After winning his title from Tommy Hart, Burns went on a world tour defending his title over a dozen times. (Hart actually defeated Jack Johnson in a very close and controversial decision in 1905. As they say in boxing, Burns beat the man who beat the man, so to speak. So this added to the intrigue of the fight as Burns had already defeated the man, who supposedly beat Johnson.) Interesting enough, Burns nearly fought Sam McVey for the title in Paris a few months before he actually fought Jackson but the negotiations fell through. McVey almost became the first African-American to fight for the heavyweight title. (McVey would later lament that Jack Johnson would never give him a shot at the title.)
In the first round, Johnson set the pattern of the fight as the bigger Johnson crashed a right on Burns chin and sent Burns to the canvas. Burns was up against a fighter who matched his quickness and who was bigger and stronger. Burns swung widely against Johnson repeatedly but Johnson avoided the shots while mocking the smaller Burns. Johnson dominated every round and in the fourteenth round, Johnson ended Burns championship reign.
Jim Jeffries was the dominant fighter as the 20th century began. Having taken the title from Bob Fitzsimmons in 1899, Jeffries dominated the Heavyweight division including two defeats of Gentleman Jim Corbett, one of boxing best fighters. A big man at 6’2” and 220 pounds, Jeffries would pound a fighter for round after round and with superior endurance; he would outlast his opponent. In 1904, Jeffries retired from boxing after beating all the major white opponents in his division. Jeffries refused to fight Jack Johnson due to Johnson skin pigment. There was an unofficial sign on the heavyweight championship belt that read, “Blacks need not apply.” Boxing, like sports in general, was segregated and black athletes were denied access to the mainstream of America’s sports. Peter Jackson, a slick boxer/puncher was denied a chance at both Corbett and Sullivan title in the 1890’s. He fought Corbett to a 61 round draw before Corbett wrestled the championship from Sullivan and Corbett never gave Jackson a rematch after obtaining his belt. Both Jeffries and Corbett were willing to fight Peter Jackson in non-title fights. Jeffries would knock out an aging Peter Jackson one year before winning his crown. Like Corbett, Jeffries was not averse to fighting black fighters- just not for a championship.
Jack Johnson was the second of six children of Henry and Tiny Johnson. After leaving school in the fifth grade and working odd jobs in South Texas, Jackson started boxing as a sparring partner. His early fights were matches with other black voters for white audience with white patrons throwing his pay into the ring after the end of each match. He turned pro in 1897 but he left Texas because boxing was considered a criminal profession. As the Negro Heavyweight champion, Johnson followed Tommy Burns around the globe before finally getting Burns in the ring for the heavyweight championship. Johnson spent most of the fight taunting Burns, as he knocked out the out manned white champion in the 14th round. Police forced the cameramen to discontinued filming the fight as Burns stumbled to the ground. The police would not allow a film showing a white man hitting the canvas as a result of a black fighter’s punch.