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Old 06-17-2011, 12:47 PM
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Default Monte D. Cox - Jack Johnson: The Equal of Ali

Since Johnson's been a heavy topic recently I figured I'd post an article giving one boxing historian's take on him

Jack Johnson: The Equal Of Ali Part 1

By Monte D. Cox


Jack Johnson is often underrated and unappreciated today, but those who saw him would be the first to point out that he was every bit the equal of Muhammad Ali as an athletic talent. A peak Jack Johnson had the same kind of amazing speed, elusiveness and natural ability as that of a prime Ali. Jack Johnson's skills and accomplishment's have always been over-shadowed by his social significance and out of the ring activities, however, if one really studies Johnson it is apparent that he was a truly intelligent, crafty, and great fighter inside of the ring.

In modern times one often sees Muhammad Ali rated as high as 1-2 on an all time rating list, while Jack Johnson, once considered the greatest heavyweight by many veterans, has slipped to the bottom of the top 10 in some ***8220;experts***8221; estimation of his talents. I submit that those who take such a view of Johnson***8217;s skills really know little about Jack Johnson***8217;s ability as a fighter.

One must consider the consensus opinion of those who saw Jack Johnson and his contemporaries fight. Nat Fleischer, founder of Ring Magazine, saw every heavyweight champion from James J. Corbett to Muhammad Ali and rated Jack Johnson as the greatest heavyweight he had ever seen. Fleischer wrote, ***8220;Jack Johnson boxed on his toes, could block from most any angle, was lightning fast on his feet, could feint an opponent into knots***8230;he possessed everything a champion could hope for punch, speed, brains, cleverness, boxing ability and sharp-shooting. Johnson***8217;s mastery of ring science, his ability to block, counter, and feint, are still unexcelled.***8221;

Veteran fight manager and historian Charley Rose rated Johnson as a first tier all time heavyweight putting him second on his all time ratings list in 1968. In the December 1962 Ring Magazine a panel of 40 veteran boxing experts rated Jack Johnson third behind Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. In McCallum's "Survey of Old-Timers" (1975), Johnson finished in second place. As time marched on and those who actually saw Jack Johnson fight died off he began to slip further and further in the polls. As one writer recently put it, ***8220;While Ali remains a household name today, Johnson's reputation has faded like a neglected black-and-white photograph left too long in the sun.***8221; By 1998 the Holiday Ring Magazine editors had Johnson as low as ninth. Johnson does not deserve such a low estimation of his abilities in the eyes of the careful observer.

Consider that Johnson fought at a time where boxing conditions were not as favorable as they are in modern times. Today one often sees heavyweight boxers carrying around too much weight and tiring before the end of 12 round fights. Ask yourself could the ***8220;moderns***8221; fight 20 rounds with 5-ounce horsehair gloves, no mouthpiece, no cup, no padded turnbuckle or padded ring canvas as Johnson did? Then go look at some pictures of Jack Johnson. His face was virtually unmarked despite fighting nearly 100 fights under such conditions. That speaks volumes about his ability, especially defensively.

Both Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson had unusual defensive styles. Former light-heavyweight champion Jose Torres commented, (Unforgivable Blackness Film by Ken Burns), ***8220;Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali used to make guys miss by pulling back, and that***8217;s a no-no in boxing because pulling back is like being on the train track and the trains coming. Do you want to be hit by the train? What do you do? You don***8217;t move back because the train is eventually going to hit you. You move to one side or the other. But Johnson and Muhammad Ali did not move to this side or that side, they went back, but the train never caught up with them.***8221;

