*Record is from Herb Goldman’s Boxing Record Book Vol 2, page 614 includes Newspaper decisions.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sam McVea vs Battling Jim Johnson 1910 (Speed Corrected)

Sam Langford vs Joe Jeannette, X

Mike Tyson Presents The Heavyweights (Documentary, 1988)

Jack Johnson Vs Stanley Ketchel

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  1. Perry 03:49pm, 02/05/2017

    Monte I am terribly disappointed in you.  Johnson demonstrated incredible skills and you write this tripe article for what purpose?  Johnson was rated so highly for so long for a reason. They don’t make fighters like Jack Johnson any longer.  The best of the very best.

  2. Filippo Zoncada 11:38pm, 10/02/2016

    That’s a very interesting debate and historical videos…
    Why did boxers do thoose hand movements and fake back in those days?
    Were they useful?

  3. victor 01:44pm, 08/13/2016

    The article makes no sense.  If Jack Johnson had lived during the days of Frazier or Tyson, he would have trained and have had a modern boxing style accordingly.  Therefore, the right comparison is Johnson vs. the fighters of his time, or Johnson vs. Tyson or Frazier but assuming and updated Johnson.

  4. Monte Cox 09:42am, 03/01/2016

    My video companion piece to my article.


  5. Jethro's Flute 02:48pm, 01/26/2016

    ” I’m also glad that as time goes by the luster is falling off of Roy Jones. Great fighters do not get cold-cocked by the likes of Tarver and Glen Johnson. “

    He was also 34 or 35 when that happened.

    He had also moved up and won titles at four different weights and he weakened himself moving back down.

    Try again.

  6. Mike Silver 02:13pm, 01/20/2016

    Sorry Steve, but “Chow” is wrong. In fact, your quote by Foreman comparing boxing to jazz, “the better it is, the less appreciated it is” actually proves my point. The superior technique of the old time greats is not appreciated or understood by many of today’s fans. It is not “nostalgia” that fuels the old time trainers I quote in my book, but a sense of perspective and frame of reference based on years of watching and training fighters. Very few people have that knowledge or perspective today and I was lucky to get their comments. I never said Mayweather’s technique was “poor” (that would be ridiculous) and neither do they—they recognize his talent but they also are capable of recognizing his limitations-especially when faced by the top fighters of the past. His technique is certainly far superior to the fighters of today. Against a crude and ordinary tough guy like Alvarez or a passed his prime Cotto, Floyd can have his way. But study the tapes of his fights against De La Hoya and Pacquiao. They are far more revealing because they are better fighters. De La Hoya had one fight in 20 months when they met yet held Floyd to a split decision by nullifying his usual dominance with a left jab. A left jab! In his prime De La Hoya would have beaten Floyd. Against a diminished Pacquiao (a fight that should have happened five years ago) Mayweather doesn’t look dominant at all (no evidence of great technique or greatness in this fight either).  These over the hill fighters prevented him from taking charge. Floyd had to fall back on his speed and reflexes to pull out the victory—not the great technique you speak of. If De La Hoya can vex Floyd with a left jab and Pac can make him look ordinary what would a prime Kid Gavilan, Emile Griffith, Billy Graham, Tommy Hearns, Freddie Dawson, or even a Gil Turner do to him? Floyd’s skills are impressive and he would do well in any era, but to reach the pinnacle in past decades he would have to be even better. Could he rise to the occasion? Maybe if he was brought up in that era it would have been possible. That’s my final comment on the matter. For additional info see this article: http://www.boxingoverbroadway.com/is-floyd-mayweather-jr-an-all-time-great-boxer/

  7. Steve 11:55am, 01/20/2016

    Chow is right.  Mayweather has excellent technique. His form and defense are not just based on superior reflexes.  Ali had superior speed and reflexes too, yet hew as often tagged or floored due to technical flaws.

    Mayweather has been floored how many times?  I count zero.  Zero knockdowns in lots of fights suggest his technique was sound.  Everyone knows the skills and depth at lightweight to welterweight divisions has been good.

    As far as punch stats go, I am not saying they are the end all.  History shows the fighter who lands more punches by a good margin wins something like 95% of the time unless a knockout happens.  Judges score the blows landed.  Mayweather is almost always on top here, and in many cases, his blows are clearer and more accurate.

