As 1889 began, The Sporting Life received word from Jack Wannop that he wasn’t quite done with America yet, despite his stay now reaching ten months.
Jack had struck gold, he said, by “knocking the brass off” some champions in the Far West and now the money was finally rolling in. My last post suggests this wasn’t quite accurate. Wannop’s run so far was nowhere near as good as his admirable PR skills.
The Sporting Life also reported that Wannop had heard Tom Cannon was in Cincinnati and “being not far away and pining for his scalp” Wannop wanted a fight. At the same time, an unnamed backer declared an intent to put Wannop up against boxing champion Jem Smith once our protagonist returned to England. The St Paul Daily Globe on the other side of the pond was pushing Pat Sheedy – heavyweight champion of Michigan – in Wannop’s direction.
Arriving in Boston from Columbus, Ohio, early in January, Wannop issued a challenge via the press. Under the straight-to-the-point title of ‘Wannop wants a fight’ The Pittsburg Dispatch published his statement – the politest of smack-talk:
“I have come to Boston hoping to arrange for a purse contest and I am open for any heavy-weight, either Joe Lannon, Jack Ashton, George Godfrey, or anybody that is at liberty and inclined to give me a chance. I don’t say I can whip anybody, but I am in the business and open for engagements. I have not been beaten yet.”
Erm… Jack, mate. Come on now. There’s spin, and there’s outright lying.
Back in England The Sportsman also reported Wannop’s intent to fight any man in America with small gloves, under Queensbury rules and to the finish, for a purse of $500 or any larger sum that might be forthcoming.
Ashton responded but demanded $1,000 with $800 to the winner. Lannon’s backer, Billy Mahoney, said Lannon was ready and willing to fight Wannop any time, once he was done with Godfrey. But Mahoney wanted his man to fight Ashton after Godfrey instead of Wannop (still following?) and would be happy to put up $1,000 for him to do.
It was in mid-January that rumours of Sullivan’s drunken bar fight with Wannop emerged and were swiftly denied – you can read all about that ridiculous night in a previous post.
On the 22nd, The Pittsburg Dispatch came down hard on Wannop’s supposed challenge to Jem Smith, declaring him to be insane, or holding a death wish (perhaps literally, or, just for his reputation):
Godfrey was due to meet Lannon on February 4th and, ultimately, it was decided that Wannop would take on the winner.
George Godfrey was born in the poor west end of Charlottetown in 1853, training as a boxer in Canada before travelling to Boston to work as a porter in the silk importation trade.
Taking the World ‘Colored’ Heavyweight Championship title from Charles Hadley in February 1883, he kept hold of it for more than five years, before a loss to Peter Jackson in August 1888. Godfrey was the fourth man named champion and the fourth longest-serving title holder in the belt’s almost 70-year history, after Jackson (title holder from 1888-1896), Harry Wills (1918-1926) and Jack Johnson (1903-1909).
But what Godfrey long-wanted was to be the first black man to hold the World Heavyweight Championship. John L. Sullivan would only fight white boxers, and repeatedly refused him a shot.
Yet in a rather ridiculous clash of interests. Sullivan was named referee for Godfrey v Lannon in February 1889 – a fight that ultimately closed with a draw despite reports of Godfrey’s dominance. Speaking to a reporter from The Evening World shortly after the fight, Godfrey said his boxing days in Boston were over:
“You ask me if I would fight Jack Wannop for a $500 purse? No, I wouldn’t fight Wannop nor anybody else in Boston for $500 or $500,000,000.
“My experience with Lannon Monday night proved to my satisfaction that I never could get a decision over a white man before such a crowd as was at that show, and you can bet that I’ll not try again.
“I’ve quit the business. No sir, I won’t fight any more in this city, and you can put that just as strong as you like.”
Anyway, a few weeks later, he fought Wannop.
The match was fixed for March 28th at the Bay State Athletic Club, the men to go twelve rounds with gloves for a $600 purse, Patsey Sheppard and and Spencer T. Williams to officiate as judges.