On this day in 1958, Joe Jeannette died at 78 years of age. Jeannette is one of the best fighters to never win a world championship, and even though he was never a world champion, he still deserves to rank among the top 20 to 25 heavyweights of all time.
Jeannette was a contemporary and often-time rival of Sam Langford and Sam McVea, two other outstanding heavyweight fighters who, like Jeannette, were never granted a shot at the world title, due to the racist attitudes in the United States at that time.
Jeanneatte was the son of a blacksmith and apprenticed under his father for a time. But at age 25, he took up professional boxing and within two years, was ranked among the top heavyweight fighters in the world.
Within those first two years of his professional career, Jeannette fought future world champion Jack Johnson seven times. It proved to be tough, but edifying, experience for the young fighter. Unfortunately, once Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion, he declined to defend against Jeannette or the other top black stars.
Jeannette’s most famous fight occurred in Paris, against McVea on April 17, 1909, with the “World Colored Championship” on the line. The fight was watched by only about 2,500 people and immediate newspaper accounts conflict to some degree in their reports. What nobody disagrees about is that the fight has to rank among the greatest in the history of boxing, from any era of the sport.
The bout was fought under modern, gloved rules, but it was also a “fight to the finish,” meaning it could only end on a stoppage. And neither man showed up prepared to be stopped.
For 49 rounds and three-and-one-half hours, Jeannette and McVea pounded each other. The early part of the fight was carried by McVea, who was famous for his stunning right hand. Jeannette was on his back on multiple occasions during the first part of the fight. In Round 19, alone he is supposed to have been dropped five times. He was nearly finished again in Rounds 21 and 22.
By Round 40, McVea appeared to have punched himself out. Jeannette quickly turned the tables and the more compact and scientific fighter brutalized McVea with vicious infighting. The French newspaper La Presse reported McVea’s eyes swelling completely shut sometime after Round 40. In Round 42, McVea was knocked down seven times.
Finally, prior to Round 49, McVea shook Jeannette’s hand and conceded defeat. By some accounts, this battle included a staggering 38 total knockdowns.