    I’m far from a Mayweather fanboy. I actually think he lost 7-5 or drew with Castillo in the first fight, then beat him convincingly in the re-match.  He’s an A1 jerk out of the ring to, but in it his skills were fantastic.  Foreman once said, Boxing is like Jazz.  The better it is, the less appreciated it is.

  8. chow 10:02am, 01/20/2016

    Mr Silver, I am familiar with both yours and Mr Cox’s work.
    And I have recently reread the excerpt of your book that compares Mayweather with greats of the past.

    Having said that, I am at loss why you seem to believe that your book holds some ultimate truth..
    I found the position Atlas, and the rest of the gentlemen took subjective and nostalgia driven, but never the less, they all tried to justify it more or less.
    It’s a matter whose very nature is subjective anyway, since we don’t have a time machine to make Robinson - Mayweather happen.

    I don’t want to participate in that debate anyway. Nobody can’t deny that many of the old timers had a vastly superior resume and competition from fighters of today. Although not all of them according to this very interesting article.

    The problem lies when someone puts the nostalgia blinders on and starts to diminish unrighteously the boxers of today like you did.

    Claiming that Maweather has poor technique and he is just getting by thanks to his physical attributes like Jones Jr, is laughable at best.
    It’s like saying that Robinson bested his contemporaries only because he was faster and stronger than most of them.

    We are not talking here about a hardly known contender from 20’s with no footage available. We have access to all of Floyd’s fights.

    Floyd instead of using his speed and reflexes to get in and out of his opponent range like Jones did, is using his jab for it.
      Measuring the distance with it, lulling his opponent in a rhythm like Rigondeaux does, jabbing in the body in order to keep him off him (Joe Gans also used to do something similar I think) using it, to obscure the opponent’s vision, or drawing a response in order to hit him with the right. If that isn’t it an educated jab then what is??

    Also, Mayweather’s huge success on the defence department was based on learning and perfecting the Crab, the defensive stance that goes all the way back to James J. Jeffries. He learned it from his father (his father learned it by Dale Williams from Michigan), mastered it, adjusted it and perfected it.  http://www.sherdog.com/news/articles/Boxing-Floyd-Mayweather-Jr-and-Contemporary-Science-92041
    We are talking about a solid built-in defence here, a complete, integrated system of boxing. It’s not just reflexes and speed.
    It’s frigging technique that you can use even when you get old:

    At what aspect Mayweather isn’t well versed? Fainting, setting traps, proactive defence, getting in and out on an angle?
    Even in the rare occasions he punches in combination, he makes a vary smart punch selection.
    At this point I am just babbling here. The 2 video analysis I posted before should be enough prove of Mayweather’s mastery on technique.

    I don’t know how he would fair against fighters of the past, but we have to give our due to a fighter who gave it his all to perfect his craft.
    That’s all..

  9. Mike Silver 03:26pm, 01/19/2016

    Hmmm. I see you still have not read my book. OK. Well, good luck with the punch stats.

  10. Steve 01:17pm, 01/19/2016

    I don’t see the Floyd Mayweather to Roy Jones comparison.

    Mayweather’s defense, punch anticpation, and countering ability is superior in the middle of the ring.  It’s no accident that punch stats for Mayweather’s opponents have very low connect rate. By my estimation, Mayweather has beaten 4-6 opponents that will end up in Canastota so one can’t say he didn’t fight quality opposition.  One can say he picked opportuie times for him, but that’s how the game goes with PPV stars. Mayweather also fought a lot of puncher’s, none of which had him in trouble.

    Roy Jones had much more power in a pound for pound sense, and a bit less defnese as well as a suspect chin on flush shots taken.  But his power combined with speed and accuracy had many of his opponents scared to engage.  Things changed once boxers realized he had a sucpect chin.

    Mayweather like him or not has a pretty darn good chin.  If you can’t out land him or hurt him, you’re not beating him.

    To beat Mayweather, I think you need an attack oriented fighter with good feet, a high punch output and some power to back him up.  Armstrong or Duran.  Or a much longer reached fighter like Tommy Hearns.

    To beat Roy Jones, all you need is some power and the ability to land it.  You really did not need to be an all time great.  That much has been proven.

    There’s the difference if you ask me.  Back to the author’s point.  Johnson simply has too many defeats and draws before becoming champion and as champion to stand with the best fighters decades later, particularly those who are much bigger and taller than he was.

