Bob Fitzsimmons

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Bob Fitzsimmons
Robert Fitzsimmons.jpg
Fitzsimmons in 1891.
Statistics
Real name Robert James Fitzsimmons
Nickname(s) Ruby
The Freckled Wonder
Cornishman
Rated at Middleweight
Light Heavyweight
Heavyweight
Height 5 ft 11 12 in (1.82 m)
Reach 71.5 in (182 cm)
Nationality British
Born (1863-05-26)May 26, 1863
Helston, Cornwall, UK
Died October 22, 1917(1917-10-22) (aged 54)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 99
Wins 68
Wins by KO 59
Losses 8
Draws 4
No contests 19

Robert James "Bob" Fitzsimmons (May 26, 1863 – October 22, 1917) was a British professional boxer who made boxing history as the sport's first three-division world champion.[1] He also achieved fame for beating Gentleman Jim Corbett, the man who beat John L. Sullivan and is in The Guinness Book of World Records as the lightest Heavyweight Champion.[2] Nicknamed "Ruby Robert" and "The Freckled Wonder", he took pride in his lack of scars and appeared in the ring wearing heavy woollen underwear to conceal the disparity between his trunk and leg-development. He was also known for his pure fighting skills due to dislike of training for fights, which would ultimately cost him at times in his career.[citation needed]

Fitzsimmons is ranked as #8 on Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.

Biography[edit]

Oceanian era[edit]

Fitzsimmons, the youngest of 12 children, was born in Helston, Cornwall. His father was James Fitzsimmons, born in County Armagh, Ireland and his mother was Jane Strongman, born in St Clement, Cornwall.

Bob emigrated to New Zealand at the age of nine along with his parents, brothers and sisters. His family settled in Timaru, among many other English settlers, and Bob became a blacksmith in his brother Jarrett's smithy.[3] He was a practising blacksmith most of his life [The Village Blacksmith written by Roland Webber]

Between 1880 and 1881, Fitzsimmons reigned as champion of the Jem Mace tournament in New Zealand. Some say[who?] he officially began his career as a professional boxer in New Zealand later in 1881. Records remain unclear whether he received payment for a bout in which he knocked out Herbert Slade in two rounds.

Fitzsimmons had six fights in New Zealand, two of them bare-knuckle events. He won one and lost five. It remains unclear whether any of those bouts involved payment.

Boxing record books show Fitzsimmons officially began boxing professionally in 1883, in Australia. He beat Jim Crawford there by getting a knockout in three rounds. Fitzsimmons had his first 28 definite professional fights in Australia, where he lost for the Australian Middleweight title to Mick Dooley (rumours spoke of a fixed bout) and where he also won a fight by knockout while on the floor: when Edward Starlight Robins dropped Fitzsimmons to the canvas in round nine of their fight, he also broke his hand and could not continue, therefore the referee declared Fitzsimmons the winner by a knockout.

By this stage, Fitzsimmons had established his own style. He developed a certain movement and caginess from one of the greatest bare-knuckle fighters, Jem Mace. Mace had encouraged Bob to develop his punching technique and he revolutionised this, drawing on the enormous power he had gained from blacksmithing. Fitzsimmons delivered short, accurate and usually conclusive punches. He soon built up a reputation as by far the hardest puncher in boxing.

The birthplace of Bob Fitzsimmons in Helston, Cornwall

Winning the Middleweight title[edit]

Moving on to the United States, Fitzsimmons fought four more times in 1890, winning three and drawing one.

Fitzsimmons knocks down Dempsey in New Orleans, 1891

Then, on January 14, 1891, in New Orleans, he won his first world title from Jack (Nonpareil) Dempsey.[4] Fitzsimmons knocked out Dempsey (from whom the later Jack Dempsey would take his name) in the 13th round to become the World Middleweight Champion. Fitzsimmons knocked Dempsey down at least 13 times and by the finish left him in such a pitiable condition that he begged him to quit. Since Dempsey would not do so, Fitzsimmons knocked him out and then carried him to his corner. On July 22, police broke off his fight with Jim Hall after he had knocked Hall down several times.

