Publish Date: 11/04/2018
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
By January 1888, George Godfrey had been the Colored heavyweight Champion nearly five years since his 6th round knockout of Professor Charles Hadley. John L. Sullivan remained the undefeated White heavyweight champion, but his out of ring behavior was affecting his dominance. Sullivan’s alcoholism led to several ugly incidents when he would lose his temper publicly. Privately, he beat men, maids and ex-wives. There were several arrests, but nothing deemed serious. While he could be a generous man and soft touch for money, he spent more money than his massive (for its time) boxing income provided. Sullivan hated prize-fighting and desired retirement for years but his investments, including jewelry, gambling and owning a tavern all went bankrupt.
John L. Sullivan’s outsized personality was probably better for boxing than George Godfrey’s reserved modesty. Sullivan’s presence alone was a public event. When he recently visited London, England for paid boxing exhibitions among his admirers was the Prince of Wales. Sullivan would have no concept of protocol for European royalty. At the National Sporting Club, the playboy, sportsman Prince introduced himself to Sullivan who probably felt he was meeting another admirer – only this guy wealthier. Sullivan said to the Prince, “I think I’ve heard of you.” Sullivan then slapped the future King Edward VII to shoulder and added, “If you’re ever in Boston look me up.”
John L. Sullivan remained boxing’s biggest draw with 6,000 Minneapolis, Minnesota fans viewing his disappointing January 1887, 6-round Draw versus Patsy Cardiff. Sullivan was fortunate to retain his title. Cardiff utilized defensive backing with moments of each round where he would step forward and land 3-4 head punches with superior hand speed and then back again. Sullivan later claimed a 1st round injury was the reason for his lackluster performance. The reality is his weight was 35 pounds heavier than his dominant days before and after he won the 1882 bare-knuckle title and announced himself a gloved champion. Sullivan might not have won a round against Cardiff with the latter’s punching frequency superior. Cardiff didn’t land hard punches but did draw first blood. The referee was the sole judge and probably gave Sullivan credit as the offensive aggressor however ineffective. The Draw was the first ‘blemish’ to Sullivan’s unbeaten record. Minneapolis Dispatch: “The general impression is that Cardiff had the best of the fight from first to last, getting in three blows on Sullivan’s face and pushing him into the ropes twice, cleverly avoiding Sullivan’s attacks and coming out at the end of the sixth round as fresh as when he went in.”
George Godfrey remained in the Boston region but was unable to find financial backing for a major bout. He fought some 3-round exhibitions including White Tom Foley as the undercard to a John L. Sullivan/Steve Taylor and Mike Cleary in Boston with Godfrey landing some clean, uncontested punches versus Foley to polite applause from the crowd. Godfrey sparred with White Jack Loring as an undercard to the John L. Sullivan/Al Greenfield main event. Godfrey and Loring performed an entertaining ‘fake’ boxing show with seemingly hard punches and mutual knockdowns. Sullivan had promised not to inflict much damage for his 4-round prearranged affair. The booing crowd was more forgiving when Sullivan announced from the ring that law enforcement tied his hands or he’d love to knockout the alleged English champion.
The popular Baltimore heavyweight, Jake Kilrain, was Master of Ceremonies for a George Godfrey/Jimmy Doherty bout in front of 200 Boston fans. Doherty was White so it was a non-title bout, but it may have been Godfrey at the peak of his boxing prowess. Godfrey dominated Doherty with three knockdowns during his 1st round knockout victory.
Bat Masterson was a tremendous boxing fan who admired George Godfrey. The former Kansas lawman/gunfighter possesses influence with wealthier backers luring Godfrey to his home State, Colorado, to defend his Colored heavyweight Championship versus McHenry Johnson. Masterson would also act as Godfrey’s handler for what could be an $800 payday. Godfrey was probably offered more initially, but boxing has always been a bit sleazy with regard to money offered and then learning otherwise. Whatever Johnson had been offered, which would at least include the opportunity to win the Colored heavyweight Championship. The title could possibly be parlayed into future financial windfall. If McHenry lost, he would walk away with a mere $50.
(1/25/1888) ‘Colored’ Heavyweight Championship
Champion George Godfrey vs. McHenry Johnson
Location: Boulder County Colorado – outside of Denver – gloved bout – Johnson, at 182 pounds, known as “Black Star” from Baltimore – 35-year-old Canadian Champion has Bat Masterson as handler – Crowd: 400 fans who paid $5 apiece – Prize: $800 for winner – $50 for loser. Referee: Dick Williams.