Johnson***8217;s reputation as a defensive master is well deserved. Although both were somewhat unorthodox Johnson***8217;s classic defense was far superior to that of Ali, particularly his ability at blocking punches and countering. Abe Attell said that Johnson fought out of the ***8220;perfect stance.***8221; This stance, with the front foot pointed forward, was what heavyweight champion Jack Johnson called, ***8220;the key to real scientific boxing***8221; (Ring, April 1941, 16). He noted that the purpose of that stance is that by simply moving the right rear foot, one can move, shift, and pivot in such away as to avoid a blow and always be in perfect position to counter with the full force of one***8217;s body behind the blow. Muhammad Ali was known for his ability to lean away from punches and counter with quick jabs or right hands leads, but he usually did it while moving away from his opponent and was somewhat off balance, which is why he was not known as a terrific hitter. Ali also usually did it with his hands down, which is quite dangerous. The stance of Johnson allowed him to evade and lean away from punches with his hands up, ready to block and counter while remaining in punching position. Johnson also moved about the ring gracefully with quickness to avoid blows, stepping around and countering mistakes by his opponents punitively.

Historian Tracy Callis offers the following comparison, ***8220;How many fighters FOUGHT like Ali did? How many COULD fight like he did? How many were trained to fight EXACTLY like he did? The answer is not many (if any). His combination of physical skills enabled him to move (often with hands down) to avoid an opponent's blows. In particular, his boxing savvy, anticipation, exceptionally quick head movement, capability to lean out of his opponent's reach, etc., enabled him to do it. Others did not possess all those skills. Perhaps, some did - to a degree - but not to the extent that he did.***8221; The footwork, parrying and countering skills of Jack Johnson were effective in much the same way. ***8220;He stood and moved like he did because he could and was effective at doing it (whatever the technique). He trained at it, perfected it, utilized it, and was well-nigh unbeatable with it.***8221; Incidentally Callis rates Johnson above Ali.

Former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey said of Johnson, (McCallum, Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions p 17), ***8220;He was the greatest catcher of punches that ever lived (glove blocker). And he could fight all night. He was a combination of Jim Corbett and Joe Louis. I***8217;m glad I didn***8217;t have to fight him.***8221;

Former Middleweight Champion Stanley Ketchel, who fought and lost to Johnson, agrees that Johnson was unparalleled as a defensive fighter. Writing before the Johnson-Jeffries fight in the July 2, 1910 San Francisco Chronicle Ketchel described Johnson as ***8220;clever, fast, and the best blocker the pugilistic world has ever seen.***8221; Those who saw him always described Johnson's defensive skills in this manner.

Today when we look at Johnson it is not as easy to be impressed, because we do not see him in color, ***8220;with zoom-lensed, slow motion technological grace***8221; as Randy Roberts wrote in Papa Jack. What we see are old grainy films where the film speed is quite artificial and where the subtlety of movement is often lost. One cannot review most of Johnson***8217;s most significant fights on film because they do not exist. When one does watch the films that are available one cannot always tell what is happening in the infighting. Neither does one get a true sense of movement that is often captured in Charlie Chaplin like fashion. Does one really believe that a modern actor such as Brad Pitt walks more smoothly than did Charlie Chaplin? No, it is the quality of the film speed that makes Chaplin seem so foolish.

Imagine Mike Tyson***8217;s fight against Bonecrusher Smith with Chaplin-like movement, with the film speeded up and 3 of 4 frames of film missing. It wouldn***8217;t be too impressive too watch, they may even look cartoonish. Yet Smith landed only one significant punch in that fight as Tyson neutralized him in the clinches and worked the body. Jack Johnson, in similar fashion, bested his opponents by negating his opponents in the clinch and out speeding them and out-thinking them inside and outside. Jack Johnson was physically a very strong muscular fighter with great tendon strength. He could manhandle opponents in the clinches. But only some of this can be seen in what exists in the film record.

Despite the lack of quality film one can still get an impression of what Johnson was like as a fighter by studying him. Here are my notes on Johnson:

Johnson reminds one of Ali on the inside with his clinching although he was better at controlling his opponent's arms than Ali. Johnson was not just holding, but holding and maneuvering, trapping -almost like a Wing Chun Kung Fu "sticky hands" tactic creating openings to hit inside. Johnson punched and countered on the inside whereas Ali only held waiting to get back outside.

