9. JACK JOHNSON
Title fights: 0-0
Summary: The first African-American heavyweight champion was in exile from the U.S. when he lost his title to Jess Willard by a knockout in the 26th round in Cuba in 1915, when Johnson was 37 and apparently a shell of what he had been. He had fled the country because he faced a prison sentence on trumped up charges of transporting a woman over state lines for immoral purposes, the authorities’ way of getting him out of the picture.
Johnson continued to fight overseas, first in Spain and then primarily in Mexico in his late 30s and into his 40s. Many of his post-40 fights seemed to be more exhibitions than serious athletic events, based on newspaper accounts of the day. Johnson clearly was cashing in on his name.
He did seem to have to real success shortly after turning 40, though. He won his first 11 post-40 fights abroad. Among his victims was a young Bob Roper, who would evolve into legitimate title contender later in his career.
He finally returned to the U.S. until 1920, the year he turned 42, and spent about a year behind bars. Around that time he challenged then heavyweight-champion Jack Dempsey to a fight but never received it. No African-American would fight for a title again until Joe Louis fought James Braddock in 1937.
Johnson fought his last sanctioned bout at 54, in 1932, but continued to take part in exhibitions into his 60s. Only his death from a car accident in 1946 could keep the great champion out of the ring.