  11. Mike Silver 08:52pm, 01/17/2016

    Monte, I just watched several YouTube fights involving Joe Frazier just to make sure my memory of this great fighter was accurate. Check out Joe vs. Ellis and vs. Ali or any others. As I stated, he does indeed move forward—always following his opponent. If his opponent moves left, he moves left. If opponent moves right he moves right. He dips his body to the left or right to throw vicious punches but he never uses his feet to attack from side to side and never used footwork to cut off the ring. He was always stepping forward, all the while slipping punches and dipping, ducking, weaving and throwing ten punches up and down for every one of his opponents. But it is always in pursuit in the direction of his opponent. The incessant pressure (much like Henry Armstrong) is enough to force his opponents to the ropes and wear them out. They just could not handle the constant pressure. It was this pressure that forced Ali to the ropes time and again (even plodding George Chuvalo, no fancy dan, was able to force Ali to the ropes). Ali’s comment to Angelo was about the head movement, not the footwork of Frazier.
        I guess we will have to agree to disagree when it comes to the Floyd and Roy comparisons. I am not the only person to describe Floyd as a welterweight Roy Jones Jr. Although Floyd had better technical skills than Roy they were similar in that both relied on tremendous reflexes and remarkable sense of anticipation. Would have been interesting to see what would happen if Floyd was exposed to Henry Armstrong type pressure.

  12. Monte Cox 05:47pm, 01/17/2016

    As far as comparing eras if Nat Fleischer can say Johnson was the best in his skill set compared to even Muhammad Ali then that can be questioned. You cant have it both ways. You cant say he was great and then say he would have to adapt his skills in a modern ring if we brought him in a time machine. He wouldn’t be Jack Johnson if he was born in 1986. Jack Johnson was who he was and that is what we have to compare.

  13. Monte Cox 05:34pm, 01/17/2016

    Joe Frazier did not come in straight. That is just not true. He bobbed and weaved like Dempsey and attacked side to side.; Frank Lotierzo noted that when he had Angelo Dundee on his radio show that when Ali came back to the corner after the 3rd round against Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971 he told Angelo, “I thought this guy was suppose to be easy to hit.” Frazier made Ali miss and made him pay. The swarmers of Johnson’s day did not do that. Simple as that.
    How can anyone say Joe Frazier didn’t use footwork to cut off Ali? How did he cut off Ali’s escape route without using his feet? How did he position himself consistently in front of Ali without using his feet?  Frazier was one of the best examples of a catch and kill fighter against boxing stylists that one can find.
    Mike Silver the only analogy I made to Floyd Mayweather is the reputation he has among the fans for his defensive ability. They fought nothing alike. The Roy Jones analogy is giving the modern viewer something to compare to I stand by the article as written.

  14. GROOVEY 06:01pm, 01/16/2016

    It always leaves me shaking my head whenever someone tries to compare eras in sports. As if Jack would not adapt to the styles and size of eras after his. I believe that it took great courage to do what he did at a time when lynching was legal and he was often the only black man in stadiums full of thousands of white people. I do think that it took great focus to fight under those conditions, particularly when there was a bounty to any white man that could beat him. I think he would have adapted very well to the conditions fighters under these days and would absolutely blitz what the heavyweight division has to offer today (Wilder reminds me of Hearn’s without skill, they both have weak legs). Not to mention the supplements that fighters have today. But if you want to see a heavyweight parry a punch, watch a Holyfield fight.

  15. Mike Silver 05:57pm, 01/16/2016

    To Steve and “chow”—Yes, this is Mike Silver, the author. Since you know I am an author you must have heard of my book “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science”.  But I can see from your comments that you have not read the book. If you had you would not be so ready to disagree. Every point you bring up is addressed in my book. Nine pages (p. 156-165) are devoted to analyzing Floyd Mayweather Jr.‘s strengths and weaknesses. The input of Teddy Atlas, Carlos Ortiz, Mike Capriano Jr. and other top trainers and ex-fighters answer these questions. I urge you to read my book. Another entire chapter explains why the monster heavyweights of today are inferior to the best of the “small” heavyweights of decades past. 
    I can’t help commenting on your quote “Golovkin and Kovalev are pretty skilled guys”. They are indeed the very best fighters today but Golovkin’s skill level is not up to the likes of Benton, Mims, Giardello, Hank, Giambra, Olsen, Rodriguez and so many other middle contenders from the 50s and 60s. And never will be. Kovalev’s main asset is incredible toughness but you needed more than toughness to succeed back then. He is no tougher than 50s contenders “Irish” Bob Murphy, Danny Nardico or Pat Valentino. And (lucky for him) he doesn’t have to contend with the likes of Joey Maxim, Harry “Kid” Mathews or (Yikes!) Ezzard Charles and Jimmy Bivins (check out the YouTubes). Yes, the further back you go the better the fighters are. A “pretty skilled” fighter today stands out because he is surrounded by 3rd rate boxers. If you are really serious about learning about the finer points of boxing technique BUY MY FRIGGIN’ BOOK!

