Bob Armstrong’s reputation as Colored heavyweight Champion – despite the same promotional hype which made Peter Jackson a star – was an unaggressive guy who lacked early-round knockout power for someone of his enormous size. It was partly unfair because his left jab was terrific while his strategy was patience. He was labeled a “has-been” following his January 1898, shocking knockout loss to Frank Childs. It wasn’t even deemed particularly newsworthy when he suffered a July, 1898, 5th round knockout loss to notorious (along with Tom Sharkey) Denver pugilist, Mexican Pete Everett.
There would be some redemption for former Colored Heavyweight champion Bob Armstrong, who embarrassingly lost his title to Frank Childs, a sparring partner fill-in paid $25 who scored an unlikely 2nd round knockout, through August, 1898, exhibition loss to his sparring partner; an up-and-coming, undefeated Northern California heavyweight, James Jeffries. The latter believed so much in his ability that he intended on two bouts the same day. It was the first time New York City fans would view the giant White man who had scored an impressive 3rd round knockout over an aging Peter Jackson though it didn’t impress local San Franciscans. Jeffries was viewed as slow and clumsy with no boxing “science” who utilized brute strength and a diet of body punches to overwhelm an opponent. The other opponent Jeffries would fight after (which was assumed) knocking out Armstrong would be Steve O’Donnell who was a frequent sparring partner of former White heavyweight Champion, John L. Sullivan who suffered an 1896, 1st round knockout loss to Bob Fitzsimmons for the title. Armstrong, in one of boxing history’s earliest contests of largest heavyweights to battle (both above 6’2) created enough havoc that Jeffries was forced to cancel his O’Donnell fight amidst a chorus of boos from spectators.
ROUND 1: Pugilists step out – Jeffries throws and lands left to neck – throws right to upper body – blocked by Armstrong. Pugilists step back. Both have unusual head-duck with mutual feints. Jeffries throws left to head – blocked – follows with right to body – blocked. Pugilists back – Black from Chicago bobs gloves and feints punches – White from Northern California throws left to body – blocked – throws hard right to body – blocked – Jeffries slightly off balance – Armstrong lands straight left to head…. (Jeffries breaks his left hand during the round.)
ROUND 3: Jeffries mostly paws with left – attempts aiming right to body. Armstrong senses a telegraphed right – ducks to avoid head shot – instead low right pops him square to nose – blood trickles. Jeffries follows with broken left hand blow which illegally lands to crotch below belt; Armstrong slightly keels over. Chicago native angrily clasps hands and retaliate-butts Jeffries hard with forehead.
ROUND 10: Pugilists in clinch – Jeffries pounds and pounds with right to lower body – lands right illegally below belt to crotch area – pugilists separate. Armstrong rushes Jeffries and tries to throw right, loses balance and stumbles; Jeffries illegally pushes foe to ground.
Armstrong lands on hands and knees. Chicagoan raises gloves – remains on knees – frustrated and angry Jeffries steps forward and illegally pushes shocked Armstrong onto back…. Bell rings…. Jeffries was unable to fight O’Donnell which brought chorus of boos from spectators. Next day New York headline: “Jeffries Is A Failure – Big Californian Not Championship Possibility.”
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Frank Childs had (apparently) lost his Colored heavyweight Championship in the year since his shocking 2nd round knockout over Armstrong. While still Champion he scored an impressive 1st round knockout in Chicago over a White Oregon pugilist of reputation, Billy Keogh. Chicago Tribune: “Frank Childs of Chicago finished the good looking, Bill Keogh, of Portland, Oregon, in less than two minutes fighting. Some time in the past, Bill Keogh may have been a clever fighter. He came here from the Pacific Coast with a record which last night he utterly failed to sustain.”
While Childs had not become well-known nationally his reputation as an undersized heavyweight with a terrific knockout punch had made him popular within Chicago. His 2nd round knockout over Armstrong had at least been reported nationally including the New York Times. He (apparently) lost his title in New York City, September, 1898, to the undefeated Colored middleweight Champion, George Byers. Childs was neutralized, not by a larger man or slugger but a quicker pugilist with superior boxing skills. Byers apparently won every one of the 20-rounds decision. Byers damaged Childs’ left eye in the 4th round and continued landing left jabs to the eyes throughout. By the end of the “dull” bout Childs’ eye was completely closed. New York fans and media despised Bob Armstrong and underestimated Byers, but applauded Childs’ “determination and strength’ in the one-sided loss.
Frank Childs had been an undersized heavyweight champion while Byers was smaller and lean. It leads some to believe Byers was a deserving Colored champion, but not as a heavyweight which began the process of multiple titles including (which would become more prestigious), Black heavyweight Champion. Childs was more quiet than amiable, but not a complainer so he continued his career with a January, 1899, 2nd round disqualification victory in Chicago over Black pugilist, Joe Butler with both fighting at 175 pounds.
