Harry Wills fought in many great fights. But he forever be remembered for the one fight he never had. Wills was a top heavyweight contender in the early 1920s but was denied a title shot because of his race.
While heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey welcomed a fight against Wills, and they both signed contracts to face each other, the Govorner of the State of New York canceled the contest fearing that race riots would follow the fight. For compensation, Wills received $50,000 for the cancellation.
An intimidating presence, Wills stood 6' 4" and weighed 220 pounds. From 1924 through 1926, he was ranked as high as number one and no lower than number six.
Some of the top white heavyweights he beat were Willie Meehan in 1914 (Meehan beat Dempsey twice and drew with him twice), Gunboat Smith in 1921 and Charley Weinert. He also met Luis Angel Firpo in a No Decision bout.
Wills met many of the top black heavyweights of his day. He fought Sam Langford 22 times, going 6-2 with 14 No Decisions. He also beat Sam McVey three times and had two "No Decision" bouts with Joe Jeannette.
In 1926, Wills was disqualified in the 13th round for excessive holding in a bout with Jack Sharkey. The next year heavyweight contender Paolino Uzcudun knocked him out in the last significant bout of his career.
Born: May 15, 1889
Died: Dec. 21, 1958