Sylvester Stallone is teaming up with MGM to develop a biopic on legendary boxing champion Jack Johnson. Stallone recently made headlines for his trip to Washington D.C., where he and a group of professional boxers met with President Trump to ask him to issue a posthumous pardon for Johnson. Trump ultimately granted the pardon for the boxer last week, for his 1913 felony conviction that was racially motivated, which certain groups had been seeking for several years now.
There is no word on whether or not Stallone will have any sort of role in front of the camera, but this project will launch his new company known as Balboa Productions, named after his character Rocky Balboa from the iconic Rocky franchise. This untitled Jack Johnson biopic will be the first project to be developed under the Balboa Productions banner, which will develop both film and television properties. MGM Motion Picture Group president Jonathan Glickman and MGM executive vice president of production Adam Rosenberg are overseeing the film, but there is no writer or director attached quite yet.
Jack Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas, the third of nine children to two former slaves, and he began to box at a very young age. He had his first professional fight at the age of 20 in 1898 and he would go on to win the World Colored Heavyweight Championship in 1903, a title he defended 17 times over a five-year period. Johnson had repeatedly tried to get into a position to win the world heavyweight championship title, but, while black boxers could fight white boxers in regular matches, they could never fight for the world championship. While Joe Gans was the first black boxer to win a world championship belt ever, in the lightweight division, Jack Johnson was the first ever black world heavyweight champion in 1908.
Jack Johnson defended his title for seven years, a period where documentarian Ken Burns called Johnson, “the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth.” Despite continually defending his championship, there were calls from many for a “Great White Hope” to take the championship back, which lead to a bout between Johnson and former world heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries, who came out of retirement for a fight that would be dubbed, “the fight of the century.” Johnson became the first fighter to knock down Jeffries twice, and Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel before the 15th round, to prevent what could have been Jeffries’ first ever knockout of his career.
While Jeffries admitted in an interview that, even in his prime, he would have never been able to defeat Johnson, Johnson’s victory, which happened on the Fourth of July, triggered race riots all across the country. A few years later, he was convicted on charges that his relationship with a white woman, violated the Mann Act, which banned, “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes,” since the woman, Lucille Cameron, was allegedly a prostitute. Johnson skipped bail and went on the run for the next seven years, before returning to the U.S. in 1920 to serve his his prison sentence. He retired with a boxing record of 73 wins, 13 losses, 10 draws and five no contests. He was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and the film of his 1910 fight was placed in the National Film Registry for his historical significance. Variety broke the news about this Jack Johnson biopic.