Sign in to follow this  

Jess Willard

Recommended Posts


Jess Willard (December 29, 1881 in the town of St. Clere, Pottawatomie County, Kansas – December 15, 1968 in Los Angeles, California) was a world Heavyweight boxing champion.

A working cowboy, he did not begin boxing until he was almost thirty years old.

Despite his late start, Jess Willard proved successful as a boxer, defeating top-ranked opponents to earn a chance to fight for the championship. On April 5, 1915 in front of a huge crowd at the Vedado Racetrack in Havana, Cuba, in the 26th round he knocked out champion Jack Johnson to win the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship.

Johnson spread rumors that he took a dive , but Willard is widely regarded as winning fairly. Willard said, "If he was going to throw the fight, I wish he'd done it sooner. It was hotter than hell out there."

Johnson found that he could not knock out the giant Willard, who fought as a counterpuncher, making Johnson do all the leading. Johnson began to tire after the 20th round, and was visibly hurt by heavy body punches from Willard in rounds preceding the 26th round knockout. Following the fight, Willard was heralded as "The Great White Hope".

At 6' 6 1/2" (2 m) and 245 lbs (111 kg), Jess Willard was the tallest and the largest heavyweight champion in boxing history.

The 37-year-old champion lost his title to Jack Dempsey on July 4, 1919 in Toledo, Ohio. Dempsey knocked Willard down for the first time in his career with a left hook in the first round. Dempsey knocked Willard down 7 times in the first round, winning the title when Willard was unable to continue after the third round. In the fight Willard suffered a broken jaw, cheekbone, and ribs as well as losing several teeth. Rumors spread that Dempsey had plastered his hands to make them harder, but Dempsey swore he did not.

Willard parlayed his boxing fame into an acting career of a sort. He acted in a vaudeville show, had a role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and starred in a 1919 feature film The Challenge of Chance. In 1933, he appeared in a bit part in a boxing movie, The Prizefighter and the Lady, with Max Baer and Myrna Loy.

On his passing in 1968, Jess Willard was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

In 2003, he was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a new book coming out on Willard soon, looking forward to getting it. Big Jess came along at a good time as Johnson was ageing, needed to come home to the US and had let himself get out of shape.

There was a story that after Jess lost to Dempsey, his corner and friends deserted him and left him in the dressing room totally disoriented and barely able to see, he had to virtually get out of the stadium using feel as his eyes were so badly swollen.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this