Speaking with Johnny at Middlemore Hospital recently he said to me Will you say a couple of words at my funeral I said look John I could keel over before you as I might fall under the train on the way home. Johnny replied OK then I will say a few words at your funeral.
Johnny Hanks was a champion boxer both as an amateur and as a professional. He started boxing in 1949 and was runner-up Auckland paperweight Champion. The next year he was living in the King Country and won Junior flyweight title and the Senior paperweight titles for King Country. The same year 1950, he was Bay of Plenty senior paperweight Champion and Auckland senior paperweight champion. 1951 saw him win Auckland senior paperweight title and 1952 he won Auckland Senior bantamweight title. He won the NZ Amateur bantamweight title in 1952 and went on to be a very successful professional fighter. He won 27 fights as an amateur and lost 7 and 2 draws.
Johnny turned professional in 1953 and was based in Auckland, winning his first five fights at the Auckland Town Hall, and one at Newmarket Pool, where they had the bigger shows. He was a lightweight and had great fights with Billy Leckie and Joe McNally. He spent some time in Dunedin and was a double New Zealand titleholder, holding the featherweight crown from 1954-1957 and the lightweight title from 1955-1956.
As a professional fighter John had 25 fights, winning 12. He was rated one of New Zealands best ever lightweights. He told me he should never have made a comeback and they put him in his comeback fight with Manny Santos. After he retired in 1959 he should have stayed retired but he came back in 1965 and faced a great champion in Manny Santos. Johnny was an amazing writer and could write a story about nothing. He was a great man with words. I used to write a few lines and I would get a two page story back. He loved writing on boxing and at one time he edited and published his own NZ boxing monthly. Not many of those around today but Johnny had a full set.
He also sent news to all sorts of other boxing publications around the world. His great friend Derek ODell from England told me he learned how to be a boxing writer from working with Johnny on his publication. They remained great mates and daughter Sarah Jane and family were great friends also. Another great mate was Dave Lawes an old boxing opponent from Nelson who managed to call and see Johnny in recent weeks. Johnny said to Dave – We used to beat the crap out of each other when we sparred together.
Dave Philp was another of Johns regular contacts and Dave's Dad, Lyn was a tough opponent of his. I recently asked Johnny about his toughest opponent and without hesitation he said sparring with Tuna Scanlan was harder than any fight . Tuna didn't know the meaning of Take it Easy, this is only a sparring session. He treated all sparring sessions like he was fighting for a Commonwealth Title.
When I told Johnny I was working on a book about NZ boxing he kept telling me to hurry up and get it finished as he didn't think he would be around long. That was about three years back. When the publishers told me the book was delayed another year. Poor old John was worried he wouldnt ever see the book. However he did get to see the book and when I told him his picture was in there four times he replied. Well, I was the best looking professional boxer of all time.
One story he told me recently and I will quote Johnnny's email – Geez but to have been your mate and friend in your younger years then I too would have enjoyed a great life. I did reply and say to John, if we had been mates in the 1950s we would most probably still be locked up. As like you my brothers Aubrey and Lawrie and I liked to spar with a makeshift ring in the back yards of whoever's abode, on weekends and public holidays—was literally something to do cause in our teenage years as there was sweet buggar all to entertain ourselves—no picture theatres open Sundays. You either went to Church three times on Sundays or stayed home being bored to tears.
I had told John I liked athletics as a youngster and John said, I was simply hopeless when it came to athletics. But in my boxing years when out doing early morning roadwork —depending on how close a forthcoming fight was—I'd run, together with sprints, anywhere from some three or so miles to near on the marathon distance. Way I used to do my roadwork usually around four a.m. was I'd jog for some twenty lampposts at which point then I would up the pace and sprint two lampposts then revert to jogging few lampposts more before then squaring up to a lamppost and shadowboxing it like. I used to run all around lake Pupuke over on the shore and I used to be employed by the Hurstmere Road post office to deliver telegrams to whomever, anywhere as from Devonport through to Browns Bay areas.
Whilst employed at the post office over in Takapuna I'd do my roadwork past there. In those years the postmaster had living quarters above the post office itself. So happens we got a new postmaster and his family living there and he – well – he was ignorant of the fact that I was a pro boxer and he used to joke with literally all the staff about this guy frequently running the streets first thing in the mornings and shaping up to lampposts. About a month or so after he took over being new postmaster I approached him requesting to have the following Monday and Tuesday off work and quite naturally he asked me why and I responded. You know that idiot you say runs past the Post Office near every morning and tries punching the lamp post. Well so happens that idiot is me. Then he learned first hand that I boxed professionally. 'Geez' but we had some hearty laughs thereafter.
In the 1980s Johnny was a member of the New Zealand Professional Boxers Assn and became a judge and a prominent referee.
Johnny checks out the New Zealand Boxing Scrapbook
Johnny Hanks – Nino Squadrico
Joe McNally all bloodied up stopped Johnny Hanks shortly after.
Dave Cameron with Johnny Hanks
Johnny Hanks – Billy Leckie
it helps to have a granite like chin,