Fitzsimmons spent the next two years fighting non-title bouts and exhibitions until giving Hall a chance at the title in 1893. He retained the crown by a knockout in round four. He spent the rest of that year doing exhibitions, and on June 2, he had scheduled a two-way exhibition where he would demonstrate in public how to hit the boxing bag and then how to box against a real opponent. Reportedly, two freak accidents happened that day: Fitzsimmons hit the bag so hard that it broke, and then his opponent of that day allegedly slipped, getting hit in the head and the boxing exhibition was cancelled.

After vacating the Middleweight title, Fitzsimmons began campaigning among heavyweight (the light heavyweight division did not exist at that time). On December 2, 1896, the San Francisco Athletic Club sponsored a fight at the Mechanics' Pavilion in San Francisco between Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. Unable to find a referee, they called on former lawman Wyatt Earp. He had officiated 30 or so matches in earlier days, though not under the Marquis of Queensbury rules.[5] The fight may have been the most anticipated fight on American soil that year. Fitzsimmons was favored to win, and bets flowed heavily his way. Earp entered the ring still armed with his customary Colt .45 and drew a lot of attention when he had to be disarmed. He later said he forgot he was wearing it. Fitzsimmons was taller and quicker than Sharkey and dominated the fight from the opening bell. In the eighth round, Fitzsimmons hit Sharkey with his famed "solar plexus punch," an uppercut under the heart that could render a man temporarily helpless. The punch caught Sharkey, Earp, and most of the crowd by surprise, and Sharkey dropped, clutched his groin, and rolled on the canvas, screamed foul.[6]

Earp stopped the bout, ruling that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey when he was down. His ruling was greeted with loud boos and catcalls.[7] Earp based his decision on the Marquis of Queensbury rules, which state in part, "A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes." Very few witnessed the foul Earp ruled on. He awarded the decision to Sharkey, who attendants carried out as "...limp as a rag.".[8]

Winning the Heavyweight title[edit]

In 1896, Fitzsimmons won a disputed version of the World Heavyweight Championship in a fight in Langtry, Texas, against the Irish native fighter Peter Maher.[9] On March 17, 1897, in Carson City, Nevada, he knocked out American Jim Corbett, generally recognized as the legitimate World Heavyweight Champion (having won the title from John L. Sullivan in 1892) in round 14.[4] This constituted a remarkable achievement, as Jim Corbett, a skilled boxer, weighed a stone (14 lb) more than Fitzsimmons. He out-boxed Fitzsimmons for several rounds, knocked him down in the sixth round and badly damaged his face with his jab, left hook and right hand, but Fitzsimmons kept coming and Corbett began to tire. In the 14th round, Fitzsimmons won the title with his "solar plexus" punch. Corbett collapsed in agony. Fitzsimmons' "solar plexus" punch became legendary, although he himself may never have used the phrase. The entire fight was filmed by Enoch J. Rector and released to cinemas as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight, the longest film ever released at the time. Using her maiden name, it was covered by Nellie Verrill Mighels Davis, the first woman to report a prize fight.[10]

Fitzsimmons spent the rest of 1897 doing paper runs.

In 1899, Fitzsimmons and James J. Jeffries succeeded in boxing in New York without the police intervening, probably at an underground club. Most people gave Jeffries little chance, even though at 15 stones (95 kg) he massively outweighed his opponent and was far younger, but Jeffries lifted the World Heavyweight Champion from Fitzsimmons with an 11th-round knockout.

In June 1901 Fitzsimmons took part in a wrestling match against Gus Ruhlin. He lost and went back to boxing. He then enjoyed legitimate boxing knockouts of both Ruhlin and Sharkey.

In 1901 he published a book Physical Culture and Self-Defense (Philadelphia: D. Biddle).

In 1902, he and Jeffries had a rematch, once again with the World Heavyweight Champion at stake. Fitzsimmons battered Jeffries, who suffered horrible punishment. With his nose and cheek bones broken, most would have sympathised with Jeffries had he quit, but he kept going until his enormous weight advantage and youth told and Bob suffered a knockout in round eight.

