Sunday, 29 October 2017

Remembering Bob Fitzsimmons

As a proud Cornishman, I believe it is really important that we always do our utmost to celebrate the achievements of people from Cornwall, both past and present.

I therefore cannot let the 100th anniversary of Bob Fitzsimmons’ death pass without writing about his successes in the boxing ring.

Born in Helston in 1863, Bob’s father was James Fitzsimmons, a policeman originally from Ireland, while his mother was Jane Strongman from St Clement near Truro.

Bob was nine when the family moved to Timaru on the South Island of New Zealand and where, when he reached adulthood, he worked as a blacksmith at the family forge. This work is often credited with developing the strength that he used so successfully as a boxer.

He fought a number of bouts in New Zealand, before moving to Australia where he became a professional fighter. Inevitably, he then went to the United States, where he had better chance of securing high profile contests.

Often described as a “lanky” middleweight, Bob was nonetheless reputed to have the upper body strength of a heavyweight and an equally powerful punch.

In 1891, he won the world middleweight title in New Orleans and then, in 1897, he knocked out “Gentleman” Jim Corbett at Carson City, Nevada, to become the heavyweight champion of the world.

Six years later, he won the new light heavyweight title, becoming the first man to hold world titles at three different weights.

Much has certainly been written about Bob, who had a number of nicknames including “Ruby” and the “freckled wonder.” He was sometimes known simply as the “Cornishman.”

One early boxing historian, Sandy Griswold, wrote: “He knows all the vulnerable spots of the human anatomy … and has a greater variety of effective blows than any fighter who ever lived.”

Joe Gans, a contemporary and lightweight champion between 1902 and 1908, told the New York Times that he considered Bob Fitzsimmons to be: “one of the greatest exponents of straight hitting that the prize ring has ever known.” He added: “Fitz was a wonderful fighter and all of his straight punches were very effective … there were few fighters able to withstand that famous shift of his. When Fitz delivered a blow he carried the whole weight of his body with it.”

Nat Fleischer, the founder of The Ring magazine, is known to have later described Fitzsimmons as the “greatest pound for pound knockout puncher in boxing history” and, in 1954, the Cornishman was inducted into the magazine’s Boxing Hall of Fame.

Bob continued to box until he was 51 years old, but three years later died of pneumonia on 22nd October 1917. And as we mark the centenary of his death, I would heartily recommend that people take the time to find out more about his remarkable life.

This is my article in this coming week's Cornish Guardian.

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