Fritzie Zivic – The Greatest Dirty Fighter Ever?

“You’re boxing, you’re not playing the piano,” Fritzie Zivic.

We’ve all seen even the most sportsmanlike boxers use dirty or illegal tactics from time to time. Whether it came from sheer anger over what their opponent had done or was doing, or whether the use of dirty tactics came about due to sheer frustration; the guilty party ordinarily being a guy to always abided by the rules, dirty stuff happens, and some great fighters were a master at fighting dirty – see Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, even Muhammad Ali.

But when it comes to the greatest-ever dirty fighter, the king of the illegal tactics if you prefer, there really is only one choice. Born Ferdinand Henry John Zivcich in May of 1913 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this born fighter went on to become world famous as Fritzie Zivic. Born of immigrant parents who had come from Croatia (his father) and from Slovenia (his mother) to the U.S looking for a better life, Zivic soon took to boxing, as did his four brothers, Joe, Eddie, Jack and Pete. But Fritzie was easily the best, the toughest – and the dirtiest.

Legend has it, Zivic could take a clean and unmarked fighter into a clinch, and when the two emerged, Zivic’s foe would be badly marked up; so proficient was Fritzie at using, well, just about every available part of his and his opponent’s anatomy. It was Zivic’s skilled use of his thumbs that was responsible for most of the rough-stuff damage, however, (although Zivic always denied using his thumbs in a fight).

Fritzie said often that to him, “any part” of his ring foe was “fair game,” and, boy, did this seriously rough and tough ring warrior hit an opponent anywhere he could and, boy, did he use almost any part of his own body to do it – be it his head, his elbows, his knees, his forearms, and of course, his thumbs.

Zivic was good enough, and sly enough to get away with his X-rated stuff, to become world welterweight champion. On October 4, 1940, Zivic beat the legendary Henry Armstrong by gruelling 15-round unanimous decision to take the 147 pound crown; this after having had a staggering 129 pro fights! Zivic was 101-24-5 when he challenged “Hammerin’ Hank” in New York, and he had already been in with such excellent fighters as, Lou Ambers (a points loss), Billy Conn (a points loss), Charley Burley (a points win, followed by a points loss), Eddie Booker (a points win), Kid Azteca (a points win) and Sammy Angott (a points win).

Zivic was no mega puncher (he hit hard enough) but he had a chin to die for and he was of course the roughest, toughest son of a bitch in the house each and every time he fought. Zivic stopped Armstrong in the 12th round in a return, and after having no less than seven non-title fights (all wins), he lost the title to Freddie Cochrane, this in July of 1941. Zivic still had a ton of fight left in him. The one and only Sugar Ray Robinson had a tough time with Fritzie in an October 31st non-title fight, Sugar winning by decision, while Sugar Ray became only second the man to stop Zivic in a January, 1942 return (Milt Aron being the first to halt Fritzie, this by KO 8 in December of 1939; the loss later being avenged by KO).

After the stoppage defeat to Sugar, Zivic went on to face such notables as, Lew Jenkins (a stoppage win, Zivic having boxed a draw with Jenkins in 1940), Cochrane in a rematch (a points win), Armstrong again (a points loss), Beau Jack (a points loss X2) – and then Zivic, now aged 30 and an astonishing 132-38-7, fought the fearsome Jake LaMotta for the first of four times. Had Zivic found a guy who was even tougher, rougher than himself?

These two iron men went to war for a total of 45 rounds, with Jake winning three decisions, Fritzie winning one, and each fight was a non-title affair. Oh, how the sport has changed! What’s more mind-boggling, is the fact that Zivic engaged in a further 52 fights after losing the fourth war with LaMotta. And Zivic fought good men, like Tommy Bell (a points loss), Azteca again, thrice more (two points wins and, in February of 1947, near the end, a 5th round KO loss).

Zivic finally retired in early 1949, with a crazy 158-65-10(81) ledger. Only four times was he ever stopped.

Somewhere out there, there is a movie maker working on what could be one of the greatest, most fascinating boxing films ever made. Zivic really was one of a kind.

Fritzie died in May of 1984, aged 71; Zivic having battled Alzheimer’s. He was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 1993.