Tommy Burns - And an ex-world champion became a parson

Article dated 16 Mar 1947

And an ex-world champion became a parson.

FACT’S San Francisco Correspondent.

Former world heavyweight champion Tommy Burns is fighting what he calls his greatest fight - against sin. As a pastor of the Church of Brotherhood of Universal Love, the ex-prizefighter has found a new glory, new health, and a new wife.

He told Fact this week that after he lost his title to Negro Jack Johnson on a tumultuous Boxing Night in Sydney in 1908, he felt vaguely dissatisfied with life and his health suffered.
Hunting for something

Said Burns quietly: “I always felt I had been hunting for something, but did not know what. I did not find it in the fame and money in the prizering. I went through my money anyway.”

“Sixteen years ago in New York I was crippled by arthritis and I thought I would never walk again. But when religion found me and I found that when you healed the mind you healed the body - and when you heal the mind, you heal the world.”

With his faith his legs strengthened. He drifted to the West Coast, began preaching in a little Seattle church. Burns came to California last year, met and wooed anew a woman he had first met 43 years ago in Detroit. They married last July.

Now 65 and grey, he is a soft spoken man who lives in California’s sunshine in a little cottage surrounded by flowers at Coalinga near the city of Fresno.

The glories of his fistic past mean little to Burns now. Said he “If I had my life over again, I would not be a boxer.”

A grand people

“Not that I disapprove of boxing or have forgotten my boxing career. When I lost in Sydney in 1908, the Australian people treated me as if I had won. They are grand people.
He intends to renounce his British citizenship and become an American on June 9th (he was born in Hanover, Canada.)

Miscellaneous Notes.

· In his fight with Jack Johnson he was badly marked and suffered a twisted ankle.

· Most experts, and Burns himself agrees, that he never recovered from the uppercut that put him down in the first round.

· He insists that on the morning of the fight he weighed under 12 stone (weights were announced as Johnson 13 st 10 lbs and Burns 12 st 0½ lb. Most accounts say Johnson was much heavier, anything upto 15 stone.

· After the fight, he made a quick recovery and drove to the Blue Mountains the next day.

· Burns thinks that police stopped the fight because a rumor went around the Stadium that he had broken his jaw.

· Opened a string of hotels in the North of England. He had also been an insurance agent, Box Lacrosse promoter, cafĂ© proprietor and hockey player.

· Some reports deny Johnson was in hospital after the fight.

· Eugene Corri, the English boxing referee, described him as unpopular, insolent and arrogant. He claimed he was known as “Emperor Burns.”

· Burns was involved in a brawl with England’s Joe Beckett in an hotel corridor in Leeds (Burns won easily, in what was mostly a wrestle).

· When his prodigy Jack Lester was billed to fight at the Stadium, Burns was in Melbourne. At this time the Stadium was unroofed. Concerned about the size of the gate, he asked Lester to wire him as to how the crowd “rolled up”. Soon after 8 o’clock a message came, “Thousands turned away. Jack.” A delighted Burns retired to dream of happy financial days when his percentage of the Stadium cheque came through. Next morning he read in a newspaper “A terrific last minute thunderstorm caused thousands to be turned away from Sydney Stadium last night when the international fight was postponed.”

Copyright Mike Hitchen, Lane Cove, NSW, Australia. All rights reserved