Agustin “Augie” Arellano, who was also known by fight fans as “Tiger Pelon” was a Houston, Texas based middleweight who fought in the professional boxing ranks from 1936 to 1947, compiling a record of 50 wins, 36 loses, and 11 draws.
Augie was also a distinguished combat veteran who served in the United States Army as a Paratrooper, making five combat jumps in three separate invasions, including the Invasion of Normandy in World War II. As accomplished in his military service as he was in the boxing ring, he received a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his efforts while serving his country.
Born in Sombrete, Zacatecas, Mexico, he was billed as a “Mexican fighter” while he competed in the professional ranks, but he actually was raised and lived in Houston, Texas for the majority of his life. It was in Houston that Augie first took an interest in boxing after being bullied as a child. He found a boxing program at a local ‘Boys Club’ and from there competed as an amateur and his early years as a professional. A crowd favorite in his hometown of Houston, Texas, he was nicknamed “Tiger Pelon” due to his ferocious demeanor in the ring.
After establishing himself as a contender in and around the Houston area, he was one of the first in the area to venture to New York, where continued his assault on the middleweight division, facing and holding his own against the best in his division there as well. From there he fought most of his bouts in the The State of New York, as well as the Houston and Gulf Coast areas.
He fought regularly from 1936 until 1942, when he began his military service as a full time soldier. After serving his country and being honorably discharged he returned to the ring in 1946 as a light-heavyweight, and fought until 1947.
He was rarely stopped in his career and most of his loses were by decision, against the better connected contenders in New York. A legitimate contender, he fought many of the best top ten contenders and champions of his time, including Willie McCoy, Sonny Horne, Fred Apostoli, Michele Palermo, Joey Greb, Georgie Abrams, Tami Mauriello, Coley Welch, Artie Levine, Ken Overlin, Jackie “Kid” Berg, Artie Dorell, and James Elder and Lou Schwartz.
IBF Welterweight World Champion, Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KO’s) of Dallas, Texas is slated to face Four-Division World Champion Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KO’s) of Oxnard, California, in the super-fight of 2019. The 12 round bout will take place at The ATT (Dallas Cowboys) Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on March 16, 2019, and will feature two of the best in the boxing business, at the prime of their careers.
Both fighters are well known to be men of action over words and both let their fists do the talking rather than engaging in distasteful behavior, therefore the press conferences have been conducted in a highly professional manner. Both men have been respectful towards their opponent as well as giving recognition to each other for their many accomplishments.
The bout and it’s build up definitely has an old school feel about it, something in the vein of a Hagler vs Leonard, or a James Toney vs Reggie Johnson. The fight doesn’t need any pre-fight drama to have an electric energy, as everyone in the boxing world and even casual boxing observers know, that when two undefeated champions, in the prime of their career fight each other, a possible all-time great bout is destined to take place. Even the fighters are very excited about facing each other, knowing that a win over the other, will mean being mentioned in the same sentence as the greats of the welterweight division. History in the making!
Errol Spence Jr :
“This is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I’m focused and prepared for this challenge. It’s gonna be all eyes on me and Mikey in that ring and I can’t wait. I’m happy that someone is challenging me, and I have been looking for an opponent like him. He’s established himself in this sport, and I’m looking for a skillful Mikey Garcia to bring the best out of me on March 16.”
Mikey Garcia :
“It’s a fight that I’ve really wanted, a fight that I asked for, the biggest challenge and biggest fight of my career. Moving up in weight to fight the best champion in the welterweight division,is no easy task, but that’s what I’m prepared to do. That’s the kind of fight that motivates me, the kind of fight that excites me, the fight that is going to bring out the best in me, the fight against Errol Spence. With this fight you have two undefeated fighters, two pound for pound fighters, in their prime, you don’t get that very often in boxing.”
Growing up in Houston, Texas and spending lots of time in it’s boxing gyms, you hear certain names mentioned with reverence when it comes to boxing and all that it entails. Within and between the long hours of time spent in the gym boxers and coaches talk boxing and as young minds often do, the question of “Who’s the best ?” will inevitably come up.
