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|Real name||Jess Myron Willard|
|Nickname(s)||Great White Hope|
|Height||6 ft 6 1/2 in|
|Born||December 29, 1881|
Pottawatomie County, Kansas
|Died||December 15, 1968 (aged 86)|
Los Angeles, California
|Wins by KO||20|
Jess Myron Willard (December 29, 1881 – December 15, 1968) was an American world heavyweight boxing champion billed as the Pottawatomie Giant who knocked out Jack Johnson in April 1915 for the heavyweight title. Willard was known for size rather than skill, and though held the championship for more than four years, he defended it rarely and was in person reserved. In 1919, when he was 37 years of age he lost the title in an extremely one sided loss by declining to come out for the fourth round against Jack Dempsey, who became a more celebrated champion. Soon after the bout Willard began accusing Dempsey of using something with the effect of a knuckle duster. Dempsey did not grant Willard a return match, and at 42 years old he was KO'd, following which he retired from boxing, although for the rest of his life continued claiming Dempsey had cheated. Ferdie Pacheco expressed the opinion in a book that the surviving photographs of Willard's face during the Dempsey fight indicate fractures to Willard's facial bones suggesting a metal implement, and show he was bleeding heavily. The matter has never been resolved, with contemporaneous ringside sports journalist reporting by the NYT that Willard spat out at least one tooth and was "a fountain of blood" increasingly discounted in favor of a view that he had only a cut lip and a little bruising.
Jess Myron Willard was born on 29 December 1881 at Saint Clere, Kansas. In his teenage years and twenties he worked as a cowboy. He was of mostly English ancestry, which had been in North America since the colonial era. The first member of the Willard family arrived in Virginia in the 1630s.
A powerfully built 6 ft 6 1⁄2 in (1.99 m) and 245 lb (111 kg), Willard did not begin began boxing until the age of 27, but proved successful, defeating top-ranked opponents to earn a chance to fight for the Championship. He said he started boxing because he did not have much of an education, but thought his size and strength could earn him a good living. He was a gentle and friendly person and did not enjoy boxing or hurting people, so often waited until his opponent attacked him before punching back, which made him feel at ease as if he were defending himself. He was often maligned as an uncoordinated oaf rather than a skilled boxer, but his counter-punching style, coupled with his enormous strength and stamina, proved successful against top fighters. His physical strength was so great that he was reputed to be able to kill a man with a single punch, which unfortunately proved to be a fact during his fight with Jack "Bull" Young in 1913, who was punched in the head and killed in the 9th round. Willard was charged with second-degree murder, but was successfully defended by lawyer Earl Rogers.
Jack Johnson fight
On April 5, 1915, in front of a huge crowd at the new Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, he knocked out champion Jack Johnson in the 26th round to win the world heavyweight boxing championship. Johnson later claimed to have intentionally lost the fight, despite the fact there is evidence of Willard winning fairly, which can be seen clearly in the recorded footage, as well as the comments Johnson made to his cornermen between rounds and immediately after the fight, and that he bet $2500 on himself to win. Willard said, "If he was going to throw the fight, I wish he'd done it sooner. It was hotter than hell out there." Johnson later acknowledged lying about the throwing the fight after footage of the fight was made widely available in the United States. Shortly after the fight Jack Johnson had actually accepted defeat gracefully saying "Willard was too much for me, I just didn't have it."
Johnson found that he could not knock out the giant Willard, who fought as a counterpuncher, making Johnson do all the leading. Johnson began to tire after the 20th round, and was visibly hurt by heavy body punches from Willard in rounds preceding the 26th-round knockout. Johnson's claim of a "dive" gained momentum because most fans only saw a still photo of Johnson lying on the canvas shading his eyes from the broiling Cuban sun. No films of the fight were allowed to be shown in the United States because of an inter-state ban on the trafficking of fight films that was in effect at the time. Most boxing fans only saw the film of the Johnson-Willard fight when a copy was found in 1967.
Jack Dempsey fight
At age 37, Willard lost his title to Dempsey on July 4, 1919, in Toledo. Dempsey knocked Willard down for the first time in his career with a left hook in the first round. Dempsey knocked Willard down seven times in the first round—although it should be remembered that rules at the time permitted standing almost over a knocked-down opponent and hitting him again as soon as both knees had left the canvas. At one point Dempsey left the ring mistakenly thinking the fight was over, and under the rules could have been disqualified, but Willard had economised by not employing professional cornermen and they failed to insist on application of the regulations. Dempsey won the title when Willard was unable to continue after the third round. In the fight, Willard was later reputed to have suffered a broken jaw, cheekbone, and ribs, as well as losing several teeth. His attempt to fight to the finish, ending when he was unable to come out for the fourth round, is considered one of the most courageous performances in boxing history. However, the extent of Willard's injuries have been highly disputed and are now unclear since multiple independent reporting only a few days after the fight said were no trace of any damage other than a couple of bruises:
To take only one representative account. according to a reporter for the Topeka Daily Capital, July 16, 1919, p. 8, who interviewed Jess when he got back to Lawrence, "The ex-champion didn't have any black eye, nor any signs that he was injured in any way."
