James J. Jeffries

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Not to be confused with James Edmund Jeffries.
James J. Jeffries
James J Jeffries.jpg
Statistics
Real name James Jackson Jeffries
Nickname(s) The Boilermaker
Rated at Heavyweight
Height 6 ft 1 12 in (1.87 m)
Reach 76 12 in (194 cm)
Nationality American
Born (1875-04-15)April 15, 1875
Carroll, Ohio, U.S.
Died March 3, 1953(1953-03-03) (aged 77)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 23
Wins 19
Wins by KO 14
Losses 1
Draws 2
No contests 1

James Jackson Jeffries (April 15, 1875 – March 3, 1953) was an American professional boxer and former World Heavyweight Champion.

He was known for his enormous strength and stamina. Using a technique taught to him by his trainer, former Welterweight and Middleweight Champion Tommy Ryan, Jeffries fought out of a crouch with his left arm extended forward. He was able to absorb tremendous punishment while wearing his opponents down. A natural left-hander, he possessed one-punch knockout power in his left hook.

Jeffries stood 6 ft 1 12 in (1.87 m) tall and weighed 225 pounds (102 kg) in his prime. He could run 100 yards (91 m) in just over ten seconds, and could high jump over 6 feet (180 cm).

Early life[edit]

In 1891, his father moved his family from their Ohio farm to Los Angeles, California. James worked for a while as a boilermaker before going into boxing.[1] This became one of his professional nicknames in later life.

Career[edit]

As a powerfully built and athletic teenager, Jeffries boxed as an amateur until age 20, when he started fighting professionally.

In his third fight, Jeffries knocked out the highly regarded black boxer named Hank Griffin in the fourteenth round. Jack Johnson had fought Griffin on three separate occasions.

Jeffries fought the top heavyweight contender, Gus Ruhlin, to a draw. Ruhlin was knocked down with a brutal punch at the end of the final round and was saved by the bell from being counted out. The decision was met with unfavorable reactions from the audience, many of whom felt Jeffries won.

On his way to the title in 1898, Jeffries knocked out Peter Jackson, the great black boxer whom John L. Sullivan had refused to fight, in three rounds. This had been only the second defeat in Jackson's entire career; his first loss was from a four round fight over thirteen years earlier around the beginning of his career. Jackson retired shortly afterward.

Jeffries defeated the formidable Mexican Pete Everett by knockout in only the third round on April 22, 1898.

His next fight was against the Irishman Tom Sharkey. The fight went the full twenty rounds and Sharkey was knocked down in the eleventh round. Jeffries won the decision.

After defeating the big, fast-moving, sharp-jabbing black, Bob Armstrong, Jeffries had earned the right to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship.

On June 9, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York he defeated Bob Fitzsimmons by knockout to win the Heavyweight Championship of the World. That August, he embarked on a tour of Europe, putting on exhibition fights for the fans. Jeffries was involved in several motion pictures recreating portions of his championship fights. Filmed portions of his other bouts and of some of his exhibition matches survive to this day.

World Heavyweight Champion[edit]

In his first title defense, he won a twenty-five round decision in a rematch over Tom Sharkey.

Jeffries set the record for the quickest KO in a Heavyweight title fight ever, which was 55 seconds against Jack Finnegan in his second title defense.

His next defense was against the former Heavyweight Champion and legendary technician, James J. Corbett. Corbett had put up a perfect defense and could have arguably won had the fight gone the distance. However, Corbett had been knocked out cold from an unexpected left to his jaw in the twenty-third round of the scheduled twenty-five round fight.

Jeffries later got the chance to avenge his controversial draw with Gus Ruhlin when he defended his title against him on November 15, 1901. Claims that Ruhlin quit during the fifth round are incorrect. All of the local next-day San Francisco sources agree that Ruhlin's manager, Billy Madden, threw in the towel to retire Gus during the one-minute interval between the fifth and sixth rounds.

An example of Jeffries' ability to absorb punishment and recover from a severe battering to win a bout came in his rematch for the title with Fitzsimmons, who is regarded as one of the hardest punchers in boxing history. The rematch with Jeffries occurred on July 25, 1902 in San Francisco. To train for the bout Jeffries' daily training included a 14-mile (23 km) run, 2 hours of skipping rope, medicine ball training, 20 minutes sparring on the heavy bag, and at least 12 rounds of sparring in the ring. He also trained in wrestling.

