New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Boxing

Walter St.Denis


 Walter St. Denis (Sports editor.  Born, Pembroke, Ont., Mar. 19, 1877; died, New York, NY, Feb. 15, 1947.)  When boxing returned to New York as a legal sport in 1911, the Frawley Law did not permit official decisions on bouts.  Fans (and bettors) turned to newspaper experts for the determination of winners (and losers).  Of the more than dozen major dailies published in Manhattan, all offered “expert opinion” on the bouts, but Walter St. Denis, sports editor of The Globe, and Bob Edgren of the Evening World were the two the public considered authoritative.  Bookmakers paid off on their verdicts.  St. Denis came to New York in 1895, joining The Sun as a night copyboy.  He gravitated to sports, became a writer, and became The Globe sports editor in 1905, where he became famed for his boxing reporting and analysis.  When The Globe closed on June 2, 1923, St. Denis moved to The Evening Mail.  But The Mail was merged into The Evening Telegram in January 1924, leaving St. Denis out of work.  He wrote for papers in Miami, Fla., and Newark, N.J., before returning to New York in 1927 as the boxing publicist for Madison Square Garden.  In 1934, St. Denis was hired by Mike Jacobs (q.v.) as the publicity director of his 20th Century Sporting Club, then the city’s major boxing promoter.  When Jacobs took over the Garden boxing promotions, St. Denis returned to the Eighth Avenue arena.  He suffered a stroke Feb. 14, 1947, and died at Polyclinic Hospital the next day.

Jake Kilrain


Jake Kilrain (Boxing.  Born, Greenpoint, NY, Feb. 9, 1859; died, Quincy, MA, Dec. 22, 1937.)  Born John Joseph Killion in what is now Brooklyn, Jake Kilrain became a professional prize fighter at 21.  Although prize fighting was illegal in New York during most of his career, Kilrain fought once in Brooklyn (1886), once at Coney Island (1895), and four times in New York.  Records are somewhat sketchy, but he had at least 36 pro fights in 16 years (1880-96), losing only five.  Kilrain’s two most famous fights were two he didn’t win.  On Dec. 19, 1897, he fought a 106-round draw against English champion Jem Smith in Paris, France.  On July 8, 1889, Kilrain fought the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title fight, losing to John L. Sullivan at Richburg, Miss., on a 75th-round knockout.

Roy Jones


Roy Jones (Boxing.  Born, Pensacola, FL, Jan. 16, 1969.) No one knows more ways to ruin a fighter’s evening than Roy Jones. If an opponent wants to slug, he soon discovers that this champion arrives at work smuggling nitro in both gloves. Jones is also a superb ring strategist who often leaves even the most graceful boxers looking awkward and confused.  Fighting inside, he has proven himself a master counter puncher, able to throw damaging blows from almost any angle with uncanny precision. And he is about as easy hit as mist.  Widely considered the best pound for pound fighter of his generation, Jones has defeated the best boxers in three weight classes. He opened his career as a middleweight with a second round knockout of Rickey Randall in Pensacola, Fla., on May 6, 1989.  In that initial victory, Jones demonstrated skills that immediately excited the entire boxing world. Here was a middleweight who could hit like a heavyweight with either hand while displaying the quickness of a welterweight.  Jones was so impressive, he could have fought for a title shortly after starting his pro career. However, he was determined to polish his already formidable skills to a high luster before taking on a champion.  He waited until May 22, 1993, to meet Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF middleweight crown.  Early in that fight, Jones injured his right wrist while landing a heavy blow. He fought the rest of the evening virtually one-handed yet still easily outclassed his talented opponent to win his first title. On Nov. 19, 1994, Jones rose a notch in class to challenge unbeaten super middleweight champion James Toney. For the first and only time in his pro career, Jones entered the ring as a decided underdog. But, as Toney quickly discovered, this dog had fangs. Jones hauled out every weapon in his arsenal as he dominated the champion through 12 rounds en route to a unanimous decision.  Two years into his reign as super middleweight king, Jones was bored with the quality of his competition. No one in his division had enough skill to offer him a serious challenge. So he added more muscle to his lean frame and won the light heavyweight title from Mike McCallum on Nov. 22, 1996. Jones would suffer the only loss of his career on Mar. 21, 1997, when the referee disqualified him in the ninth round of a fight against Monteil Griffin. It was a controversial call. Jones was far ahead on all three scorecards at the time and had already knocked down Griffin twice. But in the ninth, Jones unintentionally hit Griffin as the challenger was crouched with one knee already touching the canvas. It was a clear rules violation. The referee had no choice but to award the fight and the light heavyweight belt to Griffin. In a rematch five months later, Jones proved the defeat was a fluke by knocking out Griffin in the first round.  Jones continued to amass easy victories over the next six years. However, this was an athlete who thrived on risk.  On Mar. 1, 2003, he won a 12-round unanimous decision over WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz even though Ruiz outweighed him by 30 pounds.  With that triumph, Jones joined Michael Spinks as the only light heavyweight champions to ever hold the heavyweight title. – R.L.

Jimmy Johnston


Jimmy Johnston (Boxing.  Born, Liverpool, England, Nov. 28, 1875; died, New York, NY, May 7, 1946.)  Emigrating to the U.S. at age 12 in May 1888, James Joy Johnston was to become one of the leading boxing managers and promoters in his adopted country.  Johnston was to manage four world champions – welterweight Ted (Kid) Lewis, middleweight Harry Greb, light heavyweight Mike McTigue, and featherweight Johnny Dundee.  He also, given his background, managed three British Empire champions, including heavyweight Phil Scott.  During the years William Carey was president of Madison Square Garden (1930-34), Johnston was the boxing promoter at the Garden.  At first, he acted informally, but on Oct. 20, 1931, he was officially appointed head of Garden boxing.  When a 1934 management shakeup forced Carey out, Johnston also left.  Once known as “the Boy Bandit,” Johnston was then 59 but returned to managing for many years thereafter.

