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Fitzsimmons-Corbett was the original "Fight of the Century"

Fitzsimmons vs. Corbett,
the original 'Fight of the Century'
was a classic and a financial success

 
On March 17th, 1897, in Carson City, Nevada, in the first open-air arena built especially for boxing. Bob Fitzsimmons kayoed James J. Corbett in the 14th round to win the heavyweight championship of the world. As a heavyweight fight between two of the greatest, most prestigious prizefighters of all time, the fight was considered the most renowned boxing match of the century. No one will ever forget Fitzsimmons win over Corbett that day in Carson City. It was a true fight classic. Not only was it a classic by boxing standards, at the time it exceeded all expectations for a financial endeavor of any kind.
 
In “The fight of the century” Fitzsimmons earned a purse of $15,000, took Corbett’s stake money of $10,000 and pocketed $13,000 from the Edison Picture Company, which filmed the fight. The total expendoiture in the United States resulting from “The fight of the century” was…for 1897...the staggering amount of $2,700,000. Of that, $1,300,000 was paid to telegraph companies for ticker and special wire service and for newspaper and private dispatches. Betting on the bout was equally as colossal. One bookmaker from San Francisco had to employ four Pinkerton detectives to guard two bags of gold worth $150,000, which had to be paid out the day after the fight.
 
By mid February of 1897 both Fitzsimmons’ and Corbett’s training camps relocated to Carson City to round off their preparations for the highly anticipated fight. Adopting to the high altitude at Carson City was a wise move on both men’s part. Carson City, named after the famous frontiersman Kit Carson, is 4000 feet up in the Sierras mountains and the higher altitude necessitated a lengthy period of acclimatization by the fighters.
Fitzsimmons training was said to have gone well while in Carson. His wife Rose and their two sons stayed in camp with him which was located at Cook’s Ranch in Sagebrush land just outside Carson.
 
Corbett based himself at Shaw’s Springs and only once did the two fighters meet prior to the fight. It was a chance meeting that occurred when both men were doing their roadwork. Apparently a verbal battle broke out when Corbett refused Fitz’s offer to shake hands. The handlers and seconds from both camps stepped in to cool things down when both men seemed determined to do battle right than and there.
 
Bob Fitzsimmons was born in Helston, England and at a young age along with his family moved 12,000 miles to a small town called Timaru on the South Island of New Zealand. While growing up, Fitz worked in his brother Jarrett’s blacksmith shop which is where he developed the strength he used to become one of the top pound for pound hardest punchers in boxing history. Fitzsimmons stood slightly shorter than six feet tall and usually weighed between 150 and 176 pounds. While his stature was considered a handicap for a heavyweight, according to some in the boxing media, with his limitless courage and power of endurance Fitzsimmons over came any physical limitations.
Fitzsimmons had a 71 ¾ inch arm reach, but made little use of this abnormality. In fact, his most devastating punch didn’t travel more than a foot. It was a six inch punch that he used to knockout his toughest opponents, including Corbett. To Fitzsimmons’ generation, winning titles at such an early age was unheard of. People talked of Bob Fitzsimmons as some kind of boxing freak…a big shouldered, bald-headed, thin legged fighting machine. Fitzsimmons biggest accomplishment as a prize fighter was the fact that he was the first triple title holder in boxing history. He won the world middleweight, heavyweight and light heavyweight championships over a 27 year career. Fitzsimmons was also a self trained fighter.
 
Jim Corbett was born in San Francisco September 1, 1866. He was considered a new breed of boxer, different from the stereotypical brawler style of fighter. Known as Gentleman Jim, he was brought up in a middle class family, learning to box under the professional direction of Walter Watson at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Starting as a middleweight, Corbett fought a well-instructed amateur career at the club. He fought and beat a few pro boxers at that weight class before being moved into the heavyweight division. Corbett won his Golden Gloves along with several Silver Cup trophies as an amateur. Jim eventually became in instructor at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
At 10:30 AM on the day of the fight the Fitzsimmons entourage set off for the Carson City arena. After arriving at 11AM Fitz changed into a pair of tights that he regularly wore in the ring along with an American flag belt. As was his want before every big fight, Fitz laid down and rested in his dressing room. At the same time former lawman, Bat Masterton and a few of his hired hands were at the entrances relieving the spectators of their “blue hardware.”
 