  16. Björn Ljungberg 11:17am, 01/16/2016

    Monte Cox has written an article about Jack Johnson and in doing so, Cox has
    put together all the evidence you can find about the oldtimers vs fighters of today debate. But the evidence is all in favour of the view that todays boxers are better than yesterdays. The big problems is to compare different sports with eachother. Boxing of yesterday - matches with 45 rounds limit - compared to todays 12 rounds of boxing isn´t professional and definitely not historical at all. I will give a few hints of that:
    First, to pick Jack Johnson from 1905 and put him in a fight of today would cause Johnson problem. Why? Because he fights out of his historical context and that would affect his chances of winning against todays champions. But if you would get Johnson a year to adjust to the style of modern boxing, he would succeed. If Cox want to be fair to Johnson, he could think of putting Deontay Wilder in the era of 1905 and fight for 20 rounds. Whould Wilder get problems? Of course he would. But give him some time to adjust he would done better.
    Second, a fight with 45 rounds of boxing from 1905 isnt the same sport as a 12 rounds of boxing of today.
    Third, when authors - like Cox - compares different epocs they have already an agenda in what to proof. It´not fair.
    Fourth, the article was very unhistorical to be written by an author who writes about boxing history. Se above why.

    From my point of view Jack Johnson is the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. Both as a fighter and as a icon for the black people all over the world.

    Björn Ljungberg

  17. Jim Crue 03:43pm, 01/15/2016

    When it comes to Floyd’s skill, besides his manipulation of who to fight when and how much they weigh, the main thing that’s lacking is his level of opposition. His level of opposition cannot compare to others called great. “Great” the most overused word in our vocabulary.

  18. chow 12:44pm, 01/15/2016

    First of all, I didn’t expect mr Cox to write an article like that.
    It’s the first time I see an established boxing historian being critical of an old timer and not just anyone but Jack Johnson himself.
    It’s refreshing and in a sense brave..

    The conversation is very interesting. I learned quite a bit.
    I just wanted to ask mr Silver to be more specific of what Floyd Mayweather is lacking compare to Johnson.
    Saying that he has only gone so far because of athleticism and that he isn’t particularly skilled seems completely preposterous to me and discredit your entire input, and that’s unfair first of all for you sir.
    It reeks of bias.

    You sincerely can’t see his prowess? The use of angles, distance, timing and traps, the various uses of jabs (measuring the distance, blinding his opponent or distracting him in order to land a right, jabbing the body etc..), or the extremely sophisticated bag of tricks he use in close quarters that keep him safe even against the ropes?
    We can say anything we want about this man. We can make a case that he picks his fights, that he plays it safe during the fights, about the marketing methods he use…
    Anything! But I don’t know how someone can’t see, and especially someone of your caliber, that the guy as far as technique goes, is a perfectionist.
    I am starting doubting my sanity here..

    Here are some very insightful breakdowns of Mayweather’s artistry.

  19. Steve 11:06am, 01/15/2016

    Is this Mike Silver the author?

    Regarding your filming point, the surviving films on Jack Johnson are clear enough for me to count punches, blocks, parry, pick off punches ducks, slips, and such.  Where is this vaunted defense on the films, and please let’s not use a guy like Fireman Flynn who would not even be a decent amateur today.  Do you have any examples for us to see?

    Jack’s defense is not as good as Harold’s, who might I point out fought a much better hall of fame competition when they were in their prime. Harold has a much higher guard and employed better use of lateral mobility.  A true technician Harold was.  Where I’d say Johnson was best on defense was clinching, hitting and holding.  Today these tactics ar not allowed or would be loudly booed.