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#2
Old 06-17-2011, 12:48 PM
Ziggy Stardust
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Jack Johnson: The Equal Of Ali Part 2

By Monte D. Cox


Johnson's best punch was his right uppercut. It was a quick and wicked punch thrown from the inside. The more I watch it on film the more impressive it is. Johnson’s uppercut is quicker than that of Larry Holmes, and more precise and accurate than that of Mike Tyson. In his fight with Jim Jeffries the July 5, 1910 San Francisco Chronicle reported, "Former champion is unable to stand Johnson's fierce uppercuts."

Johnson had a quick left jab, which he sometimes doubled and even tripled up on.

He was very economic with his movement and fast on his feet, yet always moved flat-footed to be in a position to punch with power.

Johnson used an open left glove to hold his opponent back at times, both Ali and Holmes used this tactics, and Johnson tried to set up his right with it.

Johnson also likes to shove his opponent’s shoulders back like Foreman did against Frazier and then open up with both hands.

Johnson, without question, had excellent hand speed. He was also an accurate puncher.

Johnson was a master at glove and elbow blocking. He was particularly keen at blocking jabs with an open glove with his rear parrying hand.
Johnson was a counter-puncher and one of boxing history’s greatest exponents of feinting. He liked to catch his opponents coming in and feint them into walking into a big punch. Johnson called feinting “the most important art in boxing” in the Ring April 1941 article Secrets of Hitting.

Johnson did not take risks, and was satisfied to do enough to win. In this he was much like a prime Roy Jones, dominant over his opponents but taking few chances. Johnson commented, July 3 1910 Chronicle, “I have been panned to a certain extent for not being aggressive. But I use my head, and I have never taken unnecessary chances. I believe this to be the best part of real ring generalship.”

In a comparison to Muhammad Ali, often named as the greatest heavyweight in history, Jack Johnson stands well. As a boxer Jack Johnson was superior to Ali in his classic defense, his ability to fight inside, and he was also a stronger puncher. The National Police Gazette noted, Oct. 1906, that “Like Joe Gans, he (Johnson) has probably been compelled to hide his true punching power in order to get fights.” Veteran fight manager Dan Morgan agrees saying, “I had a feeling he could demolish an opponent any time he chose.”

Ali had superior lateral movement, but Johnson was also quick on his feet and quite maneuverable when he wanted to be. Ali had a longer reach and the more proven chin, but Johnson was every bit as slick as Ali as a boxing stylist. In fact he was better at arts like feinting, parrying, and remaining in punching position while evading punches. In terms of sheer ability there is little to choose between them.

One area Johnson was clearly superior to Ali was infighting. Ali was definitely an “outboxer”, clinching inside but never working the body; while Johnson could fight equally well inside or outside. Jack certainly was a good body puncher. Newspapers reported that it was Johnson’s body punching that took it out of Jeffries. Harry B. Smith of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Unquestionably the body blows, the short jolts that Johnson sent to the body, did more to wear Jeffries down than anything else.” Those who erroneously claim Johnson and his contemporaries were not body punchers or sharp technical infighters simply do not know much about them.

Some modernists have claimed that Johnson was “too small” to compete against “today’s super-heavyweights.” However even a cursory look at the facts proves this to be shortsighted thinking. Chris Byrd has the same height and reach as Jack Johnson and yet he has had no trouble landing punches on modern super-heavyweights with success, and he has been vastly avoided for his defensive prowess. Johnson was superior to Byrd in every respect. Johnson was a superior athlete, a more experienced defensive master, and a better all around boxer with much greater punching power than that of Chris Byrd. There is simply no reason to believe that Jack Johnson would not do very well in a modern ring.