For nearly eight rounds Fitzsimmons subjected Jeffries to a vicious battering. Jeffries suffered a broken nose, both his cheeks were cut to the bone, and gashes were opened over both eyes. It appeared that the fight would have to be stopped, as blood freely flowed into Jeffries' eyes. Then in the eighth round, Jeffries lashed out with a terrific right to the stomach, followed by a left hook to the jaw which knocked Fitzsimmons unconscious.

Jeffries and Corbett met one last time in the ring on August 14, 1903. This time Jeffries was in total control for all ten rounds of the scheduled twenty round bout. Tommy Ryan, Corbett's chief second, threw a large palm-leaf fan into the ring to alert Referee Graney that he should stop the fight.

Jeffries had his seventh and final title defense against Canadian Jack Munroe, whom he stopped in only two rounds.

Jeffries broke the ribs of three opponents in title fights: Jim Corbett, Gus Ruhlin and Tom Sharkey. Jeffries retired undefeated in May 1905. He served as a referee for the next few years, including the bout in which Marvin Hart defeated Jack Root to stake a claim at Jeffries' vacated title. Jeffries had never been knocked down in his prime.

Jeffries had likely fought many more bouts than twenty-two at this time. Many of his fights were lost in history. Jeffries, however, had never been defeated before his original retirement.

Comeback: "The Fight of the Century"[edit]

James Jeffries during his fight with Jack Johnson

Six years after retiring, Jeffries made a comeback on July 4, 1910 at Reno, Nevada in a match against champion Jack Johnson, who had won the Heavyweight Championship by defeating Tommy Burns at Rushcutters Bay in Australia in 1908.

The bout, which was promoted and refereed by legendary fight promoter Tex Rickard, and became known as "The Fight of the Century" and was also known colloquially as "The Fight of the Giants", soon became a symbolic battleground of the races. The white media, eager for a "Great White Hope", found a champion for their racial pride in Jeffries. Jack London is quoted as saying, "Jim Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove the golden smile from Jack Johnson's face."

The media put pressure onto Jeffries and promoters dangled wealth in front of him. He finally acquiesced, saying "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a negro."[2] In addition to a guaranteed purse of $40,000 (equivalent to approximately $1,012,429 in 2014 dollars[3]), to woo the ex-champ back into the ring, Rickard had signed him to a $75,000 personal contract.

After a six-year lay-off, he was out of shape and had lost most of his muscle. Jeffries weighed over 330 pounds (150 kg), while Johnson was in superb physical condition. The ex-champ had to lose 110 pounds to get down to his fighting weight of 226, a Herculean task in the time he had before the fight. Previous Heavyweight Champion John L. Sullivan (the man who had erected the color bar in the heavyweight division when he refused to fight African American contenders) remarked during an interview with The New York Times that Jeffries' personal doctor was so amazed at Johnson's physical condition that he felt Jeffries could only win if Johnson had a lack of skill on the day. While the media instigated racist remarks about winning the title for whites, Jeffries' final words before the fight were, "It is my intention to go right after my opponent and knock him out as soon as possible." His wife also commented, "I'm not interested in prizefighting but I am interested in my husband's welfare, I do hope this will be his last fight."[4]

Motion picture footage on YouTube of Jeffries on the morning of the fight depicts a relaxed man playing with his dog. Ringside seats that had been priced at $50 were being scalped at $125 each (equivalent to approximately $3,164 in 2014 dollars[3]). Over a thousand spectators who were unable to get seats in the sold-out arena climbed over the walls.

Before the fight, which was scheduled for 45 three-minute rounds, famous boxers who had traveled to Reno to witness the contest were introduced to the crowd, including Sam Langford, a black boxer who was unable to secure a title fight, even from Jack Johnson. The greatest applause went to Jake Kilrain, who had battled John L. Sullivan back in the bare-knuckle days.

At three minutes to one P.M., Johnson entered the ring (he had it in his contract that he was always the first to enter the ring, a superstition of his). The thermometer read 110° Fahrenheit, which meant the match was going to be even more brutal due to the heat. Jeffries soon joined Johnson in the ring and the fight, with Rickard as the referee (Johnson and Jeffries could not agree on a referee and Rickard's publicity-minded offers to President William Howard Taft and writer Arthur Conan Doyle to serve as referee were of course declined. He then took the position himself, despite never having refereed a prize fight before), began.

In the first three rounds, the boxers sparred to feel each other out. Johnson, having read that no one could tie Jeffries up on the inside due to his power, told the press that not only would he do so, but that he planned to neutralize Jeffries' power by twisting his arms behind him. Towards the end of the fourth round, he did just that, pinning Jeffries' arms in back of him for a moment, but Jeffries broke the clinch. Johnson then landed a solid overhand right to Jeffries' head just before the bell.

