Light Heavyweight Mayhem

The famous middleweight “Murderer’s Row” of the 1940s, which in its prime featured Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Charley Burley, Lloyd Marshall and Holman Williams (among others), had something of a mini-forebear in the light-heavyweight division of the 1930s. Like the Murderer’s Row, John Henry Lewis, Al Gainer, Billy Jones and Tiger Jack Fox were greatly feared contenders in their day and each could claim victories over several world champions.

Tiger Jack Fox

Lewis and Fox are the best known of the group. Both came from the west, Fox an explosive puncher and Lewis a sharp-hitting boxer who ascended to the light heavyweight championship of the world. Over on the east end emerged Jones and Gainer from Pittsburgh, PA and New Haven, Connecticut, respectively. Gainer was a left-hooking banger while Jones was an enormously talented boxer-puncher.

John Henry Lewis

Pittsburgh native Billy Jones, who fought out of Philadelphia, is the least known of the four, but he was very successful and the first to rise to prominence out of this group. In a one year span between 1930 and 1931 he fought and beat light-heavyweight champion Maxie Rosenbloom and future heavyweight king Jimmy Braddock. The former was a non-title affair at Motor Square Garden in Pittsburgh and the black press went crazy over the result, The Pittsburgh Courier demanding that “Slapsie Maxie” fight Jones with the title on the line as soon as possible.

Billy Jones

Rosenbloom, who, to his eternal credit, never drew any discernible color lines, met them halfway by giving Billy another chance to prove his superiority, this time in his Philly backyard, but it was Rosenbloom who gained revenge by taking the ten round decision. Just to make sure everyone understood who the true king was, the following year Maxie beat Jones again, this time in Chicago.

Despite these losses Jones still scored wins over Pete Latzo, Yale Okun, Dave Maier, Tony Shucco and a whole host of light-heavy contenders, not to mention beating legit heavyweights like Arturo Godoy and holding young power-puncher Elmer “Violent” Ray to a draw. He, for the most part, ceased fighting at 175 by 1934, thus depriving the public of what would have been epic battles against Lewis, Fox and Gainer.

light heavyweight mayhem
Gainer & Lewis battle for a big crowd in Pittsburgh in 1936. Lewis won by decision.

In addition to Jones, John Henry Lewis, Al Gainer, Tiger Jack Fox and then the immortal Ezzard Charles all made their mark in Pittsburgh as light heavyweights. One can only speculate as to what might have happened had these four emerged a decade later and joined the furious Murderer’s Row round-robin. The bouts would have been fought at catch-weights, probably in the 168 pound range, where Burley and Holman Williams would have happily signed to fight them.

Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra

The imagination can be taxed to the breaking point envisioning the excitement sparked by a light-heavyweight series involving all of these legends. Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Lloyd Marshall and Jimmy Bivins (a non-Murderer’s Row great) could have fought against Billy, Al, John Henry and Tiger Jack. Those dream bouts will not be discussed in detail just yet as each deserves its own lengthy write up, followed by an in-depth debate on the strengths of one versus those of the other. Each individual match-up is nothing less than a dream fight that could go either way.

A young Archie Moore.

And the dreams are vivid and spellbinding. The swarming, relentless “Cincinnati Cobra” barreling into the powerful, iron-jawed Gainer, who was never stopped in 107 bouts. The cagey Moore trying to figure out and defend against the awkward attack of the lethal Fox, who carried even more firepower than “The Old Mongoose” himself. Boxer-puncher Marshall and the clever Bivins dueling with, in many respects, their near-mirror images in Jones and Lewis.

Let the thrilling mental images and the mind’s endless conclusions, possibilities and outcomes begin …

 — Douglas Cavanaugh 

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6 thoughts on “Light Heavyweight Mayhem

  • February 9, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    What a fascinating read. You know your boxing my friend. More please…

  • December 1, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    Harold Johnson didn’t make it to the list? Why might that be? Just curious! Thanks

    • December 1, 2021 at 7:59 pm

      Hi Margaret. Harold came much later. His pro debut was in 1946, a decade after these guys retired. 🙂

  • May 16, 2022 at 8:32 am

    I have a post card either from the 20’s or 30’s it’s a black boxer if I send you a picture of it will you be able to tell me who he is

    • May 16, 2022 at 5:29 pm

      send away! 🙂 I’ll do my best


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