    I think we can all judge Jack Johnson’s defense for what it was.  He often used a height advantage and quick reflexes and a lot of clinching to minimize the other fighters action.  That worked in his time versus shorter or much older men, but the defense Johnson used as an out fighter evaporated versus men his size or greater who can box.  Frank Moran, who would not be in the top ten today was a bit better on the surviving films on the outside and so was Willard.  A much smaller man who could box in Jack O’Brien out jabbed Jack Johnson.  WHere’s this defense?  Johnson of course was better on the inside.  That was where he was best.

    To suggest that either Harold Johnson or Jack Johnson would toy with today’s heavyweights ( 2000-2016 ) takes a herculean leap of faith.  No, they would not.  The game has changed too much bigger, stronger and longer fighters.  The smaller man with limited power is comprised as a heavyweight today. Height and reach combined with a jab and punch to follow up put him out of business.  The better heavyweights today are far better than past Giants in Willard or Carnera.  And no sir I do not consider Valuev as good or great. Men like Bowe, Lewis, and the Klitschko’s are skilled giants.  The proof is in the pudding as just one of them ever lost on points in his prime, and that fight had a lot of controversy in it.  Holyfield fans must admit that, and on fair score cards he’s but 1-4 vs Lewis and Bowe. 

    The last 200 or below pound champion was Micheal Spinks.  How many years have passed Mike?  I happen to think Glovkin and Kovalev are pretty skilled guys.  Golovkin enters the ring well above 160, and Kovalev likely fights in the high 180’s, similar to Marciano and Dempsey.  Yet either man would dare not move up to heavyweight today.  Not a chance.

  20. Mike Silver 08:15am, 01/15/2016

    Let me put it another way. No one with even a modest understanding of boxing would deny that Harold Johnson (lightheavy champ 1960-63) was not a master boxer. His highly refined style was similar to Jack Johnson in his ability to parry and pick off punches, maintaining superb balance, expert counter punching skills and brilliant defense. If we time travelled Harold Johnson back to 1910, and he was filmed using those same “modern” skills, the undeserved criticism of Jack Johnson described in this article would also apply to Harold. The bottom line is that both Johnsons were extraordinary boxers who would have toyed with today’s heavyweights.

  21. David 06:37am, 01/15/2016

    I’m so sick of these “articles” wherein these “experts” claim the old timers were overrated. It’s apples and oranges to compare boxers from 1910 to today’s heavyweights.  It was an entirely different sport back then, they had only recently transitioned from the bare knuckle era. It’s like saying Babe Ruth wouldn’t make the cut in today’s MLB.

  22. Mike Silver 10:36pm, 01/14/2016

          Joe Louis said, “My trainer Jack Blackburn knew (Jack Johnson) well and said he was great”.  The few films of Johnson do not tell the whole story. He was in his prime from 1906-1910.  What if the only films of Ali available to fans 50 years from now were his fights against Doug Jones, Mildenberger and Holmes? Tyson was a built up fighter and way overrated. He was exposed by Douglas and others. Unlike Floyd and Roy, Johnson never got caught against the ropes. He had elusive footwork (his right foot acting as a sort of pivot that quickly shifted his body left or right), was a master at feinting (a lost art), and whose vast experience allowed him to adjust his style to any opponent. He was a heavyweight version of Benny Leonard.
        The analogy to Mayweather Jr. and Roy Jones Jr. is flawed. They were purely athletic fighters (although Floyd was the better boxer than Roy) with defensive skills based on that athleticism. Johnson was untouchable for many years after his prime because he had refined and sophisticated boxing skills which they lacked. Johnson’s moves were economical. There was no wasted motion. Using footwork Johnson and Langford knew how to cut off the ring against an elusive opponent. Frazier and Tyson did not know how to cut off the ring using footwork. Tyson just bulled his way in and Frazier’s talent was tremendous pressure. Both fought straight ahead and did not move side to side—an advantage for Johnson. Langford and Johnson’s style of fighting was far more sophisticated and refined than either Frazier or Tyson, who were not ring scientists. (When was the last time you actually saw a heavyweight parry a punch?) It was Jack Johnson who recognized the flaw in Joe Louis’s style because he had a knowledge of boxing that today’s pathetic heavyweights and trainers can’t even imagine. Is Jack Johnson a top ten all time great heavyweight?—You damn well better believe it!