Ingemar Johansson


Ingemar Johansson (Boxing.  Born, Gothenburg, Sweden, Oct. 16, 1932; died, Kungsbacka, Sweden, Jan. 30, 2009.)  Heavyweight champion for just over 51 weeks in 1959-60, Ingemar Johansson both won and lost the title in New York.  Johansson became the champion June 26, 1959, by virtue of a third-round knockout of Floyd Patterson at Yankee Stadium.  He lost the crown in a rematch June 20, 1960, before 31,892 at the Polo Grounds, when Patterson became the first man ever to regain the heavyweight championship as he scored a fifth-round knockout.  Johansson lost a third bout to Patterson (at Miami Beach, Fla.) in 1961.  He had been the European heavyweight titleholder (1956-59) and regained that crown in 1962.

Jack Kearns


Jack Kearns (Boxing.  Born, Waterloo, MI, July 17, 1883; died, Miami Beach, FL, June 17, 1963.)  One of the celebrated characters of boxing for decades, Jack Kearns (born John Leo McKernan) managed six world champions.  Kearns managed heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey for eight years (1917-25) and combined with Tex Rickard to promote Dempsey into a million-dollar gate attraction, the first in boxing history.  Kearns stopped managing Dempsey before the latter lost his title, and Kearns went on to handle several other boxing greats, including light heavyweight king Archie Moore .  Perhaps his greatest fighter was lightweight champion Benny Leonard.  Among his other title-holders were Mickey Walker and Joey Maxim.

Rocky Kansas


Rocky Kansas (Boxing.  Born, Buffalo, NY, Apr. 21, 1895; died, Buffalo, NY, Jan. 10, 1954.)  Born Rocco Tozzo, Kansas was a lightweight who fought 165 times in a 21-year career (1911-32) and won the division championship in 1925.  Kansas fought just seven times in New York but earned headlines for two bouts against champion Benny Leonard and a win over Lew Tendler.  His celebrated bout with Leonard was actually at the Harrison Oval in Harrison, N.J., June 6, 1921, when the pair drew 28,000 for a 12-round no-decision.  That led to a rematch Feb. 10, 1922, at Garden No. 2, which drew 11,683 but grossed over $100,000, a big figure for a non-heavyweight fight.  Leonard defended his crown with a 15-round decision.  Kansas finally won the title in Buffalo Dec. 7, 1925, but lost it to Sammy Mandell July 3, 1926, in Chicago, Ill.  He retired shortly after that loss but then made a brief comeback.  Nearly half (81) of his fights were no-decision affairs, but he lost only 13 times and won 64 with seven draws.

Joe Lynch


Joe Lynch (Boxing. Born, New York, NY, Nov. 30, 1898; died, Brooklyn, NY, Sept. 1, 1965.) Twice world bantamweight champion (1920-21, 1922-24), Joseph B. Lynch fought much of his early career in New York and Brooklyn. Later in his 134-bout pro career, Lynch also fought several major bouts in New York, winning the title the first time from Pete Herman at the Garden Dec. 22, 1920. He lost the return match to Herman at Ebbets Field July 25, 1921. Lynch regained the crown at the New York Velodrome July 10, 1922, knocking out Johnny Buff in the 14th round. He lost it a final time to Abe Goldstein at the Garden Mar. 21, 1924. He retired in 1926 and became the postmaster in New City, N.Y. Lynch fought 64 no-decisions, drew 15, and lost only 13.

Jim Jeffries


Jim Jeffries (Boxing.  Born, Carroll, OH, May 15. 1875; died, Burbank, CA, Mar. 3, 1953.)  James J. Jeffries was the first heavyweight champion to win his title in New York and he held it for six years (1899-1905).  Jeffries knocked out champion Bob Fitzsimmons in the 11th round at Coney Island June 9, 1899.  He fought two of his first three title defenses at Coney Island as well, decisioning Tom Sharkey in 25 rounds Nov. 3, 1899, and kayoing Jim Corbett in the 23rd round May 11, 1900.

Joe Jeanette


Joe Jeanette (Boxing.  Born, North Bergen, NJ, Aug. 26, 1879; died, Weehawken, NJ, July 2, 1958.)  Despite being hampered by the endemic racism of his time, Joe Jeanette became successful as both an athlete and a businessman.  Jeanette apprenticed as a blacksmith with his father and then drove a coal delivery wagon but turned to boxing as a profession.  He capitalized on an already-sizable reputation as a brawler in his earlier jobs.  In a 15-year career (1904-19), Jeanette had 154 official bouts, winning 56 by knockout, losing just nine and fighting nine draws.  He was knocked out only once (by Sam Langford in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1916).  Jeanette by 1909 had earned sufficient stature to begin fighting internationally.  Over the course of his career, Jeanette fought in France, England, and Canada, appearing in Paris 11 times.  He also fought 41 times in New York, five times each in Brooklyn and Jersey City, and three times in Newark.  For most of his career, Jeanette was restricted to facing other black fighters.  He fought Langford 14 times, had five bouts with Sam McVey, one with Harry Wills, and eight with Jack Johnson, whom he beat three times.  All of Johnson’s New York appearances were against Jeanette (two in 1906, one in 1908 and a three-round exhibition Nov. 27, 1945).  Jeanette fought at about 190 pounds most of his career.  In retirement, he became a noted fight referee in New Jersey while operating a thriving bus and limousine business in what is now Union City, N.J.  Jeanette also operated a gym for fighters above his garage and among the fighters who trained there was James J. Braddock, later heavyweight champion.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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