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Boxers Of Yesteryear - "Gentleman Jim" Corbett

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James John "Gentleman Jim" Corbett (September 1, 1866 – February 18, 1933) was a heavyweight boxing champion, best known as the man who defeated the great John L. Sullivan. He is also considered to be the father of modern boxing because of his scientific approach and innovations in boxing technique. Corbett changed prizefighting from a brawl to an art form of the new school of faster, scientific boxers.

James J. Corbett (1866-1933) held the title of heavyweight champion from 1892 to 1897. Corbett marked the turning point in ring history by being the first to win the title under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. College educated, Corbett was also an actor, writer, and boxing coach.

According to records, Corbett started his official boxing carrier on the 3rd of July 1886 under the alias of “Jim Dillon” against Frank Smith in Salt Lake City, Utah, US. Whom he defeated by disqualification (Smith) in round 4.

On May 21, 1891, Corbett fought Peter "Black Prince" Jackson, a much-heralded bout between cross-town rivals, since Corbett and Jackson were boxing instructors at San Francisco's two most prestigious athletic clubs. They fought to a draw after 61 rounds.

Although the careers of some boxers of the past seem rather short, one should keep in mind the extremes of boxing in these past eras, long rounds – considering the punishment inflicted on the body, some of the exploits of these past warriors between the ropes are truly an amazing feat of endurance and courage.



On September 7, 1892 at the Olympic Club in New Orleans, Louisiana, Corbett took on the great John L. Sullivan and even though he was outweighed by 34 lbs., Corbett knocked out “The Boston Strong Boy” John L. Sullivan with relative ease wearing 5 oz. boxing gloves in 21 rounds (one hour and twenty minutes).

Under the Police Gazette headlines that read, “Science Replaces Force” it was written, “James J. Corbett lifted boxing out of the barroom slough, the evil influences of its habitués, and started it towards its moral revolution.” 



Police Gazette read, The title passed from America’s most popular gladiator to the lithe, handsome youth, the ‘California Dandy’ whose fistic prowess flowered to full bloom on the sun-kissed slopes of California.



National Police Gazette -- This night, September 7, 1892, is the pinnacle of the New Orleans fight scene, a scene that epitomized the struggles and the extremes of the sport during its four-and-a-half year reign. It is also a historic night, for the champion is dethroned. John L. Sullivan has reigned for ten years, but the younger James Corbett emerges victorious after twenty-one rounds. When the Boston Strong Boy goes down, referee Duffy is forced to pantomime the count, and the declaration of victory, amid the uproar.



Despite the tumult, Duffy is able to quiet the crowd, and according to boxing lore - Sullivan staggers to the ropes and says:                                                                “Gentlemen, all I have got to say is this.

I stayed once too long.

I met a younger man,
who proved too good for me.”
and I am done.

Since boxing hadn’t become a legal sport at the time of this event, there were bare-knuckle bouts recorded throughout the world during the Queensberry era. However in America and the U.K. “The Queensberry” era had become the way championship fights were fought, wearing gloves. After “The Queensberry” era started at this event, the sport of boxing would never be the same.

In his only successful title defense, January 25, 1894 Corbett knocked out Charley of Great Britain in three rounds. On September 7, 1894 he took part in the production of one of the first recorded boxing events, a fight with Peter Courtney. This was filmed at the Black Maria studio at West Orange, New Jersey, in the USA and was produced by William K.L. Dickson. It was only the second boxing match to be recorded.


Jim Corbett lost his championship to the Cornish British boxer Bob Fitzsimmons in Carson City, Nevada, on the 17th of March 1897. Corbett was dominant for most of the fight and Fitzsimmons was badly cut, when Mrs. Fitzsimmons called out, "Hit him in the slats, Bob!" where "slats" meant the abdominal area. Fitzsimmons then winded Corbett with a hard punch to the solar plexus, and Corbett could not continue within the count. This fight, lasting over an hour and a half, was released to cinemas later that year as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight, the longest film ever released at the time.


Corbett was to fight four more time although in his fight (the only win from his last four fights) against Charles “Kid Mc Coy - referee: Charlie White said, it seems certain that McCoy faked the knockout loss to win bets.

Corbett’s last fight was for the title of the world against James J Jeffries


James J. Jeffries vs. James J. Corbett

14 August 1903 "I was afraid that I might kill him with another punch should he get up. The agony in his face was awful. I ask him to give up. Before his answer came Ryan threw the sponge in the ring and the fight was mine."

James Jeffries (Commenting on the end of his second bout with Corbett)


In what was to be Jim Corbett's last hurrah, the thirty-seven year old former champion had trained in his normal strenuous and well planned fashion. The exception to his normal pre-fight routine had been the arrival of Tommy Ryan in Corbett's camp and his subsequent influence on Corbett's approach to the fight. Ryan who had had a recent falling out with Jeffries told Corbett he was willing to work with him for free just too merely have the opportunity to even his score with Jeffries. Corbett well aware that time had eroded his once cat-like reflexes welcomed the inside knowledge that Ryan offered. In desperate need of a means to compensate for his eroding skills Corbett listened and practiced Ryan's proposed method of fending off Jeffries' crouching attack.

By the second round Ryan's theory was put to the test. Corbett saw the brutal left hand blow from Jeffries enroute but lacked the reflexes to deflect it per Ryan's plan. The plan landed with thunderous force, Corbett would later say that it felt as if all his ribs were broken. He dropped to the canvas for a very slow count of nine; Corbett himself later admitted that he had benefited from a nine count that lasted more like seventeen seconds. Corbett survived the round, and although unable to fully straighten his stance survived until the final near deadly body blow of round ten.


Following his retirement from boxing, Corbett returned to acting, appearing in low-budget films and in minstrel shows, wearing black face in skits and giving talks about pugilism. He authored his autobiography under the title "The Roar of the Crowd"; the story was serialized by The Saturday Evening Post in six weekly installments during October/November 1894. The following year, G.P. Putnam's Sons, published it in book form, marketing it as the "True Tale of the Rise and Fall of a Champion." In 1942, the story was made into a Hollywood motion picture titled, Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn as Corbett.



Reproduced from “Scientific Boxing by JAMES J. CORBET - If every young man in America would take-up boxing as a pastime we would have better men and better citizens. In my many years’ experience in athletics I have come to the conclusion that there is more actual benefit to be derived from it than from any other form of exercise.

It develops every muscle in the human body, it quickens the brain, it sharpens the wits, it imparts force, and above all it teaches self-control.

If some clever scientist were to discover an herb, or concoct a medicine with which he could guarantee to accomplish half of that, there is no factory in the world which would-be big enough to manufacture sufficient to sup-ply the demand.






Films / Corbett

Corbett and Courtney before the Kinetograph, 1894 

Actor's Fund Field Day, 1910

How Championships Are Won—And Lost, 1910

The Man from the Golden West, 1913

The Burglar and the Lade, 1915

The Other Girl, 1915

The Prince of Avenue A., 1920

The Midnight Man, 1920

The Beauty Shop, 1922

James J. Corbett and Neil O'Brien, 1929

At the Round Table, 1930


On his passing in 1933, Corbett was interred in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. On its creation, he was elected posthumously to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring, fight one more round.

- James J. Corbett