As fight fans know, precious few boxers ever managed to KO the great Jack Johnson. “The Galveston Giant” was a magnificent fighter, way ahead of his time, and the first black heavyweight king ruled the world for seven years, before age and Jess Willard caught up with him. But on the way up, in what was just his eleventh pro bout, a 22 year old Johnson was knocked out in the third round by Joe Choynski. The Jewish fighter, who stood around 5’10” and tipped-in at approximately 170 pounds, is revered by many historians as one of the most utterly destructive punchers who ever put on gloves.
The Choynski story is a fascinating one, as is the Choynski/Johnson tale.
Choynski, born in San Francisco in November of 1868, began his amateur boxing career in 1884, and he soon began displaying what can only be described as paralyzing power. Indeed, this is the description Johnson chose when speaking to a boxing writer about Choynski in 1940. Choynski, who was 32 years old and was sporting a 52-11-6 pro record when he fought Johnson in Jack’s hometown of Galveston in February of 1901, had been in with such luminaries as James J. Corbett, George Godfrey, Bob Fitzsimmons, Tom Sharkey, James J. Jeffries, Charles Kid McCoy, and Barbados Joe Walcott. He took Johnson out with a brutal left hook to the head in the third round.
Choynski, who gave each man he faced sheer hell due to his uncommon punching power, this whether he was victorious or not, routinely faced men who were much bigger and heavier than he was. The fights Choynski had with Jeffries, Fitzsimmons, and Corbett are legendary, with all three men having to take real punishment due to having tangled with Joe.
Here’s what former heavyweight champ Jeffries said about Choynski years after they had fought to a gruelling 20 round draw:
“To this day, I can’t figure out how a runt like him could hurt so damned bad,” Jeffries said of Choynski, who he out-weighed by fifty pounds. “During our scrap, he clipped me with a right that landed high on my cheekbone. I figured my whole face was caved in, and when I tried to feel what was left with my hands, there wasn’t any sensation at all. That was the hardest punch I ever took and had it landed a little lower I would have been knocked out for the first time in my life.”
Fellow former heavyweight champ Corbett, who fought Choynski three times, had this to say about his incredible punching power:
“Little Joe was the hardest hitter I ever tangled with,” Corbett said years after the three fights he had with “The California Terror.”
Three-weight world champ Fitzsimmons said the same when recalling the hardest hitter he ever faced.
And it was a young, still-raw Johnson that wound up being blasted out by Choynski in 1901. The fight, listed as an exhibition due to the fact that boxing was illegal in Texas at the time, nevertheless attracted the attention of the police. After the fight, both Choynski and Johnson were arrested and jailed, for two weeks. During this time, Choynski taught Jack, with whom he had grown friendly, many tricks of the trade. In fact, Johnson spoke about how much he learned from Choynski, this in an interview that was conducted after he had retired.
Choynski had told his cellmate that a clever mover such as Johnson “should never have to take a punch.” And Johnson recalled how he and Choynski would spar, with him soaking up all the knowledge Joe was willing to share with him.
“Joe developed a great liking for me,” Johnson said. “Every day we would box in the jail yard, surrounded by police officers and guests. I learned more in those two weeks than I had learned in my entire existence up to that point.”
Johnson would in time go on to become a great, great fighter, a defensive master who could hit with real authority himself. Choynski, who never got a shot at the world heavyweight title, went on to fight 12 more times after levelling Johnson, with him retiring with a 59-17-6-4 no contest (39 KO) record in November of 1904.
Here’s what Choynksi’s former opponent turned pupil said in regards to the hardest puncher he ever faced:
“Jeffries number one? No, sir. Give me Joe Choynski anytime,” Johnson said. “I faced both and I should know. Jeffries had a powerful wallop, but Choynski had a paralyzing punch. His left hand was a corker. He was the hardest puncher in the last fifty years, with Joe Walcott a close second. I think his left hook was even more effective than [Jack] Dempsey’s. Choynski could paralyze you, even if he didn’t catch you flush.”
Choysnki, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998, passed away Cincinnati in January of 1943, this at age 74.