We wanted to know who the best fighters were, the best coaches, the best managers, matchmakers, cut-men, etc and many names were tossed around during those days. One name that always came up when coaches were mentioned was Creed Fountain. Whenever guys had an important professional fight coming up, they usually wanted one of several iconic coaches in town in their corner. Creed Fountain has been one of those guys for the last 45 years and he is still going strong!
I was fortunate enough to be granted a few minutes of Mr. Fountain’s time today at The Plex Performance Center in Stafford, Texas, after he got finished working with former World Champion Erislandy Lara. Mr Fountain was kind and gracious with his time and even suggested we hold our interview in the lobby of the building, so that we would be able to talk without all the background noise of the gym area.
The video of our interview will be below and the transcript of our interview is below the video.
Clutch City Boxing: Sir can you tell us a little about your background and start in boxing?
Creed Fountain: I started a long time ago, back in the 60’s I guess you could say. I was training to be a boxer myself, here in Houston, then I had a car accident and that was the end of that. Then a young boxer at that time named Johnny Baldwin came in. Johnny Baldwin was a bronze medalist and roommate of George Foreman’s in 1968 (Olympics) in Mexico City.
When Johnny came into the city we used to all box and spar with him. After the car wreck I told him, “Man I’m done with boxing” and Johnny said, “No, no, no, no, I want you to train me”. I said, “Man I don’t now nothing about training no fighters”, and he said, “Well we’re gonna learn together”. I said, “Well if that’s what you want, I mean I’m a gym fighter and you are an Olympic fighter, but if you want me to train you, I will”.
So he (Johnny) told his manager Eddie Yates, and Eddie didn’t want me to train him, but Johnny told Eddie, “Look you’re the manager and Creed’s the trainer and that’s the way it’s gonna be”. That’s what got me started in the training business.
Clutch City Boxing: You said you were training to be a boxer yourself before you started training people, who did you train with, or who trained you?
Creed Fountain: Well me and Johnny were working together so Eddie was gonna be my trainer.
Clutch City Boxing: What gym did you guys train at?
Creed Fountain: Oh gosh it was soo long ago, I think it was called Roxy’s Gym, in downtown Houston. It was on the corner of Louisiana and Texas Street, upstairs.
Clutch City Boxing: Who are some of the boxers and clubs that you’ve worked with and around throughout the years?
Creed Fountain: Probably most everybody that came through Houston. I used to work with my boss, Ronnie Shields, I used to be one of his trainers. So I guess all our guys, Reggie Johnson, Bigfoot Martin, Derwin Richards. I’m also a cut-man, you know what my saying was? If your fighter bleeds, call Creed.
So I’ve had the opportunity to work with Juan Diaz, as his cut-man, four time Heavyweight Champion of the World Evander Holyfield, Dominick Guinn, and man it just goes on and on. I’ve practically worked with all the guys from and that came through Houston, most of them.
Clutch City Boxing: I see you’re working with Erislandy Lara now, how about the Charlo twins?
Creed Fountain: Yes I’m working with Lara now, I’m helping out with him, and I’ve also helped worked with the Charlo twins yes. We got a bunch of guys in the gym now that I’m working with.
Clutch City Boxing: In your opinion, what makes a good boxing coach/corner-man?
Creed Fountain: That’s a good question. I would say, just be honest with your fighters, tell them the truth, and make sure they are doing the right thing. I mean a lot of guys go along with a fighter and let him do what he wants to do, you now? You know, if you ain’t doing it right you ain’t doing it right. If you need to do this, you need to do this, to get it right you know? I’m on your side.
Clutch City Boxing: Okay going along those those lines, what difference do you see between boxers today and boxers in your day?
Creed Fountain: There’s a big difference. Boxers of today don’t want to train unless they got a date, most of them. The majority of them, they want to know they have a fight coming up before they do any serious training. Back in my day we went to the gym every day whether we had a fight or not, we just enjoyed going to the gym.
Clutch City Boxing: What do you think makes a good boxer?
Creed Fountain: One that listens. If he listens to the people that are working with him, he should turn out to be a good fighter. And they can’t be lazy, it’s hard work being a boxer.