ROUND 1: Both cautious – Johnson defensive – both pass one another several times – Champion lands right to cheek – both circle – Johnson lands hard right to mouth – blood oozes from Godfrey as he smiles. Champion attempts several rights – all miss as Johnson backs – several clinches and separation – Godfrey lands a couple light jabs to head – damage minimal as Johnson moves and backs.
ROUND 2: Champion determined as he steps forward – Johnson backs – Godfrey continues forward – Johnson dances and backs – Godfrey pursues and lands right to body – Johnson backs – Godfrey lands left jab to body – Johnson backs – Godfrey steps forward and lands hard right to body – Johnson shrieks as he backs – crowd grumbles and shouts for more action – Godfrey steps forward – Johnson clinches.
ROUND 3: Champion steps forward – Johnson backs – Godfrey throws right-punch a couple times – misses as Johnson backs – Godfrey traps foe toward corner ropes – lands hard right clean to chin – feints left and lands right to shoulder – Johnson falls to canvas.
Referee counts: “1, 2, 3, 4” – Johnson lifts himself to knees and begins to rise – Godfrey steps forward and lands right to face – Johnson knocked flat to ground, onto back.
Johnson’s second (corner man) enters ring to argue with referee and repeatedly shouts “Foul” – all heck breaks loose – some fans yell for disqualification and others yell for bout to continue – referee confused by disruption – Johnson uses opportunity to crawl along ground and lift himself with ropes. “Time” is called to end chaos round.
ROUND 4: Johnson’s lip is cut while face grotesquely swollen – Godfrey steps forward to throw knockout punch – Johnson backs and dodges blows – Champion pounces – Johnson grabs and holds – pugilists stagger in clinch across ring – referee pulls on two to separate – Godfrey lands right to chin – referee immediately waves bout over – DISQUALIFICATION!
Godfrey has lost title for hitting during clinch break – crowd cheers and boos simultaneous – referee Williams raises Johnson’s arm and declares him victor and new Champion.
McHenry Johnson is Colored Heavyweight Champion for a couple hours as the pugilist’s wait while the money is gathered for distribution. It is $2,000 in receipts with an $850 purse while the former Champion shall receive $600 in defeat. The new Champion, knocked down once, with his ugly disqualification victory earns $250.
Members of the Crib Club begin debate the merit of Johnson’s victory and the fairness of Referee Williams’ disqualification. It is a technical violation to hit an opponent following a clinch while they are separating. Bat Masterson is a local icon. Masterson has settled into Colorado as a sportswriter who specializes with boxing. Masterson, who once convinced the Colorado governor not to extradite serial-killer Doc Holliday back to Arizona on a murder warrant by arguing he would be hanged without a fair trial, uses his clout and persuasion ability to argue the disqualification decision should be reversed.
Bat Masterson and others eventually win the argument – so although he did not fall to ground from controversial punch – McHenry Johnson is ruled the loser via 3rd round technical knockout. George Godfrey shall remain Colored heavyweight Champion. The $850 prize money is redistributed so that Godfrey receives $750 with Johnson allowed $100. One imagines a disappointed Johnson believing mistreatment or unfairness, but not surprisingly Godfrey is ecstatic by the turn of events. Godfrey returns to Boston informing the newspapers, “I never got among a squarer group of people than I found in Colorado.”
George Godfrey was a good Christian who was proud of his personal morality. He would not want a win by deceit. He was likely disconsolate and feeling wronged when his title was briefly stripped in a bout which he was dominating.
White heavyweight Champion, John L. Sullivan is a bit of a mess, out of shape, not training properly for the few bouts he undertakes. English pugilist, Charlie Mitchell, the only boxer to knock Sullivan down in a gloved bout senses vulnerability. Mitchell devises a brilliant plan to goad the financially-strapped Sullivan into breaking his vow to never fight bare-knuckle, fight-to-the-finish again. Mitchell plans a defensive strategy to avoid the Champion and force him into exhaustion.
Forty wealthy boxing patrons hold the illegal bare-knuckle bout in Apremont, France. There is light rain as the bout begins. A bare-knuckle round can be five seconds or five hours. A round does not conclude until one of the pugilist’s touch ground. It is illegal to fall intentionally but pugilists generally ignore this rule without penalty. Sullivan is dominant for the first three rounds with his famed right punch scoring knockdowns to conclude each. The undefeated Champion is already exhausted by the 4th round and no longer able to catch the backing Mitchell. To conserve energy, and without much choice, Sullivan stops chasing Mitchell who taunts and calls the American legend names.
