Today, these names are mostly forgotten, but in their day, these were some of the best boxers around. They had the unfortunate distinction of being African-American at a time when in boxing, they were avoided as if they had ebola.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, most boxing champions, like most stalwarts in any American industry, were white. Their promoters, such as Tex Rickard, avoided the black fighters out of respect, respect for their skill level, knowing that facing any one of them could end a profitable attraction in an instant.
What resulted was a constant box off of sorts: they would face off against each other until one rose above the rest; the winner, an uncrowned black champion of sorts. One example was Archie Moore. He faced all of these boxers at least once, and some, like Harold Johnson, multiple times. After years of toiling, as an old man he finally received a title shot. But he was lucky. Most of these men never did.
Yet their legacy still lives on today. Harold Johnson is credited as one of the originators of the shoulder roll, which is still used by Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, and James Toney. Archie Moore’s aboriginal diet is the stuff of legend, and carried on by some boxers today, chewing meat to get the juices but spitting it out before swallowing to avoid gaining weight. Mike Tyson watched tapes of Ezzard Charles to learn defensive movements that he implemented in his style. Charles and Moore both admitted they never would have become champions had they not faced such stern opposition earlier in their careers. And many times, the champions were easier opponents than the black fighters.
But there were so many good fighters, but only so many weight classes. So most toiled in relative obscurity, while a couple of diamonds rose above the rest to remain in the annals of history.
Today, they would all certainly be champions, perhaps in multiple weight classes, but instead they have been left only in the memories of those who were lucky enough to watch them, and to boxing scholars that take the time to read of the history of a proud tradition of old-time black boxers of this country.
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