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Robert James "Bob" Fitzsimmons (May
history as the sport's first three-division
He also achieved fame for beating
Gentleman Jim Corbett,
the man who beat the great
John L. Sullivan.
Nicknamed Ruby Robert or 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.
youngest of 18children was born in
parent were James Fitzsimmons, born County Armagh, Ireland and
his mother was Jane Strongman born St. Clements, Cornwall. Bob
at the age of nine along with his parents, brothers and sisters.
His family settled in
and Bob became a
in his brother Jarrett's smithy.
Fitzsimmons reigned as the champion of the
tournament in New Zealand. Some
say 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
in two rounds.
Fitzsimmons had six fights
there, two of them bare-knuckle events. He won one and lost
five, it remains unclear whether any of those bouts involved
Boxing record-books show that
Fitzsimmons officially began boxing professionally in
by getting a knockout in three there. Fitzsimmons had his first
28 definite professional fights in Australia, where he lost for
the Australian Middleweight title (rumors spoke of a fixed
bout), and where he also won a fight by
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,
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.
Moving on to the
Fitzsimmons fought four more times in
winning three and drawing one.
he won his first world title from
Jack (Nonpareil) Dempsey.
Fitzsimmons knocked out Dempsey (from whom the later
would take his name) in the 13th round to become the world's
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. Dempsey would not do so,
so Fitzsimmons knocked him out and then carried him to his
police broke off his fight with
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
retained the crown by a knockout in round four. He spent the
rest of that year doing exhibitions, and on
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 cancelled.
After vacating the
Middleweight crown, Fitzsimmons began campaigning among
Heavyweights (the light-heavyweight division did not exist at
refereed one of his fights, against
Fitzsimmons battered Sharkey and had him on the verge of a
knock-out, but when he hit him with a body-and-head
punch-combination Earp declared him the loser on a
disqualification because he had hit Sharkey while Sharkey was
down. Earp, according to a widespread belief, had involvement
with gamblers who had bet on Sharkey.
Fitzsimmons challenged for the
world's Heavyweight title in
of that year he became
World Heavyweight champion,
in round 14. This constituted a remarkable achievement, as
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.
Fitzsimmons spent the rest of
1897 doing paper runs.
James J. Jeffries
succeeded in boxing in
without the police intervening, probably at an underground club.
Most people gave Jeffries little chance, even though at 15 st
(95 kg) he massively outweighed his opponent, but Jeffries
lifted the world Heavyweight crown from Fitzsimmons with an
In June of
Fitzsimmons took part in a
He lost, and went back to boxing. He then enjoyed legitimate
(boxing) knock-outs of both Ruhlin and Sharkey.
In 1901 he published a book
Physical Culture and Self-Defense (Philadelphia: D. Biddle).
he and Jeffries had a rematch, once again with the world
Heavyweight crown at stake. Fitzsimmons battered Jefferies, 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 told and
Bob suffered a knockout in round eight.
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
by a decision in 20 rounds, thus becoming the first boxer to win
titles in three weight-divisions.
Soon after, he went back to
the Heavyweights, where he kept fighting until
with mixed results. He boxed
and film historians believe that his fight with
Bob KO Sweeney
became the first boxing-fight captured on film.
Although Fitzsimmons became a
world champion in each of the Middleweight, Light-Heavyweight
and Heavyweight divisions, historians do not considered
him the first world Light-Heavyweight champion to become world
Heavyweight champion, because he won the Heavyweight title
before winning the Light Heavyweight belt.
counts as the first Light-Heavyweight world champion to win the
Heavyweight belt as well. In 2003
Roy Jones Jr.
and Spinks as the only men to have won world championships at
both Light-Heavyweight and Heavyweight.
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).
He died in
1917, survived by his fourth wife. His grave lies in the
Chicago. Having four wives, a gambling habit and a
susceptability to confidence tricksters, he did not hold on to
the money he made.
