The first triple titleholder in history, Bob Fitzsimmons won the world middleweight, heavyweight, and light heavyweight championships in a career that spanned 27 years. As a young man, Fitzsimmons worked as a blacksmith, and his punches held the power of an iron hammer hitting an anvil. He defied age, consistently fought larger men, and was crafty and resilient in the ring.
Born in England, Fitzsimmons moved to New Zealand with his family as a small boy. School was a luxury and, before long, Fitzsimmons went to work as a carriage painter and in a foundry. His interest in boxing heated up when he entered an amateur boxing tournament supervised by visiting Hall of Famer Jem Mace. Weighing just 140 pounds, Fitzsimmons knocked out four larger opponents and won the heavyweight division of the contest.
In 1883, Fitzsimmons moved to Australia, where his first recorded professional bouts took place. Over the next seven years, he posted a record of 15-5, with six no-decisions. In 1890, he traveled to America where three knockout bouts earned him a chance to fight world middleweight champion Jack Dempsey (The Nonpareil). Fitzsimmons proved to be more than Dempsey's equal and, after a vicious battle, he knocked the champion out in the thirteenth round.
Fitzsimmons defended his middleweight crown just once before aiming at the heavyweight title. He knocked out fellow contender Peter Maher in one round in 1896 and, later that year, delivered an eighth-round wallop that floored heavyweight Tom Sharkey. Referee Wyatt Earp, the former lawman, called the punch a low blow and disqualified Fitzsimmons, to the dismay of most observers, who thought the punch was fair.
In 1897, Fitzsimmons faced heavyweight champion James J. Corbett in Carson City, Nevada for the title. The balding, spindly-legged Fitzsimmons (John L. Sullivan called him "a fighting machine on stilts") did not look like a potential heavyweight champion. He was 34 years old, to Corbett's 30, and weighed sixteen pounds less. Corbett landed seriously damaging blows for most of the fight. Fitzsimmons was bleeding badly, but his blacksmith's arm won him the fight in the fourteenth round when he slammed a paralyzing blow into Corbett's solar plexis, the nerve center just below the breastbone. Corbett went down with a horrified gasp, and Fitzsimmons took the title. He wore the crown for two uncontested years before losing it to James J. Jeffries, who knocked him out in the eleventh round.
Fitzsimmons continued boxing and in 1903, at 40 years old, he knocked George Gardner down four times in twenty rounds to win the light heavyweight title. He lost the title to Philadelphia Jack O'Brien in 1905, but continued to fight on and off for the next nine years. He lost a two-round knockout to Jack Johnson in one of his last fights. In retirement, Fitzsimmons toured the vaudeville circuit before becoming an evangelist.
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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.