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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*** SPOILERS TO THOSE WHO DON'T KNOW THEIR BOXING HISTORY *** Ali - Frazier, Louis - Schmeling II, Dempsey - Tunney II were huge, but EVERYONE was on pins and needles about Johnson - Jeffries. Jack Johnson became the first black Heavyweight champion in 1908 after shaming Tommy Burns into crossing the "color line" and annihilating him in Sydney, Australia. After going on to defeat one "Great White Hope" after another, public pressure fell upon Jim Jeffries, who had retired undefeated in 1905, to come back and reclaim the title for the white race. Ultimately, the fight didn't live up to the hype though, and there was so much hype there's probably no way it could have. An ex-champion who'd been out of the ring for 5 years vs. a current champion in his prime... The results were a very one-sided fight. Not too exciting, but fascinating.
The film of this fight that I watched was only six minutes long - not
the 100 minutes running time given by IMDb. I don't know whether the
entire film still exists, but the six minutes I watched suggest that
what we're watching is something of a one-sided fight. Back in 1910,
white boxing fans were apparently so desperate for a white man to
overcome the undefeated black fighter Johnson that former world
champion Jim Jeffries was persuaded to come out of retirement to
challenge him. the outcome was sadly inevitable.
The print I saw wasn't in particularly good condition - very grainy and blurred, but the size of the crowd watching is unmistakable. Once Johnson gets the better of Jeffries, the white fighter is given no time to recover from the blows that initially felled him by the referee - who was also the fight's promoter, stepping in after President William Taft and writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both turned down the opportunity.
The film was so successful, but caused so much controversy, that two
years later Congress banned the interstate traffic in fight films...
This was the fight of the century, no matter what anyone says. Today (2016), you ask people about fighters in the 20th century and you might hear Holyfield, Foreman, Tyson and Ali. All great fighters, but did they ever cause a sensation like this? (Maybe Ali... maybe.) We have record high ticket prices, a stadium built just for one fight, the president of the United States asked to be the referee (he declined). And a fight that went many, many rounds and got people agitated along racial lines (which is never good). I suspect no other single fight affected the history of boxing more than this one.
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