International Boxing Hall of Fame
has made Bob Fitzsimmons a member in its "Old Timer" category.
named Fitzsimmons number eight of all time among boxing's best
“The Most Accurate and
Deadly Hitter of His Class”
MONTE D. COX
Cox's Corner Profiles
Bob Fitzsimmons was a tall,
lanky and explosive middleweight puncher. He was boxing’s
first triple-crown champion gaining the world’s middleweight
(1891-1897), light-heavyweight (1903-1905) and heavyweight
(1897-1899) crowns during a career that spanned a long 34
years. His record was 55-8-16 7 ND with 48 knockouts,
although he claimed to have as many as 300 fights all
Despite being no more than a
middleweight he carried a heavyweight’s upper body build and
a heavyweight’s strong punch. He was experienced and clever.
As an excellent feinter he knew how to draw his opponent’s
into his deadly blows. He was steadfast, patient and had
excellent accuracy in striking vital points.
Early ring historian Sandy
Griswold said in the Dec 24, 1904 National Police Gazette,
“He knows all the vulnerable spots of the human anatomy as
well as the most erudite surgeon in the business and has a
greater variety of effective blows than any fighter who ever
There is no question that
Fitzsimmons had a heavyweights punching power. In 1893, he
knocked out seven men in one night and accomplished the feat
in under nineteen rounds. All men weighed over 200 pounds.
One stood 6-7 and weighed in at 240 pounds. The fact that a
middleweight could knock out a man the size of Lennox Lewis
demonstrates his worth as a hitter. Fitzsimmons actually
defeated top heavyweight contenders Peter Maher, Gus Ruhlin
and Tom Sharkey all by knockout.
Nat Fleischer, founder of The
Ring Magazine, regarded Fitzsimmons as the greatest pound
for pound knockout puncher in boxing history. He also
considered Fitz as the best-left hooker, and the best body
puncher among heavyweights.
David Willoughby,in The
Super Athletes, 1970, concurred saying that “Fitzsimmons
had perhaps the hardest punch ever possessed by a boxer of
Joe Gans, lightweight
champion 1902-1908, stated, Feb. 2, 1908 NY Times, “I
consider Bob Fitzsimmons as one of the greatest exponents of
straight hitting that the prize ring has ever known. Fitz
was a wonderful fighter and all of his straight punches were
very effective. Until age set in and his hands went back on
him, there were few fighters able to withstand that famous
shift of his. When Fitz delivered a blow he carried the
whole weight of his body with it.”
McCallum wrote, (Encyclopedia
p 8), “He moved with a shuffling gate. He stood flatfooted.
His timing was perfect. He had a superb sense of distance.
His punching therefore was deadly accurate.”
One was never safe until the
final bell with Fitzsimmons. Durant noted, in
, “He was ring-wise and crafty. He would sometimes lure an
opponent into being careless by pretending to be hurt and
then shoot over a knockout punch.”
Fleischer stated (Enigma Chpt.
13), “Fitzsimmons, who took the crown from Corbett, was not
a slugger of the Sullivan type, nor did he approach Corbett
in boxing skill. Yet he was the greatest strategist in the
ring's history, a man of wonderful vitality, and the most
accurate and deadliest hitter of the class. To reach Jim
Corbett in the pit of the stomach with knockout force was a
feat for a magician, and Fitz was a magician. Where others
signally failed, Fitz succeeded through strategic feinting
to induce Corbett to raise his guard and open the way for a
left shift and a crashing blow to the solar plexus.”
I do not believe as many of
the old-timers did that Fitzsimmons should be rated among
the top heavyweights. He hit like a heavyweight but was
still only a middleweight, in my view, this means he should
be ranked with the 160-pounders. Charley Rose, in fact, did
not rate him as a heavyweight. Rose rated him as a
light-heavyweight, however he was light-heavyweight champion
at the end of his career and was quite old.
It is my contention that
Fitzsimmons should be rated among the all time greats as a
middleweight and he, in fact, was a middleweight for most of
his career. The idea that Fitzsimmons was anything more than
a middleweight is a myth. Fitzsimmons began boxing
professionally in 1883 and when he won the middleweight
championship of the world in 1891 by knocking out the
“Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey he weighed 150 ˝ pounds. For his
1894 championship defense against Dan Creedon, for example,
he weighed 155 ˝ according to the Oct. 13, 1894 National
Police Gazette. When he fought for the heavyweight title
he was stripped down and privately weighed on the morning of
Mar 17, 1897, the day of his fight with champion James J.