Johnson began dominating the fight in rounds five through twelve as his opponent faded in the heat and from Johnson's onslaught. The heat began to get to Johnson, too, by round 13, but he was still the stronger and younger man in the ring and toward the end of the round, delivered a right and a right uppercut to Jeffries' head that took their toll. In the next round, Jeffries eluded Johnson, who stalked him all over the ring.

In round 15, Johnson went after Jeffries and caught him against the ropes with a right upper-cut, followed by three left uppercuts that sent the ex-champ to the canvas for the first time in his career. He could no longer put up a defense and, as Jeffries got up, Johnson hit him with a left hook that sent him to the canvas and through the ropes, putting his torso outside the ring. Helped to his feet by one of his seconds and a fan, as soon as Jeffries was back in the ring he was rushed by Johnson, who knocked him down again with a right to the head. As Rickard moved in to separate the fighters, Jeffries managed to get up, but his manager had entered the ring to stop the fight and save his fighter the ignominy of being knocked out. Johnson retained the title by a technical knockout.

Johnson later remarked that he knew the fight was over in the 4th round when he landed an uppercut to Jeffries' face and saw the look in his eyes. "I knew what that look meant," he said. "The old ship was sinking." John L. Sullivan commented for The New York Times that never had there been a championship contest that was so one-sided and that Johnson "played fairly at all times and fought fairly."[5]

Later years[edit]

In his later years, Jeffries trained boxers and worked as a fight promoter. He promoted many fights out of a structure known as "Jeffries Barn", which was located on his alfalfa ranch at the southwest corner of Victory Boulevard and Buena Vista, Burbank, California. (His ranch house was on the southeast corner until the early 1960s.) Jeffries Barn is now part of Knott's Berry Farm, a Southern California amusement park. On his passing in 1953, he was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

The city of Burbank embedded a small bronze plaque in the sidewalk at the site where James Jeffries died. The plaque was located on the southeast side of Buena Vista ~150 yards south of Victory Boulevard. Where the plaque is today is a mystery.

James J. Jeffries was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Legacy[edit]

Today, the legacy of Jeffries is widely forgotten. However, he was once considered one of, if not the, greatest Heavyweight Champions of all time by many fellow boxers and boxing experts:[6][7]

Sam Langford, the great fighter who fought from lightweight to heavyweight, advertised to fight any man in the world, except Jim Jeffries.

Tom Sharkey, heavyweight top contender, thought that Jeffries would have beat Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis on the same night. He said Jeffries was strong like a bull and quick on his feet like a cat. Sharkey called Jeffries the greatest fighter of all time.

Jack Root, Willie Ritchie and Tommy Burns, former Light Heavyweight, Lightweight and Heavyweight Champions, respectively, rated Jeffries as the greatest heavyweight.

Jack Johnson, the only man to beat Jeffries, stated in an interview with Ring Magazine that he thought Jeffries was the greatest. In another interview, Johnson said Jeffries would beat both Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.

James J. Corbett said of Jeffries, "The thing the always impressed me was the speed the youngster had, and he weighed two-hundred-twenty-five pounds. I hold that Jeffries was the greatest Heavyweight Champion of them all."

Jack Dempsey, the great Heavyweight Champion, once said: "Jim Jeffries was a tough gun. If we could have gotten in the ring together, each at our best... I probably would have had my chin knocked off."

William Brady, who managed both Jim Jeffries and Jim Corbett, remarked about Jeffries: "There was never a man fitted anatomically, physically, and temperamentally for the role of World's Heavyweight Champion."

Nat Fleischer, founder of Ring Magazine and The Ring Record book, described Jeffries: "One of the most formidable fighting machines the prize ring ever produced."

Dan Morgan, fight manager for forty years, who saw them all, rated Jeffries as the all-time best. Morgan called Jeffries a "Champion of Champions."

Tex Rickard, famed sportsman and promoter, held the view: "Big Jim will always live in my memory as the greatest heavyweight boxer of his time. While he reigned supreme, he gave all a chance. He did not know the meaning of the word fear."

W. W. Naughton, sports writer of the day, records: "To sum up his qualities of ringsmanship, it may be said he is fairly talented in every branch of self-defense. He boxes cleverly, defends himself well, and strikes a hard blow. But back of all these are the qualities which have made him a champion, magnificent strength and wonderful endurance."

Dewitt Van Court, boxing instructor and athletic director of the Los Angeles Athletic Club wrote: "I was with James J. Jeffries when he first started to box. I was with him when he won the Championship. I was with him when he lost it. Besides being the greatest Heavyweight Champion that ever lived, he is today and has been all his life, a man among men, a true friend with a heart as big as his body."

