October - A Key Month In The Life And Career Of The Incredible Henry Armstrong

henry armstrong09.10.07 - By James Slater: In the month of October many pertinent moments in the life and career of the legendary three weight world champion Henry Armstrong occurred. It was during this month, in the year 1939, that “Homicide Hank” engaged in a spell of ring activity that was simply incredible in its energy. Also, for a sadder reason, the month of October is known as a key month in the life and times of the fighter born Henry Melody Jackson because this is the month in which he passed away - in 1988. October was also the month in which Henry lost his final world title. But let’s focus here on that astonishing burst of ring activity from almost seventy years ago.

Henry had won the featherweight championship, the first of his three world titles, in August of 1936. Fighting a rival from Mexico who engaged him in some five contests, Armstrong won a decision over Baby Arizmendi to capture the 126 pound championship.

Armstrong and Arizmendi would meet again though, with Henry finally emerging the winner of their series, three fights to two - all five bouts being decided by decision. After only two defences of his title, however, Armstrong moved up so as to concentrate on the lightweight and welterweight divisions. It was at 147 pounds that the feat of astonishment that is the main subject of this article occurred.

Successfully challenging for the world crown at welterweight in May of 1938, Henry out pointed the great Barney Ross over fifteen rounds. A mere three months later he dropped down in weight and wrested the world lightweight title from the also great Lou Ambers. These accomplishments alone more than justify Armstrong’s revered place in boxing history, but there were more displays of pugilistic excellence to follow. After losing his lightweight title to the man he took it from, one year later, Armstrong engaged in a genuinely mind-bogglingly busy schedule. In the single month that was October of 1939 “Homicide Hank” successfully defended his welterweight championship FIVE times!

Such a breakneck pace for one of the world’s elite fighting men is indeed one that seems all but impossible today - where fighters complain about having to engage in more than two fights per year. For Henry, however, the task was simply one he got on with. A fighter with incredible energy, Armstrong had no difficulty in turning back the challenge of Al Manfredo in Iowa(TKO4) Howard Scott in Minneapolis(KO2) Richie Fontaine in Seattle(KO3) Jimmy Garrison in Los Angeles (WPTS 10) and Bobby Pacho in Denver (TKO4). The first of these five fights was staged on the 9th of the month and the last one on the 30th. That’s a remarkable five world championship fights in just three weeks of boxing! Stats like this go to show how unique a fighter Armstrong was.

As with any legendary boxer, however, age finally took its toll on Henry. With a work-rate like his this comes as no shock. Still, before losing his prime years he would participate in a fight that, if he’d won it, would have elevated his reputation, as a man who mastered the art of pugilism, even higher that the majestic position it now stands at. For in March of 1940 he fought the Philippine fighter, Geferino Garcia, to a draw. This fight contested a version of the world middleweight championship! Really, there was no end to Armstrong’s ambition as a prize fighter. Neither were their any limitations to his abilities. Except, of course, the ageing process - a consequence of his sport that he, like any other mere mortal, could not avoid.

He lost his welterweight title to Fritzi Zivic, a fighter who wasn’t great, but was one who could fight dirty extremely well - especially with the use of his thumb, in 1940. He out pointed Armstrong on the fourth of, you’ve guessed it, October, that year. A rematch was fought three months later but this time the result was even worse for the great Armstrong, as he was stopped, his face badly marked up, in the twelfth round. It was clear that Henry had suffered a major case of burnout, as despite being in his late twenties only he was a badly faded fighter. Again though, it is little wonder when one considers his frightening work rate. The first loss to Zivic marked Henry’s twentieth world title fight at 147 pounds. Indeed he was one
incredible fighter.

He soldiered on with his career for another five years, losing another seven times - most notably to pound-for-pound standout Sugar Ray Robinson. Armstrong finally retired in February of 1945 after a points loss to Chester Slider - the twenty-first reversal of his fine career. And in all that time the TKO loss he suffered at the hands of Zivic in their rematch marked the only time he was ever stopped. Except, of course, for his pro debut. As hard as it is to believe when considering his awe inspiring accomplishments, not least fighting in five world title fights in only twenty-one days, Armstrong was KO’d in three rounds the very first time he fought for money. Equally astonishing is the fact that he lost two of his next four bouts also. It is clear to see that Henry Armstrong was a fighter who improved with experience. Today, he ranks amongst the top three or four greatest fighters who ever lived.

His final record reads - 151 - 21 - 10 (101KO’s) He was world champion at Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight.

(Article first published on Seconds Out, 2005)

Article posted on 09.10.2007

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