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The First Black Boxing Champions

A Tiger Rose out of Georgia: The First Black Middleweight Champion of the Worldis a ‘must read’ by all Americans whether a boxing fan or not, as this compilation of fifteen select boxing historian’s depicts the struggles of Black American boxers not only inside of the ring, but with the even larger struggles outside of it in precise definition.

Aycock and Scott do an excellent job of letting the individual historian’s, selected for their specific background research, relate the economic and social struggles of the black boxer in their own unique way, something that gives this book even more appeal as a chronicle of not only boxing history, but American and World History as well.

The names of Muhammad Ali, George Frazier, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, and Mike Tyson are familiar to most casual boxing fans, but there remain the ‘pavers of the path’ to the now common multi-million dollar paydays that should never be forgotten as their predecessors paid the price for the future success of the black boxer in the sport.

The most recognized name of black boxing supremacy belongs to Jack Johnson (chapter 13), who dominated the heavyweight division for more than a decade and made white America shudder at the thought of him not only delivering brutal beatings to their favored white fighters but openly flaunted his ability to date, and even marry a white woman.

During a period when black men not of his physical stature or frightening arrogance were lynched for even looking at a white female, to this day has Jack Johnson to thank for it’s relevance in the struggle concerning the place of the black athlete in society.

‘The First Black Boxing Champions’ takes an in-depth look into just how many black boxers were victims of being forgotten not because of any lack of skill, but because they were simply ‘big fish in an even bigger pond’ that would never allow them to become the household name of some of their more famous competitors.

Especially interesting is the acknowledgment that these men were engaed in ‘prize fighting’ and their income was generated by such which at times allowed them to live a seemingly lavish lifestyle with most ended in financial obscurity the result of mis-management or just flat out being taken advantage of.
The term ‘boxer’, revealed to those unfamiliar, came from the fact that originally the two combatants engaging in fisticuffs were stripped to their boxers (underwear) when competing, with both men risking death from the bare-knuckle brawls that eventually evolved into the gloved battles of today.
Beginning with a foreword from (2009) World Boxing Hall-of-Fame inductee Al Bernstein who identifies the present day black boxer (some seemingly to have ‘forgotten where they came from’) as much in need of reading this book as any, making an excellent prelude into what this book entails.

Bernstein acknowledges the many books previously written about Black American boxers prior to and following the turn of the 20th century were tuned to individual boxers, but this particular compilation of breif biographies has been expanded to include many formidable forgottten black upper tier competitors who fought more bouts in their first few years of competing than our present day boxer fight in their career.

‘The First Black Boxing Champions’ includes fifteen essays by: Bill Calogero (Tom Molineaux), Tony Triem (George Godfrey), Bob Petersen (Peter Jackson), Mike Glenn (George Dixon), Kevin Smith (Bobby Dobbs), Colleen Aycock (Joe Gans), Douglas Cavanaugh (Dave Holly), Michael J. Schmidt (Joe Walcott), Cathy Van Ingen (‘Dixie Kid’ Aaron Brown), Joseph Bourelly (Jack Blackburn), Clay Moyle (Sam ‘The Boston Black Tar Baby’ Langford), Alexander Pierpaoli (Joe Jennette and Sam McVey), Mark Scott (Jack Johnson), Chris Cozzone (‘Speedball’ Hayden), and Peter Benson (Battling Siki).

Detailing the opportunites afforded the black boxer had to include the many pitfalls associated with some success that was most often short-lived, as these men were fighting in the ‘no decision’ era that demanded brutal ring battles that at times included unbelievable ‘back to back’ matches in the same day.

My personal favorite essay chronicles the career of Dave Holly (chapter 7), a fighter who fought from 1900-1910 in a recorded 128 fights, with the strong possibility of many unrecorded bouts being under his belt as well, who tangled with Joe Gans, Spike Sullivan, Jack Blackburn, ‘Dixie Kidd Aaron Brown, and Joe Walcott among others while never becoming a World Champion, but having gotten the best of each man on more than one ocassion, is what makes Holly and the other’s so very special to boxing’s place in Black, American, and World History.

National Boxing Examiner Joseph Bourelly’s depiction of Jack Blackburn is typical of how well the selected boxing historian makes the until now obscure boxing figure (Blackburn) a never to be forgottten ‘trainer of champions’ with a unique perspective Bourelly has researched and perfected.

New Mexico’s Chris Cozzone’s contribution chronicling the life and times of ‘Speedball’ Hayden reminds us of the importance the black boxer had in the U.S. military and New Mexico, where Hayden had competitiors from surrounding army camps looking to take his U.S. Army Middleweight Champion’s title in the mid 1900’s.

Denver fight fans are well aware of the name Chris Cozzone, with his New Mexico boxing passion having as much to do with the Colorado/New Mexico connection as any around.

‘Essays on fighters of the 1800’s to the 1920’s’ is what ‘The First Black Boxing Champions’ book claims as it’s composition, but in reality it chronicles a piece of boxing and American history with photos, drawings, cartoons, and fight posters that make this collection of essays an easy read for boxing enthusiasts of all ages.

The book was released in May of 2011 with copies priced at $45 each purchased by contacting McFarland
Publishing (www.mcfarlandpub.com) or their order line (800-253-2187).

The First Black Boxing Champions’ not only is a book for boxing enthusiasts, but for boxers, trainers, historians, and people of all race, creed, and nationalities to read, enjoy, and appreciate the contributions of these great men to the sport we so love, who rightfully deserve the recognition included in this excellent piece of work.

“If you’re not a part of the solution, then you’re a part of the problem”…

Source: Stephen Johnson Denver Boxing Examiner

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