Jack Blackburn


Jack Blackburn had a fine career as a fighter but is honored in the Hall of Fame for his even greater achievement as the trainer of Joe Louis. Born in Versailles, Kentucky in 1883, Blackburn was the son of a minister. He moved with his family to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he first began boxing, then headed to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to continue his ring career. He was quick, had a fine jab, and a powerful left hook, and though he weighed only 135 pounds, often fought much larger men. He made good showings aginst such greats as Joe Gans and Sam Langford (who outweighed him by 45 pounds), and he gave Philadelphia Jack O'Brien all he could handle in a no-decision bout in 1908.

In January 1909, Blackburn's career was derailed when he went on a shooting spree in Philadelphia. In the midst of an argument, he killed three people, including his wife. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten to fifteen years in prison. Blackburn, who gave boxing lessons to the warden and his children, was released on good behavior after four years and eight months.

Blackburn returned to professional boxing, taking on opponents such as Ed "Gunboat" Smith and Harry Greb. He retired from fighting in 1923 after losing by knockout to Panama Joe Gans and Ray Pelky. Blackburn posted an official career record of 38-3-12 with 50 no-decisions. He claimed to have fought 385 times.

Blackburn then became a trainer and guided weak puncher Sammy Mandell to the lightweight title in 1926. Blackburn also trained Bud Taylor, who won the bantamweight title in 1927. Blackburn also worked briefly with Jersey Joe Walcott in Philadelphia.

Blackburn at first expressed skepticism about Louis, predicting that a black heaveyweight would not have many opportunities. Nevertheless, Blackburn worked tirelessly with Louis, schooling him on every aspect of fighting, such as balance, steppiug forward when throwing a punch, and hitting with accuracy. According to hall of famer trainer eddie futch, Blackburn changed Louis from a "box and move" type to a more aggresive fighter. Though Blackburn was tough on Louis, the two grew close and called each other "Chappie." Louis later said, "Chappie made a fighter out of me. He was my closest friend."

Blackburn had problems with drinking and with arthritis during the time he trained Louis. In 1935, he was indicted for perjury and manslaughter in a case that was later dropped. Blackburn's health deteriorated and, in 1942, he died of a heart attack.

***Pictured here is Jack Blackburn with george Chip in 1914. You can buy this picture at www.antiquitiesoftheprizering.com






The newspaper article below describes the Greb-Blackburn fight of 1915:


January 26, 1915


Blackburn Just Shaded by Greb, Who Carries the Fighting to Him.

They call Mike Gibbons a ghost and they say that Johnny Kilbane is elusive, that Freddie Welsh fades away like a mist and that Jim Corbett was shifty, but for dodging gloves that are coming with the profusion of a charge of "Number Eights" from a 12-gauge shotgun, commend us to Jack Blackburn, the Eastern Pennsylvania negro, who opposed Harry Greb, the local middleweight, in the Duquesne Garden last night.

Greb launched about a million - more or less - punches at the dusky Jack, whose color alone precludes the possibility of calling him a whited spectre, but an infinitesimally small proportion of them connected with those portions of Jack's anatomy on which blows must land to count.

The shade that goes with aggression belongs to Greb. He was after Blackburn all the time, working his arms like piston-rods from every possible angle, but Blackburn blocked, side-stepped, slipped, rode and ducked punches as easily and as calmly as we are led to believe that an aeroplane outmaneuvers a Zeppelin. To tell the truth it looked as if the dusky Altoona man was under wraps.

From the first to the final bell, save for intermissions, Blackburn was the center of a cloud of gloves. But he was so elusive that not one punch in 10 that Greb started ever connected. Greb was on him all the time, however, and as Blackburn didn't start one-tenth the blows that Greb did, Greb must be accorded the decision. Blackburn stepped through the six rounds with the untroubled air of a Vernon Castle doing some difficult steps, while Greb was piling in all the time doing his best to reach his opponent. He succeeded at at times, too but couldn't inflict any considerable amount of punishment nor pile up a commanding lead.


Blackburn led frequently enough for a fight filled with less action, and hadn't much difficulty in scoring on Greb. Most of his punches were directed to Greb's middle, but they didn't have enough force to take the steam out of Greb. The fact that Greb wasn't going as fast in the closing rounds as he was in the early sessions is that he couldn't maintain the pace he cut out.

In the two opening rounds Blackburn scarcely led a punch. He was the storm center from the start, but very few landed on his body. In the first round he slipped and was helped to one knee by a spent blow from Greb. He countered several times as Greb came in, but not enough to rob Greb of the shade that the action gave him.

Greb fairly earned the third round. He managed to solve Blackburn's defense for a short time, and got home right and left to the face several times. Blackburn did little for the greater part of the round, but in the last 30 seconds he sent home a few body blows that checked Greb's rush. But Greb landed more and harder punches. He brought blood from Blackburn's nose.

In the fourth round Blackburn began to fight back a little bit, while Greb succeeded in landing more blows. Greb was shooting both hands in the direction of Blackburn's jaw, and although many of them missed, enough connected to even up for those Blackburn returned to his body and head. The round was about even.

Blackburn took the fifth round, as Greb slowed up just a bit for a flying start on the sixth. Blackburn played for the middle in this round and part of the distance actually forced the fighting. He scored enough clean punches to entitle him to the best of it.

Greb came out for a grand finish, and in the sixth did practically all the fighting. Blackburn was content to cover well and tie up Greb when he rushed in, occasionally countering. As Blackburn played strictly a defensive game, Greb didn't land as often as he did in the three preceding rounds, but he had the shade.