Although he never became a champion, Mike Gibbons is considered by many boxing historians to be one of the top ten middleweights of all time. Gibbons learned to box at the YMCA in his native St. Paul. He turned professional at the age of nineteen with a third-round knockout of Roy Moore and was unbeaten in his first fourteen fights before losing a decision to Jimmy Clabby. A footwork wizard who could wear an opponent out with his defensive maneuvers, Gibbons could punch hard, too. As a young fighter, he built a reputation that put him in line for the middleweight championship.
In 1912, the middleweight division had no recognized champion. More than half a dozen fighters, including Gibbons and Eddie McGoorty, claimed a right to the title. Gibbons signed to fight McGoorty with the winner to be declared champion. The heavier McGoorty was the favorite by far, and Gibbons employed his ring choreography not to beat McGoorty but to keep him from winning. Gibbons constantly backpedaled and put on a great display of footwork but he did not really fight. The newspapers awarded McGoorty the decision, but the fight's lack of action kept him from gaining general acclaim as the titleholder. Asked by a reporter why he had not fought more vigorously, Gibbons replied, "Because you and every other writer said that McGoorty would beat me, simply because he was ten pounds heavier than me. I decided to prove you were wrong, and that he couldn't lay a glove on me. And he didn't. That's all I cared about."
Gibbons continued to fight successfully after the McGoorty fight, and proved his mettle in a 1916 match with Hall of Famer Jack Dillon. At the time, Dillon was reputed to have the best punch in all of boxing. For ten rounds, Gibbons eluded Dillon's attack and countered beautifully when Dillon missed him. Gibbons won every round of the fight, according to those at ringside.
Gibbons fought for another six years, taking on Harry Greb, among others. Even the blurringly fast Greb was confused by Gibbons, by then known as the "Phantom of St. Paul." Greb shouted to his manager, "From now on, match me with one guy at a time."
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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.
Born: July 20, 1887
Died: Aug. 31, 1956