The following 27-rounds would probably send American boxing fans into a furor. Mitchell did not care about his tactic of backing non-stop while occasionally falling to ground intentionally. Mitchell is warned about disqualification but it’s a rule rarely enforced. The light rain turns into a torrential downpour. Sullivan occasionally attempts to charge Mitchell and trap him onto ropes, but the slippery challenger manages to escape or fall. Mitchell is clever if nothing else and uses the rain as his legitimate excuse for falling to ground. Mitchell claims to be slipping from the wet surface.
Rounds 32-38 are interminable with the 34th round lasting fifteen minutes. As the 39th round begins neither pugilist moves from their place. John L. Sullivan stands in the middle of the ring unable to step forward while rain drenches him. Charlie Mitchell remains a safe distance by the ropes shouting names at his foe. The round is beyond the thirty-five-minute mark with nothing happening. The offer is made for Sullivan to quit if it’s called a Draw. For Mitchell, this is nearly a victory which he could convert into money from Europe. For Sullivan, the frustrating bout would be over with his retention of the White heavyweight Championship. Sullivan accedes which is his second consecutive Draw. Nearly everyone who remained to the end was arrested by French police, including both pugilists. Sullivan was more than willing to allow himself deported so he could return home.
Two months following his 3rd round knockout victory over McHenry Johnson and John L. Sullivan’s disappointing Draw, George Godfrey’s backers had raised $1500 for a Boston challenge to anyone. Their goal was to goad and embarrass John L. Sullivan into fighting him. Sullivan, who did not begin his career as a racist, has become a White supremacist and insists he would never allow a Black man to fight him for the unified heavyweight title.
In Boston, where both pugilists were most popular, the sporting men became more vocal that John L. Sullivan should fight George Godfrey for the outright heavyweight title. New York City,
San Francisco and Chicago media would soon follow with increasing howls that Sullivan’s racism was wrong and that he was out of shape and not the same dominant boxer from 1879-1886. Godfrey would ultimately open the door for other Black boxers as equals – or superior – to their White counterparts. Godfrey deserves recognition that his skills as a boxer and class as a person eventually led to longtime Black heavyweight Champion (1902-08), Jack Johnson battling the undersized White, Canadian Tommy Burns for the unified title.
George Godfrey gave boxing fans what they have craved thousands of years before his birth and thousands of years after his death: A FIGHT!! Godfrey’s reputation is the only reason he would be favored against the younger, larger Australian, Peter Jackson, for the Colored heavyweight Championship. Godfrey was more than a decade older than Jackson at a height and weight disadvantage, but for at least a couple rounds engaged in entertaining offensive action.
(8/24/1888) ‘Colored’ Heavyweight Championship
Location: San Francisco, California – gloved bout – Champion Godfrey is 5’10, 175 pounds – challenger Jackson is 6’1, 195 pounds.
Pre-fight strategy: Jackson likes to step forward – maul foe and exchange punches inside. Godfrey is a superior defensive fighter – quick hands and feet – and one assumes shall be backing often.
ROUND 1: Pugilists stand toe-to-toe – Godfrey lands left to head – Jackson attempts to hit Canadian’s bobbing head – misses – lands low to body (slightly below belt). Godfrey backs – Jackson extends left – Godfrey head bobs – Jackson lands left jab to head – Godfrey slips under and lands left to nose – Jackson swats and lands right to mouth.
Both pause – furiously exchange punches. Both pause – Jackson extends left – Godfrey head bobs and tries to slip under Jackson’s extended left arm – instead Jackson lands left jab to face – Godfrey tries to slip inside – Jackson lands left jab to mouth – Godfrey undeterred and continues to attempt to slip inside – Jackson lands left jab to face – Godfrey head bobs, refuses to back and steps forward – Jackson lands left jab to face – Godfrey side steps and head bobs – Canadian steps forward to avoid extended left and lands hard right to jaw – Australian challenger momentarily dazed and steps back – regains footing and extends left arm – Godfrey head bobs and slips under left to throw right to head – slightly grazes – Jackson swats with right that misses – Godfrey head ducks – Jackson steps back – Godfrey steps forward – Jackson lands left jab to head – Godfrey head bobs and attempts to step forward – Jackson lands left jab to head.
