When thinking of the sport of boxing names like Marciano, Louis, Ali, Dempsey, Tyson and Chavez come to mind. But there have been so many legendary champions, great matches and history decorated in greatness. So it is easy to believe that the amazing fighters of the past can be lost to history and be overshadowed by the next generation of fighters achievements. This is so in the case of Jeremiah "Joe" Jeanette. Never heard of him you say, well he might just be the greatest boxer of all time.
Jeremiah"Joe" Jeanette was born August 26, 1879 in West Hoboken, (Now Union City) NJ. Jeanette apprenticed at his father's blacksmith ship and would eventually drive a truck for a local coal company. Now, Jeanette got his boxing start in a not so normal way, on a dare. That's right the great Joe Jeanette's career started all because of a dare. His first fight was in 1904 against Arthur Dickinson in Jersey City, NJ. Even though Jeanette lost the match, he decided to make a go of a career. He did so because the sport was very rewarding. During that time a fighter earned roughly 3 to 5 dollars a fight. In a short time Jeanette would be earning almost 25 dollars a fight. That amount may not seem like much, but to an African American in this time, most didn't make 25 dollars in a year However, it is in that fight that would be the start one of boxing's greatest legend's career.
Jeanette's career started almost instantly. He had, over the first two years of his career, 15 fights with Sam Langford (Who ESPN placed on their Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows list and The Ring put at #2 on their greatest punchers of all time list). In that time Jeanette became a dangerous inside boxer with at the same time developing his defensive skills. This combination made many boxers, both black and white, shy away from challenging Jeanette. During the same time as his fights with Langford, Jeanette also competed against future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, that's right I said Jack Johnson, as in the fist black champion in boxing Jack Johnson. Jeanette and Johnson would face each other ten times. Jeanette would win one, loss two, two draws and five "No Decisions." Now that may not sound impressive, but only two losses against one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport is quite amazing. The fights ended when Johnson became champion in 1908, even though Jeanette made many attempts to schedule a fight the mighty Jack Johnson feared the idea of stepping in the ring again with Jeanette.
Yet as if his feud with Johnson wasn't enough to make Jeanette boxing royalty, perhaps his April 17, 1909 fight against Sam McVey does. The two faced off in Paris, France in a rematch for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship. McVey won the first bout in February 1909 but it would be that April that would showcase the stuff boxing legends are made of. The fight drew a large crowd as Europeans at this time were intrigued with Africa and people of African descent. The fight would make every Rocky film seem like a Disney movie. It had no judges and no set round limit. It was a controlled no holds barred match, just Jeanette, McVey and the referee. The fight started with the sound of the bell and would go on for 49 Rounds and lasted roughly THREE AND A HALF HOURS. During this battle Jeanette was knocked down 27 times, dazed by a crushing blow from McVey in the first round, and almost knocked out in the 16th and later in the 19th round. However, Jeanette recovered from the beating, driven by pride. McVey was knocked down 20 times and finally at the start of the 49th round McVey could not even stand up. By the end, as Mc Vey sit in the corner and Jeanette's hand was raised, the ring looked something like a scene from a horror movie. Jeanette was then declared winner by TKO. Jeanette would hold and defend the "title" for five months before losing it to long time rival Sam Langford.
In his 18 year career Joe Jeanette finally called it quits in 1919 at 40 years old. His career record would stand at 147 wins and 9 losses with 68 wins by KO. Of his 9 losses he was only knocked out two times, the KO's came in the beginning and end of his career. However, Jeanette often disputed his number of fights, claiming he fought close to 400 fights. Following his retirement Jeanette didn't leave the sport, he refereed matches and trained aspiring fighters at his home on 27th Street and Summit Ave. in Union City, NJ. One of those boxers would actually go on to become Heavyweight Champion, perhaps you've heard of him James J. Braddock. Aside from his work in the boxing world, Jeanette also went on to own and operate a taxi company located also in Union City. He passed away in 1958 at 78 years old. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997 and was the first recipient of a Union City historical marker in 2009. Yet his legacy can be seen as this, a fierce and feared fighter, a man who Jack Johnson called "the toughest man I ever fought," a boxer whose career and abilities were held down by America's racist history, but more importantly Jeanette is boxing royalty, a fighter that should still be held in high regards today for his feats in the ring but for paving the way for future boxers of all races. Jeanette stepped into the ring in the days before film, in a time when a black man was treated as a second class citizen and so little if anything exists of his talent, but mention him to any really boxing fan and even though he never held the title Jeanette is held in the highest of regards and is not only remembered but treated almost as a mythical Greek god, which is what should keep him as one of the greatest of all time.