Originally Posted by Nonpareil
mcvey already covered most things (and did so excellently I might add), but a couple of additional points.
Jack was thirty by the time he finally won the title, and thirty-two by the time he beat Jeff to become the 'real' champion in some people's eyes. He'd been campaigning for a shot since probably the Jack Jeffries fight in 1902 and had beaten a ton of fighters, including McVey (multiple times), Jeanette (multiple times), and Langford by the time he got to Burns. For some reason the pre-title years seem to be completely ignored by Johnson haters, despite them being when he was in his physical prime and was cleaning up the division of all worthy contenders - black and white - all over the world. Once he'd finally beaten Burns and Jeff he felt no obligation to then go into a series of gruelling fights for shitty pay when he could just do theatre shows, get drunk, enjoy life and bang a load of white birds. It seems strange to criticise him for this given he was 32 after Reno and given how much he'd already accomplished, and how much hard work and how many great wins were behind him. If anyone deserved a little time to enjoy the fruits of their hard work then it was this fella.
His pre-title reign was better than his title reign. In many ways, it's no different than many contemporary fighters. The main difference is that part of the reason the money wasn't the same for defending against black heavyweights is because they were black. Johnson was willing to permit that practice to continue while making money. I think that's one reason why there is some controversy. However, I'm still a student of the boxing game, so I don't claim to know much.