  23. Eric 02:37pm, 01/14/2016

    Willard was 37 years old himself when he lost to Dempsey. Willard, like Johnson, was old, fat, inactive, and overconfident when he lost the title. Even the myth of Dempsey became greater than the man, but the myth of Jack Johnson is in a league all its own. A lot of the Jack Johnson myth can be blamed on movies and documentaries that were more about pushing a political ideology than giving a TRUE account of the life and career of Jack Johnson. The movie, “The Great White Hope,” is ridiculous, and pretty damn inaccurate, while the documentary,. “Unforgivable Blackness,” by leftist Ken Burns, is probably not to be taken too seriously as well. People swallow caca like this and believe it to be the gospel truth.

  24. nicolas 01:11pm, 01/14/2016

    Steve: Yes his record was definitely very spotty as champ. Just a few thoughts though. The belief that he was stopped by Gunboat Smith in an exhibition match i not really known for sure, as it was not mentioned even in the local papers in San Francisco at the time. As for Jess Willard, he was easily beating him for 20 rounds, but the fight scheduled for 45 rounds and too much for Johnson, who really started a big decline during his championship years. Had he fought just 20 rounds he probably would have won the contest. He was by that time some 37 years of age, the third oldest man ever to lose the title, if we don’t count Foreman’s loss to Briggs in the 1990’s. His greatness really lies in his fights before Burns. I definitely agree though that the Jeffries win is not as great as one should think, and like Corbetts win over Sullivan, and even Dempsey’s win over Willard, we have to wonder how much different the fights would have been had these victors fought those men when they were at there best.

  25. Jim Crue 11:21am, 01/14/2016

    Good post Steve…
    Gregory, watch films of the old time guys. They did NOT fight hard or engage for much of the fight. In the 20 round or more fights they waltzed around for many rounds. This is not meant to show them disrespect, thats just the way it was in those days.
    And why all this name calling? You call a guy an idiot because you don’t agree with him? Tough guy behind the key board I guess. Everyone deserves respect. I would never post any comment I would not say to a guys face. Maybe thats just me.

  26. gregory 11:13am, 01/14/2016

    You sound like a idiot no modern fighter can even fight that many rounds when those gloves

  27. Steve 10:24am, 01/14/2016

    Anyone who has studied Johnson knows his ring record as champion is very spotty.  You could make a case it’s the worst tenured heavyweight championship of all time

    Johnson won the title from a 5’7” 168-pound man.  Today such a fight would not be allowed.

    1909 - Drew with Jack O’Brien. O’Brien was 162 pounds and some primary sources where the fight took place say O’Brien was slightly the better.

    1909 - In a 4 round exhibition match with GunBoat Smith, Smith who was white but also had good ability TKO’d him. While the fight wasn;t official, it makes you wonder about Johnson’s chin.  Smith later went on the beat Moran and Willard, whom Johnson gave title shots to but was never selected Smith for a title shot himself.

    1909 - Beats Journeyman Tony Ross, who had but one win in his last five fights.  How does a guy like this get a title shot, even today?

    1909 - Beats Al Kaufman.  A solid win but Kaufman was nothing special.

    1909 - Fights middleweight Ketchel, and gets floored during the process.  Reports say Johnson was dazed at the end of the fight and uncharacteristically fell down delivering the coup de grace. The film shows Johnson rolled over, had to brace himself to get up, then grabbed the ropes.  Fighters grab the ropes when they need balance.  Flash knockdowns often show the other fighter getting up quicker with better balance.  # the punch was for real.  Ketchel almost pulled off the upset.

    1910 - Beats an old Jim Jeffries who had not fought in 6 years, and trained down from 300 pounds to get in shape.  Somehow this earns Johnson a legacy.

    1912 - DQ win over Flynn who looks awful on film

    1913 - A dubious draw with Journeyman Jim Battling Johnson. Who won depends on your source.  No-rematch was given.

    1914 - A decent but close win over Moran.  Perhaps the best challenger Johnson had fought as he was not old, or short but now where near a top talent.

    1915 - KO’d by Jess Willard, the best Johnson had fought.

    As champion Johnson avoided fights with Sam Langford, Samuel McVey, Joseph Jeannette, and Gunboat Smith.  What would Ali’s resume look like if he avoided Frazier, Foreman and Norton,  then fought Chuck Wepner, Archie Moore,  a few middleweights ( which he drew or was knocked down during the process ), and lost his title to Gerry Cooney?

