"The Pottawatomie Giant" was born on December 29, 1881 in St.Clere, KS. One of the tallest heavyweight champions in history (6ft. 61/4 inches) he began his pro career at age 29 in Oklahoma. Equipped with an astonishing 83-inch reach, the former cowboy utilized a highly effective left jab to win the majority of his early bouts. Remarkably fast for a man of his size, Willard scored no-decision wins over Arthur Pelkey, Luther McCarty and Soldier Kearns within his second year as a pro.
Willard's height, reach and weight made him a formidable foe for world champion and Hall of Famer Jack Johnson. In 1915 Willard was signed to meet Johnson in a 45-round bout for the world title. Battling in 115-degree heat in Havana, Cuba, Willard ended Johnson's nearly seven-year title reign when he KO'd him in the 26th round. Willard parlayed his newfound popularity as champion and toured the country with circuses and shows such as Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In the ring he retained his title in a defense against Frank Moran in 1916. In 1919 Willard defended against rugged Hall of Famer Jack Dempsey and was stopped in the third round. Although he lost, the former champ was lauded for his courageous performance. Willard boxed several exhibitions before engaging in his two last professional bouts, a win over Floyd Johnson and a loss to Luis Firpo.
Although lacking natural aggressiveness, when Willard did unleash his power, he was a dangerous puncher, particularly with his big right hand and is regarded as one of boxing's most underrated heavyweight champions. Behind good boxing skills and power in both hands the tough-chinned Willard compiled a 24-6-1 (21 KOs), 5 ND record.
In retirement, he found success in the supermarket business. He died on December 15, 1968 in Los Angeles, CA.
Born: Dec. 29, 1881
Died: Dec. 15, 1968