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
GLOVE-DODGING HIS SPECIALTY
Blackburn Just Shaded by Greb, Who Carries the Fighting
Newspaper Article Info
Newspaper Name: The Pittsburgh Post
Date Printed: January 26, 1915
Written by Florent Gibson
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
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 LANDS ON RIBS
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.
Tale Of The Tape
Place: Versailles, Kentucky
Weight: 135 lbs.
(CLICK HERE FOR HIS FIGHT RECORD)
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