One of the biggest criticisms I run into about Jack Johnson is a question about his near prime loss to Marvin Hart. I wonder how many of those critics have read the actual newspaper reports? If one takes the time to study the newspapers it is clear that had the fight been judged by modern boxing judges Johnson would have gotten the decision. The Mar 29, 1905 San Francisco Chronicle reported “Johnson shows himself strong on points.” The Chronicle also noted “There was a great deal of racial prejudice…Johnson’s clean hitting, his cleverness at blocking, and all his work was allowed to pass with scarcely a murmur, while every blow landed by the white man was cheered to an echo.” The paper also reported “Johnson did more actual fighting in this fight than in all of his other fights in San Francisco put together.” However the referee, Alex Greggains, the sole judge of the contest, gave the fight to the white man on “aggressiveness” no matter how ineffective he had been. Johnson said in the post fight interview, “I was robbed. That’s all there is to it.” Johnson said he “dislocated” his thumb in an early round but still thought he “was the winner at every stage.” The National Police Gazette which was the Ring magazine of that day wrote, April 15 1905, “In the first ten rounds Johnson easily demonstrated his superiority. After that Hart made a better showing but he did not have the better of the going and a draw would have been a present to him.” Johnson deserved to win and would have easily won on points by any modern boxing observers estimation of the fight.

Jack Johnson had a 10 year unbeaten streak and rarely lost a round in his absolute peak as a fighter. He faced and defeated all styles of opponents with relative ease. He beat clever scientific boxers like Joe Jeannette, hard hitting punchers like Sam McVey, boxer-punchers like Sam Langford, stick and move boxers like Ed Martin and swarming pressure fighters like Tommy Burns, Fireman Jim Flynn and Al Kaufmann.

While Muhammad Ali is considered to have the better chin, Jack Johnson’s has been under-rated. He was physically strong and had a 17-½ ” neck that was able to withstand a big punch. It was 14 years between Johnson’s knock out losses. When he finally lost the title to Willard it was the 26th round in 105-degree heat at ringside. Had it been a 15 round fight Johnson nearly pitches a shut out. Not a bad performance for a 37-year-old man who had been inactive and was way past his peak as a fighter.

Johnson’s early losses can be easily written off. Johnson was not a coddled fighter like today’s protected boxers. He did not have the advantage of financial backers that Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier had. He did not have a carefully guided career to a title shot like modern fighters. He was a black fighter who fought during a time when a “color line” existed and there had never been a black heavyweight champion. He often fought on little notice and literally went hungry between fights when he was a rising prospect. Such was the case in his battle against Klon***e Haines. Johnson floored his opponent in the first round for a 9 count. Haines was given a very long count according to eyewitnesses (See Ward’s Unforgivable Blackness pp 27-28). Johnson was literally “hungry”, a starving fighter taken out by a body punch after having little to eat for days. This would never happen, and never did happen to a prime Johnson. The Joe Choynski loss was a minor upset, but it was after this loss and studying under the veteran master that Johnson really came into his own as a fighter. Choynski after defeating the young prospect taught Johnson many of his feinting/parrying techniques (during the 23 days they spent together in jail). He was quoted as saying, "No man who moves like you should have to take a punch". Johnson was still green at age 22 when he lost to Choynski. Similarly Duane Bobick stopped Larry Holmes age 22 in the finals of the Olympic Trials, and Larry greatly improved after serving as a sparring partner for Ali. No one today is claiming that Larry has a weak chin because of the Bobick loss, and neither did Jack Johnson have a weak chin because of the Choynski loss.
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Old 06-17-2011, 12:49 PM
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Jack Johnson: The Equal Of Ali Part 3

By Monte D. Cox


Charley Rose who saw both Johnson and Ali fight said, (July 1966 Ring), “Johnson would have caught Clay's jabs like Willie Mays catches a baseball.” Ali’s lack of a properly placed parrying hand to block a jab (he held his right hand out to the side when he jabbed) would allow Johnson to counter Ali's lead left. Johnson’s superior defense and technical superiority would pose serious problems to Muhammad Ali who was neutralized to some degree by Ken Norton. When Ali made a mistake Johnson had the hand speed to exploit it. Further Ali did not fight well as an aggressor and preferred his opponents to come to him. Johnson would slide back and fight out of a defensive stance so he could counter. Ali had no body punching and therefore no game plan to attack Johnson. It would be a very frustrating fight for the "Greatest." Some observers such as Archie Moore and Eddie Futch picked Johnson in a dream fight against Ali (See Hauser, Muhammad Ali His Life and Times pp. 34, 456).

