Up this week is one of the greatest heavyweights who never became champion, the incredible Joe Jennette. Born Jeremiah Jennette in North Bergen, New Jersey on August 26, 1879, Joe worked for his blacksmith father, shoveling coal into trucks and delivering it to customers, hard physical labor that paid little. He was was a strong and athletic young man who stood five-foot-ten-inches tall and weighed between 185 and 203 pounds. Joe was light-skinned and strikingly handsome. He was described as “a black Adonis; a magnificently proportioned man” who was “never a braggart nor a clown, but led a quiet disciplined life.” Joe had been a success as a street fighter, and on a dare at the age of 25, he passed through one of the only doors open to an athletic black youth of the age–boxing. He was quite the progeny, despite starting his career late. Jennette was twenty-five and he learned fast as a pro.
After just 3 fights, one of them a stoppage loss to Black Bill (Claude Brooks), Jennette fought Jack Johnson in their first of 10 fights, and finished his career at 1-2-7 against the Galveston Giant. Their contests were always competitive but Johnson prevailed and sadly, once champion, Johnson never granted Jennette a shot at his title, claiming he was the first Black Heavyweight Champion and he intended to be the last.
Locked out of the Championship, Jennette had to settle for the Colored Heavyweight Championship of the World which was all that was available for heavyweights of his pigmentation. At that time, there among the heavyweight contenders were two other great black fighters who were in the same situation as Joe, they were Sam McVey and Sam Langford. Jennette, McVey and Langford, unable to challenge Jack Johnson, were left to sort things out among themselves, meeting about 30 times combined.
In April of 1909, Jennette and McVey met for the third time in Paris in a Finish Fight that may have been one of the most brutal, grueling boxing matches in history. For 49 rounds Jennette and McVey rumbled against each other. Throughout the course of the bout Jennette was dropped 9 times and rose again and again only to rally in the final ten rounds. McVey came out of his corner at the start of the 49th and shook hands with Jennette, succumbing to the punishment he had absorbed for 48 rounds. The French magazine L’Auto described McVey’s appearance at the end of the bout as “he no longer wore a human face.”
Jennette and McVey would meet 2 more times with a final tally of 2-2-1 (1) in favor of Jennette. Against the great Sam Langford, Jennette finished at 2-5-7 through the course of their fourteen encounters.
After boxing, Jennette served as a boxing referee and a judge. He ran a garage in Union City, New Jersey and upstairs from that he trained neighborhood kids in the Manly Art. In 1946, Jennette described Sam Langford as the greatest of the Big Four, calling him “the toughest of the lot.”
Jennette married Adelaide Atzinger, a white woman, in 1906 and the couple had two children, Joe Jr. and Agnes. Jennette died at the age of 78 years old in the North Hudson Hospital in Weehawken, New Jersey. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York in 1997 and a historical marker was placed in his honor in Union City, New Jeresy a few blocks from where his gym and auto-service station stood.
Here he is in action against the incomparable Sam Langford. Jennette and Langford fought 14 times. This is their tenth encounter.