ROUND 2: Pugilists exchange punches – Godfrey lands slightly more – Jackson lands heavier blows – Canadian smiles throughout – Australian stoic and expressionless. Jackson is likely a better boxer than Godfrey imagined – as Champion weaves and lands punches – challenger deflects damage with his own head shifts. Godfrey throws left, right to head – a block and head shift defuse both. Jackson counters and lands hard left to chin – follows and lands right to ribs – Godfrey backs – Jackson steps forward and attempts to pin foe against ropes – Godfrey covers up – Jackson pounds with right, left, right – all land but with little damage against Champion’s defense.
Godfrey suddenly uncovers and throws and lands hard right to jaw – challenger knocked backward a couple steps. Australian rethinks strategy and backs off – confident Canadian steps forward – Jackson extends left arm and slightly backs – Godfrey charges forward to slip under jab and throw right – Jackson instead lands hard right to chin – Godfrey drops to canvas – crowd roars fierce action.
Canadian on floor only briefly – springs to feet and lands left to head – Jackson lands right to head – Godfrey lands right to head – Jackson lands left to head. Both slightly off balance – Godfrey attempts to take advantage of exposed foe and throws hard right to jaw – misses – round ends – crowd roars its approval.
Following the round, Peter Jackson makes an important adjustment. Although he has scored the only knockdown, Jackson is surprised by the smaller Champion’s heart and physical strength. Godfrey is getting the best of the infighting to this point, so Jackson decides to better utilize his left jab by fighting at more of a range distance.
ROUND 3: Two in clinch – wrestle – separate. Jackson steps forward and lands hard left to side of neck – Godfrey is hurt. Canadian backs – twists head and neck to regain mobility. Champion steps forward – challenger long left jab keeps foe at distance – Godfrey wants to step forward – Jackson lands left jab to head – lands left jab to head – Godfrey head bobs and tries to step forward – Jackson lands left jab to head – follows and lands hard right to mouth – blood oozes from Champion – round ends.
ROUND 4: Jackson’s strategy pattern of assaults with jabs – then backs and rests. Australian attacks with left jab to head – misses – throws right to body – blocked – follows with left to head – Champion blocks. Godfrey lands left to jaw – lands right to neck – challenger slightly hurt and backs. Both slightly rest – Jackson’s left arm extended. Champion tries to duck and step forward – Jackson lands right to head – lands light left jab push to face – Godfrey remains aggressive with head bobs and tries to duck jab – Jackson lands right to head. Pugilists momentarily stand toe-to-toe and exchange punches – then clinch. Two separate – Jackson left arm extended – Godfrey slips under and throws awkward left that grazes head – Jackson lands hard right to left eye – blood spurts and oozes from Champion’s face.
ROUND 5: Godfrey excites and disgusts crowd as he spits blood – bleeding from inside of mouth and outside eye. Godfrey steps forward – slips under challenger’s extended left arm and lands his own left to head – follows with right to head – misses. Jackson momentarily backs – then steps forward and lands right to head – lands left to head – Godfrey stands still and does not back – Jackson lands right to head – lands left to head – Champion an easy target – Jackson lands right to head – follows with left which lands to head – round ends.
(Scoring purposes) ROUND 6: Jackson. ROUND 7: Jackson. ROUND 8: Godfrey. ROUND 9: even – little fighting. ROUND 10: Even – little fighting. ROUND 11: Jackson.
The end of George Godfrey’s reign as Colored heavyweight Champion appears closer to conclusion as each round progresses. But he still possesses the will to continue and not surrender. Jackson realizes steady left jabs and patience are wearing down the Champ and it appears to only be a matter of time.
(Scoring purposes) ROUND 12: Jackson. ROUND 13: Jackson. ROUND 14: Jackson.
Peter Jackson is going to win the bout short of a miracle knockout, but crowd cheers the proud Champion. Godfrey’s eye is grotesquely swollen while he bleeds from face profusely. Godfrey’s footwork and head movement while occasionally clinching keeps Jackson slightly off balance. But the referee has to consider stopping the bout to prevent unnecessary further damage to a proud but defeated Champion.
ROUND 15: Godfrey cannot stand to begin round – second (corner man) lifts and sends him out. As usual, Jackson tries to finish foe off – but wobbly footwork and terrific head bobs keep Godfrey on feet – Champion no longer able to lift arms from side.
ROUND 16: Challenger rests and does not fight – Godfrey smiles at foe, arms at side, blood pours from left eye.