Clearly Muhammad Ali was a great champion who had the fortune to fight and best an irreproachable array of champions and challengers in one of the best eras in heavyweight boxing history in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Ali had a greater championship reign and better competition so perhaps deserves a higher all time rating. But in terms of sheer talent and ability Jack Johnson was an equal peer to Ali. It is not apparent who was truly the better athlete or better fighter. Both deserve to be recognized for their greatness. Ali has his respect. It is time for today’s generation to give the great Jack Johnson his due.
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Old 06-17-2011, 01:26 PM
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Thanks for sharing Poet

As a fan of Johnson that was very refreshing to read, especially considering some of the opinions of Johnson around here.
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Old 06-17-2011, 01:29 PM
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Very interesting read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks for that.
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Old 06-17-2011, 01:34 PM
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Very good ***** Poet. Thats the thing that bugs the hell out of me. I've lots of posters good on about "going by what old historians say" but when they say Jack Johnson was one of the best they ever seen, they ignore it.

Thats why I was laughing my ass off at all the people who thought Vital would beat him in that poll not to long ago. If Chris Byrd & Lennox Lewis could rough him up, why couldn't Johnson who credible source rate as the greatest heavyweight they ever saw. Vital does better against brawlers, not boxers.

And I think their's a huge misconception about him ducking black fighters. People really need to take into account racism back then. People act like it didn't exist or something. Yeah they loved black on black violence for simple fights, but they never wanted a black fighter to be champion EVER. So why would they want to watch 2 black men fight over their precious title? Especially Sam Langford who he already beat, so as inferior as they thought blacks were then I imagine they would have gave Johnson hell for facing a black person, nevertheless somebody he already beat making it seem like a pointless defense. It don't make sense but racism doesn't make sense period so you know how that could create bull***** back then. They wanted a white man to take JOhnson's head off, they hated him, he couldn't make no money if he wasn't fighting a white person who wanted his head.

You think that's a fair assessment Poet?
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Old 06-17-2011, 01:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bloody$Nate$ View Post
Very good ***** Poet. Thats the thing that bugs the hell out of me. I've lots of posters good on about "going by what old historians say" but when they say Jack Johnson was one of the best they ever seen, they ignore it.

Thats why I was laughing my ass off at all the people who thought Vital would beat him in that poll not to long ago. If Chris Byrd & Lennox Lewis could rough him up, why couldn't Johnson who credible source rate as the greatest heavyweight they ever saw. Vital does better against brawlers, not boxers.

And I think their's a huge misconception about him ducking black fighters. People really need to take into account racism back then. People act like it didn't exist or something. Yeah they loved black on black violence for simple fights, but they never wanted a black fighter to be champion EVER. So why would they want to watch 2 black men fight over their precious title? Especially Sam Langford who he already beat, so as inferior as they thought blacks were then I imagine they would have gave Johnson hell for facing a black person, nevertheless somebody he already beat making it seem like a pointless defense. It don't make sense but racism doesn't make sense period so you know how that could create bull***** back then. They wanted a white man to take JOhnson's head off, they hated him, he couldn't make no money if he wasn't fighting a white person who wanted his head.

You think that's a fair assessment Poet?
Partially fair.....Johnson ought not to drawn his own color-line regardless of the circumstances: It has to start somewhere so why not with Johnson? Regardless, though, I've found that people make the mistake of not putting title reigns in context of the era that it occured: I've said it before that the cultural expectations were different then. Fighters made their reputations BEFORE getting their title shots not after in those days. Back then winning the Heavyweight title was considered the culmination of a career not it's definition. Essentially the title reign was little more than an exibition tour where the champion milked the belt for all it's worth before hanging them up. It wasn't until the time of Joe Louis that the title reign came to be what the fighter was judged by. People today view fighters through the prism of the expectations that were set by Louis.....which really doesn't work with pre-Louis Heavyweights. This is why Dempsey catches so much flack.....because people judge his career based on expectations that hadn't been set yet at the time he was fighting. It's like I always say: Context, Context, CONTEXT. You have to put these fighters in context of the eras they fought in or the exercise is pointless: You learn nothing.

