JACK JOHNSON vs WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
So here we are for the fifth installment in the series, and this one is really a big stretch in time. We are picking Jack "The Galveston Giant" Johnson to face Wladimir "Dr. Steelhammer" Klitschko. In what is one of the biggest gaps in time one can have when discussing fantasy matches, we have the first African-American heavyweight champion in History, fighting the last heavyweight champion in History! Tell me that isn't cool... We can also say we are pitting one fighter from the 19th century against the champion from the 21st century, given that we can find matches that are more than a century apart from each other in their records.
Of course, it will be very difficult to give any rough estimation on how whould this fight go, but since this is only an exercise for having fun and learning and discussing about past and present fighters, let's have it a go!
Quick info about Johnson (also, I recommend to check any article about him, such as this one Jack Johnson, which I found very enjoyable and insightful):
- Johnson was 6' 1/2'' and had a reach of 74". This, of course, would make for a small heavyweight nowadays, but seeing how we are talking 100 years ago, Johnson was probably a very big and powerful man for his time. There has been great heavyweight champions that were way smaller than him for the next half a century and beyond. For reference, we are talking about the size of Tomasz Adamek, small for a heavyweight, but able to hang there with them.
- He has been regarded as the best heavyweight of all time defense-wise. While I don't know if that would be correct, he was undoubtedly a very talented individual.
- According to Nat Fleischer (founder of The Ring magazine): "Jack Johnson boxed on his toes, could block from most any angle, was lightning fast on his feet, could feint an opponent into knots…he possessed everything a champion could hope for punch, speed, brains, cleverness, boxing ability and sharp-shooting."
- Fleischer also reported in 1958, that Johnson’s "mastery of ring science, his ability to block, counter, and feint, are still unexcelled." (I unashamedly copied this off from the article I linked earlier, as well as the previous point)
- As reported, he was at least good or very good in every department, at least compared to the fighters of his era. He had a tremendous defense, knowledge, boxing IQ. He had a good chin (though this has been later disputed by some boxing scholars), very good power, solid fundamentals and not only knew every trick on the book, but basically introduced some in it, let's not forget we are talking early 20th century here.
- He was a consumate specialist at catching his opponent jabs and other punches with his lead hand and then counter them again and again. He was vastly superior to most of his rivals, and this showed.
Quick info about Klitschko:
- At 6"6' and with a 84" reach, there's little we can say about Wlad's size and frame that hasn't been discussed endlessly already, so no need to go into it any further.
- Wlad is a very technical boxer, that, as the story goes, didn't have as good a defense as to be really successful with a less than stellar chin. After getting beaten up by some lesser rivals, it took Emmanuel Steward to tune his style in order to protect his chin and optimize the usage of his physical advantages.
- This turned Wlad into what he is today. A not very exciting but really hard to beat boxer. He's got a very good jab that he uses to pummel opponents, keep them at the other end of his punches and score rounds in his favour.
- He enjoys what is probably one of the hardest punches in boxing history, the straight right that gives him his ring name. Anyone can check the effects this hammer has on open chins with a quick trip to youtube.
- His chin might or might not be as bad as people claim, but in my opinion, has at least shown to be very vulnerable, and capable of leaving himself in a position where lesser boxers were able to beat him up and stop him, something that doesn't happen with other big heavyweights such as his own brother Vitali.
- Another important and well known trait of modern Wladimir is what I would call his "second line of defense". Provided you find a way to overcome his jab barrier and get inside or close, ready to finally assault the tower, he's not afraid to grapple you, push you down, hug you, or generally stink it out for a full 12 rounds. He just doesn't want to slug it out for even 2 seconds, he doesn't want you close. He might even judo grapple you down to the ground if that allows him to avoid getting into a war.
- And finally, he obviously has the conditioning, frame, and raw strength to carry this plan out against most boxers out there.
