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Wells and I - by Jack Johnson (Champion of the World)

In days gone by boxers would write a letter to the (boxing magazine of the day) with the intention of creating hype around the fight they were participating in. This practice would always trigger a response from an opponent. Today things are a little different; we have press conferences to hype up fights and managers who do most of the talking.

It was 99 years ago that Jack Johnson wrote this letter to a magazine called “BOXING”. Here are some extracts;

“I have put in most of the time I have been able to during the past few weeks in reading those clever letters and articles which have appeared in your English papers about my match with Bombardier Wells. If I had to take them as fully expressing English opinion I should be able to satisfy myself that I had only a walk-over to look forward to.

Of course, Wells is your champion and you English people should know all about him. So I will have to ask you to excuse me for thinking rather differently about my prospects in this match. I am inclined to agree with the gentlemen who have been airing their prophetic views on the contest. I will candidly confess right here that I am going to win, just because I don’t think there is a man anywhere capable of beating me to-day, or, for a year or so to come.


If I thought there was, and that the man was one I should have to meet in the near future - well, perhaps I might begin to get figuring on the sort of life I would like to live in retirement, because here wouldn’t be much sense in my walking around any longer as a boxer. The dough would come my way as a beaten man wouldn’t go buying me any estates. There would just be the pile I could collect for getting beaten, and then it would be good-bye.

But I am not calculating on the arrival of that day for quite a while yet. I have got some useful contracts and some other offers which seem pleasing to me right now, and I want to except them, so I am looking forward to winning from Bombardier Wells when he and I get together inside the ring.


But I am not expecting any easy job. This Wells looks a lot better man than most people give him credit for being. He looks fast; he is, I feel sure, much stronger than people make out, and he sure knows how to use his hands. I guess, too, that I will feel all the punches he gives me, and feel them pretty badly.

It is true that, as I have never seen him fight, I can’t even guess right off how good he is. There is only one thing I fell sure about, and that is that he won’t prove to be any false alarm. I can’t afford to take any chances with him, and I am not going to do so. I shall go in for six weeks of training for this, which is more than I have done for any contest yet”.

Can you pick up in the letter how organized Jack Johnson was? Firstly, he makes it clear that by no means will he under- estimate Wells, yet at that same time he states that there is no man that can beat him at present, and goes on to explain how he will prepare for the fight.

“The first fortnight will of course be taken fairly easily. Just roadwork, ground exercises, a little sparring, and so on, with plenty of massage, so as to get myself really fit and ready for the hard work to come. After that, though, I am going to do one month’s hard work, so that I can feel sure that if Wells does manage to beat me, it will be because he is the best man in the world, and not because he has only had to beat an untrained man.


My training camp has been definitely settled, and I shall go across to Paris about the end of this month or during the first days of next to take up my quarters at the magic city. I have never made a “public” appearance in Paris yet, so I am rather anxious to make good there.

I shall go in a good deal for roadwork, and expect to cover from 12 to 14 miles every day, as I want to work up both my speed and staying power. I have been taking things a little easily since my fight with Jefferies at Reno, and so want to test myself thoroughly. I believe I am pretty fit, but can’t say right away whether I am as fit as I ought to be until I have given myself a thorough try out. Still I am under 17st. At the present moment, so I can’t have very much to take off.

Any boxer of intelligence can always decide this point for himself. He won’t need to be asking other people if he is fit. He ought to know without any telling. If he feels any doubt about it he need only treat himself to some extra hard boxing practice - extend his ordinary spell, increase the number of his partners or change them about quickly, let them keep him travelling fast while they slog into him for all they are worth. He will be able to judge right then as to whether he has been getting himself into shape for a boxing match or only for a road race.

Then again, from such little as I have seen, the average English boxer not only does too much road work, but also goes at it at too slow a pace. He is so keen on working up his wind and staying power he neglects to cultivate his pace, in spite of the fact that speed is even more important, if possible, than stamina.


My critics have been very fond of asserting that I am only a defensive boxer, and that as an aggressive fighter I don’t amount to a row of beans. They are very positive on this point, you know, and have pointed out some hundred times, I should say, that I always have to make my opponents come to me before I am able to do them any damage.

They would all seem to be so positive of this that I feel quite sorry at times that I can’t agree with them. It is true that I generally do succeed in getting my opponents to lead to me, but that is because this has always been my idea of the game. I have generally found that when I got them to lead I could pretty nearly always get home first. It’s happened so at all events. Perhaps it was only my good luck, but if that was the cause I can only say that I have had a pretty consistent run of it.


It is generally much easier to get home on a man who has let fly at you than it is on a man who is carefully watching your every move, and who is waiting for you to uncover. It is, of course, just as well to be certain that you can beat your man for speed when you start playing this game. You want to be able to know what he is going to do just as soon as he does, if not sooner, and be able to stop and counter anything that may come along. The secret lies in being able to make your move simultaneously with his, and be able to make it a fraction quicker.

This is all there is in it, and you can do it all just as easily as you can roll off a log, if you have only trained yourself to think quickly, and to move any muscle you want to as quickly as you can think about moving it.

It is just because I have found this method to be the surest of winning that I follow it as often as I can. My critics find fault with me for always retreating, and assert that I can’t go after a man. I don’t often have to do the last, but should I find myself called upon to go hard after Wells, it is just possible that some of them may alter their minds a trifle.


