Saturday, July 2, 2016

On This Day: Joe Jeanette: An Ironman Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Joe Jeannette was one of the greatest heavyweights of his time, unfortunately his colour barred him from fighting for the Heavyweight championship of the world.  Jeannette was one of a quartet of great coloured heavyweights who dominated the division in the 1900s and 1910s, with the others being Jack Johnson, Sam Langford, Sam McVea, and Harry Wills. Of them all, only Jack Johnson would manage to gain a shot at the world title, a fight of course which Johnson won handily. 

Jeannette was born in North Bergen, New Jersey, and as a youngster was an apprentice blacksmith. However, a chance encounter with boxing in 1904, when Jeannette took part in a boxing exhibition for a dare, awakened an interest in boxing within Jeannette. Already a talented athlete, Jeannette turned professional, and despite his lack of experience, soon showed that he was naturally gifted for the fight game.

Standing 5' feet 10" inches in height, Jeannette scaled between 185 and 205 pounds during his career, and was a good all-round boxer, with a slippery defence, and a dangerous offence.  Jeannette had a good punch and could take as well as dish out punishment.  From the beginning of his career in 1904 Jeannette was thrown into the deep end and mixing it with some of the top heavyweights of his day. In his first 22 contests, Jeannette fought Jack Johnson seven times and Sam Langford three times.  Jeannette progressed quickly and soon was a tough match for anyone, including Jack Johnson, who in later years called Jeannette “The toughest man I have ever faced”.

As during this era, most of the white heavyweights used the colour bar as a way to avoid facing the coloured contenders. Fighters such as Jeannette, Johnson, Langford, McVea and Wills were often forced to fight each other a multitude of times in order to stay in work. During his career, Jeannette would fight Sam Langford 14 times, Jack Johnson 10 times, Jim Johnson 10 times, Sam McVea 5 times, and Harry Wills 3 times.

One of Jeannette’s most famous fights took place on April 17, 1909, when he fought Sam McVea in Paris, in what was termed as a fight to the finish. The match lasted into the 49th round, making it the longest recorded fight of the 20th century. Due to the site of the fight and the reporting limitations of the day, many of the details of this fight remain cloudy and unsubstantiated. It is said that during this epic match there was as many as 38 knockdowns, with Jeannette hitting the deck 27 times, while McVea tasted the canvas 11 times. Eventually, Jeannette was adjudged the winner after the 49th round, when McVea, who was no longer able to see through his swollen eyes, was forced to retire from the fight.

Jeannette remained a fixture in the heavyweight division well into the 1910s, but was never granted a world title shot, even when his old nemesis Jack Johnson won the crown. 

Upon his retirement from fighting, Jeannette became the first African American to be granted a referee’s and Judge’s licence by the New York State.

In 1922, Jeannette built a gym in New Jersey and became a well-known trainer.  Eventually in the late 1940s Jeannette converted the gym into a garage, to fulfil his second love, outside of boxing, his enthusiasm for cars.  Jeannette had a fleet of rental limousines that he hired out for a time, then he brought a fleet of taxi cabs, and named his taxi company Adelaide, after his wife.

Jeannette may not have won the world heavyweight title, or even been allowed to fight for it, but he did far better in the end than many fighters who had worn the heavyweight crown.  Joe Jeannette has a street named after him in Union City, which is located between Summit Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard.

Joe Jeannette’s final record was an impressive 83(70koes)-10-9 … with his record in newspaper decisions being 35-16-11.

Sam Lanford Vs Joe Jeanette:

Copyright © 2016 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

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