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Old 06-17-2011, 02:10 PM
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Partially fair.....Johnson ought not to drawn his own color-line regardless of the circumstances: It has to start somewhere so why not with Johnson? Regardless, though, I've found that people make the mistake of not putting title reigns in context of the era that it occured: I've said it before that the cultural expectations were different then. Fighters made their reputations BEFORE getting their title shots not after in those days. Back then winning the Heavyweight title was considered the culmination of a career not it's definition. Essentially the title reign was little more than an exibition tour where the champion milked the belt for all it's worth before hanging them up. It wasn't until the time of Joe Louis that the title reign came to be what the fighter was judged by. People today view fighters through the prism of the expectations that were set by Louis.....which really doesn't work with pre-Louis Heavyweights. This is why Dempsey catches so much flack.....because people judge his career based on expectations that hadn't been set yet at the time he was fighting. It's like I always say: Context, Context, CONTEXT. You have to put these fighters in context of the eras they fought in or the exercise is pointless: You learn nothing.

Poet
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Never really thought of it that way and I think that's why a lot of people including myself most definitely kinda find it odd when people rate old timers so damn high sometimes, because when you look at somebody's stats when comparing greatness nowadays the first thing you really look at is their title win and everything after before you really look at before.

Fair enough about Johnson's ducking too. I can see what your saying. Its all about the money and that was his biggest downfall, being selfish but then again like I said in my other thread he kinda represented what black were fighting for though by living an equal life. All about the money. You typically here people say nowadays "man back in they motha****as always fought the best." But really it wasn't too much different around Johnson's time, it's all comes down to the money.

Gonna hit you wit green once this 24 hr bs runs out.
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Old 06-17-2011, 02:17 PM
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All about the money. You typically here people say nowadays "man back in they motha****as always fought the best." But really it wasn't too much different around Johnson's time, it's all comes down to the money.
For the most part they DID fight the best.....they just did it BEFORE they won their titles.....that's how they earned their title shot in the first place. You had to put in a LOT of fights against tough opponents before you'd even get a sniff at the title.....especially in the lower weight classes.


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Gonna hit you wit green once this 24 hr bs runs out.
LOL, thanks.....I get the "you gotsta spread dat sh1t around" message more often then not :chuckle9:

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Old 06-17-2011, 04:09 PM
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[QUOTE=poet682006;10706919]Since Johnson's been a heavy topic recently I figured I'd post an article giving one boxing historian's take on him


Poet,
As one who has posted negative opinion(s) of JJ, let the record show that I did read all the info you posted on him.

Just to stir the pot a little....

1. What Jack Dempsey said about Johnson....I remember him giving nice compliments about every other heavyweight whenever he was asked about any of them. He could say the same things about the other great heavyweights as well.

2. What do you think Stanley Ketchel would have said had he fought Muhammad Ali? If he was impressed by Johnson's defensive prowness, don't you think that Ali's extra 2 inches in height and even faster speed would also have elicited high praise from Ketchel? And what if middleweight Stan Ketchel had fought Rocky Marciano? Do you think after that fight, Ketchel would also offer high praise to the Rock? For sure. And Marciano fought a lot in the mid 180's range. That's only 15 lbs or so more then the 170 lbs that Ketchel weighed when he fought JJ. Johnson weighed 35 lbs more then Ketchel did when they fought. Joe Frazier fought around the 205 range, same as what Johnson weighed when he flattened Ketchel. What compliments would Ketchel pay to Frazier after they would have fought?

3. We can go thru every great champion there has ever been in boxing and gather up various accolades and articles of high praise that was heaped upon each one of them by various people at various points in each of their careers.

The article you took the time to post here was an excellent one. I'm very impressed by lots of what was written. Still, as great as Johnson was, I still think that there are many other heavyweights in history who would have beaten him. And who also have had many glowing things written about them as well.
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