Word arrived in England on March 29th 1889 that Wannop had been knocked out in the sixth round, the fight with Godfrey lasting a total of 22 minutes. Seemingly every regional paper in the country carried the news, delivered from Boston via cablegram.
The Sportsman went into detail on March 30. By way of introduction, Godfrey, they said, is best remembered for having been beaten by Peter Jackson for his black heavyweight title some months earlier. Wannop had made quite the impression by “using up” Jim Fell in Michigan.
Wannop was the first to lead, landing two light left-handers on Godfrey’s neck. But Godfrey quickly dominated fighting. He countered with a heavy right to the Englishman’s jaw, then caught one from Wannop’s left in the same place. Avoiding another, Godfrey ducked, causing Wannop to miss, then take two hard ones to the face before he could recover his guard. Forced back by another blow to the jaw, Wannop is said to have still ended the first round with a smile. Both men landed left-handers as time was called.
In the second round Godfrey staggered Wannop with a tremendous right hand to the head before rushing him to the ropes. The men clinched, Godfrey finding his neck soon nestled tightly under Wannop’s left arm until the referee ordered his release.
At the start of a “wicked” third round a smashing blow to Wannop’s mouth saw first blood pour freely, before Godfrey pummelled his swollen left eye. Wannop collapsed into the ropes, dazed and blinded, but not yet knocked out. Reeling forward, he slumped onto Godfrey, who held him up without attempting to land another blow until the round closed.
Badly punished in the fourth, the fifth saw Wannop bashed around the ring and finally knocked to the mat. His refusal to give up surprised everyone. Godfrey went in for repeated punches to the face and jaw, sending Wannop’s nose dramatically out of joint as time was called on the round.
Knocked down again early in the sixth, Wannop once more got to his feet and thumped Godfrey hard over the heart. It was to be his last blow.
Another crashing punch to the jaw sent Wannop back down, his head jolting back like it was on hinges. He fell into Godfrey’s arms. Squirming away, Godfrey let his battered opponent slump to his hands and knees. The sixth and final round lasted barely a minute. This time, Wannop failed to respond to the call of the time-keeper and was out for the count.
“Far from scientific,” the papers said, the disappointing Wannop had “no-way near the hitting power of his rival.”
Almost two weeks later, The Sporting Life came to their man’s defence:
“Ill luck seems to dog the footsteps of Jack Wannop. It appears from the latest advices to hand that his defeat at the hands of George Godfrey … was due to rheumatism, a complaint that Jack has suffered from on several previous occasions.”
Six years prior, Wannop had been matched to wrestle Jack Simpson but was forced to forfeit as a consequence of being laid up with rheumatic fever – a rare complication (which can develop after a bacterial throat infection) which leads to sore joints and heart problems. Not ideal for a pugilist dependent on strength, speed and flexibility.
Wannop had been sick for weeks before his match with Godfrey. Unprepared, untrained, he was most likely in a great deal of pain before even stepping in the ring. When he left it, it sounds like he also had a broken nose to add to his troubles.
The Sporting Life (Thursday 11 April 1889) continued:
“Although somewhat unfortunate, Wannop has not done badly during his sojourn in America. Certainly he was defeated by the “Strangler” in their wrestling match: but on the other hand, the surroundings of the encounter were open to the gravest suspicion, and Jack had some difficulty in getting his share of the gate.
“After he had been away a little over six months he met and defeated, with the gloves, Jim Fell, Tom Robinson, and Con Riley on two different occasions, and finally he faces the ex-champion Godfrey at a time when he must have been thoroughly out of condition…
“It is a mystery too, to many, as to what his backers could have been thinking to allow their man to enter the ring against such a formidable customer when most probably he ought to have been in bed. Nothing could possibly have been more foolish or more unjust to Wannop, whose reputation has been sacrificed for no earthly purpose.”
Patsey Sheppard, Boston bar owner and friend to Wannop and John L. Sullivan, wrote in to the Editor of The Sporting Life in Wannop’s defence:
“Poor Wannop was more fit to be in hospital than he was to be in the ring, he being in very bad condition through rheumatism. Yet for the first two or three rounds he got all over [Godfrey]. Then his condition told, and he fell off, consequently his defeat: but had he been in any shape, I think the result would have been entirely different, for no gamer man ever entered the ring.
“I advised him not to fight but he wanted the money and was bound to take a chance. He sails for home shortly, and leaves many friends on this side of the Atlantic.”
And former wrestler turned referee and Sporting Life wrestling columnist, Walter ‘The Cross-Buttocker’ Armstrong also gave his support to “one of the most civil and most unassuming boxers to be found”:
Jack arrived home to New Cross, south east London, on the 18th or 19th of April 1889. He was thinner than when he’d left for America, but with “a glow of health” on his face and a determination to return to fighting fitness. The Sporting Life was among the huge crowd gathered to greet him at his doorstep.
More to come next week.