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Johnny Buff

Sport: Boxing

Born: June 12, 1888

Died: January 14, 1955

Town: Perth Amboy

John Lisky was born June 12, 1888 in Perth Amboy. Short, stocky and determined, he earned the nickname Buffalo from his friends as a teenager and then kept the shortened version “Buff” when he decided to fight professionally. Johnny enlisted in the Navy in his 20s and began boxing in service tournaments. When the US entered World War I, Johnny qualified for a family exemption but decided to stay in the Navy.

After World War I, Johnny turned professional and fought as a flyweight or bantamweight every couple of weeks. He defeated veteran fighter Johnny Rosner in Jersey City in 1919 and in 1920 lost to Pete Herman and drew with Abe Goldstein. All three were experienced, polished fighters. Johnny punched hard and could deliver a knockout blow with either hand.

In 1921, Johnny knocked out Goldstein in the second round to claim the American flyweight championship. He successfully defended the title in several exciting fights that year. In September 1921, Johnny faced Herman in Madison Square Garden with the world bantamweight title on the line. He took a 15-round decision. To hold titles in two weight classes was unusual but not unheard of. To do so in his 30s was a rare achievement.

Johnny relinquished both titles in 1922. Joe Lynch took the bantamweight crown by knocking out Johnny in a fight that Johnny led most of the way. He lost the flyweight title to Pancho Villa at Ebbets Field in a fight that Villa dominated until it was called on a TKO. Johnny fought for three more years but lost as often as he won. He quit after three straight losses at the age of 37 with a record of 31–12–3.

Johnny reenlisted in the Navy and served on the USS Wyoming at a time when the ship was used to train college students who had enlisted in Navy ROTC—including Harvard, Yale and Northwestern. He went by his given name, John Lisky, but everyone called him Spike. Johnny lived and worked in Jersey City after his third stint in the service. He passed away in VA hospital in East Orange at the age of 66.


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