Clutch City Boxing: What are some of the things a boxer has to have to be successful?
Creed Fountain: A good jab! That’s the most basic thing in boxing, your jab. If you have a good jab, you work behind your jab, you set up everything behind your jab, and everything else will fall in place.
Clutch City Boxing: Who are some of the coaches you’ve worked with throughout the years? Some guys that maybe you’ve learned from and can respect or have respect for what they do, here in town?
Creed Fountain: Well most of them are deceased. There was Al “Potato Pie” Boulden, Tim Goodall, there were a bunch of guys around town. Those guys and also when guys came into town, other coaches like Yank Durham and all them guys, I would learn a lot by listening and watching them. Houston was a fairly decent fight town back in the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of guys came through. A lot of good fighters and coaches. Guys like Dave Zyglewicz, Joe Brown, Mark Tessman, Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. We had a lot of big fights in town back then and I learned a lot.
Clutch City Boxing: What’s your thoughts on conditioning for a fighter? Do you think he should run every day, 3 or 4 times a week, do you go by feel or? What’s your opinion on that?
Creed Fountain: I ask fighters, I tell them, there are three things in boxing, do you know what they are? Most of them tell me no, they ask what are they? I tell them, Run, Run, and Run. A lot of times you might not have the skill the other guy has, but if you have the condition you can compete with him. That’s our philosophy here, if we can’t beat them in skill, we beat them with conditioning.
Clutch City Boxing: So lots of running, what do you think, like 5 or 6 times a week?
Creed Fountain: Well you pace yourself, you get your pace you wanna run and you do three miles, four miles, however you wanna run. I like outdoor running, a lot of guys they like running on treadmills, but I don’t like that. I like real running, like the old times, out on the road, or on the track, that’s what I like.
Clutch City Boxing: How much gym work do you like your guys to do for a fight? Let’s say a guy is getting ready for a ten round fight, how much sparring should he do?
Creed Fountain: Well it depends, we spar three days a week. We probably start off sparring four rounds, later add to it, go to six, and just kinda keep going up from there. And you take him a full ten rounds of sparring before he gets to fight night. Most guys they do it that way, now an old veteran they aren’t gonna do that. They already know their body and what they can and can’t do, they might spar six or eight rounds. An old veteran that goes twelve rounds, he might spar six or eight rounds. Now these young guys we got, we will take them the full amount of rounds they are going to fight, at least one time in sparring. If they are gonna fight twelve rounds, they are gonna spar twelve rounds, at least once before their fight. With two or three different guys, that way they get a different look throughout that twelve rounds.
Clutch City Boxing: What do you think has made you soo successful throughout the years?
Creed Fountain: Just hard work, coming to the gym, being dependable, being there every day.
Clutch City Boxing: What are some of the things you stress to your boxers? Let’s say you get a guy that is just starting out, or maybe a guy going from amateur boxing to the pros, what would you stress to him?
Creed Fountain: The key to boxing is the jab. If you work behind your jab, everything else will fall into place. I heard Larry Holmes talking one day, saying that coaches don’t teach guys to jab anymore, well we teach our guys to jab.
Clutch City Boxing: Okay one last question. As far as sparring goes, do you believe guys should go easy and work with each other, or kinds go after it? What’s your philosophy on sparring?
Creed Fountain: Well my philosophy is guys need to get in there and work, not to try to kill each other, but work. Now on the other hand sometimes you have a couple of guys get in there and they spar like if they are in a real fight. I will stop them and call them over and tell them, hey guys look, ya’ll are not in a real fight, work with one another, you now?
Clutch City Boxing: So work hard but just working?
Creed Fountain: Yeah work. I mean let him feel it but don’t try to knock him out. Because you know that if you get knocked out in the gym, you won’t be able to fight.
*I then ask him several more questions after I had already told him the last question would be the last* I was just very excited to speak to him and got a little carried away.
Clutch City Boxing: When you are looking at a fighter, what are some of the things you see that let you now you are looking at a good fighter?
