Boxing Day Cover

Boxing Day

The fight that changed the world

Jeff Wells


On Boxing Day, 1908, four extraordinary men and 20,000 spectators gathered at a timber stadium by Sydney Harbour for a fight that would change the world.

In this absorbing tale of pride and prejudice in turn-of-the-century Australia, Jeff Wells recounts the little-known but utterly fascinating story of Burns–Johnson, the boxing match that pitted white v. black for the very first time in a heavyweight championship bout.

Onto the canvas stepped Jack Johnson, the black Galveston streetfighter who had triumphed over incredible adversity just to get a crack at the world title. In the argot of the local press, he had been branded a ‘coon’, ‘nigger’ and ‘inky antagonist’, while his opponent, the pint-sized white Canadian Tommy Burns, had been fêted as a kind of demigod, a man whose ‘Napoleonic’ looks and faultless bearing would save the day for the white race. The man who stood between them, referee Hugh D. McIntosh, was a gruff, cigar-chomping Aussie entrepreneur who had snatched the fight from under the noses of the world’s leading fight promoters. Ringside, Jack London, then the world’s most famous writer, would be witness to the merciless and clinical destruction of the black man . . . or so it was thought.

Boxing Day: The Fight that Changed the World is much more than a sporting tale; part-biography, part-social history; it’s a book that paints an evocative but devastating portrait of bigotry and xenophobia in the first decade of the twentieth century, and serves as a timely reminder that no matter how far Australia has come in 90 years, some things never change.