Marvin Hart – Maligned Heavyweight Champion, Conqueror Of Jack Johnson

On this day back in 1905, two men who many people said at the time were undeserving of the honor of fighting for the world heavyweight championship, with many people still saying this today, nevertheless did fight to decide the vacant crown. Marvin Hart and Jack Root met in a rematch; former light-heavyweight champ Root winning a decision in their 1902 fight, and their return fight had on the line the title the great (and undefeated) James J. Jeffries had vacated due to retirement.

Hart, hailing from Kentucky, avenged his loss to Root of Chicago (born in Czech Republic) by way of a rough, tough, at times ungainly performance; Hart surviving a torrid seventh round to KO Root in the 12th. The referee was ex-champ Jeffries and some reports say Jeffries picked Hart and Root to fight for his former title, thus “endorsing them.” Plenty of fight folk were unhappy, claiming other, more worthy heavyweights could have and should have been chosen for the honor.

But Hart won fair and square, he beat the man in front of him, and a look through the boxing history books will show you Marvin Hart was, for a short time (a little over seven months), THE world heavyweight champion. To this day, however, many fans brush Hart aside, insisting he was never a real champion, only a “paper champion.” But can a man who, in March of 1905 defeated future champion Jack Johnson, really be called an undeserving contender, an undeserving world title challenger?

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Here too, the Hart critics give “The Fightin’ Kentuckian” little to no respect. The decision, one that went to Hart after 20 rounds, is often referred to as “highly debatable,” and “questionable.” Yet Hart supporters who have done their research find fight reports of the day saying “a more aggressive Hart fought in a stronger and more determined fashion to the lackluster and frequently clinching Johnson.”

If it’s unfair to try and take away Hart’s distinction as a genuine world heavyweight champion, it’s equally unjust to try and take away what was arguably his biggest, most meaningful win. To have beaten Johnson – a man who, after halting Tommy Burns to become champion, went through “Great White Hope” after “Great White Hope” in effortless fashion – Hart must have been a pretty good fighter.

Ironically, it was Burns who defeated Hart to take the title, Burns then being destroyed by “The Galveston Giant.” After losing to Hart, Johnson would taste defeat just once over the next ten years (this a DQ loss to Joe Jeannette; Jack avenging the loss more than once). So again, Hart’s credentials, his worth as a world heavyweight title challenger, must be paid respect.

Hart was an incredibly tough, gutsy and determined fighter. Standing just over 5’11,” Hart often fought bigger men. During his career, the wins over Johnson and Root aside, the warrior from Fern Creek also managed to defeat Philadelphia Jack O’Brien and Joe Choynski (both light-heavyweights yes, but both authentically tough men, no smaller than Hart). Hart more than paid his dues, there is no doubt.

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After losing the heavyweight crown to Burns, Hart fought 11 further fights, going 5-5-1 and losing his last two. Overall Hart is 28-7-4(20). After retiring at the age of 34, Hart opened a tavern and evidently drank a good deal of the takings himself. At the age of just 55, Hart died, the day after his birthday, of an enlarged liver and high blood pressure.

Marvin Hart was a fine, proud and very strong fighter. He deserves far more respect than he gets in certain quarters.