Creed Fountain: Well there’s a lot of different things you can look at, the way he keeps his hands up, the way he jabs, the way he moves, his balance, a lot of different things. Also does he listen to his corner when he goes back to his corner? I look at all that.
Clutch City Boxing: Who are some of the guys from back in the days that didn’t maybe make it big in the pros but were really good fighters?
Creed Fountain: Oh gosh there were a lot of guys, Anthony “Wildcat” Wiley, Kent Kneeley, Earl Winbush, Freddie Jackson, Ron Collins, Bigfoot Martin. I mean there’s been a lot of guys that were really good, but just didn’t make it as big for whatever reason.
Creed Fountain: Also when you asked me earlier about guys I’ve worked with, I forgot to mention Frank and Thomas Tate, I can’t leave those guys out. Both were champions, Frank was a gold medalist and a world champion.
Clutch City Boxing: You mentioned Bigfoot Martin, who fought more world and former world champions than most people. How was he able to do that without getting hurt?
Creed Fountain: Well Bigfoot knew how to fight without getting hurt, and he was just a really tough guy in the ring, he could take a good shot. But he fought them all, Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, Bonecrusher Smith, George Foreman, he fought them all!
Clutch City Boxing: Well thank you for your time sir and I appreciate you being so forthcoming with all this information.
Creed Fountain: Thank you, you thought enough of me to come give me a shout out.
Clutch City Boxing: Oh man, your name is heard in gyms all over this town. Maybe not as much now because these young kids don’t know much, but when I was coming up, man I heard you name in gyms all over town. If you came up when I did, and you didn’t know who Creed Fountain was/is, you didn’t do anything in boxing.
The Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya was in town last week for the Munguia vs Inoue fight week activities and World Championship bout. While he was in town he expressed his appreciation for The City of Houston’s continued support and he also said he plans on bringing big time boxing back to Houston.
Dr. Pedro Diaz of Mundo Boxing was in Houston last week with Xu Can, who he helped win the W.B.A. featherweight title. I conducted a short interview with Dr. Diaz and asked him what makes the Cuban boxing program such a phenomenal, worldwide force.
Manuel “Manny” Gonzalez left an undeniable impression on The City of Houston, Texas and it’s boxing fraternity. Manny started his professional career in 1957 and by 1958-59 he was already training with trainer Billy Defoe, in Houston, Texas. Soon, after proving himself to be a hot prospect with plenty of potential he was taking in by the trainer/manager combination of Bill Gore and Lou Viscusi, who had set up their Texas Boxing Enterprises operations in downtown Houston.
Being born into a poor family of laborers, life started out rough for Manny in Charco, Texas. To make things worse he was stricken with tuberculosis as an infant and was sickly and weak as a child. The tuberculosis affected him so much so that he didn’t even start school when he should have, due to his weak condition. This undoubtedly affected his ability to gain and build physical strength in his early years and would eventually play a part in his boxing style later in life.
When Manny was 12 years old his family moved to Odessa, Texas and he was forced to quit school in order to take on a full-time job picking cotton, so that he could contribute to his family’s income. This alone would have been difficult for any child of twelve years old, but it was even more difficult for Manny because he wasn’t even a strong boy due to his early battle with tuberculosis. Quitting school and working full-time wasn’t something he really had a choice in due to his family being very poor, but it also had the added effect of ensuring that Manny’s prospects for employment would be limited in his future adulthood. About the only positive thing that came out of the whole thing was that with the long hours of difficult, physical work, out in the elements, Manny’s health began to improve and he was finally able to begin building his strength, stamina, and endurance.
Soon Manny was able to build his strength and endurance enough to where he was able to begin practicing boxing after his hard days of work as a cotton picker, and he began his amateur career. Although Manny’s health had improved enough to where he was able to begin practicing and learning one of the hardest sports in the world, he was still somewhat behind in the development of his physical strength in comparison to other kids his age. Due to this fact, Manny improvised and made up for his initial deficit in strength by focusing on the finer points of boxing, and developed a smooth, counter-punching style, based upon the most important principle of boxing, to HIT AND NOT GET HIT IN RETURN.