Corbett, and “tipped the scale at 156 ˝ pounds” according to
Bob Davis a reporter and friend who was following
Fitzsimmons (See Book of Boxing p 71). Further the San
Francisco Chronicle reported the day before the second Jim
Jeffries fight that “Fitzsimmons claims to weigh only 160
pounds and hardly looked that heavy.”
Gene Tunney wrote, (1940),
that Fitz always considered himself a middleweight, “Fitz,
incidentally, was funny about his weight, for, after
defeating Corbett, while alone in a Turkish bath with Jim
Coffroth, he kept repeating, 'eavyweight champion of the
world--and I’m only a bleeding middleweight.”
While I have no doubt his
vigor and durability would allow him to survive any
middleweight’s punch, against the bigger and more modern
heavyweights one has to question Nat Fleischer’s 1958 # 3
ranking at heavyweight for Fitzsimmons.
Consider that James Corbett,
a small heavyweight who was not known for his power,
bloodied Fitz’s lip with a sturdy left jab and floored the
middleweight champion in the 6th round. If Corbett’s jab
could tear up Fitz what would Joe Louis jab and right hand
do? Or Muhammad Ali?
Fitz was down against Joe
Choyinski, a light-heavyweight, in their draw fight. The
June 30, 1894 Police Gazette reported, “Fitzsimmons
finally tried for the wind and received a straight jab in
the face. He came in again and was caught over the left eye
so hard his that his head flew back. Keeping after Choyinski
he let go for the wind. Choyinski shot his right across him
full on the neck. Down he went like a falling chimney…the
referee began to count but before he cried out “ten”
Fitzsimmons was up. Fitzsimmons was up smiling like a sick
man trying to make someone believe he feels better than he
really does. He staggered about the ring and Choyinski went
after him hard and furious. He could not however, get his
right in for a knockout.”
Choynski was a great
light-heavyweight hitter, but he was still only a
light-heavyweight. Fitz was badly staggered, careening
around the ring, and barely beat a ten count. He came back
to put Choynski down as well, but what if it had been a
great heavyweight finisher like Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, or
Mike Tyson instead of Joe Choysnki?
In describing Jim Jeffries
title winning effort against Fitzsimmons the National
Police Gazette wrote on July 1, 1899 “Jeffries was as
firm and steady as the proverbial rock, fighting a carefully
planned battle. He had demonstrated his ability to hit the
champion and likewise demonstrated he had nothing to fear
from the latter’s punches.”
Jeffries, a modern sized
heavyweight, had little trouble in breaking down the smaller
Fitzsimmons and knocking him out in their first fight. In
the rematch, it has been contended that Fitzsimmons had
loaded gloves (although this has never been proven) and he
gave Big Jeff quite a beating, but a single blow from the
heavyweight champion eventually knocked him out.
Bob Fitzsimmons has been
described as a physical oddity, a middleweight puncher who
destroyed heavyweights. He definitely had a heavyweight’s
offensive prowess and could dish out punishment with the
best of them, but his small frame, and fact that he was hurt
by small heavyweights and light-heavyweights and was easily
knocked out by a big heavyweight, means that he would be a
vast underdog against any of the all time big men.
As a middleweight Fitzsimmons
was nearly unbeatable. He was without challenge the hardest
punching middleweight of all time. He was a highly accurate
place puncher and a master at setting up knockout blows.
Perhaps historian and writer Edgar Lee Masters said it best,
"For courage, for power, for skill, for fighting will, there
is nothing on record that holds a candle to Fitz." At 160
pounds Fitz’s incredible gift of amazing power combined with
his cleverness, ring experience and proven success against
much larger opponents demonstrates that he should be rated
among the elite of the greatest middleweight of all time.
Nat Fleischer as mentioned
rated Fitzsimmons # 3 at heavyweight. Charley Rose rated him
# 1 at light-heavyweight. Historian Tracy Callis also rates
him # 1 at middleweight. Fitz was a true middlweight for
most of his career. Cox's Corner rates him # 2 all time in
the middleweight division.
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