Winning the Light Heavyweight title[edit]

September 1903 proved a tragic month for Fitzsimmons, as his rival, Con Coughlin, died the day after suffering a one-round knockout at the hands of Fitzsimmons. But less than two months later, Fitzsimmons made history by defeating World Light Heavyweight Champion George Gardiner by a decision in 20 rounds,[4] thus becoming the first boxer to win titles in three weight-divisions.[1]

Soon afterward, he went back to the Heavyweights, where he kept fighting until 1914, with mixed results. Fitzsimmons fought Jack Johnson in 1907, during the time period in which reigning champion James J. Jeffries refused to fight Johnson. The bout between Johnson and Fitzsimmons ended in a second round knockout. [11]

Retirement[edit]

Although Fitzsimmons became a world champion in each of the Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight divisions, historians do not consider him the first world Light Heavyweight Champion to become World Heavyweight Champion, because he won the Heavyweight title before winning the Light Heavyweight belt. Michael Spinks counts as the first Light Heavyweight World Champion to win the Heavyweight belt as well. However, Fitzsimmons was the first Middleweight Champion to win the Heavyweight title and the only Heavyweight Champion to drop down and win the Light Heavyweight title. In 2003, Roy Jones Jr. joined Fitzsimmons, Michael Moorer and Spinks as the only men to have won world championships at both light heavyweight and heavyweight.

Fitzsimmons had a final professional record of 66 wins with 59 by knockout, 8 losses, 4 draws, 19 no contests and 2 no decisions (Newspaper Decisions: 2-0-0).

Fitzsimmons's exact record remains unknown, as the boxing world often kept records poorly during his era, but Fitzsimmons said he had had more than 350 fights (which could have involved exaggeration on his part).

The statue Peace on the Dewey Arch was modelled on Fitsimmons by the sculptor Daniel Chester French.[3]

He died in Chicago of pneumonia in 1917, survived by his fourth wife. His grave lies in the Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. Having four wives, a gambling habit and a susceptibility to confidence tricksters, he did not hold on to the money he made.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame has made Bob Fitzsimmons a member in its "Old Timer" category.

In 2003 Ring Magazine named Fitzsimmons number eight of all time among boxing's best punchers.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Robert Fitzsimmons". Encyclopædia Britannica. "British-born boxer of Irish descent, the first fighter to hold the world boxing championship in three weight divisions." 
  2. ^ McWhirter, Norris. The Guinness Book of World Records 1997. p.467. " Lightest heavyweight champion Robert James "Bob" Fitzsimmons of Great Britain, weighed 165 pounds when he won the title by knocking out James J. Corbett". Random House Publishing Group, 1997
  3. ^ a b Anne Pimlott Baker, ‘Fitzsimmons, Robert Prometheus [Bob] (1862–1917)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005 accessed 25 March 2010
  4. ^ a b c Box rec.com. boxer: Bob Fitzsimmons
  5. ^ Reilly, Joe. "Born To Uphold The Law: Frank Sulloway’s Principles Applied to the Earp-Clanton Feud of 1879-1882". Drexel E-Repository and Archive. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Barra, Alan (November 26, 1995). "BACKTALK;When Referee Wyatt Earp Laid Down the Law". New York Times. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (June 4, 2000). "LA Then and Now: Mrs. Wyatt Earp Packed Her Own Punch". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Shillingberg, William B. (Summer 1976). "Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special Myth". Kansas Historical Quarterly 42 (2): 113–154. 
  9. ^ Sonnichsen, C.L. (1968). Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande. Texas Western Press. pp. 358–362. 
  10. ^ "Nellie Mighels Davis". Nevada Women's History Project. University of Nevada, Reno. Retrieved 25 February 2012. 
  11. ^ Ken Burns, Unforgivable Blackness
  • Kiwis With Gloves On by Brian F O'Brien, published 1960, Reed.

External links[edit]

Achievements
Preceded by
Nonpareil Jack Dempsey
World Middleweight Champion
January 14, 1891 – September 26, 1894
Vacated
Succeeded by
Kid McCoy
Preceded by
James J. Corbett
World Heavyweight Champion
March 17, 1897 – June 9, 1899
Succeeded by
James J. Jeffries
Preceded by
George Gardiner
World Light Heavyweight Champion
September 25, 1903 – December 20, 1905
Succeeded by
Philadelphia Jack O'Brien
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Peter Maher
World Heavyweight Champion
February 21, 1896 – December 2, 1896
Succeeded by
Tom Sharkey