Lee Groves

10: Notable July 4 fights

9. 1922 – Benny Leonard KO 8 Rocky Kansas IV, Floyd Fitzsimmons Arena, Michigan City, Indiana

This was the final fight of a series that spanned six years and pitted Kansas’ fiery aggression against Leonard’s supremely scientific acumen. Each time Leonard’s intelligence trumped Kansas’ intensity.

Their first meeting ended in a 10-round newspaper decision for Leonard that the Manitoba Morning Free Press characterized that Leonard “won all the way.” In their second bout at the Federal League Baseball Park in Harrison, N.J., in June 1921, a 12-round no-decision bout, the only way Leonard would have lost the title would have been by KO as per the rules of the era. Needing only to last the distance, Leonard deliberately slowed the pace to the point where the 30,000 fans left “disgusted.” The Sheboygan Press saw as a 9-2-1 rounds decision and given what had happened a third bout was unlikely, much less a fourth.

Despite the desultory nature of their second meeting. Leonard and Kansas were paired again at Madison Square Garden in February 1922, the only time in which Leonard could have lost the title via points or KO. Kansas’ ferocity nearly took Leonard off his feet early but by the seventh Leonard settled into his rhythm and carried the later rounds, scoring a knockdown in the 11th and sailing to a points win.

Going into the fourth meeting, however, Leonard’s troubles making the championship limit added intrigue to an otherwise easy-to-pick affair. Both Leonard and his manager Billy Gibson insisted that the fighter could still make the limit but the doubts fueled a renewed interest in the contest.

There was good reason to doubt Leonard’s ability to sweat down: Just eight days earlier, a 139 1/4-pound Leonard challenged Jack Britton for his welterweight title, a bout that saw Leonard disqualified in the 13th. Up until the final round Britton built a commanding points lead but in the 13th Leonard floored Britton with a body shot. Leonard then ran around the referee and swatted Britton on top of the head, drawing the DQ. Many observers asked themselves how Leonard could squander the chance to win a second undisputed title and more than a few said Leonard’s actions were dictated by betting considerations. It was on the heels of this massive controversy that Leonard met Kansas.

In the end, a weigh-in was not conducted and the lightweight title wasn’t at risk. Leonard continued his domination of Kansas and by the eighth round he had his rival reeling about the ring. It wasn’t long before Leonard applied the finishing touches and with that their one-sided series came to an end.

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