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Tiger Jack Fox took a Circuitous Route to the International Boxing Hall of Fame

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  • Tiger Jack Fox took a Circuitous Route to the International Boxing Hall of Fame

    By Arne K. Lang

    Tiger Jack Fox was 47 years old, or thereabouts, when he suffered a fatal heart attack in front of a movie theater in his adopted hometown of Spokane, Washington. Three years earlier, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. He died broke.

    Fox’s memorial service was held at 8 am on a Friday morning at Spokane’s landmark Lady of Lourdes Cathedral. It attracted a small turnout. Most of those in attendance were schoolchildren from the school that sat next door and was run by the Diocese. They likely knew nothing about the decedent who had passed away three days earlier on April 6, 1954.

    A significantly larger turnout will pay homage to Fox this coming June during Hall of Fame Weekend in Canastota, New York. This morning, Dec. 7, it was announced that Fox, who fought mostly as a light heavyweight, would be going into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Old Timer’s category. He will join a long list of posthumous honorees who died in relative obscurity.

    There’s a lot of mystery -- not to mention a lot of poppycock -- surrounding the man born John Linwood Fox, not only his true age but his birthplace: Georgia? Indiana? Minnesota? He had his earliest confirmed fight in 1928 and fought until 1950, amassing a record of 138-24-12 with 91 KOs in documented fights. The key word here is “documented.” In his early years when he tramped about the northwest and southwest, many of his fights were off the grid, so to speak. This was true of many fighters of his era, especially journeymen that shared his pigmentation.

    Professional boxers and wrestlers that plied the hinterland customarily roamed from territory to territory, hunkering down with a local promoter until they exhausted their pull. At various times, Fox hung his hat in Picher, Oklahoma, Springfield, Missouri, Terre Haute, Indiana, Salt Lake City and Portland, Oregon before taking up residence in Spokane where he had 11 fights in 1936-37 and several more in neighboring Idaho.

    It was during his Terre Haute phase that Fox had one of his more interesting bouts, a 10-round contest in Indianapolis with veteran George Godfrey, the Leiperville Shadow, a former sparring partner of Jack Dempsey. The bout was billed for the World Colored Heavyweight Title.

    Godfrey, who out-weighed Tiger Jack 257-181, was too big for Fox and got the decision in an uninteresting fight, keeping the gold-tinted belt that was put on display in the window of a drug store for promotional purposes.

    Fox had at least 90 fights under his belt when he made his New York debut at Madison Square Garden in 1937. His match with unheralded Elton “Tex” Irwin was relegated to the walk-out fight following a middleweight title tiff between Freddie Steele and Babe Risko. Fox had Irwin on the canvas three times before the match was halted 29 seconds into the second round.

    Fox had 11 more fights in New York before the year was out, seven at Rockland Palace, a Harlem dance hall, and was undefeated in New York rings prior to his 1939 engagement at Madison Square Garden with Melio Bettina in a bout sanctioned for the New York version of the world light heavyweight title. Fox was favored but didn’t bring his “A” game and was stopped in the ninth frame.

    Fox, who fought only in spurts, had a handy excuse for his poor showing. Two months earlier, uptown in Harlem, he was stabbed in the chest by a woman wielding a 10-inch razor knife as he left a late-night party. He lost a considerable amount of blood and according to some reports suffered a punctured lung.

    It was at Rockland Palace that Fox scored what in hindsight would come to be seen as one of his biggest wins. On May 22, 1937, he stopped Jersey Joe Walcott in the eighth round, knocking him down for the count with a right cross to the jaw. Twelve months later, he defeated Jersey Joe again, winning a clear 10-round decision on Walcott’s turf in Camden, New Jersey.

    These two wins undoubtedly got Tiger Jack over the hump with the IBHOF electorate. A late bloomer, Walcott went on to win the world heavyweight title and preceded Fox into the Canastota shrine by 33 years.

    Some of Fox’s setbacks were likely pre-arranged. Against white opponents, black fighters often had to “do business” to keep the checks rolling in. When fighting members of their own race for a percentage of the gate, black boxers often tailored their exertions to how much money was in the till. Fox fought many stinkers and it didn’t help that he was by nature a counter-puncher whose style – notwithstanding all those knockouts – wasn’t particularly fan-friendly.

    This was the second straight year that the Old Timer’s committee selected a fighter identified with the state of Washington. Last year, the honor went to Sequim native Tod Morgan who like Tiger Jack Fox died young (he was 50) and died a pauper. Only one other Apple State fighter is in the Hall of Fame, the aforementioned Freddie Steele, the pride of Tacoma, inducted in 1999.

    Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” has rolled off the press. Published by McFarland, the book can be ordered directly from the publisher ( or via Amazon.

    Last edited by AcidArne; 12-07-2022, 06:52 PM.