Just after midday a loud roar from the fans on the east side of the amphitheater rang out when Fitzsimmons was spotted; he was making his way through the tunnel from his dressing room. With a pale blue robe draped lightly over his shoulders he waved to the spectators as they cheered. When Fitz stepped through the ropes his wife Rose could be seen waving to him and shouting “Here I am dear.”
Just than a thunderous round of applause rang out as the champion, the great James J Corbett had arrived. The champ was decked out in a brown eiderdown dressing gown as he made his way into the ring. John L Sullivan and Nevada’s governor Sadler were introduced to the crowd.
The fighters were introduced next, their robes were discarded as they made their way to the center of the ring. The fighters weights were announced as, 167lbs for Fitz and 183lbs for Corbett. The streamlined build of Corbett with his raven black hair struck a direct contrast to the spindly legged bald man across the ring with the heavily muscled shoulders. The 16 pound weight difference was obvious to even casual observers.
Earlier that day Tom Sharkey entered the ring and challenged the winner of the fight for $5000 a side, $500 of which he announced had been deposited. “I’ve met both these men and I want the first chance to fight the winner,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey exited the ring to a chorus of boos and jeers no doubt a reminder of the Earp debacle in San Francisco.
 
Crowd noise died down as the two fighters reached the center of the ring; after going over his instructions to each man referee George Siler ordered, “Shake hands, gents.” Corbett reached his arm out to oblige but was ignored as Fitz walked to his corner.
 
When the opening bell sounded the early exchanges were cautionary though it was later discovered that Fitz suffered a dislocated thumb on the impact of one of the first punches thrown. It should be noted that, throughout the entire fight he gave no indication of any problem at all.
 
The punch output increased in the second round with Corbett landing several punches to Fitz’s face, the challenger looked up smiling. Even though he tried hard not to show it, Fitz despised receiving punches in the head and neck area of his body; Corbett was more than happy to exploit the situation.
 
By the fourth round Corbett was comfortably ahead in the fight. Fitz continued to take Corbett’s facial attack and both men were breathing hard in the high Nevada altitude.
Up until this point in the fight Fitzsimmons had been on the receiving end of most of the punches landed; he did however take great satisfaction in knowing he drew first blood. It was a boost to Fitz’s confidence in the fourth round when he landed a punch squarely in the middle of Corbett’s face and every time Corbett opened his mouth to breath Fitz could see blood soaked saliva.
 
Throughout the next couple rounds a determined Corbett continued to land punches to the head and neck of his challenger usually ending each round with a flurry of punches that drew cheers of approval from the crowd. By the sixth round Fitzsimmons’ upper lip and nose had been bloodied by Gentleman Jim’s continuous onslaught of jabs and uppercuts to the head.
 
The sixth round was like a barroom brawl. While swinging furiously Fitz rushed at Corbett after missing with a right, clinched and wrestled Corbett nearly dragging him to the canvas. The crowd shouted “foul” as Corbett unleashed with vicious rights and lefts to his opponent.
 
By this point in the fight blood was spurting from Fitzsimmons nose, covering his body and gloves and spattering Corbett’s arms and upper body. Corbett could see that Fitz was having trouble breathing because of the gushing blood. A right to the jaw put Fitzsimmons to his knees where he stayed while referee Siler began counting…to slow for Corbett’s liking as he snarled at the referee to speed it up. Fitz took full advantage of the count as the timekeeper ticked off the seconds, the crowd went wild thinking the fight was over. Finally at the count of nine Fitz sprang to his feet and battled out the remainder of the round.
 
Through the ninth, tenth and eleventh rounds Corbett grew more and more careless. He began looking into the crowd during clinches over Fitz’s shoulder as though he was losing focus on the fight. At the same time Fitzsimmons started picking up the pace and became the aggressor as the momentum of the fight swung in his favor.
In the thirteenth round Fitz landed a short, sharp right which sent one of Corbett’s gold teeth flying to the canvas and bouncing among the ringside seats.
Fitzsimmons later recalled, “He looked awful sorry when he got that crack, and flushed to the roots of his hair.
 
At the start of the fourteenth round Corbett started out early as the aggressor, with left jabs to Fitz’s already badly damaged nose. Than from a clinch Corbett began to throw another jab as Fitz fainted with a left. As Corbett raised his arm to protect himself, Fitzsimmons executed his famous shift, bringing his right foot forward. Then, like a bolt from the sky, he shot a right to the heart and a left that landed with paralyzing force into the pit of Corbett’s stomach for the knockout. A new champion had been crowned and with that knockout was born the “Solar Plexus” blow.
 
 

 

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by Sam Gregory:

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Classy and cocky, an undersized Billy Conn was KO'd by a desperate Joe Louis

Stylish Loughran evolved into Hall of Fame light heavyweight

 

 

 

 

 

Image by FlamingText.com


 
Sam Gregory has been a professional boxing writer since 2002 for publications such as BoxingTalk.com, Boxing Digest, EastsideBoxing.com The Cyberboxing Zone, StraightJab.com, boxingnews24.com and TheSweetScience.com. He has covered numerous fights and has interviewed some of the biggest names in the sport.

As a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Gregory specializes in boxing history, and contributes regularly to that organization's quarterly publication. He is the author of numerous biographical articles about legendary fighters, classic match-ups, memorable boxing trilogies and other subjects.


CLICK HERE to contact Sam Gregory



 


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