Bob Fitzsimmons, The Forgotten Great

16.02.05 - By Marcus Wood: Because Fitzsimmons retired over 85 years ago boxing in general seem to have forgotten just how great Bob Fitzsimmons actually was. The only references of him today is when your talking about past records e.g. Roy Jones Jr. is the only natural Middleweight after Bob Fitzsimmons to hold the Heavyweight World Title and Lennox Lewis is the first British World Heavyweight Champion since Bob Fitzsimmons. On all time pound for pound lists Fitzsimmons seems to be to low or left of all together.

The main reason appears to be nobody is left that saw his fights and very few were ever filmed. But when was the last time you saw a Sugar Ray Robinson fight? And he's usually No.1 or 2 on all time pound for pound lists. Maybe it's that some of his fights were fought bare knuckles. But as best as I could find out, only 3 of his fights were fought that way. Fight fixing was happening in Fitzsimmons' era so how many of his fights were fixed? 2 were alleged to have been and they were against the same opponent, Jim Hall.

Fitzsimmons and his family emigrated from Cornwall, England arriving at Lyttleton, New Zealand on October 17, 1873. In 1881 he was taught boxing by Dan Lea a former champion of South West England. He had an impressive career from the beginning, defeating four men in two days in an Amateur Jem Mace Tournament to win the Lightweight Championship of New Zealand. He then went on to win the Middleweight Championship of New Zealand in the same way but this time against five men.

In every sense Fitzsimmons was the prototype for Jack Dempsey, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., James Toney and many more. How? Bob Fitzsimmons was the first man ever to win the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight and Middleweight Championships of the World. Sugar Ray Leonard may have popularized winning World titles at different weights but Fitzsimmons was the first to do it. He was also the first man to be short for a heavyweight but to be the most powerful in the division, paving the way for Dempsey and Tyson. He constantly took on me larger than himself, one evening in 1893 he knocked out seven men each one weighing over 200 pounds, the largest being 6, 7 and 240 pounds. And he needed just 19 rounds to do it.

Fitzsimmons was a physical oddity however, with J. Durant in 1976 describing him "a physical freak, a 6-foot tall, knock-kneed, red-headed middleweight with a wasp waist . yet he was built like a heavyweight from the waist up - and he certainly hit like one". Fitzsimmons was one of the hardest hitters in history and there is no better example of this than once while giving an exhibition of hitting a heavy bag hit burst because of how hard he hit it. In fights he put that power to use in a deadly way winning the vast majority of his bouts by KO. In 1894 Fitzsimmons knocked out Con Riordan. After remaining unconscious at ringside for two hours he was finally removed and died later. When he met Jim Jeffries in the ring it was Fitzsimmons power against an iron jaw defence. Jeffries face was a mess with his eyes swollen shut, an ear ripped loose, his nose broken and lips bleeding. Fitzsimmons broke his hands on Jeffries chin however. Fitzsimmons was the first Superstar of Boxing and this was proven in 1893 when he was paid $40,000 to fight Jim Jeffries. He was also the first one to have his fights excessively hyped. In 1897 Fitzsimmons fought James J. Corbett for the World Heavyweight Championship in what was billed as "the fight of the century". This was one of the first fights to be filmed and it was close to a modern day Superfight. Commemorative medals, coins, magazines, pinbacks and other things were produced in anticipation of the fight. During 1902 he toured the western United States with Jim Jeffries taking on all comers, Something not usually done today.

In the end though Fitzsimmons shared another common trait with his heirs to the ring. He fought on too long. Arguably the beginning of the end for Fitzsimmons when he lost to Jack Johnson. The Associated Press wrote "Jack Johnson stopped Bob Fitzsimmons in the second round of a six round boxing bout before the Washington Sporting Club tonight. Fitzsimmons did not show a trace of his former prowess and it is probable that Johnson could have stopped him in the opening round if he had cared to do so. The blow that put Fitzsimmons out was a light right to the jaw. The old man fell to the floor and as he made no attempt to rise, the referee stopped the bout. The hissing which usually follows knockouts of this character was absent, the spectators evidently taking compassion on the former pugilistic star. Referee Keenan refused to act in the ring, because he had heard that Fitzsimmons had a badly sprained arm. The manager of the club then entered the ring and watched the uneven match. In the opening round Johnson tapped Fitz when and where he chose, but the latter was unable to even land his famous counters." From that point on he fought mainly in exhibitions then at one point fighting and losing for the Australian Heavyweight Championship. In 1913 the New York Athletic Commission prohibited Fitzsimmons from fighting in New York. His swan song occurred in 1916 fighting "Young" Bob Fitzsimmons in an Exhibition bout.

After his death in 1917 he was remembered for a long time as one of the best boxers of all time, but as time wore on his name slipped off of many pound for pound lists so remember Bob Fitzsimmons as a great boxer not a bare knuckled brawler.

Article posted on 16.02.2005

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