“Jeff a Fighter, Johnson a Boxer,” Says Jack London

New York Herald/June 25, 1910

“Mother Nature in the White Man Still Red of Fang and Claw”

Calls Him “Mightiest Walloper of Men”

Negro Mastered by the Moment and Vastly Less Disciplined Than His Antagonist

Jeffries More Eager to Win

Loss Would Almost Break His Heart, While Johnson Would Not Be Worried Much

Bag and baggage, bull pups, bass viols and phonographs, Jack Johnson stepped off the train at Reno today to be greeted by fully as large a crowd as met Jeff when he arrived. Whirled away in an automobile to Rick’s resort, he appeared unperturbed and happy, despite the fact that his train was three hours late and that it was a Friday.

His voice was just as jovial, his handshake as hearty, his smile as dazzling as when I last saw him in Australia. Commenting on the fact, he announced that he was feeling much better and stronger than a year and a half ago in the Antipodes. In shirt sleeves, his shoulder muscles and biceps bulge knottily. Like Jeffries, he, too, is every inch a big man. But they are vastly different types of men. Under all his large garniture of fighting strength, Johnson is happy-go-lucky in temperament, as light and carefree as a child. He is easily amused. He lives more in the moment, and joy and sorrow are swift passing moods with him. He is not capable of seriously adjusting his actions to remote ends.

Though fresh arrived from an irritating railroad journey, fraught by vexatious delays, his face was placid and lineless. Nor was there the hint of a sign of care and worry, such as would be expected from his disagreements with his manager, from the abrupt shift of training quarters at the eleventh hour, and from joy rides interrupted by rude police.

This quality, differing so widely in the two men, cannot be overemphasized if one is to get an adequate comprehension of the fight when it takes place. They say that Johnson cannot hold a grudge. The man who does him a real or fancied injury to-day is received heartily by him a week hence, and this is so because a moment of life at a time is good enough for him. He cannot hold on to more than the moment, be it a moment of fierce hate or joyful friendship.

Possibly a good conception of this difference between the two may be gained from my own feelings about them. If Johnson should rush upon me in anger and with full intent to do me bodily injury, I feel that all I would have to do would be to smile and hold out my hand, whereupon his hand would grip mine, and he, too, would smile. On the contrary, I am certain, if Jeff rushed at me in wrath, that if I did not die of fright there and then, I should bite my veins and howl in maniacal terror.

The illustration may seem far fetched, but it is just the way I feel, and it serves to show the essential difference in the characters of the men. Jeff is a fighter, Johnson is a boxer. Jeff has the temperament of the fighter. Old mother nature in him is still red of fang and claw. He is more a Germanic tribesman and warrior of two thousand years ago than a civilized man of the twentieth century, with the civilized trade of boilermaker, and he has bridged the gap by turning pugilist and becoming the mightiest walloper of men in all the earth.
Another thing, despite Jeff’s primitiveness, he is more disciplined than the other man, vastly more disciplined, as instance the rigid adjustment of action to a remote end when he began a year and a half ago and faithfully carried through the heroic course of training that put him in the superb condition he is in today. Johnson, mastered by the moment, could make no such an adjustment. He would forget all about that remote end a year and a half away. The passing moments would tantalize him into pursuit of immediate and momentary ends.

And by the same token, down in the heart of him, this fight does not mean to Johnson what it does to Jeff. If Johnson loses the fight, he won’t be worried much. If Jeff loses, it will almost break his heart. Under that dark and somber seriousness that characterizes him, there is a race pride of which he is intensely self-conscious. Then, too, there is the pride in himself as a man and as a subduer of men. Leaving out the world, he has pledged himself, to himself, to win this fight, and that pledge he voiced to the world, when, after stating that he was refraining from agreeing to fight Johnson until he could make certain that he was able to defeat him, he announced his certitude and signed the articles. Of one thing I am certain, the loss of any half dozen of his other fights would be less of a blow to Jeff than the loss of this coming fight with Johnson.

Jeffries’ erratic selection of times for training and sparring is the despair of the fight fans and newspaper scribes. The whisper passes around that he is going to do things about 4 in the afternoon. Long ere the time, the electric cars running to his quarters are packed and jammed, and nothing happens. The rumor spreads that Jeff will be out and hard at it at peep of day.

The first cars out to Moana Springs are crowded, and even before the first car runs a string of automobiles has sneaked in the same direction. The hours pass. Nothing happens. Everybody waits, until at last, weary and hungry, the return is made to town for something to eat, and lo, it turns out that that particular portion of the day was selected by Jeff for work.

But no one can blame him. It is his fight and his training, not theirs; and he knows what he wants and when he wants it a whole lot better than they do. And right here the difference between the white champion and the black is manifested again. Johnson is more willing to please the public. Jeff does not care a red cent for the public. The fight is a week away, and Jeff remembers that and that only. Johnson cannot remember it, because the public is pressing at his doors for an exhibition there and then of his prowess and development. It is the moment, the everlasting, tantalizing, immediate moment, and Johnson succumbs.

The works of Jack London and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.