As time went on he was able to build his strength, along with his skill, stamina, and endurance, enough to become one of the best welterweight boxers in the world, but Manny was never known as a heavy puncher. He instead relied upon speed, quickness, footwork, boxing fundamentals and technique to win most of his bouts by decision. Also luck may not have been on Manny’s side in his childhood, but he seemed to have been favored by luck as an adult, when he was able to connect with and become a student of Bill Gore in the late fifties. Gore, by this time, was known as one of the most astute and capable boxing teachers in the world, and had received his boxing education at the famed Stillman’s Gym in New York City. While Gore was still a young man, learning his trade by watching some of the most knowledgeable boxing trainers in the world, he was noticed by then lightweight champion Benny Leonard and taken under Leonard’s wing. Leonard is now known as one of the greatest lightweight boxers to have ever stepped into the ring and used outstanding footwork, technical skill, along with what famed trainer Ray Arcel called “mental energy” to dominate his division in his prime. Leonard would pass these lessons in boxing on to Gore, who in turn taught these same concepts to his students, including his most famous product, Willie Pep. Gore was also one of the best in the world at not only having the knowledge, but being able to articulate the knowledge to his students in a way which they were able to understand and learn. Gore’s approach to being a boxing “trainer/coach and corner man” was as a teacher and mentor, more than the stereotypical coach with a towel draped over his shoulder, barking out boxing “catch-phrases” and teaching worthless, fancy punch-mitt routines, of today. Gore was the boxing teaching and his partner Lou Viscusi was the boxing manager. Together they were a very successful combination.
While operating in the northeast part of the country, mainly New York and Connecticut, the Gore/Viscusi combination had already achieved much success in amateur and professional boxing guiding Melio Bettina, Mike McTigue, and Willie Pep to championships. When the pair came to Houston, Texas in the mid 1950’s they brought opportunity for local boxers that may have not gotten the opportunities otherwise, and continued being very successful. During this era Gore and Viscusi were known to be involved with many of the Houston, and Texas area contenders and champions, along with contenders and champions from around the country including, Roy Harris, Bob Foster, Cleveland Williams, Joe “Old Bones” Brown, Tony Licata, and many others.
The connection with Gore was a fortunate one for Manny not only because of the connections in boxing the Gore/Viscusi pair brought him, but also because Gore’s preferred method of boxing instruction and outlook on boxing was perfectly aligned with the technical/fundamentally sound style and outlook Manny already practiced and believed in. This definitely would play a big part in Manny’s ability to become one of the best welterweight boxers in the world as the still upcoming boxer seemed to have found the perfect teacher/ mentor in the sweet science.
The Benny Leonard, Bill Gore, Willie Pep, influence on Manny became evident from that point on throughout the rest of his career, as he became known and respected for his technical skill, footwork, educated defense, and cerebral approach to boxing.
Also after signing with Viscusi as his manager and taking on Gore as his trainer, Gonzalez made Houston, Texas his home and fought in and around Houston frequently, many times at The Sam Houston Coliseum. From 1960 through 1965 Gonzalez tore through some of the best talent in the welterweight division, beating and becoming the Texas State Champion, as well as beating the Louisiana State Champion and Canadian Champion.
Manny’s prime as a boxer may have been in 1965 when he easily outpointed then welterweight champion of the world Emile Griffith, in a non-title bout staged at The Sam Houston Coliseum. Griffith supporters may have tried to belittle Manny’s win over Griffith by claiming a hometown decision, but it should be noted that other than the judges and referee’s opinion that he won, a poll of boxing writers at ringside, many from Griffith’s hometown of New York, also favored Gonzalez as the winner. When describing Manny’s win over Emile Griffith Ring Magazine contributing writer Chet Warner said this of him: “Gonzalez is a smooth working boxer, who is adept at slipping and ducking, while countering with darting jabs and hooks. He tattooed his jab on Griffith’s jaw for virtually the entire ten rounds”.