  28. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:16pm, 01/13/2016

    Eric- How about Zimmer throwing Walsh under the bus for missing that field goal. A lot of boxing people don’t have college degrees like people in the NFL but you’d be hard pressed to find a trainer, coach, or manager who would do their fighter dirty like that because he didn’t close the show. How about those football fans at Cincy….a Bengals fan urinating on a Steelers fan in the next row, fans on both teams punching women, and a Steelers fan throwing a beer bottle into the face of a Bengals rooter….real classy!

  29. Adam J. Pollack 02:37pm, 01/13/2016

    Johnson is a whole lot better than this article gives him credit for being. Read my books, In the Ring With Jack Johnson - Part I: The Rise; In the Ring With Jack Johnson - Part II: The Reign.

  30. Eric 02:05pm, 01/13/2016

    Irish…  It seems Conn’s kayo percentage improved when he was fighting the big boys, kind of strange. BTW, I will be rooting for Pittsburgh against Denver. However, I can’t promise I will root for the Steelers if they play the Pats in the championship game though.

  31. nicolas 11:49am, 01/13/2016

    A refreshing article. So different than the ones we usually see here which tell us how great these fighters of the past were, and how they would beat modern day fighters with ease. Even during Johnson’s heyday as world champ, boxing people (probably more out of racial hatred were saying how Johnson was champ because the fighters he fought were not as good as in the past. In the 40’s, which many are considering now to be really the best decade of boxing, included with the 30’s, people like Nat fleshier were saying that they were not as good as in the 1900’s to 1920’s. The same Fleischer who who would not have Ali in his top ten of heavyweight fighters saying Corbett would beat Ali. As we often see today, this band just can’t help but keep on playing that tune.

  32. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:47am, 01/13/2016

    Eric-Crickets for the most part for this superb article here on the Boxing.Com History Channel. Great posts by you as always….FYI and speaking of photos and films, there is a photo on the internet of Joe Louis receipting for a flush right hand shot from average power punching Light Heavyweight Billy Conn where it clearly shows Joe being shook from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.

  33. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:50am, 01/13/2016

    Monte Cox-“Those who live in a fantasy world”?! “Rose- colored glasses”?! No way you’re going to convince me that Johnson is not an ATG top ten heavyweight just because of what your lying eyes tell you when you review boxing matches from a century ago from the film archives. I’m an old worn out white guy and when I view those films and photos of Johnson I see a big, menacing , very black man who kinda’ looks like a demented Stepin Fetchit on steroids and there’s no way I’m gonna’ downgrade him. Don’t expect me to be like Mike Tyson who sees him as someone he could pound the shit out of for an easy nights work. Are you crazy?!

  34. Eric 06:50am, 01/13/2016

    Johnson isn’t the only great heavyweight who was troubled by men who weren’t even full-fledged modern day light heavyweights. Bob Fitzsimmons gave 219lb Jim Jeffries all he could handle before being knocked out by Jeffries in their second bout. Fitz weighed under the modern day light heavy limit for both his bouts against Jeffries.  It was revealed that Billy Conn weighed about 169-170lbs when he outboxed Louis for 13 rounds in their first meeting. For the life of me, I can’t imagine any world ranked heavyweight, much less a heavyweight champ,  in the past 40 years being nearly beaten by a 170lb fighter, even a fighter as talented as Conn or Fitz. Roy Jones bulked up to 193lbs to capture the title from a very ordinary John Ruiz.

  35. Jim Crue 05:46am, 01/13/2016

    Wonderful article that I agree with. It’s so difficult to rank fighters of different eras and I think you are right on point. I’m also glad that as time goes by the luster is falling off of Roy Jones. Great fighters do not get cold-cocked by the likes of Tarver and Glen Johnson. As time goes on I hope the luster falls off of Floyd as it should. But that’s another story.

  36. Eric 09:22pm, 01/12/2016

    IMO, Jack Johnson is one of the most overrated heavyweight champs of all-time. Johnson doesn’t deserve to be ranked in the top 10, much less being consistently ranked in the top 5, or even in the top 3 on a lot of lists out there. I think guys like Foreman & Tunney are often underrated, while fighters like Holmes & Marciano are a bit overrated. Marciano, like Johnson, was often ranked in the top 3-5 on many all-time lists in the past, but Marciano seems to have slipped a bit in the rankings in the past few decades while Johnson still keeps popping up near the top. Holmes & Rocky both belong in the bottom portion of the top 10 while Johnson should be somewhere in the 12-15 slots.

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