ROUND 17: Australian challenger tries to finish off stubborn Canadian – lands combinations – Godfrey staggers but does not fall – Jackson chases and lands combos – Champion wobbled and staggers like drunken man across ring – Canadian unable to defend himself, but unwilling to fall down.
ROUND 18: Jackson wins round – little fighting as Australian rests – Godfrey stands still, arms down, smiling and bleeding.
ROUND 19: Challenger traps foe into corner ropes – Godfrey too arm and leg weary to defend himself or escape – larger Jackson lands hard right to heart – Champion staggers a moment and drops to canvas.
Godfrey bruised and battered – signals he is finished – referee waves bout over – KNOCKOUT!
Post bout, George Godfrey displays good sportsmanship with a shot at White heavyweight Champion, John L. Sullivan. Godfrey informs the press, “If I had to lose the championship I’m glad it was to the best fighter in the world.”
George Godfrey’s fame and popularity only grew after he lost the Colored heavyweight Championship title. Boston was a boxing city – they enjoyed the sport – and Godfrey was a famous pugilist who always gave spectators their money’s worth. Peter Jackson’s unfortunate circumstances led to an influential but disappointing title run. Jackson would become famous for the bouts he did not fight. Jackson was successful in damaging John L. Sullivan’s reputation as White heavyweight Champion and ultimately his legacy through the actions of his Chicago manager/promoter, Parson Davies, by chasing Sullivan throughout America while taunting him to unify the title. After Sullivan lost the title to James Corbett the new White heavyweight Champion promised to unify the title – and then lied. As the White heavyweight Champion, Corbett only fought one opponent (an aging Charlie Mitchell) over a 5-year period while concentrating on stage and movie acting.
George Godfrey’s next major bout following his lost title was an 1889 encounter versus a well-known 200-pound Rhode Island heavyweight, Jack Ashton, in Boston. Godfrey, at 170 pounds, was a 2-1 underdog and not the crowd favorite amongst the local fans. But for someone like Ashton to defeat someone of Godfrey’s reputation would be a high-profile victory and give him clout to challenge undefeated John L. Sullivan. The White heavyweight Champion publicly announced that Ashton was the #1 contender for his title. The prize was $1,250. Boston Globe: “For several years the sporting men of the country have been anxious to learn which of the trio – Lannon, Godfrey, Ashton – was the better boxer…. This is the most important contest between heavyweights in many months.”
ROUND 2: Both aggressive – Ashton lands punch to upper body – Godfrey lands left to face – follows with right that lands to head – Ashton knocked off balance – Godfrey lands left to head – follows with right which lands to face – Ashton wants to punch but cannot – Godfrey lands left, right combination to face and neck – dazed Ashton confused and off-balance as he begins backing.
The aging 36 years-old George Godfrey shocked the 500 spectators by giving Ashton an embarrassing boxing lesson. Ashton was aggressive through 3-rounds, but Godfrey’s superior hand-speed and footwork had the latter landing most of the punches. The Boston crowd displays rare boxing sportsmanship by applauding Godfrey following the 3rd round. Through 5-rounds, Godfrey had won them all. The crowd becomes restless and boos Ashton, not for illegal tactics (though he clinched more as the bout progressed) but for such a poor performance and lack of boxing science. In the 6th round, Godfrey caught Ashton stepping forward by landing a right punch to jaw which sent the Rhode Island heavyweight onto his butt. Ashton was courageous but hopeless. By the 13th round, Godfrey’s left, right combinations had scored his 2nd and 3rd knockdowns
ROUND 14: Pugilists stand toe-to-toe and exchange punches – Ashton lands some but receives 3-4 punches in return – Godfrey’s accuracy has few misses with steady left, right combinations. Ashton is off-balance and less cognizant of his surroundings as another Godfrey left, right combination to head sends him to canvas for 4th time.
The referee counts, “1, 2, 3, 4” – Ashton beaten to a pulp but refuses to quit – “5, 6” – bell sounds which concludes round. Ashton remains on ground unable to stand. Seconds (corner men) are slow to respond but finally enter ring to retrieve their fighter. The 15th round has not officially begun, but the referee intervenes and waves the bout over – (technical) KNOCKOUT! Boston Globe: “After Ashton whipped Lannon he was considered a very scientific boxer, but last evening’s contest showed that he was nothing more than a game man. He has no science whatever and he was no match for the colored boxer.” To date, it was the most money Godfrey had earned from a prize-fight.
