July 4, 1910: America’s first fight of the century
One of the most impactful sites in American sports history is now a salvage yard in Reno, Nevada. On July 4, 1910 it was the site to a prize fight between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries. This fight is known as the “Fight of the Century”.
The early 1900’s was a racist America and when Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns in Australia to become the first black heavyweight champion the stage was set for a collision between black and white on a grand scale. Reno was where the battle would take place.
There was a big movement to find someone to wipe the smile off Johnson’s face and take back the prestigious heavy weight title. So as white America began to search for their champion, their great white hope was James Jeffries.
Although undefeated in his career Jeffries had not laced gloves in over five years and was working on his California ranch since retiring in 1905.
Jeffries came out of retirement weighing in at over 300 pounds. He had to cut nearly 70 pounds for the fight. When word got out that Reno would play host to the fight, the Biggest Little City grew over night. Reno’s population at the time was just around 10,000 and over 30,000 boxing fans came through to watch the epic prize fight.
It was a huge event. The bars downtown did big business, the few hotels that existed at the time were booked solid. It was like Reno was the center of the universe on the day of the fight.
The fight was scheduled for 45 rounds, it lasted 15. Jeffries was knocked down twice in the fifteenth round and at one point was nearly knocked completely out of the ring. Finally the corner of Jeffries came to realize he was too old, too heavy and was simply outclassed. His corner had seen enough and called a stop to the fight.
Fans wanting to see Johnson suffer defeat could only wash away their sorrows at nearby bars and realized that their hope was simply an illusion. The impact of that fight transcended professional prizefighting. The biggest and most significant sporting event of that era took place on our Country’s Independence Day in 1910.