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Old 12-04-2011, 03:10 PM #1
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Default Jess Willard

The Boston Globe 5 April 1919

Making Ready For The Big Fight
By Robert Edgren

Jess Willard, according to report from the wilds of Kansas, where his “ranch" is located, is hard at work training for the coming Fourth of July engagement with Jack Dempsey.

It is alleged by the 'Champion's training staff that little Jess weighs only 275 pounds now, having attained a "sylphlike figure" through several weeks of strenuous self-denial and a certain amount of preliminary work. Jess plans to go right along training on the ranch, tossing food to animals, cranking his own car, boxing in his own barn and running on the country roads until six weeks before the fight. The last six weeks he will spend in putting on the final touches, as near the battleground as Tex Rickard wants him located.

"This is a strenuous program for little Jess. But he went through just such a siege of work while preparing for the championship battle with Jack Johnson. The incentive then was the gaining of a world championship and a fortune. The incentive now is a strong desire to avoid a beating, and an equally strong hankering for Tex Richard's $100,000.

Jess never did like hard training, but he can be driven to it. Harassed by a mental picture of himself stretched on the floor with Jack Dempsey standing over him, and encouraged by the promise of a purse that establishes a new world record, Willard will probably work himself into the best physical condition he can possibly attain at this stage of the game. Dempsey can expect to find a man in the ring at last who can give him a fight.

I had from Mr Earl Rodgers of Los Angeles an interesting story of Jess Willard when Jess first took it into his head to go after Jack Johnson and the title. Mr. Rodgers was Willard's lawyer when Jess was on trial for the death of Bull Young several years ago. Incidentally he secured Willard's discharge and vindication by finding out what really did cause Bull Young's death — which is another story.

According to Mr. Rodgers he took Willard's case because he was greatly interested in all sports, and particularly in boxing, but he had no especial interest in Jess until the case came to court. Then, he says, he found Jess the coolest and most courageous client he ever had. The big fellow sat around Mr. Rodgers' office day after day, volunteering to run errands and make himself useful, and always was smiling and apparently entirely unconcerned.

As far as Mr. Rodgers could see, Jess had no "nerves." And seeing him like this, he contrasted him with Jack Johnson and came to the conclusion that Willard was so much gamer than the black champion that he would beat Johnson in a long fight, notwithstanding the difference in their skill and experience.

He suggested the match to Willard, and then he told Jess that all he needed was to study fighting and perfect a defense.

Years Study Needed.

“I studied law for years” he told Jess. “If you world study your profession as hard as I studied mine and stop wasting your time, you’d beat Johnson easily. I’ll get someone who can coach and teach you, and you’ll be champion if you're game to try for it. All you need is a year of study."

Willard agreed, the idea, had a logical sound. Mr. Rodgers negotiated with Torn Jones, and Tom Jones took Willard's ring education in hand. It was a year later when Willard had his chance. In that year he did a lot of hard work. The result was that he changed from a big clumsy farmer to a skilled fighting man.

When he met Johnson the black champion tried every trick in his list, and there was not one for which Willard lacked a foil and a counter. I saw the fight. I saw Johnson starting with full confidence quickly come to a startled realization of the fact he was not only outmatched in strength and stamina, but that for the first, time he was fighting a man who couldn't be drawn in to leaving an opening, who would not attack and let Johnson do all the countering, and who had a wicked long left jab that forced Johnson to take the aggressive or submit tamely to a beating.

Johnson found that Willard could not be hurried or drawn out — that Jess could beat him at his own waiting same, and could beat him in the fighting when Johnson was compelled to take the risk of rushing in and mixing it. Willard had everything that Johnson had, and some things that Johnson lacked. For one thing, he had perfect condition.

Kept Him From Loafing

Tex O'Rourke was responsible for much of that condition, and Jirn Savage was responsible for much of the skill and knowledge of Johnson's fighting tricks that Willard showed. Savage had boxed with Johnson in former days and was clever enough to study him well. But it was O'Rourke who saw that Willard got into shape for an all-day fight. A college athlete and a member of famous college tennis in several branches of sport, afterward a coach of
several years' experience, and nearly Willard's match in size and fully his match in strength. O'Rourke was the only one who could make big Jess go out on the road and work.

Jess liked the boxing. It was just good natured play for him to slam his sparring partner around. But he didn't care much for running, especially when it was hot. O'Rourke used to tell me, down in Havana, his morning's experiences. He and Jess would go out from the Ville Miramar, where Jess had his training quarters, and walk along a road that led to the country. There, where the sandy road stretched in open view for miles. O'Rourke would climb an embankment and prepare to act as watchful spectator while Jess cavorted into the far distance and back again, in full view all the time.

If O'Rourke wasn't there, in plain sight Jess was inclined to take part of his run silting under a tree.

Most Champions Young

Willard was a youthful looking farmer when he first came to New York. That was back in 1912. According to his own dope sheet, the champion was born Dec 28 1887, which would make him less than 32 years old. There seems to be some doubt about the correctness of this, however and some people do say that Jess like a chorus girl, has a strong distaste for confessing his real age. (Born: 1881-12-29)

Supposing that Willard really is in his 32nd year, how many ring champions in the heavyweight class have been in their prime after passing 30. John L. Sullivan was at his best at 25, and from that time on deteriorated rapidly. When Corbett knocked him out he was within about a month of 34 years of age, and a mere shadow of the great fighter he once was. Corbett was 30 years and six months when Fitzsimmons knocked him out at Carson, and he was far from the Corbett of New Orleans.

Fitzsimmons was a fighting wonder until actual old age drove him from the ring. He was 36 when Jeffries dethroned him. Jeffries retired at 29-and when he tried again six years later the old stuff wasn’t in him. Johnson was 37 when Willard whipped him but he was a long way past his
Reno condition of five years before. Tommy Burns was 27 when he lost to Sulilvan was champion at 23. Corbett at 26, Fitzsimmons at 34, Jeffries at 24, Burns at 26, Johnson at 30 and Willard at 28.

Of course Willard is of a type that ages slowly. Big men usually develop their full physical powers late and keep them long. Were not Jack Dempsey just in his 24th year - the ideal fighting age –and one of the greatest and hardest-hitting heavyweights ever known in America, Tim Coffroth and a score of other gentlemen well known in fistic circles would hardly pick him to win.
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