In 1890, George Godfrey fought another high-profile bout versus Patsy Cardiff in Providence, Rhode Island. Cardiff retained the distinction of giving the undefeated John L. Sullivan his toughest bout in a controversial Draw decision. Sullivan was amongst the 1,000 spectators in attendance. Before the bout, Sullivan announced to the crowd that he was unable to fight due to legal problems stemming from his illegal 75-rounds bare-knuckle pummeling of Jake Kilrain. Sullivan had been convicted of participation in an illegal prize-fight and given a one-year prison sentence of hard labor by a tough (ASSHOLE – wonderful asshole): “STAND UP, SULLIVAN,” Mississippi judge Terrell operating out of a barber shop/courtroom. Sullivan was fighting extradition. Kilrain, despite being knocked down 17 times while scoring 0 knockdowns, was convicted of assault on Sullivan and received a 6-months prison sentence which he eventually accepted. Sullivan would not know while speaking before the Godfrey/Cardiff bout that he had won his final bout.
Patsy Cardiff was not the same pugilist who trained hard for Sullivan and was in terrific shape with boxing strategy. He was living life in the fast lane with booze and broads – drunken escapades with bar women/prostitutes. Godfrey retained his Christian morality so as usual entered the ring prepared and in shape. The prize was $1500.
Through 6-rounds it is a terrific boxing bout. Both pugilists have sustained eye-damage. Godfrey’s eye is swollen while Cardiff’s eye is closed. It’s a close fight with Cardiff slightly ahead. The 7th round turns the tide in Godfrey’s favor near the ropes when he lands a right to jaw – follows with left which lands to chin – follows with another left which lands to side of head – follows with hard right which lands to jaw. Cardiff is wobbled. The crowd roars its approval for both pugilists – with special admiration for the veteran “Old Chocolate Godfrey” which sounds racist in 2015 but meant with affection by 1890’s White boxing fans. Godfrey staggers Cardiff again in the 11th round and knocks him down to knees with a hard left body shot in the 12th. During the 13th round, an exhausted Cardiff intentionally (and illegally) lowers himself to one knee to rest before another Godfrey attack. Godfrey batters a defenseless Cardiff around the ring during the 14th round, but due to mercy or fatigue stops pursuing.
ROUND 16: Pugilists lightly spar – Godfrey lands a weak left to head – neither seem able to throw or land punches. Pugilists slightly back from one-another to rest. Godfrey suddenly rushes forward – Cardiff’s only defense is to (illegally) collapse face-first to canvas.
Cardiff is too exhausted to fall properly. A confused Godfrey backs away. It is his 3rd knockdown; two of them without landing a punch. The referee counts, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” – Cardiff clutches his heart and clearly shall not stand – “6, 7, 8, 9, 10” – referee waves bout over – KNOCKOUT! The crowd does not boo Cardiff’s intentional fall. They are more concerned over his physical health and heart. Cardiff slowly rises to feet.
Peter Jackson finally had an 1890 high-profile bout for the Australian heavyweight title versus undefeated, Joe Goddard. It was likely a good bout. Goddard knocked Jackson down once while Jackson knocked Goddard down twice. It was ruled an 8-round Draw.
George Godfrey fought another major 1890 bout in New York City versus 180-pounds, Denver Ed Smith. Godfrey’s fame and popularity had only grown and the money continued to improve. The prize was $2000 for the winner. 700 boxing fans saw the unusual ring which was three sides of stage facing a brick wall. It could be potentially dangerous if either pugilist was to hit head against the impenetrable structure. It is scheduled for 25-rounds.
For 9-rounds, Godfrey is slow while methodically picking Smith apart. The 10th round finds the younger man surprising the veteran pugilist when he lands a right to neck when Godfrey attempted to charge forward. The 37 years-old Godfrey is wobbled and in trouble. In desperation he clinches Smith hard and holds.
Through 21-rounds, Godfrey remains methodical in wearing Smith slowly with jabs and occasional punches. Every round or so, Smith manages to counter with an infrequent hard punch which lands. Godfrey is winning – perhaps dominating – but he appears more fatigued than usual. The 22nd round is more the same – Godfrey methodical but bland with jabs/punches – while the Colorado pugilist finally appears wobbly and troubled.