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(3/4/1899) Frank Childs vs. Bob Armstrong II – Location: Cincinnati, Ohio – Robinson’s Opera House – brawler Tom Sharkey helped 25 years-old, Bob Armstrong train – 31 years-old, Frank Childs was the crowd favorite because of his smaller size: “fully 5 inches shorter”…. Some historians refer to this as a Black heavyweight Championship Bout – but it’s a bit more complicated. No spectators in Cincinnati viewed this as a Championship bout and barely seemed to know who Frank Childs was other than someone who fought out of Chicago. Cincinnati boxing fans would learn, as did most cities unfamiliar with him, that Frank Childs was a delight for spectators. The smaller Childs became the crowd favorite due to the startling difference in size between the boxers. It seemed impossible that the gargantuan, chiseled Adonis could lose.
ROUND 1: Armstrong throws left jab to head – misses short – throws another left to head – misses as Childs ducks – smaller man lands left to body – lands right which connects toward back of head. Armstrong lands with weak left – smaller Childs stands in front of foe as he counters with left to body – follows with right which lands to head.
ROUND 2: It appears Armstrong wants to depend on reach advantage. Childs refuses to back and relies on hand speed. Childs lands left to body and follows with right to jaw. (Apparently, he continues to miss slightly with right). Crowd cheers action, and in particular, Childs’ aggressiveness.
ROUND 3: Armstrong attempts to counter hand speed disadvantage with consecutive and triple left jabs to head – Childs blocks several while standing in place. Childs lands left to stomach – follows with right which lands to head – Armstrong staggers and drops to ground.
The crowd roars – referee counts: ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ – Armstrong takes full count – ‘6, 7, 8, 9’ – Armstrong rises and clinches Childs – holds and pulls smaller foe with him toward ropes. Childs slips loose as both exchange punches – Armstrong lands to ribs – Childs lands right to head which knocks foe back to ropes – exchange of punches – bell sounds – Armstrong lands right to mouth.
ROUND 4: Pugilists stand close together and exchange punches; Childs lands more frequent. Armstrong lands some sort of punch; Childs hurt but shall not back. Childs having trouble landing right squarely – pounds hard to body with left – Armstrong drops his guard while Childs lands right to jaw – Armstrong dazed and “holds on to the little man” – Childs furiously attempts to punch – Armstrong continues firm hold as both stumble around clinched together.
ROUND 5: Pugilists stand toe-to-toe and exchange punches – both land in fierce action – clinch. Pugilists separate – back to close quarters and exchange punches – another clinch – separate. (Slight frustration for both – close quarters keeps Armstrong from landing long left jab clean – Childs attempts to set up right, but it it’s awkward and slightly off.) Childs lands hard left to stomach – Armstrong drops guard – Childs follows with right which lands to jaw – Armstrong’s head snapped back as he staggers backward – crowd roars its approval. Armstrong’s knees buckle with arms flat to side – Childs charges forward – Armstrong grabs, clinches and holds – Childs furiously attempts to punch and shake foe loose.
ROUND 6: Armstrong steps out aggressive with solid legs; pugilists close in. Childs lands two lefts to body – Armstrong attempts to gauge and aim his left jab – Childs lands left to body – Armstrong attempts to rush in clinch, but Childs faster with right which lands clean to jaw. Armstrong wobbled as he staggers sideways and back – crowd roars. Childs chases – Armstrong unsteady as he tries to avoid foe with quick steps left and then right – Childs madly chases and throws punches. Armstrong has long left outstretched as he receives punches and bounces off ropes. Childs lands left hook uppercut to jaw; Armstrong wobbles on unsteady feet. Childs tired but chases – Armstrong staggers toward his own corner – Childs chases and attempts to throw punches – Armstrong’s corner man throws sponge inside ring.
Referee spots ‘quit’ and frantically waves hands – bout over – TECHNICAL KNOCKOUT! Crowd adoringly cheers this smaller “Chicago fighter” of whom they were previously unfamiliar.
Cincinnati Enquirer review: “Bob Armstrong’s championship aspirations collapsed last night as completely as a toy balloon punctured with the point of a needle…. It was a very satisfactory contest and greatly pleased the big crowd of sports who were present. Seldom do two men mix it up as fast and furious as the two blacks did last night. There was very little of the evasive tactics in the contest. Side steps, slips, ducks and fancy work of that kind were noticeable by their absence. Instead of breaking ground to escape a blow each seemed quite willing to take a punch for the privilege of giving one…. Childs seemed to be away the better of the two. He fought with both hands at every opportunity. Childs was the favorite with the crowd on the principle that the sympathy of the onlookers is always with the underdog.”