It was on Wednesday 17th March 1897 that Englishman Robert James [Bob] Fitzsimmons became heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett at Carson City in Nevada, U.S.A. This venue was at the first open-air arena built especially for boxing and Bob won by knockout in the 14th round. A reporter at the fight described the knock-out blow:
‘Fitz sidestepped one of Corbett’s blows and, seeing an opening, came in with a left hand to the stomach and, without changing the position of his feet, shot the same hand to the jaw’.
Corbett hit the canvas and stayed there – and the ‘solar plexus blow’ was born. Bob did no boxing for the next two years – but he did do a lot of travelling across the USA with a theatrical group. That made ‘Gentleman Jim’ a considerable amount of money!
Nicknamed by many as “Ruby Robert” and “The Freckled Wonder”, he took pride in his lack of scars and appeared in the ring wearing heavy woollen underwear to conceal the disparity between his trunk and leg-development. He was also known for his pure fighting skills due to dislike of training for fights, which did cost him at times in his career. However Bob was considered one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, and is ranked as No. 8 on Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
Although Fitzsimmons became a world champion in each of the Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight divisions, historians do not consider him the first world Light Heavyweight Champion to become World Heavyweight Champion, because he won the Heavyweight title before winning the Light Heavyweight belt! However, Bob was the first Middleweight Champion to win the Heavyweight title and the only Heavyweight Champion to drop down and win the Light Heavyweight title! His final professional record was – 66 wins with 59 by knockout, 8 losses, 4 draws, 19 no contests and 2 no decisions although ‘Newspaper Decisions’ gave both of them to him!
Bob died in Chicago of pneumonia in 1917. He married four times and had six children, four of whom survived infancy but, having four wives, a gambling habit and a susceptibility to confidence tricksters, he did not hold on to the money he made.
In 2003 Ring Magazine named Robert James [Bob] Fitzsimmons number eight of all time among boxing’s best punchers.