Tucson Boxing

Water cooler conversation piece for Tucson sports history enthusiasts: The Lewis Brothers


Joe Louis (left) and Arizonan John Henry Lewis (right) having their pictures taken together before their fight on Jan 25th, 1939. It would be John Henry’s last fight of his career.

John Henry Lewis is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was the light heavyweight champion of the world from 1935 to 1938. The first light heavyweight champion of color in boxing history, he fought out of Liberty, AZ (just southwest of PHX). Lewis stepped into the ring with the likes of The Cinderella Man, James J. Braddock many times, Maxie Rosenbloom many times. After a fight in Prescott, a man even died as a result of the beating he suffered from Lewis. John Henry had his last fight against Joe Louis at Madison Square Garden, NYC in 1939. They were close friends but Joe knocked him out in the first round. John Henry finished his career 100-11-5 having fought in Tucson once on Friday 20, December 1935 at the historic Labor Temple. Making him yet ANOTHER legendary boxer who has used TUCSON along their road to title greatness. That fight he had in Tucson was as the light heavyweight world champ.

News papers all over the country were recognizing John Henry Lewis as he was making his rise to greatness.

John Henry was portrayed by Troy Amos-Ross in the 2005 film Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe as James Braddock.

John Henry vs Joe was the first All African-American Heavyweight Championship fight in boxing history.

John Henry’s brother Nathaniel Christopher Lewis was born in Liberty, AZ and was a popular boxer in his own right. Nathaniel went by Christy Lewis.

Christy appeared in fights in Tucson at the old Cabinet Arena on Friday 21, February 1930 and again on Tuesday 7, October 1930. The Broadway Arena in Tucson on Friday 9, March 1934. The Historic (and still there) Labor Temple on Friday 20, December 1935 (undercard for his brother John Henry) and The Ramona Theatre in Safford, AZ on Thursday 2, December 1937. He wasn’t as great as his brother by any means finishing his career at 28-16-14. But Christy was extremely popular with the ladies. Especially when he’d fight on his brother’s undercards in the tri-state area. More on that in a bit.

The Lewis Brothers fought mostly out of Phoenix where their father Nathaniel Lewis Sr built a hugely popular boxing gym in the 20’s and 30’s. They fought a lot in Prescott and Tucson as well. But after Nathaniel Sr passed away, the brothers settled in the Bay Area where they each passed away in the 60s.

Oh! By the way:

Nathaniel Christopher Lewis aka Christy Lewis was a popular fighter in Arizona during the 20’s and 30’s making regular appearances in the Old Pueblo. This photo was featured in PBS’s Finding Your Roots.

Christy Lewis is LL Cool J‘s biological maternal grandfather. Christy Lewis (32 at the time), along with Ethel May Jolly (19 at the time), conceived the hip hop legends biological mother Ondrea Griffith (born Andra Jolly) in 1946. Ethel May was a teenager at the time and gave Andra up for adoption to Eugene and Ellen Griffith. Who changed Ondrea’s name. LL and his mother just found out about this in 2014 during the filming of a popular PBS series Finding Your Roots.

A bona fide legend. Who will mostly be known for his 1st round KO defeat at the hands of Joe Louis. John fought Joe with a seriously damaged left eye. But…he still stepped in the ring with arguably the greatest of all time. A kid raised in Phoenix and fighting his way through the dusty towns of Arizona on his way 100 wins and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Cool stuff, all around.

Have any other tidbits of Tucson sports history you think would make great topics of conversation? Email them to me at JoseRomanJr.ast@gmail.com.

I’ll do my very best to research them and see if we can publish them.

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