How great was heavyweight king Jim Jeffries? Born James Jackson Jeffries, “The Boilermaker” was an unbeaten heavyweight from 1895 to 1904. Heavyweight ruler from 1899 to 1904, Jeffries retired with a 19-0-2(16) ledger in the late summer of 1904, having beaten Bob Fitzsimmons (to take the title and then in a retention), James J. Corbett (also twice) and Tom Sharkey (twice) and Peter Jackson.
Jeffries retired having done it all, yet he was coerced, threatened even, to come back and take the prestigious title back from new ruler, the black and cocksure Jack Johnson. Jeffries, around six years past his best and having piled on a ton of weight, was no match for Johnson, being toyed with and then stopped in the 15th round on July 4th of 1910. His unbeaten record gone, Jeffries then retired for keeps.
But how more revered would Jim be today had he not be coerced, forced, to come back to fight Johnson? And another question – how would a fight between Jeffries and Johnson have gone had the two men both been fighting at their peak?
Another suitable question is: how on earth was a 180 pound John (Jack) Finnegan (to Jim’s strapping and solid 220) matched with the champ in Jeffries’ second title defence, in April of 1900? It was on this day 120 years ago, when Jeffries scored the fastest ever KO in a world heavyweight title fight (in lineal terms the record still stands today). Finnegan, no match for the champ, had lost his previous fight – to the tough Gus Ruhlin, who twice fought Jeffries – and he was known by two nicknames: “The Human Punching Bag,” and “The Pittsburgh Stogie.”
55 seconds after hearing the first bell, Finneghan, the same age as the champ at 25, was knocked out by Jeffries. A tune-up for Jeffries’ big fight with Corbett in May and nothing more, the Finnegan “challenge” was much maligned. Today it’s a mystery how the fight was ever allowed to take place. Finnegan, a popular brawler in his home town of Pittsburgh, perhaps holds the distinction of being the most inept and undeserving world heavyweight title challenger of all-time.
Sadly, after boxing just twice more after going out fast against Jeffries – boxing a draw and then winning his final bout by KO – Finnegan was dead two years later, at the age of just 27.
A most curious case in heavyweight championship history.