Manny Gonzalez was known as one of the best welterweights in the world throughout the 60’s and he didn’t start to slow down until 1970, after he had already been in the professional ranks for thirteen years. Thirteen years in which he fought the best competition in the division, many times on more than one occasion. The list of names he faced in the division reads like a who’s who in boxing at the time including: Dario Hidalgo, Rip Randall, Denny Moyer, James Shelton, Peter Schmidt, Emile Griffith, Marshall Wells, Kenny Lane, Ernie Lopez, Bunny Grant, Jose Napoles, Chucho Garcia, Charley Shipes, Gaspar Ortega, Rocky Randell, Curtis Cokes, Alvin Boudreaux, Nolan Duplessis, Bunny Grant, Billy Backus, and Joe “Old Bones” Brown.
He was able to secure wins over Alvin Boudreaux, Nolan Duplessis, Curtis Cokes, Rocky Randell, Rip Randall, James Shelton (for the Texas State Welterweight Title), Denny Moyer, Peter Schmidt, Gaspar Ortega, Charley Shipes, Dario Hildago, Chucho Garcia, Marshall Wells, Emile Griffith, and Joe “Old Bones” Brown, and many of his losses were hometown decision losses or politically influenced.
Trainer Bill Gore had this to say about Manny’s loss in a return bout held in New York for Griffith’s title: “Manny didn’t lose. He gave the champion a boxing lesson but they don’t appreciate the art of self-defense in this town. If Griffith is a champion, I’m a watchmaker”.
As mentioned before Gore and Viscusi operated out of downtown Houston, having their offices and The Texas Boxing Gym there. While signed with Viscusi and trained by Gore, Manny worked with many boxers who were also associated with Gore and Viscusi, or who came to The Texas Boxing Gym for sparring. While interviewing several of the Houston boxing legends of yesteryear, Manny’s name has come up frequently. Here are some of the statements I’ve gotten in reference to Manny Gonzalez:
Jesse Valdez, Former Olympic Champion and possibly greatest boxer ever to have been born and raised in Houston, Texas: “Other than my trainer Charlie Court, the one who helped me out a lot was Manny Gonzalez. Manny had great movement and footwork and I learned a lot from him and by sparring with him.”
The late Kenny Weldon, a former amateur and professional champion, who became an all-time great boxing coach after his competition years, was quoted by his son Chance as saying: “Manny Gonzalez had the best ring awareness of any fighter I’ve ever saw.”
Melvin Dennis, a former amateur national champion, Texas State Welterweight Champion and world contender: “Manny Gonzalez was a bad dude in every sense of the word. After I won the National Title as an amateur and decided to turn pro, I was brought to The Texas Boxing Enterprises Gym to prepare. Manny Gonzalez was the first person who I sparred there. I was a little hesitant at first because Manny was known as one of the best welterweights in the world at the time, but Manny assured me he would work with me, and he was a man of his word.
While I was still getting accustomed to the additional rounds of sparring along with the advanced, professional level techniques of the pro game, Manny always looked out for me, and never tried to hurt me. Later when I was able to spar on a level in which Manny and I could spar hard, the sparring was always great work, done in a professional way. I learned most of what I know about professional boxing from Manny and considered him one of my best friends at the time.
He was one of the best welterweight boxers in the world for years before he ever got a shot at the world title and in my opinion he should have been world champion. His opponent in his world title bid didn’t really bet him, boxing politics beat him. Manny was a defensive wizard, who was fast and slick as hell. The only thing about him was that he didn’t really punch hard, but it didn’t really matter because he hit you so many times from so many angles, you wouldn’t know where you were or what hit you. The thing I liked the most about Manny though, was that he was a straightforward person. It didn’t matter if you were black, white, or brown, if Manny liked you he liked you, and if he didn’t he told you to your face and wouldn’t talk behind your back. If Manny was your friend he showed that at all times no matter who was around and he never acted different around certain people like a lot of people did in those days. Like I told you before Lou, Manny was a bad dude in every sense of the word.”
According to Melvin Dennis, Manny Gonzalez remained in Houston after his boxing career ended and stayed until approximately twenty years ago when he told Dennis he was moving to care for his aged father, who lived out of town.
