Robert James Fitzsimmons (26 May 1863 – 22 October 1917) was a British professional boxer who made boxing history as the sport's first three-division world champion. He also achieved fame for beating Gentleman Jim Corbett, (the man who beat John L. Sullivan), and he is in The Guinness Book of World Records as the lightest heavyweight champion. Nicknamed "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 cost him at times in his career.
Considered one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, Fitzsimmons is ranked as No. 8 on Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
obert James Fitzsimmons was born on 26 May 1863 in Helston, Cornwall, England, the youngest of seven boys and five girls born to James and Jane (née Strongman) Fitzsimmons.Not long before his birth, his parents had moved from his father's native Ireland to Cornwall, where his mother came from, in order for his father to find work as a policeman. Fitzsimmons received his early education at the National school in Helston. In 1873, the family moved again; James, Jane and their youngest five children sailed on the Adamant for the 93 day journey to Lyttelton, New Zealand.
They settled in Timaru, a town 91 miles (147 km) south-west of Lyttelton populated mainly by Cornish immigrants, and James Fitzsimmons established a blacksmith's forge in the town.Once Fitzsimmons had completed his education at the Timaru Main School, he took on a range of jobs. He wanted to join the crew of the Isabella Ridley, and do some service as a sailor, hoping that it would toughen him up for a career in boxing, but the ship was badly damaged in storms while still docked in Timaru. Instead, he took on a range of jobs; as a butcher's delivery boy, a carriage painter, striker at an iron foundry, and a decorator, before becoming an apprenticeship at his family's blacksmith's forge, with his brother Jarrett. His time working in the blacksmith's forge helped to develop his upper body, particularly his arms and shoulders. During his time working in the blacksmith's forge, there are stories that Fitzsimmons was not averse to fighting quarrelsome, often drunk, customers, and it was suggested that this even boosted business, as customers returned to the forge, hoping to see a fight.
In the early 1880s Jem Mace, an English bare-knuckle boxer, travelled to New Zealand, and Timaru hosted both his boxing school, and the first boxing championships held in New Zealand.Fitzsimmons entered the tournament, and knocked out four opponents on his way to winning the competition. He successfully defended his title in the subsequent competition.[a] During one of these tournament, it is often suggested that Fitzsimmons defeated Herbert Slade, a professional heavyweight boxer who was touring with Mace, but Slade was touted as being undefeated in 1883, and it is possible that it was Slade's brother that Fitzsimmons beat. After these tournaments, Fitzsimmons boxed at least six times in New Zealand, including some bare knuckle bouts, but it is unclear if he received payment for his fights during this time.
Boxing record books show Fitzsimmons officially began boxing professionally in 1883, in Australia. He beat Jim Crawford there by getting a knockout in three rounds. Fitzsimmons had his first 28 definite professional fights in Australia, where he lost the Australian Middleweight title to Mick Dooley (rumours spoke of a fixed bout) and where he also won a fight by knockout while on the floor: when Edward Starlight Robins dropped Fitzsimmons to the canvas in round nine of their fight, he also broke his hand and could not continue, therefore the referee declared Fitzsimmons the winner by a knockout.
By this stage, Fitzsimmons had established his own style. He developed a certain movement and caginess from one of the greatest bare-knuckle fighters, Jem Mace. Mace encouraged Fitzsimmons to develop his punching technique, drawing on the enormous power he had gained from blacksmithing. Fitzsimmons delivered short, accurate and occasionally conclusive punches. He soon built up a reputation as by far the hardest puncher in boxing.
Winning The Heavyweight Title
In 1896, Fitzsimmons won a disputed version of the World Heavyweight Championship in a fight in Langtry, Texas, against the Irish fighter Peter Maher.On 17 March 1897, in Carson City, Nevada, he knocked out American Jim Corbett, generally recognised as the legitimate World Heavyweight Champion (having won the title from John L. Sullivan in 1892) in round 14. This constituted a remarkable achievement, as Jim Corbett, a skilled boxer, weighed one stone 3 pounds (17 lb) more than Fitzsimmons. He out-boxed Fitzsimmons for several rounds, knocked him down in the sixth round and badly damaged his face with his jab, left hook and right hand, but Fitzsimmons kept coming and Corbett began to tire. In the 14th round, Fitzsimmons won the title with his "solar plexus" punch. Corbett collapsed in agony. Fitzsimmons' "solar plexus" punch became legendary, although he himself may never have used the phrase. The entire fight was filmed by Enoch J. Rector and released to cinemas as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight, the longest film ever released at the time. Using her maiden name, it was covered by Nellie Verrill Mighels Davis, the first woman to report a prize fight.
Fitzsimmons spent the rest of 1897 and 1898 doing stage tours.[clarification needed] In 1899, Fitzsimmons fought James J. Jeffries at the Coney Island Athletic Club near Brooklyn, New York. Most people gave Jeffries little chance, even though at over 15 stones (95 kg) he massively outweighed his opponent and was far younger, but Jeffries lifted the World Heavyweight Championship from Fitzsimmons with an 11th-round knockout.
In June 1901 Fitzsimmons took part in a wrestling match against Gus Ruhlin. He lost and went back to boxing. He then enjoyed legitimate boxing knockouts of leading contenders Ruhlin and Tom Sharkey.
In 1901 he published a book Physical Culture and Self-Defense (Philadelphia: D. Biddle). In 1902, he and Jeffries had a rematch, once again with the World Heavyweight Champion at stake. Fitzsimmons battered Jeffries, who suffered horrible punishment. With his nose and cheek bones broken, most would have sympathized with Jeffries had he quit, but he kept going until his enormous strength and youth wore down Bob and he knocked him out cold in round eight.
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. Michael Spinks counts as the first Light Heavyweight World Champion to win the Heavyweight belt as well. However, Fitzsimmons was the first Middleweight Champion to win the Heavyweight title and the only Heavyweight Champion to drop down and win the Light Heavyweight title. Fitzsimmons and later Henry Armstrong were the only men to win undisputed world championships in three different weight classes.
Fitzsimmons had a final professional record of 66 wins with 59 by knockout, 8 losses, 4 draws, 19 no contests and 2 no decisions (Newspaper Decisions: 2–0–0).
Fitzsimmons's exact record remains unknown, as the boxing world often kept records poorly during his era, but Fitzsimmons said he had had more than 350 fights (which could have involved exaggeration on his part).
He died in Chicago of pneumonia in 1917, survived by his fourth wife. His grave lies in the Graceland Cemetery, Chicago. Having four wives, a gambling habit and a susceptibility to confidence tricksters, he did not hold on to the money he made.