You see, I can’t even pretend to make a guess as to the way I shall have to fight Wells. I am going to fight him to win, and I am going to fight him so I can win just as easily and as quickly as possible. But then he has such a long arm, accurate with that left of his that it is possible that I may not be to get him to come to me in the way I like my opponents to come. A lot of people said that I may not be able to get Jefferies to come to me. Jeff, they all said, was the boy to do the waiting. He had always made all the men who had ever fought him come right after him, and he had just met them and handed it to them good and hard when they did so. Yet, all the same, he did come to me just when, how and where I wanted.

I may say that I figured all along that I would be able to get Jefferies to do this, but I will confess right here that I am not guessing so strongly that I will be equally successful with Wells. From what I have seen of the pictures of the fights in which he has engaged, he looks to me to be the sort of man who wouldn’t choose that plan. So I shan’t be at all surprised if I have to go after him, and may thereby get a chance of being able to show people whether I can do any useful aggressive fighting or not.


I don’t know if anybody is aware of it, but I believe that I may say without boasting that I am rather fast on my feet. At all event, I covered 100 yards the other day in just 11 1/2 seconds, and I am not what I call properly wound up just now. When I am in real trim I can get inside 11 seconds, and that, you know, isn’t half bad for a man of my size and weight. There will be a whole lot of sprinting practice during my training. I can say that straight away.


Then there are the little “singing” bouts. Very useful these are. Extra-ordinary good for the lungs, you know. Say send me along a singer, a real professional, you know, and let him “ Love me and the world is mine,” and I will reach all the high notes he will, for all that my voice isn’t exactly what you can call a tenor one.

By the way, I hear that there are a lot of people who are saying that this fight is going to last as long I choose to allow it, and I must say that I hope that they will prove good prophet, because, if they are, it will be over pretty quickly. I am going to win, if I do win, just as quickly as I can contrive to do so. The only trouble I can see is that Wells may not choose to let me finish him off in a few rounds. He has, I believe being going through some pretty stiff tests during the last months or so. And has satisfied himself and some other really good judges that he can not only keep me well away from him, but can also get well home on me without my being able to retaliate.


One or two of the people who are opposed to this match have been going about saying and writing that I won’t want to finish Wells off quickly on account of the pictures which are to be taken. Well, that is just where they got talking before they knew. I don’t have any interest in those pictures to make me wish to see the contest lasting any longer than I can possibly help. I should not gain one cent by dragging it out, and should be running risks all the while. So that when I say that I rather expect it to go some considerable distance it is because I fancy that Wells will see to that part of the business.

Still, people will say things like this, you know. You can’t stop them. All sorts of things were said before my fights with Burns and Jefferies. Still I feel fairly satisfied that Wells is quite capable of giving me some real hard trouble, and may very likely make me travel some considerable distance.

He may quite possibly win even. I don’t think he will, but I know that I shall certainly get beaten one of these days if I only keep on boxing long enough. I shan’t like being beaten, of course, but should Wells win, I can truthfully say that I shan’t like him any the less on that account.


I don’t think that I am carrying anything much except muscle around my waistline, and have very little superfluous flesh anywhere. You see, I have always been pretty particular about this. The “wise guys’-the writers and talkers who can post anyone at once on my subjectwill all tell you that every coloured boxer is weak about the body. They always have said so, and I suppose they always will. They used to say and I fancy Tommy Burnes said himself that I would never be able to stand up against the punchers he was going to give me downstairs. Anyway Tommy came right in at Sydney to show the people how easily he could do the trick by digging me down below. But if you remember, he didn’t hurt me any. I just lifted my arms up after a bit and let him punch me as hard as he liked. I was kind perhaps in this, but Tommy didn’t seem to apprctiate it much.

Still, even after that people went about saying that I couldn’t stand being hit in the body. It was prophesied that Jim Jefferies would just knock the stuffing out of me. He tried, I’ll give him the credit for that, but as he didn’t do it, perhaps he found the stuffing a bit too firmly fixed. I had seen to that, you know, and this was how I did it.

Right from the time I made up my mind to become the champion of the world I paid very particular attention to my abdominal exercise. When I was last in England I surprise even some of the strong men by the weight I could support on my stomach. You know I would make a bridge with several men standing on my chest and stomach. I would get them to take up position while I was laying flat on my back, and would then “work” my body up into the bridge, supporting myself and the men on the crown of my head and the soles of my feet. That, you know, is one fine exercise for strengthening all the muscles in the body. The neck of course benefits a lot, but the legs and arms come in as well, and the muscles which protect the walls of the abdomen most of all.


I am inclined to fancy that most English boxers make some bad mistakes in training. They go in for serious preparation, but they overdo part of it and slur over equally important items. Most of them for instance, overdo their road work, and this criticism applies especially to the lighter men. A man who is not going to have any trouble about his weight doesn’t want to do to much on the road. He has no need to try and reduce himself. Of course it may be said that as I always fight at catch-weight, there is no need for my covering 12 to 14 miles a day, and there wouldn’t be if it didn’t suit me. Each man should adopt a training system that suits him, and what suits one man may not suit another.