NEARLY EVERY fighter in the IBHOF was a world champion. Several are multi-division champions. But the man known as Henry Armstrong, whose real name was Henry Jackson, is still the only fighter to ever hold world championships in three divisions (featherweight, lightweight and welterweight) simultaneously. That accomplishment in and of itself would merit enshrinement, but anyone who ever saw "Hurricane Hank" fight would agree that he was one of the all time greats of the ring.
The Mississippi native moved to St. Louis when he was four. He later lived in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, where, after a prolific amateur career, he turned professional because he failed to qualify for the 1932 Olympic squad. It should be noted that Armstrong had two professional fights in July 1931 under the name Melody Jackson (a kayo loss and a decision win), and changed his name to Armstrong when he resumed his amateur career in California.
His second professional debut was similar to his first; losing two four-round decisions. That's right, at one point, Armstrong was 1-3 as a pro. But that would change as he steadily progressed and ended 1936 with a 52-10-6 record, including wins over four top-10 featherweights.
By any measurement, Armstrong's 1937 campaign ranks with the greatest achievements in the sport. He won all 27 of his bouts, 26 by kayo. Five were against top-10 competition, and he wrested the world featherweight title from Petey Sarron Nov. 19, via sixth-round stoppage.
Armstrong, with his non-stop whirlwind style, continued his impressive streak through 1938, going 14-0 (10). He beat Barney Ross for the welterweight crown May 31, then relieved lightweight champ Lou Ambers of his throne Aug. 17, both wins coming via 15-round decision.
After the win over Ambers, the new triple champion successfully defended the welterweight title against future middleweight king, Ceferino Garcia. Heading into his Aug. 22, 1939 rematch with Ambers, Armstrong had won 46 consecutive fights, including seven consecutive successful defenses of the welterweight title.
But the streak ended when Ambers reclaimed the 135-pound title via 15-round decision. Armstrong, who by that time had relinquished the featherweight crown, ran off eight more welterweight defenses before challenging Garcia for the middleweight crown and an unprecedented fourth world title. Although the March 1, 1940 bout held in Los Angeles was declared a draw, most ringsiders felt that Armstrong deserved the 10-round decision.
Armstrong's straight ahead, wear-him-down style was very effective, but eventually such tactics begin to take a toll on the attacker. After three more welterweight defenses and a non-title win over lightweight champ Lew Jenkins, he was dethroned by Fritzie Zivic, losing a 15-round decision Oct. 4, 1940. Zivic also prevailed in a Jan. 17 rematch, stopping Armstrong in the 12th round. Armstrong would finally get his win over Zivic, a 10-round decision in San Francisco, but it came Oct. 26, 1942, 15 months after he had lost the title to Freddie Cochrane.
Armstrong was no longer a championship fighter, but he still held his own against top-10 contenders. From 1943 until his retirement two years later he had 35 bouts, with an 11-5-1 record against top-10 competition.
After overcoming alcoholism, Armstrong enjoyed his retirement years, becoming an ordained Baptist minister.