- Concealed metal object theory
When interviewed by Harry Carpenter of the BBC Sport in the 1960s at his house in California, Willard said to the reporter, "I'll show you, how I was beaten." He then drew a metal bolt from a cardbox, saying that Dempsey held the bolt in his hand, not within the glove but at the palm of it, attached to the thumb sideways, and used the bolt rather for cutting-and-slicing-like moves to inflict blood-spilling cuts and pain, relinquishing it just as the bout was stopped, and according to Willard, the bolt was found on the floor of the ring at the end of the fight and he kept it. Mike Tyson, who studied the case in-depth and very thoroughly, later joined Carpenter to discuss the subject. Tyson, a great admirer of Dempsey, admitted that "he just did whatever Jack Kearns told him to do," and "in those days anything could have happened" for that there was no agency or other legal authority at the time, which was officially empowered to oversee and protect fighters from violations of such kind.
After losing his title fight with Dempsey, Willard went into semiretirement from the ring, fighting only exhibition bouts for the next four years. On May 12, 1923, promoter Tex Rickard arranged for Willard to make a comeback, fighting Floyd Johnson as part of the first line-up of boxing matches at the newly opened Yankee Stadium in New York City. 63,000 spectators attended the match, which the 41-year-old Willard was widely expected to lose. However, after Willard took a beating for several rounds, he came back to knock down Johnson in the 9th and 11th rounds, and Willard earned a TKO victory. Damon Runyon wrote afterward: "Youth, take off your hat and bow low and respectfully to Age. For days and days, the sole topic of conversation in the world of sport will be Willard's astonishing comeback."
Willard followed up this victory by facing contender Luis Ángel Firpo on July 12, 1923. The fight was held at Boyle's Thirty Acres in New Jersey, in front of more than 75,000 spectators. Willard was knocked out in the eighth round, and then permanently retired from boxing.
Willard parlayed his boxing fame into an acting career of a sort. He acted in a vaudeville show, had a role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, and starred in a 1919 feature film The Challenge of Chance. In 1933, he appeared in a bit part in a boxing movie, The Prizefighter and the Lady, with Max Baer and Myrna Loy.
Willard died on 15 December 1968, in Los Angeles, California, from congestive heart failure. He had been admitted to a hospital a week earlier for a heart condition, but left against a doctor's advice. He returned again after suffering a stroke and died 12 hours later.
Having died at age 86, Willard was the longest-lived heavyweight champion in history until he was surpassed by his old foe Jack Dempsey (who died in 1983, aged 87), and then by Max Schmeling (who died in 2005 at the age of 99, making him the longest-lived heavyweight champion in boxing history).
Willard and a dispute he had with Harry Houdini is the topic of Andy Duncan's Nebula Award nominated novella "The Pottawatomie Giant." In 2020, a television program Antiques Roadshow - Crocker Art Museum (Season 24, Episode 8, Part 2), showed a photograph from his 5 April 1915 championship winning match, and the commemorative pocket watch Willard carried which was estimated to be valued between $15,000 and $50,000.
Professional boxing record
|34 fights||25 wins||7 losses|
|34||Loss||25–7–2||Luis Angel Firpo||KO||8 (12), 1:55||12 Jul 1923||Boyle's Thirty Acres, Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.|
|33||Win||25–6–2||Floyd Johnson||TKO||11 (15)||12 May 1923||Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York, U.S.|
|32||Loss||24–6–2||Jack Dempsey||RTD||3 (12)||4 Jul 1919||Bay View Park Arena, Toledo, Ohio, U.S.||Lost lineal heavyweight title|
|31||Win||24–5–2||Frank Moran||NWS||10||25 Mar 1916||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.||Retained lineal heavyweight title|
|30||Win||23–5–2||Jack Johnson||KO||26 (45), 1:26||5 Apr 1915||Oriental Park, Havana, Cuba||Won lineal heavyweight title|
|29||Win||22–5–2||George Rodel||KO||6 (10)||28 Apr 1914||Orpheum Theater, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.|
|28||Win||21–5–2||Dan Dailey||KO||9 (10)||13 Apr 1914||Broadway Auditorium, Buffalo, New York, U.S.|
|27||Loss||20–5–2||Tom McMahon||NWS||12||27 Mar 1914||Grand Opera House, Youngstown, Ohio, U.S.|
|26||Win||20–4–2||George Rodel||KO||9 (20)||29 Dec 1913||Casino, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.|
|25||Win||19–4–2||George Davis||KO||2 (10)||12 Dec 1913||Broadway Auditorium, Buffalo, New York, U.S.|
|24||Win||18–4–2||Carl Morris||NWS||10||3 Dec 1913||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|23||Win||17–4–2||Jack Reed||TKO||2 (10)||24 Nov 1913||Princess Rink, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.|