ROUND 23: The round begins with a rare furious, offensive exchange. Both are bruised and bleeding. To the Coloradoan’s credit, it appears he is behind, but rather than surrender and merely survive the distance attempts a desperate knockout. Aggressiveness has its price against someone with Godfrey’s skill. With Smith stepping forward, Godfrey lands a straight left punch to face. Smith wobbles backwards and steps head-first into the brick wall. Miraculously, Smith remains on his feet. Disoriented, Smith steps forward toward his doom. Godfrey awaits and lands a hard right-punch to jaw. Smith is defenseless with gloves down at side. Smith has no idea where he is – who he is – or what is happening. The referee mercifully leaps between the boxers and waves the bout over – (technical) KNOCKOUT! Smith’s second (corner man) steps into the ring. Instead of walking toward his defeated fighter begins yelling at Godfrey. Smith’s second shouts that Godfrey should fight Jake Kilrain next.
George Godfrey was at his peak of boxing fame and reputation. It made him a target for any pugilist seeking his defeat for their own gain. John L. Sullivan remained the undefeated White heavyweight Champion despite his idle status. Jake Kilrain gained tremendous fame in defeat versus Sullivan. Americans were not used to bare-knuckle bouts by the late 1880’s so that “75-rounds” sounded as if they fought for hours instead of 75 grueling minutes. Kilrain has already lost a 4-rounds gloved bout to James Corbett. While Sullivan avoided all Black pugilists Kilrain actively sought to battle Godfrey.
While I am fond of George Godfrey if Jake Kilrain defeated the 38 years-old fairly would credit such. I am an historian first and boxing cheerleader second. The bout was held in San Francisco, California with a $5,000 prize. The 192-pounds Kilrain is a 4-3 gambling favorite over the 174-pouds Godfrey. The crowd is heavily on Kilrain’s side.
The reality is that Jake Kilrain fought dirty throughout. In the 5th round, spectators booed Kilrain when he grabbed Godfrey by the neck and placed him into headlock. Kilrain landed several illegal punches to head while the referee did nothing. In the 25th round, Kilrain pinned Godfrey onto ropes. Kilrain illegally holds Godfrey’s head in place with left glove while pounding side of head with right. These tactics would be legal for bare-knuckle but not gloved Marquis of Queensbury rules. The 26th round continues the illegal tactic of holding and punching by Kilrain. The referee must be part of a ‘fix’ so does nothing. Both pugilists have swollen eyes. Godfrey remains civilized and only smiles. Godfrey’s pride – perhaps foolish – is to avoiding falling to canvas so he holds ropes which leave him defenseless. Kilrain pounds at exposed body with lefts and rights.
ROUND 36: A frustrated and tired Kilrain illegally grabs Godfrey and wrestle throws him to canvas. It is not a knockdown. Kilrain fans cheer their fighter’s persistent cheating. As usual, the referee does nothing. An exhausted and weary/wary Godfrey rises to feet. Kilrain pounces with punches that batter Godfrey across the ring. Godfrey is forced to ropes while Kilrain pushed and punched until he knocked foe through the ropes. It is the first official knockdown of bout. Kilrain supporters surprisingly cheer Godfrey’s unwillingness to quit. Both are fatigued to the point of not fighting after 43-rounds. The 44th round concluded the bout with a Kilrain punch scoring a knockout.
May of 1881, San Francisco, California featured the high-profile but extremely disappointing, Peter Jackson versus undefeated James Corbett 4+-hours dud with neither pugilist winning the $10,000 prize. Corbett was a stubborn defensive pugilist who would not alter his strategy. Jackson was wise not to chase Corbett around the ring and wear down.
ROUND 15: An hour into the bout there has been little offensive action. Jackson steps forward – Corbett backs away. Jackson no longer charges foe or attempts to trap him along ropes. Corbett remains uninterested in stepping forward or throwing punches.
ROUND 31: The bout has passed the two-hour mark. Jackson appears more fatigued. Corbett decides to step forward underneath Jackson’s extended left arm – Jackson catches foe with right punch to jaw – Corbett pushes Jackson backward – Jackson does not attempt a follow-up.
ROUND 47: The bout has passed the three-hour mark. Pugilists circle one-another defensively with neither engaging offensively. Jackson is more marked than Corbett with swollen lips. Corbett does have flushed-red, bruised ribs.
ROUND 61: The bout has passed the four-hour mark. The referee warned pugilist’s the previous round to fight or he will stop the bout. Though the participants promised to liven the action and pace instead are slowly walking in circles around the ring. The referee enacts his threat and waves the bout over – DRAW! Neither Jackson nor Corbett complains about the decision. The crowd, though bored and restless throughout, applauds both men.
