Filed Under Sports

Johnson-Jeffries Fight (site)

The 1910 "Fight of the Century" reflected and heightened the era's deep racial tensions.

All eyes turned to Reno on June 21, 1910 with the exciting news that the small city would soon be hosting the heavyweight championship battle between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries. The catch? The fight was just two weeks away.

Boxing promoter George Lewis “Tex” Rickard had originally intended to hold the highly-anticipated event in San Francisco, but a last-minute cancellation by wary California Governor James N. Gillette forced a change of venue. Reno’s leaders campaigned vigorously for the fight, convincing Rickard they could be ready in time for the scheduled date of July 4th.

The bout was promoted in advance as the “Fight of the Century”—a rather brash claim, considering the century was just a decade old—but the import of the fight was undeniable. By 1908, black fighter Jack Johnson had ascended to the top of the sport. Promoters eager to find a “Great White Hope” to seize his crown convinced Jim Jeffries to come out of retirement and reclaim the heavyweight title for white America. Having retired undefeated in 1904 as the heavyweight champion of the world, Jeffries was considered still deserving of the title by many, amid rampant racial prejudice.

The two competitors arrived in town in advance to train—Jim Jeffries at Moana Springs, south of town, and Jack Johnson to the west at Rick’s Resort. On June 23, workers began to construct a massive wooden amphitheater on land owned by Patrick Flanigan on East 4th Street, the site of the 1905 Hart-Root fight. On the eastern edge of city limits, the location was conveniently situated near both the Southern Pacific railroad tracks and the streetcar line joining Reno and Sparks. Supervised by San Francisco architect W.L. McLaughlin, a crew of up to 300 men at a time toiled for ten hours a day, supplied with whiskey breaks by contractor Charles Friedhoff.

It was the most publicized sporting event in American history to that date. Attendance was estimated at more than 20,000, with live telegraph coverage keeping the world riveted and nine cameramen documenting the event from different angles. What they captured quickly escalated from a few tentative thrusts into a forceful defeat of the former heavyweight champion by the much stronger and more nimble Johnson. Fifteen rounds in, Rickard recognized that Jeffries was about to collapse and called the bout, crowning Johnson the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The arena was torn down that October, with the lumber sold to repay creditors.

State Historical Marker #220 is located at the site, which is now a salvage yard.


Fifteen rounds The crowd was riveted for fourteen full rounds. In the fifteenth round, Johnson knocked Jeffries down three times, prompting officials to call the fight before Jeffries could be knocked unconscious. Source: Neal Cobb Date: 1910
Before the fight Spectators arrived at the fight arena by buggy, automobile, rail, and foot. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
Promotional poster A promotional poster produced in 1910 promised a fight beyond compare. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1910
Admission ticket Prime tickets for the fight ranged from $25 to $50. Promoters Jack Gleason and Tex Rickard appeared on the ticket, along with the two fighters. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1910
Fight Headquarters Official headquarters for the fight was in downtown Reno, at the corner of Center Street and W. Commercial Row. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1910
The Fight Arena The area was erected on land leased by Arthur J. Aylesworth, a member of the Reno Athletic Association, from Patrick L. Flanigan. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
The Arena Entrance The entrance to the arena for the Johnson-Jeffries fight featured advertising banners for champagne and cigars. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
Arrival by Streetcar Many of the spectators arrived at the arena via the streetcar line that ran between Reno and Sparks. Here, a row of streetcars pulls up near the entrance. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
An impressive setting In an article published the day after the fight, reporter Rex Beach wrote of the location, "The arena itself occupied the center of a circular valley ringed about by mountains which looked down like the high tiered slopes of a Gargantuan amphitheatre ten thousand times greater than the Roman coliseum." Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1910
After the fight After the fight ended, crowds left the arena peacefully, although there were reports of violence, riots, and random targeting of black citizens elsewhere across the country. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
Arena site No trace of the arena remains at the site of the famous fight, which is commemorated by a state historical marker located on the SE corner of Toano and E. 4th Streets. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2014
Commemorative bus shelter A bus shelter installed by RTC Washoe near the site of the Johnson-Jeffries fight, just west of the intersection of East 4th and Toano Streets, commemorates the event with a collage of historic photos, designed for RTC Washoe by H+K Architects in collaboration with historian Alicia Barber. Creator: Vance Fox



Alicia Barber, “Johnson-Jeffries Fight (site),” Reno Historical, accessed December 3, 2023,