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Did Jackie Tonawanda Posthumously Bamboozle the Boxing Hall of Fame? (Part 2)

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  • Did Jackie Tonawanda Posthumously Bamboozle the Boxing Hall of Fame? (Part 2)

    Click image for larger version  Name:	jackie.PNG Views:	0 Size:	391.2 KB ID:	20847

    By Arne K. Lang

    The year 2019 was the first year that women appeared on the ballot for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The ladies were sorted into two categories: Trailblazer and Modern.

    Barbara Buttrick, a nonagenarian residing in Florida, had the distinction of being the first Trailblazer (which sounds redundant). An ex-boxer, born and raised in England, Buttrick is the founder of the Women’s International Boxing Federation. Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker were the first inductees in the Modern category.

    The list of Trailblazers swelled to three the following year with the additions of Jackie Tonawanda and Marian Trimiar. Contemporaries who crossed paths at Gleason’s Gym which was then located in midtown Manhattan, Tonawanda and Trimiar shattered a glass ceiling when they were licensed to box in New York. It took a court order for the hidebound state athletic commission to acquiesce.

    Jackie Tonawanda, who died in 2009, was quite the self-promoter. Newspaper stories about her first surfaced in the mid-1970s. Periodically she would be re-discovered. Whenever female boxing showed signs of coming out of the closet, as in 1996 when Christy Martin was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or 2001 when the daughters of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, respectively Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, clashed in a bout that attracted international media coverage, the legend of Jackie Tonawanda would grow.

    Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic commission who currently hosts a SiriusXM radio show with Gerry Cooney, first became acquainted with Jackie Tonawanda in 1975. At the time, he was an assistant editor for G.C. London, a publishing house whose portfolio included several boxing and wrestling magazines.

    As Gordon relates in his Feb. 15 piece for “NY Fights,” he was at his desk when the receptionist patched in a call from Tonawanda who identified herself as the Female Ali and said that she would be fighting the next night at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. She would be defending her World Female Light Heavyweight Title and requested that Gordon write a story about her. A quick call to Las Vegas boxing writers Royce Feour and Mike Marley revealed that there were no boxing events scheduled in Las Vegas that week, let alone at the Golden Nugget. Tonawanda called Gordon the next week to inform him that she had won her bout by a knockout in the first round.

    Tonawanda continued to pester Randy Gordon during his tenure as editor-and-chief at The Ring. She would occasionally show up at his office unannounced. But Gordon never did write a story about her. Her attestations didn’t pass the smell test. But they sure passed the test of others whose radar wasn’t as finely honed.

    Was Jackie Tonawanda a highly-skilled fighter, more exactly was she perceived that way? Here’s an excerpt from a story that appeared on Aug. 9, 1980 in a Pottsville (PA) paper by a reporter who visited Muhammad Ali’s Deer Lake, Pennsylvania training camp when the female boxer happened to be there: “When Tonawanda flicks off a fluid series of rowing stabs which blur the speed bag, there is an inkling that she is not just an ordinary fighter. It is an awesome and frightening display of strength and coordination.”

    Tonawanda told the reporter that she had a fight lined up in England. This contradicted a widely syndicated Associated Press story by Deborah Mesce that ran a few months earlier. Tonawanda told Mesce that she had a rematch lined up with Diane Clark, the only woman to defeat her, and that the bout would take place in Brazil on a card that would include Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. In this article, Tonawanda was credited with having knocked out 31 of 32 opponents. (In the ensuing years, when it became known that the compilers at BoxRec were able to locate only one fight for her -- her 6-rounder with Clark – all of those knockouts were said to have occurred when she was relegated to competing on a female underground circuit.)

    The article by Herb Boyd that ran in the Amsterdam (NY) News on May 7, 2020 warrants a special citation because of the credentials of the writer. A journalist, educator, author, and human rights activist, Boyd, now 83 years old, has dedicated his life to telling the stories of prominent African-Americans whose contributions were left out of the history books. He established his bona fides as a boxing maven with his 2005 biography of Sugar Ray Robinson.

    Boyd informs us that Jackie Tonawanda was born Jean Jameson, information at odds with the long-held belief that her legal surname was Garrett. He acknowledges that she lost her only professional fight, but says she was undefeated in 36 bouts on the amateur circuit. Boyd allows that the match in which she knocked out a male opponent may have been staged, but then contradicts himself by saying that it was a hard fight in which “she suffered several serious blows before felling her opponent in the second round, breaking his jaw.” Boyd then alludes to a second bout in which Tonawanda knocked out a male opponent, this match taking place in 1984 at the Nassau Coliseum. Good luck finding that fight on the internet.

    Did Jackie Tonawanda take her name from the city of the same name in upstate New York, or was Tonawanda the maiden name of her mother, a full-blooded Cherokee? Let’s stop here. To list all the discrepancies in stories about Tonawanda would fill an entire notebook.

    It should be noted that Randy Gordon, whose story inspired this story, had no axe to grind with the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He was an invited guest at the 1989 IBHOF ribbon-cutting and returned to Canastota the next year and spoke at the first induction ceremony. Before writing his article, he communicated with IBHOF President Don Ackerman who co-founded the Canastota shrine along with Executive Director Ed Brophy to express his concerns about Tonawanda’s selection.

    Gordon reached out to Ackerman on Dec. 31, 2021, and received this text back on Jan. 5: “I met with Ed {Brophy} and we talked about Jackie. She was inducted in the Trailblazer category. It doesn’t matter what her actual record was. It does matter that she was a voice for women’s boxing and was one of the first to be granted a license. After talking with Ed and some of our voters, we feel comfortable because of her influence on the sport. Some of the bare knuckle boxers had very questionable records but made a mark in our sport.”

    The rebuttal to Ackerman’s argument, articulated by several people quoted in Randy Gordon’s article, is that the commotion that she caused wasn’t calculated to benefit women’s boxing but, to the contrary, was intended solely for the purpose of drawing attention to herself.

    Jackie Tonawanda wouldn’t be the first pathological liar to be enshrined in the Boxing Hall of Fame. One is reminded of Jack “Doc” Kearns, the wily manager of Jack Dempsey. Kearns, who was also associated with Mickey Walker, Archie Moore, and Joey Maxim, among many others, told so many lies that he couldn’t keep track of them all with the result that the details of his escapades changed from one re-telling to the next. But Kearns, unlike Tonawanda, was a true giant in the sport.

    The International Boxing Hall of Fame, which overcame long odds to become a reality, has been criticized for its lack of transparency -- vote totals aren’t shared with the media – and this writer has faulted the IBHOF electorate for some dumbfounding omissions in the non-boxer categories. One hesitates, however, to heap on another spoonful of negativity at this juncture. The pandemic which forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 Induction Weekends was a double-punch to the solar plexus that left the shrine holding on by a thread.

    The good news is that this year’s IBHOF Hall of Fame Weekend, a “trilogy” that runs from June 9-12, figures to be the grandest event ever staged in Canastota. On the final day of the jamboree, Induction Sunday, the grounds will teem with the greatest collection of fistic luminaries, boxing journalists, and boxing facilitators ever assembled at one gathering.

    By then, Jackie Tonawanda’s dubious bio may have been expunged from the IBHOF web site. But then again, maybe not. Stay tuned.

    To read Part One of this story CLICK HERE

    Last edited by AcidArne; 02-21-2022, 06:28 PM.