Heavyweight Champion vs Oscar Wilde’s Nephew in a Boxing Match

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One of the strangest things to happen in legendary boxer Jack Johnson’s career was the time he fought Arthur Cravan, the poet nephew of Oscar Wilde. Cravan had never been in a professional boxing match before this event but was being billed at the “European” champion.

Brief Background of Jack Johnson

Legendary boxing heavyweight champion Jack Johnson with his fists up posing for a photograph.
Legendary boxer, Jack Johnson in circa. 1909.

Jack Johnson was an incredible boxer of his time. He was the first African American man to win the title of the heavyweight champion of the world. He was an incredibly important figure at the time, as he rose in the boxing world very quickly and infuriated white America. 

Johnson had a thing for fast cars, and he loved to pursue women. He was a very charming man who loved to flash smiles at his haters and opponents who wanted to “put him in his place” which, of course, rarely happened. 

Jack fled the United States in 1913 to avoid arrest on charges for violating the Mann Act. His arrest was racially motivated.

Boxing Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson in a suit and a bowler hat.
Formal photograph of Jack Johnson in 1908.

Johnson died in a horrific car crash in 1946, North Carolina, after fleeing in anger from a segregated restaurant that refused him service.

Brief Background of Arthur Cravan

Arthur Cravan photographed at a boxing event on a beach on the beach
Arthur Cravan in circa. 1916.

Born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd in Switzerland, Arthur Cravan was the nephew of the famous poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde. During his life, Cravan was a poet, novelist, boxer, playwright, and a lot of other things. 

Cravan was also a poet who was often grouped with the Dadaists. He was a wealthy kid who could have lived off of his trust fund for the rest of his life, but he had a reputation of running into trouble.

Portrait of Arthur Cravan.

Cravan was not interested in fighting in the First World War, which is why he fled Paris leading to a warrant being out for his arrest.

Arthur Cravan disappeared in a small sailboat off the Gulf of Mexico in November 1918. Although there were many conspiracies about his disappearance, he never surfaced again and was considered dead.

The 1916 Boxing Match in Barcelona

In April of 1916, both Johnson and Cravan found themselves to be at the opposite sides of a ring. The fight seemed somewhat strange, as both the men were from very different worlds. Johnson’s parents were slaves, and he was raised in poverty to eventually become the first African American heavyweight boxing champion of the world. On the other side of the ring was a rich-born character calling himself Arthur Cravan. Although the promoters called him the European boxing champion there was clearly a skill difference in favor of Jack Johnson, and Cravan knew it.

Film archive showing the boxing skills of Arthur Cravan.

The fight was only meant to be an exhibition fight, as it was being held for both the boxers to make money. Bravo Portillo, the local chief of police, even came on the ring to tell the boxers to limit their attacks, but the crowd was there to see a real fight. The fighters knew that the priority was to make money and look good for the cameras.

During the fight, Arthur Cravan crumbled as the former heavyweight champion showed off his boxing skills. Jack Johnson laughed and ridiculed Arthur in the ring, and the Spanish public was not too happy with the fight they saw as the difference in skill was so extreme. Johnson won the fight by knockout in the 6th round.

Jack Johnson and Arthur Cravan in a boxing match against eachother.
Jack Johnson and Arthur Cravan in a ring together. Barcelona, 1916. Source

The crowd threw some chairs into the ring which was quickly dealt with by the Spanish police. Johnson and Cravan both snuck out of the arena before the event was over.

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