Celebrating Henry Armstrong: One of the greatest fighters who ever lived

Armstrong peaked in 1937, winning all 27 of his fights, scoring 26 knockouts. He was a whirling dervish in the ring, always attacking and breaking his opponents down. His style was calculated mayhem.

By John J. Raspanti

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Henry Armstrong
Henry Armstrong

Think of a time in the future when six-time world champion Manny Pacquiao is almost forgotten. Seems unfathomable, doesn’t it to forget a man of unquestioned fortitude and immense popularity?

 

The old-timers remember him, but the younger generation, who should be reveling in his pugilistic greatness, shrug. They’ve heard the name, but the details are lost in some shallow time warp.

 

This is what’s happened to Henry Armstrong. The name is known by some, but his achievements are rarely recognized.

 

“A lot of kids don’t even know who (Armstrong) was,” said Hall of Famer Teddy Atlas on a recent Ringside Boxing Show. “He was fighting “A” fighters all the time. He was phenomenal.”

 

From 1936 to 1940, Armstrong was arguably the greatest fighter on the planet.

 

Armstrong, born Henry Jackson in 1912, compiled a 59-1-1 record with 51 knockouts. As phenomenal as his record was--his achievements topped it.

 

In 1931, Armstrong, a native of Columbus, MS, made his professional debut. Fighting under the name of Melody Jackson, he was knocked out in the third round by one Al Lovino. Undaunted, he returned to the ring four days later—winning a decision.

 

Disappointed over not making the Olympic team in 1932, Jackson went back to the professional ranks, changing his name to Armstrong. He fought at the Olympic Auditorium twice, losing both times.

 

Armstrong had lost three of his first four fights. Many would have quit, but giving up was not in Armstrong’s DNA. He was learning on the job. His determination, quickness, stamina, strength--and chin, were becoming major assets-so much so that over two years, he lost only one fight.

 

Continuing his rapid improvement, Armstrong, fighting every couple of weeks, or sometimes days, defeated four top-10 ranked featherweights.

 

Armstrong peaked in 1937, winning all 27 of his fights, scoring 26 knockouts. He was a whirling dervish in the ring, always attacking and breaking his opponents down. In-fighting was his specialty. His style was calculated mayhem. Armstrong won the featherweight championship of the world by knocking out defending champion, Petey Sarron, in the sixth round at Madison Square Garden in New York, but he was only beginning.

 

In a span of nine months, Armstrong added the welterweight and lightweight titles by defeating future Hall of Famers Barney Ross and Lew Ambers. He’s the only fighter in history to hold three world championships simultaneously.

 

“He held three-titles at the same time,” said Atlas. “It’s mind-boggling.”

 

In 1939, Armstrong engaged in 12 title fights, winning eleven. A year later, at the old Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles, CA, Armstrong challenged middleweight champion, Ceferino Garcia, competing to win an unprecedented fourth world title. Though the bout was judged a draw, most at ringside thought Armstrong deserved the

nod.

 

“He really won the middleweight title against Garcia, but he was robbed,” Atlas said. “They gave him a draw, because he wouldn’t do business with the fellas. He really should have been featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight champion at the same time.”

 

Armstrong retired in 1945. He fought an incredible 183 times, knocking out 101 opponents.

 

After overcoming alcoholism, Armstrong became a Baptist minister in 1951. Sensitive to the struggles of the young, he established the Henry Armstrong Youth Foundation in Los Angeles. He died in 1988 at the age of 75. Two years later, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Why it took that long is a mystery.

 

Armstrong’s greatness is without question. His name is synonymous with grit, talent and drive.

 

Never forget “Hammerin Hank” Henry Armstrong.

 

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