Professional boxing record[edit]

19 Wins (14 knockouts, 5 decisions), 1 Loss, 2 Draws, 1 No Contest[8]
Res. Record Opponent Type Round Date Location Notes
Loss 19-1-2
1 NC
United States Jack Johnson TKO 15 07/04/1910 United States Reno, Nevada, United States Came out of retirement to fight for the World Heavyweight title. Retired permanently afterwards.
Win 19-0-2
1 NC
Canada Jack Munroe TKO 2 08/26/1904 United States Mechanic's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States Retained World Heavyweight title. Retired afterwards.
Win 18-0-2
1 NC
United States James J. Corbett TKO 10 (20) 08/14/1903 United States Mechanic's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States Retained World Heavyweight title.
Win 17-0-2
1 NC
United Kingdom Bob Fitzsimmons KO 8 (20) 07/25/1902 United States The Arena, San Francisco, California, United States Retained World Heavyweight title.
Win 16-0-2
1 NC
United States Gus Ruhlin TKO 5 (20) 11/15/1901 United States Mechanic's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States Retained World Heavyweight title.
Win 15-0-2
1 NC
United States Joe Kennedy KO 2 (4) 09/24/1901 United States Reliance A.C., Oakland, California, United States A short left to the jaw put Kennedy on the canvas and half through the ropes where he was counted out.
NC 14-0-2
1 NC
United States Hank Griffin ND 4 (4) 09/17/1901 United States Hazard's Pavilion, Los Angeles, California, United States Griffin went down from a push in the first round and was knocked down twice by clean punches in the second.
Win 14-0-2 United States James J. Corbett KO 23 (25) 05/11/1900 United States Seaside A.C., Coney Island, New York, United States Retained World Heavyweight title.
Win 13-0-2 United States John Finnegan PTS 25 (25) 04/06/1900 United States Cadillac A.C., Detroit, Michigan, United States Retained World Heavyweight title.
Win 12-0-2 Republic of Ireland Tom Sharkey PTS 25 (25) 11/03/1899 United States Coney Island A.C., Brooklyn, New York, United States Retained World Heavyweight title.
Win 11-0-2 United Kingdom Bob Fitzsimmons KO 11 (20) 06/09/1899 United States Coney Island A.C., Brooklyn, New York, United States Won World Heavyweight title.
Win 10-0-2 United States Bob Armstrong PTS 10 (10) 08/05/1898 United States Lenox A.C., New York City, New York, United States
Win 9-0-2 Republic of Ireland Tom Sharkey PTS 20 (20) 05/06/1898 United States Mechanic's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States Sharkey was down in the 11th round.
Win 8-0-2 United States Mexican Pete Everett TKO 3 (20) 04/22/1898 United States Olympic A.C., San Francisco, California, United States Everett was down twice in the 2nd round, and one more time in the 3rd when the referee stopped the fight.
Win 7-0-2 Australia Peter Jackson TKO 3 (20) 03/22/1898 United States Woodward's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States Jackson down twice in the 2nd round.
Win 6-0-2 Australia Joe Goddard TKO 4 (15) 02/28/1898 United States Hazard's Pavilion, Los Angeles, California, United States
Draw 5-0-2 United States Joe Choynski PTS 20 (20) 11/30/1897 United States National A.C., San Francisco, California, United States
Draw 5-0-1 United States Gus Ruhlin PTS 20 (20) 07/16/1897 United States Mechanic's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, United States Ruhlin down and "almost out by a terrific right swing on the jaw and only the call of time saved him. The referee declared the fight a draw, a decision which was received with mingled cheers and hisses." - Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Win 5–0 United States Henry Baker TKO 9 (20) 05/18/1897 United States National A.C., San Francisco, California, United States
Win 4–0 United States Theodore Van Buskirk KO 2 04/09/1897 United States National A.C., San Francisco, California, United States
Win 3–0 United States Hank Griffin KO 14 12/01/1896 United States Oakland Tribune, Los Angeles, California, United States Exact date is uncertain.
Win 2–0 United States Dan Long KO 2 (10) 07/02/1896 United States Occidental A.C., San Francisco, California, United States Long was knocked down twice in the 1st round.
Win 1–0 United States Hank Lorraine KO 2 (4) 10/29/1895 United States Los Angeles Athletic Club, Los Angeles, California, United States Jeffries' professional debut.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Bob Fitzsimmons
World Heavyweight Champion
June 9, 1899–May 13, 1905
Vacated
Succeeded by
Marvin Hart
Filled vacancy