Manuel “Manny” Gonzalez died on June 11, 2021 in Greely, Colorado.
Although he wasn’t a Houston native his legacy in Houston, Texas is felt to this day as he is mentioned frequently by some of the most accomplished and respected contenders and champions in Houston boxing history.
Born: March 31, 2021 in Galveston, Texas
Died: June 10, 2021
Nickname: The Galveston Giant
Height: 6 ft 1 in
Recorded boxing record: 104 total fights, 73 wins with 40 by knockout, 13 loses, 10 draws, and 5 no contests
First Black Heavyweight Champion and held his title from 1908-1915
Was awkward for his age as a young child because he grew tall at an early age and had yet to develop his coordination. Also helped his father with his custodian duties at his school, which is an admirable thing, but was bullied and made fun of by his classmates for it, resulting in fights which he mostly got the worst of because he was afraid to fight. After his mother saw him come home bloodied and bruised one too many times she gave him an ultimatum, start fighting back or get beat by her when he got home.
After fighting back a few times he found that with his size and speed he was actually pretty good at fighting and was never bullied again.
Left school fairly early and began working many different jobs around Galveston and throughout Texas because he was easily bored and didn’t believe in the slow and steady lifestyle, because he dreamed of big things. Took a job on the Galveston waterfront docks and began getting even better at fighting when he found that the workers on the dock were a rough bunch that fought frequently. Him being younger than most but big for his age, made him a target for older workers and he won the majority of those fights. Johnson said this about his time on the docks: “I worked with some of the toughest,most hard boiled men imaginable. To them fighting was one of the important functions of existence”.
Began learning more about boxing in Dallas, at a job he held where the boss liked watching his friends and workers spar each other. Later moved to New York and learned even more boxing after living with a professional welterweight boxer named Barbados Joe, and later working as a janitor in a gym owned by a German heavyweight.
Later returned to Galveston, again working in several different jobs but this time he began fighting in unsanctioned, underground boxing contests held in back alleys, bar rooms, the beach, private boxing clubs, and the streets of Galveston. Boxing was still illegal in those days and there was still no organized amateur boxing program in Galveston, so these bouts served as his “amateur career”.
Johnson said this about his time in his life: ” I took up boxing, not with any intention of engaging in it as a profession, but because it seemed necessary for me to learn something of the science in order to pit myself against the fighting groups with whom I associated”.
Johnson won more often than he lost but he was still relatively green as far as boxing skills went, and although better than most, he was still learning.
Made his professional debut in 1898, in Galveston, Texas beating Charley Brooks by knockout in the third round, earning what was called “The Texas State Middleweight Title”.
By 1899 he felt he had beaten everyone worth beating in Galveston and went to Chicago, where boxing was thriving, took on all comers there, as well as worked as a sparring partner to make ends meet.
Returned home to Galveston to help his family after they lost everything in the hurricane of 1900 and continued working , as well as fighting, in and around the Galveston area.
Took a fight in 1901 that would prove to be a life changing event as well as a blessing in disguise, after losing the fight by knockout to professional veteran Joe Choynski. After losing to Choynski he and Choynski were arrested by Texas Rangers and ended up spending 24 days in jail together. Choynski, who was more experienced in professional boxing than Johnson, took the opportunity to teach Johnson some of the more advanced aspects professional boxing, namely defense. Choynski reportedly told Johnson, ” A man who can move like you should never have to take a punch”.
After this time Johnson began honing his skills and style, eventually becoming known as a master craftsman who could also punch hard with both hands. Johnson had a counter-punching style, and was known to get stronger as the rounds went on, using his defense to tire out his opponents, then taking them out.
In 1908 Johnson won the heavyweight title in Sydney, Australia, beating Tommy Burns by knockout. Johnson held the heavyweight title until 1915 and would have held it longer had the boxing community and the United States Government not had conspired to attack his personal and professional life, causing him to have to leave the country and go into exile, while holding the title.
Even with the odds Johnson faced and the unfair treatment he received, he is still considered an all-time top ten heavyweight by the majority of the boxing community including The Ring Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN Boxing writers.