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February 25: Knocking Out Jack Johnson

February 25, 2014
JChoy1One of the best boxers never to win a championship, “Chrysanthemum” Joe Choynski (1868-1943) knocked out a young Jack Johnson in their third round on this date in 1901 and then became Johnson’s trainer and prepared him for his own reign as America’s first black heavyweight champ. Choynski’s father was a Polish immigrant journalist and bookseller in San Francisco who battled anti-Semitism and political corruption. As a boxer, Choynski’s heyday came at the turn of the 20th century: In non-title fights, he fared well against future champions, losing to James Corbett in the 27th round, and fighting a much bigger James Jeffries to a 20-round draw. (Choynski was under six feet tall and weighed only 176, but fought as a heavyweight.) His fight with Jack Johnson took place in Galveston, Texas, and both men were arrested by the Texas Rangers for their unlicensed match (which violated the Jim Crow laws). They spent twenty-three days in jail together, during which time Choynski sparred daily with Johnson and told him, “A man who can move like you should never have to take a punch.” Choynski was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998. He ended his career with 55 wins, 39 by knockout, 15 losses, 11 by knockout, and five draws. After retiring, he toured in a production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and consulted on the production of the Jim Corbett biopic, “Gentleman Jim.” photo_choynski“Choynski had a paralyzing punch. His left hand was a corker. He was the hardest puncher in the last fifty years . . . I think his left hook was even more effective than either Dempseys.” —Jack Johnson Our thanks to Bennett Muraskin for his help with this Jewdayo entry.