Super Slo-Mo (that’s a term I believe I’ve just made up), instant replay, zoom lenses, extra-sensitive mikes: they’ve spoiled it for all of us.
Let me explain:
It was exactly this time 100 years ago that Las Vegas became transformed from a sleepy little town to an active little town, with the hosting of a world heavyweight championship bout.
Those of you who read our Page 1 Looking Back feature may be aware that the Fourth of July festivities that year included a fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Flynn.
Hardly a man is now alive who saw the fight. An article written about 20 years ago mentioned my dad, J.D. Trujillo, as one of the spectators.
But let’s do some math first. My father once told me he had attended the fight with his father, Severino Trujillo. Born in 1903, Dad would have been 9 in 1912. He said, “By the end of the first round, that black (Jackson) had bloodied the other guy (Flynn) so badly, I thought they were going to stop the fight.” Such bouts often were scheduled for 45 rounds, although precious few of them went the distance.
A sports columnist for the Albuquerque Journal, Chris Tomasson, was working on an article that would include eye-witness accounts of the big fight. Accordingly, he phoned my dad, upon my suggestion, but was unable to get substantive information, as my dad had suffered a series of seizures and was, for the most part, unable to articulate.
Tomasson told me of his experience, asking if I would try to interview my dad, but I got the same results. Fittingly, the writer reported on his and my difficulty in getting information, so the only solution was to rely on my recollection of what Dad had told me possibly 20 or 30 years prior to that time.
Some accounts place the world championship bout at Montezuma, there being an ordinance proscribing the staging of such an event within the city limits. Others say the fight took place on a site at Friedman and Sixth Street, called the “Wester House.” There still remain questions as to whether Montezuma was Johnson or Flynn’s training site, or the actual location of the bout.
Bruce Wertz, who keeps track of scores, records and fight venues, said the fight site, the Wester House, would in fact have been outside the city, in those days.
Las Vegas prepared for the fight in a big way, folks renting out private rooms in their homes for the influx of visitors. Hotels and boarding houses filled up.
It didn’t all go smoothly, as the governor at the time threatened to prohibit the fight. Some promoters threatened to move the fight to the El Paso-Juarez area.
One of the promoters, an electrician named Charles O’Malley, operated a shop on Sixth Street, where Community First Bank sits. He reportedly put up a guarantee of $100,000. A 17,000-seat arena reportedly was built, but since tickets sold for “as much as $50, only about 4,000 fans showed up,” the Optic reported back then.
Meanwhile, Marcella LeDoux, a native Las Vegan, provided me with a blow-up of a promotional postcard of the Johnson-Flynn fight, with the Gallinas bridge and a streetcar in the background. It shows the combatants superimposed over the photo. Marcella’s collection is filled with photographic bits of Las Vegas history. The pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Church at the time often re-printed historical issues on the back of the Sunday Mass bulletins.
Miscegenation was at play at the time, as well. Tomasson wrote of the fact that Johnson, a black, “shocked some locals by being seen regularly in public with his white wife.” Tomasson explained that Johnson was later convicted of violating the Mann Act by “transporting his wife across state lines for so-called immoral purposes.”
According to the Journal article, the fight ended in the ninth round, when “Capt. Fred Fornoff of the state police jumped into the ring and declared that it was ‘a brutal exhibition and that Flynn’s foul tactics (repeated head-butting) made its continuance impossible.’”
Several decades later, a historian showed footage of the fight on a big screen at Ilfeld Auditorium. Unfortunately, the things fans are now accustomed to — slow motion, instant replay, closeup shots — didn’t exist then.
The camera remained stationary. The rounds we watched soon became tedious, each round resembling the previous one, as Flynn repeatedly tried to head-butt Jackson, and many times, the longer-armed Jackson placed both gloves on Flynn’s shoulders, pushing the opponent back.
While watching the film clips at Ilfeld, I found myself jockeying for position to get a full view of the screen. In my experience, the front rows invariably get filled by people like Yao Ming, Shawn Bradley, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dirk Nowitzki, and every other seven-footer in the NBA.
Well, as I recall, the same thing happened during the actual fight, 100 years ago today: even the cameraman at the time occasionally got blocked off and ended up filming the back of people’s heads.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.