|22||Loss||16–4–2||George Rodel||NWS||10||17 Nov 1913||Elite Rink, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.|
|21||Win||16–3–2||Bull Young||KO||11 (20)||22 Aug 1913||Pacific A.C., Vernon, California, U.S.|
|20||Win||15–3–2||Al Williams||TKO||8 (10)||4 Jul 1913||Moana Springs Arena, Reno, Nevada, U.S.|
|19||Draw||14–3–2||Charley Miller||PTS||4||27 Jun 1913||Dreamland Rink, San Francisco, California, U.S.|
|18||Loss||14–3–1||Gunboat Smith||PTS||20||20 May 1913||Eighth Street Arena, San Francisco, California, U.S.|
|17||Win||14–2–1||Jack Leon||KO||4 (10)||5 Mar 1913||Princess Rink, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.|
|16||Win||13–2–1||Frank Bauer||TKO||5 (10), 1:50||22 Jan 1913||Princess Rink, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.|
|15||Win||12–2–1||Soldier Kearns||KO||8 (10)||27 Dec 1912||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|14||Win||11–2–1||Sailor White||KO||1 (10)||2 Dec 1912||Miller's Hall, Buffalo, New York, U.S.|
|13||Draw||10–2–1||Luther McCarty||NWS||10||19 Aug 1912||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|12||Win||10–2||Arthur Pelkey||NWS||10||29 Jul 1912||Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|11||Win||9–2||Bull Young||KO||5||2 Jul 1912||South Chicago, Chicago, U.S.|
|10||Win||8–2||Frank Bauer||TKO||3 (6)||29 May 1912||Irwin Hall, St. Charles, Missouri, U.S.|
|9||Win||7–2||Bull Young||KO||6 (10)||22 May 1912||Princess Rink, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.|
|8||Loss||6–2||Joe Cox||TKO||5 (10)||9 Oct 1911||Landers Theatre, Springfield, Missouri, U.S.|
|7||Win||6–1||Mike McKimminsky||PTS||10||10 Aug 1911||Hammon, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|6||Win||5–1||Frank Lyons||PTS||10||4 Jul 1911||Elk City, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|5||Win||4–1||William Schiller||KO||4 (15)||15 May 1911||Maize Theatre, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|4||Win||3–1||Al Mandino||PTS||4 (10)||14 Apr 1911||Benevolent A.A., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|3||Win||2–1||Lewis Fink||KO||3 (15), 1:13||24 Mar 1911||Benevolent A.A., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|2||Win||1–1||Ed Burke||KO||3 (10)||7 Mar 1911||Jackson's Pavilion, El Reno, Oklahoma, U.S.|
|1||Loss||0–1||Lewis Fink||DQ||10 (15), 0:45||15 Feb 1911||Sapulpa Air Dome, Sapulpa, Oklahoma, U.S.|
- "'Great White Hope' Jess Willard Succumbs". Ocala Star-Banner. December 16, 1968. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
- "Jess Willard Biography". cyberboxingzone.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
- "BoxRec: Jess Willard". boxrec.com. BoxRec.
- "HOF Website". International Boxing Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
- The 12 Greatest Rounds of Boxing: The Untold Stories, Ferdie Pacheco p17-18, 2004 Sportsclasic
- Life Story of Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard by Jim Mace
- Sports in the Western World By William Joseph Baker
- Tex Rickard: Boxing's Greatest Promoter By Colleen Aycock, Mark Scott pag 115
- Fleischer, Nat, 50 Years At Ringside (Fleet Publishing Corporation, 1958), pp. 88-89.
- The Great White Hopes: The Quest to Defeat Jack Johnson By Graeme Kent
- Cox, Monte D.; Bardelli, John A.; Caico, Bob; Cox, Jeff; Cuoc, Dan; Johnston, Chuck; Moyle, Clay; Stallone, Frank; Ugarkovich, Miles (December 1, 2004). "Were Dempsey's Gloves Loaded? You Decide!". Retrieved July 11, 2012.
- Mike Tyson presents - The Heavyweights (Documentary, 1988).
- "Willard Helped Raise the Roof at Yankee Stadium". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
- "Jess Willard IMDB Entry". IMDB. Retrieved 2010-04-14.
- Entry for Willard's grave in Findagrave website (2019). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/1107/jess-myron-willard
- Duncan, Andy (2012). The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories. Hornsea, UK: PS Publishing. p. 308. ISBN 9781848633094.
- Allen, Arly (2017). Jess Willard: Heavyweight Champion of the World (1915-1919). McFarland & Company, Jefferson, NC. ISBN 9781476664446.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jess Willard.|
- Boxing record for Jess Willard from BoxRec
- Jess Willard's Boxing Gear at Kansas Museum of History
- on YouTube
- Jess Willard - CBZ Profile
- Boxing Hall of Fame
| World Heavyweight Champion
April 5, 1915 – July 4, 1919
| Oldest Heavyweight Champion
January 4, 1919 – July 18, 1951
Jersey Joe Walcott
| Oldest Living Heavyweight Champion
May 10, 1955 – December 15, 1968
James J. Jeffries
| Longest Living Heavyweight Champion|
November 18, 1959 – June 11, 1982
1.99 m (6 ft 0 ½ in)
| Tallest world champion
1.99 m (6 ft 6 ½ in)
5 April 1915 – 26 June 1999
2.01 m (6 ft 7 in)