James W. Coffroth was the first large-scale boxing promoter. Born in California in 1872, Coffroth worked as a clerk in the Surrogate Court in San Francisco, but he had a great interest in boxing and would often travel east to see important matches. He became friendly with New York promoter Jim Kennedy, and the two began to promote fights on the West Coast. Coffroth was able to secure a permit to stage boxing events in San Francisco from Abe Ruef, the local political power broker.
Their first fight of national interest was a heavyweight championship match between James Jeffries and Gus Ruhlin in 1901. The bout ended when Ruhlin's manager threw in the sponge between the fifth and sixth rounds, the first time in American boxing history a fight had ended that way. It went into the books as a fifth-round knockout and established a precedent for scoring rules. When Kennedy died in 1903, Coffroth went on to promote events in California for another twelve years.
Other notable fights promoted by Coffroth include Corbett-Jeffries, Bob Fitzsimmons-George Gardner, Battling Nelson-Joe Gans and Stanley Ketchel-Jack Johnson. Coffroth instituted the practice of paying fighters a percentage of the gate receipts. He was also aware of the value of publicity and held frequent press conferences.
As competition grew and the political climate changed, Coffroth lost his permits for bouts in San Francisco and moved his operations to the nearby towns of Colma and Daly City. Coffroth lost out to rival Tex Rickard on the mammoth Jeffries-Johnson fight. In sealed bids, Coffroth bid $100,000. Rival Tex Rickard bid $120,000 in gold.
Coffroth made most of his money in horse racing and continued operating tracks long after he retired from boxing promotion. He died in 1943.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.