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    The most contentious reign in boxing history comes to a controversial end

    1915 Jack Johnson vs. Jess Willard Official On-Site Fight Program. "If I had been compelled to give a decision at the end of the twenty-fifth round, it would have been Johnson's by a wide margin," explained referee Jack Welch after counting out the exiled Champion beneath a boiling Havana sun. "Up to the twentieth round, Willard had one won only one round by a real margin and two or three others by the slightest shade. In the thirteenth and fourteenth, I was almost sure Johnson would knock Willard out, but Willard showed that his jaw and body were too tough. Johnson put up a wonderful fight to the twentieth round, but age stepped in then and defeated him."

    And perhaps the reality is as simple as that, but, like Babe Ruth's apocryphal "Called Shot," or Shoeless Joe's culpability in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, the definitive truth behind Jack Johnson's defeat after seven challenging years atop the Heavyweight rankings will remain maddeningly elusive. The former Champion famously confessed to throwing the bout in a 1916 letter to Ring Magazine editor Nat Fleischer, but many believe this was simply evidence of a prideful man unwilling to acknowledge a legitimate defeat. Chief among those doubters was Willard himself, who remarked, "If Johnson throwed it, I wish he throwed it sooner. It was hotter than hell down there."

    Johnson's self-imposed exile from the United States, a response to a trumped-up conviction under the racist Mann Act that would have sent him to the penitentiary, required that all title defenses after his 1913 expatriation be contested on foreign soil. As a result, the availability of relics in the modern hobby from this period of Johnson's career is practically nil. Though 25,000 jammed the Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana to watch Willard reclaim the title for the millions rallying for a "Great White Hope," this is just the second program from the bout to surface on the American auction block. Certainly the climate in Cuba, both meteorologically and politically, has played a major role in locating survivors.

    Like most programs of the period, this one exhibits a center vertical crease from the common practice of folding to fit in the fan's pocket. A couple thin tears appear at right edge of the cover, and another traverses two inches of the back cover from the spine. A square inch of the last page of the program is lost at the bottom corner, but otherwise condition issues are quite minor. Certainly the intense rarity of the publication renders such concerns inconsequential. While it's one of the rarest and most important boxing programs purely from an athletic perspective, it's clearly much more than that. Like most important vintage sports collectibles, the program is a window to the larger culture, a reminder of just how far we've come, and an entreaty to keep on going.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    Jul-Aug, 2014
    31st-1st Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 9
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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