- I give Wlad the edge in raw power and strength. He is bigger, and I consider him to be one of the most powerful punchers in History.
- I give Johnson the advantage on chin, or, at least in punch resistance. If Johnson manages to get to Wlad's chin, he is going to hurt him at least.
- I give Johnson the edge in speed too. I don't know how fast he was, but since Wlad is quite bigger, and Jack was regarded as a fast boxer, my bet is on him having considerably faster hands.
- Wladimir has a very good sense of spacing and moving through the ring to his advantage. Still, I expect an ATG technician like Johnson to still have a moderately better footwork and boxing IQ, even with the enourmous gap in time between the two.
- As far as I'm concerned, Wlad doesn't tire. His style probably doesn't allow it. Since Johnson wasn't an overly aggressive fighter either, I have also no reason to think he would gas out.
- Johnson has the edge in skills, though one century apart from each other, we should think about it a little. Maybe the best boxers from 100 years ago would be nothing more than average in the technical department nowadays. After all, modern boxers learn their craft through watching and studying the styles and techniques that others used before them. It's probable that most of what made Johnson great has already been adopted as a staple for any modern and decently skilled boxer.
Setting up the fight:
This one is easier to set up than other examples because they are both heavyweights. Still, since Johnson was the size of Adamek, and (bless Tomasz) I think Adamek vs a Klitschko is a big mismatch, I'm enlarging Johnson a bit. David Haye is a bit bigger than Adamek, and he didn't look like he was hopelessly mismatched against Wlad (size-wise).
So you can imagine a boxer the size of David Haye, with all the traits I've been discussing, plus whatever other information you have or can find about him. That is our fight.
My own pick:
From my humble point of view, this is one fight I have quite clear. I think Wladimir would take this quite easily. There's 2 reasons for that and an expected course for the fight to go in my mind.
First, there's Wlad's size and we don't need explanation because we have seen Wlad fight.
Second, I'll paste this paragraph that Radu wrote in the presentation post of the series. Since I could never say it as good as him, or have the knowledge he has to reach that conclusion, I'll leave Radu to explain:
Also, differences across boxing eras will be difficult to account for. I know some people disagree with me, but in my opinion, when you watch video of fighters from the 1920s or 1930s, there is a glaring difference in technique and fighting style. Some of the fights I see on Youtube look more like bar-room brawls. In my opinion defense, stance, angles and footwork have evolved immensely. I do from the bottom of my heart believe that if fighters such as Jim Jeffries, Benny Leonard or Stanley Ketchel, the way they fought and the way they threw punches, were in the ring with some modern greats, they would be mercilessly countered and would miss most of their shots. Not to mention the fact that the rules have changed, the number of rounds has changed, and many things that were legal when they were fighting are not legal anymore.
So, in my view, the fight would look like many of Wlad's fights. Johnson would take his time to analyze Wlad, time his jabs and rights, and start trying to find spots to counter over Wlad's jab. Then, he would probably discover that it's a very difficult thing to do. Wlad is very tall, fights in a "leaning-back" stance that makes it even harder to get to his chin, has tremendously long arms, and if you manage to sneak over or under his jab, he will probably just push you down or clinch you, prompting the referee to intervene and reset the action back to long range, which would constantly benefit Wladimir.
I think Johnson could more or less easily get through Wlad's first line of defense (his jab). After all, he was a consumate specialist blocking people's jabs and punishing them over it. Still, the 2nd line of defense is the stronger one. It's the one that turned some Ukrainian body at the feet of Corrie Sanders into an almost unbeatable indisputed heavyweight champion.
Finally, there's a chance that Johnson had never experienced power such as Wlad's before. It would maybe be too late once he realized he had to be extra careful.
All in all, and for the first time in the series, my own vote goes to the modern fighter. After all, I think Wlad would be too big and too modern and refined for the great Galveston Giant.
I have enjoyed writing this very much, hope some of you can enjoy it too, and tell me what you think!