Tommy Burns vs. Jack Johnson
By Paul Upham: An enthusiastic crowd was in attendance at a ceremony to mark the 100 year anniversary of Jack Johnson’s historic world heavyweight boxing title win over Tommy Burns, which took place on Boxing Day, Sunday December 26, 1908.
The ceremony was held at the site of the old Sydney Stadium in Rushcutters Bay, Australia, which is now the sporting fields of Sydney Grammar School. The event was organized by the Australian National Boxing Federation in partnership with Koori Radio Boxing program, The Sweet Science and the State Library of NSW.
The ceremony started with a minute’s silence at exactly 11:07am on Friday December 26, 2008 the time of the start of the fight.
Mr Alan Moore, President of the Australian National Boxing Federation was the keynote speaker and spoke of the significance of the event.
“This fight was the most famous fight in Australian boxing history,” he said. “A few people here today have asked me why these fighters came to Australia and there are a couple of answers. The first is that there used to be two separate heavyweight champions and in America they wouldn’t allow the white champion to fight the black champion. And at the time, Australia was globally in boxing, second only to the United States.”
The ceremony was particularly nostalgic for Moore, himself a former Australian welterweight champion, who fought on the last card before the Old Sydney Stadium was demolished in 1970.
“Where we stand today in Rushcutters Bay has marvellous history in the fight game,” said Moore. “Names like Burns, Sands, Hassen, Carruthers, Patrick, Dawson, Darcy, Sands, Rose, Bennett, Barnes, Sinn and of course the great Tony Mundine. I was lucky enough to fight on the final card of Sydney Stadium alongside Tony and what an emotional night that was.”
The indigenous community was represented by Mr Brad Cooke, General Manager of Gadigal Information Service and Koori Radio, and presenter of The Sweet Science National Boxing radio program.
“We would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people upon whose land we stand,” said Cooke. “We would also like to acknowledge the original great Australian fight promoter Hugh McIntosh who provided an opportunity for the world to finally have a champion of colour. To be standing here exactly 100 years to the hour brings an emotion that makes you feel like you are part of something special.”
Cooke also told the crowd of the indigenous twist to the fight
“It was after the fight that the world learnt about the Aboriginal presence at the fight,” he said. “When Jack was asked why he was smiling during the fight, he replied that during the fight he noticed an Aboriginal man on the fence shadowbox mimicking his combinations. During one flurry he overbalanced and fell off the fence causing Jack to laugh.
“Jack Johnson’s defeat of Tommy Burns marks a great moment for Black people all over the world for it provided an opportunity for the black man to be of equal standing to the white man and in this case prove to be a greater man in boxing. Five years after the fight Australia had its first Aboriginal national champion in Jerry Jerome. The indigenous community of Sydney and I’m sure I can speak for the rest of the country, acknowledge the achievement of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world and the memory of that fight 100 years ago today.”