George Godfrey might have contemplated retirement with advanced age and battering received from Jake Kilrain. Instead, 175-pounds Godfrey accepted another high-profile bout versus 185-pounds Joe Lannon in New York City. The crowd had many Black spectators rooting for Godfrey and White-Irish spectators rooting for Lannon. Godfrey/Lannon was a match-up boxing fans had wanted to see for years.
The first 3-rounds, especially considering the non-action of Jackson/Corbett, were a treat for boxing fans in attendance. Both boxers landed bombs stepping forward while displaying defense of slipping punches and occasionally blocking and backing. Each round expels aggressive energy. Godfrey probably won rounds 1-2 because he slipped more punches and landed with greater frequency. Lannon wobbled Godfrey in the 3rd round with a right-uppercut to jaw – but the action continued with both throwing punches. In Lannon’s enthusiasm, he tripped himself to canvas but quickly rose to feet while throwing punches. Godfrey would land combinations as opposed to Lannon landing a punch at a time. Technically, 39 years-old Godfrey probably won all three rounds, but it appears to be an even fight.
ROUND 4: Lannon charges foe – Godfrey extends left jab toward face – Lannon ducks underneath and lands right to body – follows with left feint and right-punch which lands to mouth. Both furiously exchange punches as Godfrey counters with left which lands to body – follows with right which lands to head – follows with left which lands to body – Lannon backs away. Godfrey pursues forward and lands right to head – Lannon counters with right which lands to body – Godfrey counters with left which lands to jaw – Lannon staggers backward and falls to canvas.
Lannon lay flat on back. His legs are twitching involuntarily from muscle spasms. Lannon’s second (corner man) illegally enters ring to assist his fighter to feet. The crowd does not care because they don’t want the bout to end. The second steps away while Lannon is allowed several seconds without a knockdown count to gather his senses.
Godfrey steps forward with left-punch which lands to head. Lannon remains dazed but wants to exchange punches. Lannon counters with a hard, wild right punch to head that misses its target badly – Godfrey counters with right which lands to head – Lannon falls to canvas for the bout (and round)’s 2nd knockdown.
Lannon violently shakes his head to gather senses and rise to feet. The Irishman charges forward – Godfrey awaits and lands left to ribs – Lannon continues forward grabbing Godfrey and illegally throwing him to canvas. Godfrey’s second (corner man) shouts at the referee for disqualification. The referee ignores angry plea and orders the bout to continue.
Godfrey rises to feet and steps forward with hard left which lands to body – Lannon winded and unable to breathe – Godfrey follows with hard right which lands to head – Lannon wobbled as he stumbles backward around the ring – Godfrey chases forward until referee intervenes between pugilists and shouts, “Time!”
Godfrey lowers his gloves – turns his head – and walks away. Lannon charges forward throwing wild lefts and rights at Godfrey. The referee chases forward and grabs Lannon. Godfrey is enraged. The bout is out of control as both seconds (corner men) enter ring to and seize their fighter. Lannon’s second shouts aloud to crowd that Godfrey has been disqualified and his fighter has won. The Irish in crowd cheer the news and agree with this outcome. The referee is wildly waving hands – trying to maintain control of the crowd while keeping the boxers from attacking one another. The referee aggressively rushes to Godfrey and raises his arm. The bout is declared over with Godfrey ruled victorious.
Less than two weeks after Godfrey/Lannon, Peter Jackson had another high-profile European bout versus undefeated Paddy Slavin in London, England. Jackson was far more popular in Europe than Godfrey. Though he remained the Colored heavyweight Champion, he never defended the title. It was Godfrey, more than Jackson, who was participating with interesting American bouts. Jackson, an 11-8 underdog, battled Slavin at a private English club that charged members $12.50 a ticket and non-members a staggering $120. There were 200 members of law enforcement present. Post-Godfrey, it was Jackson’s most impressive performance.
ROUND 10: Paddy Slavin has a swelled eye. Both pugilists are fatigued though Peter Jackson sweats more profusely. Slavin begins the round aggressively charging forward. Jackson awaits him and exchanges punches. Jackson lands right to throat that staggers Slavin backward onto ropes. Jackson senses vulnerability and pounces landing lefts and rights – Slavin escapes dazed – Jackson aggressively pursues injured foe – Slavin stumbles in retreat – Jackson reaches foe and continues for the knockout by landing punches – Slavin drops to canvas. Bruised and bloodied, the referee counts Slavin out – waves bout over – KNOCKOUT!