Bob Fitzsimmons 1863 - 1917
Bob Fitzsimmons holds a unique place in boxing history. He was the first boxer ever to win three world championship divisions - at Middleweight, Light-Heavyweight and Heavyweight. His story began in Cornwall , born in Helston, in 1872 he emigrated with his family to New Zealand . They settled in Timaru and Bob eventually became a blacksmith in his brothers workshop.
Wielding a hammer all day stood in him good stead because he took up boxing and between 1880 and 1881 he was champion of the Jem Mace tournament in New Zealand . Later that year he had his first professional bout, knocking out Herbert Slade in two rounds. He had a total of six fights in New Zealand , winning five and losing one, two of his bouts were bare-knuckle fights.
In 1883 he moved to Australia , where he officially began his professional career having a total of 28 bouts there. He lost his attempt on the Australian Middleweight title, amid rumours of fight fixing. It is also officially recorded that he won a bout against Edward Starlight Robins whilst on the floor. Robins dropped Fitzsimmons to the ground but broke his hand while doing so and could not continue, Fitzsimmons was declared the winner on a knockout.
Bob Fitzsimmons moved to America and on January 14 1891 he had his first attempt at a world title against Jack (Nonpareil) Dempsey (Note: not THE Jack Dempsey). Fitzsimmons won the bout in the 13th round to become World Middleweight Champion.
Fitzsimmons spent the next two years in non-title bouts and exhibitions matches before giving Jim Hall a shot at the title, an earlier fight with this opponent was broken up by police. On July 22 1893 Fitzsimmons won the bout by a knockout in round four and retained his title.
After a further spell of exhibition matches, he moved up to the Heavyweights, although he was on the light side of the division. One of his fights was against Tom Sharkey and was refereed by none other than Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman of OK Corral fame. However he was disqualified for hitting Sharkey while he was down.
Fitzsimmons challenged for the Heavyweight crown on March 17 1897 in a bout against 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett. Fitzsimmons won in the 14th round by a knockout. In 1898 he was supposed to have a non-title bout against former World Champion John L. Sullivan. This event never took place because Boxing was illegal in New York where the fight was supposed to take place and the Police prevented it from happening.
Fitzsimmons lost his heavyweight title in 1899 to James J. Jeffries, in a bout that took place in New York , probably behind closed doors. Jeffries won on a knockout in the 11 th round. An attempt to become the first boxer ever to regain the Heavyweight crown failed as Fitzsimmons lost the rematch in round eight by a knockout.
Moving down to Light Heavyweight, in November of 1903 Fitzsimmons made boxing history with his defeat of World Light-Heavyweight champion George Gardner after 20 rounds by a decision. Fitzsimmons therefore became the first member of an exclusive club of world champions in three divisions.
He soon went back to Heavyweights which weight he fought at until 1914, but his results were mixed. He had bouts against Jack Johnson and a fight against Bob KO Sweeney is believed to be the first boxing match to be caught on film.
Bob Fitzsimmons died of pneumonia in Chicago on October 22 1917 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery . His exact record is unknown because records were not accurately kept at this time but Fitzsimmons claimed to have fought more than 350 bouts, although he may have exaggerated this figure. In any event he had a long and fruitful career and has gone down in history as one of the greatest boxers of all time having now been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
It takes a special kind of character to become successful in the world of boxing, and I'd like to think that part of that character was formed as a result of his Cornish Heritage.
Cigarette Card featuring Bob Fitzsimmons