After African American boxer Jack Johnson's victory over Burns, racial animosity among whites ran so deep that it was called out for a "Great White Hope" to take the title away from Johnson. As title holder, Johnson thus had to face a series of fighters each billed by boxing promoters as a "great white hope," often in exhibition matches. In 1909, he beat Frank Moran, Tony Ross, Al Kaufman, and the middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel.The "Fight of the Century"
James J. Jeffries fights Johnson in 1910
In 1910, former undefeated heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries came out of retirement to challenge Johnson. He had not fought in six years and had to lose well over 100 pounds to get back to his championship fighting weight. Initially Jeffries had no interest in the fight being quite happy as an alfalfa farmer. But those who wanted to see Johnson defeated badgered Jeffries unmercifully for months, and also offered him an unheard sum of money, reputed to be about $120,000 and he finally acquiesced.
Jeffries remained mostly hidden from media attention until the day of the fight, meanwhile Johnson was soaking up the spotlight. John L. Sullivan who made boxing championships a popular and esteemed spectacle stated that Johnson was in such good physical shape compared to Jeffries that he could only lose if he had a lack of skill on the day. Before the fight, Jeffries remarked "It is my intention to go right after my opponent and knock him out as soon as possible." while his wife added "I'm not interested in prizefighting but I am interested in my husband's welfare, I do hope this will be his last fight." Johnson's words were "May the best man win."
Racial tension was brewing leading up to the fight and to prevent any harm to either boxer, guns were prohibited within the arena as was the sale of alcohol or anyone under the effects of alcohol. Behind the racial attitudes being instigated by the media was a major investment in gambling for the fight with 10-7 odds in favor of Jeffries.
The fight took place on July 4, 1910 in front of 20,000 people, at a ring built just for the occasion in downtown Reno, Nevada. Jeffries proved unable to impose his will on the younger champion and Johnson dominated the fight. By the 15th round, after Jeffries had been knocked down twice for the first time in his career, Jeffries corner threw in the towel to end the fight and prevent Jeffries from having a knock out on his record. Johnson later remarked he knew the fight was over in the 4th round when he landed an uppercut and saw the look on Jeffries face, stating "I knew what that look meant. The old ship was sinking."
The "Fight of the Century" earned Johnson $65,000 and silenced the critics, who had belittled Johnson's previous victory over Tommy Burns as "empty," claiming that Burns was a false champion since Jeffries had retired undefeated. John L. Sullivan commented after the fight that never had a fight been one-sided and that Johnson fought fairly at all times.
Riots and aftermath uvaldia Georgia July 04, 1910- Three negroes are dead and a number are wounded as the result of a race riot between negroes at a crosstle camp and whites of this city tonight. The negroes came into the town today and started drinking heavily. Their noisy conduct angered the citizens and a posse formed to ''Clean out the camp'' The whites opened fire on the negroes killing three. The other negroes fled into the woods. roanoke virginia July 04, 1910-One white man Joe Chockely has a bullet wound in his skull and probably fatally wounded is a net result of clashes here tonight following the announcement that Jack Johnson defeated Jeffries. The trouble started when a negro just heard the news from reno said; ''Now I guess the white folks will let the negroes alone.'' A white man replied ''no'' and the two clashed. Police had difficulty landing the negro in jail being compelled to draw their revolvers. Later a negro shot Chockely and escaped. Physican Armstrong say Chockely will die tonight. Houston Texas July 04, 1910-Charles Williams, a negro, had his throat cut by a white man on a street car when he cheered for Johnson. The negro died. Washington D.C July 04, 1910- In a race riot one white man Thomas Mundle, an enlisted man of the united states Marine corps had his throat cut by a negro and died. Joseph Benham, another white man got into a fight with a negro and was stabbed, He died. New York - July 04, 1910 George Crawford, a negro waiter had his head beaten in, he got into an argument with a white man over the Johnson Jeffries fight the white man beat him with a bat. The white man who did the beating escaped. Crawford was taken to the hospital but died. Mounds, Illinois July 04, 1910- One dead and one mortally wounded is the result of an attempt by four negroes to shoot up the town in honor of Jack Johnson's victory at Reno tonight. A negro police officer was killed when he attempted to arrest them. Philadelphia July 04, 1910- Edward A. Valette, white, who was stabbed by a negro in a Johnson Jeffries race riot at woodside park has died. Shreveport Louisiana July 04, 1910- Henry Williams, a negro, was shot in the face by a white man after a argument over the Johnson Jeffries fight. He died.