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Boxers of Yesteryear: George Dixon

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George Dixon’s (Little Chocolate) accomplishments in the ring seem to be forgotten outside the circle of hard core boxing fans, yet Dixon was one of the foremost pioneers of scientific boxing and the inventor of the ‘Suspended Punching Bag’ and ‘Shadow boxing’. Even by today’s standards his feats between the ropes still command respect and attention.

George Dixon was born in Africville, (Halifax), Nova Scotia. (B 1870 - D 1909) As a boy he was apprenticed to a photographer, and he became interested in boxing because local boxers came to his employer to sit for publicity photographs. His first fight, and his first knockout, took place in 1886 at sixteen years of age. Dixon knocked out his opponent “Young” Johnson in three rounds. In 1887 he left for Boston to embark on what would end up being one of the most significant careers in Boxing. George became the first black man to win a World title (June 27, 1890); he was also the first to hold a World title in 2 different weight classes at the same time, the Bantamweight & Featherweight divisions, and the first Champion to regain a title lost in the ring.

George Dixon is credited as the inventor of the ‘Suspended Punching Bag’ and ‘Shadow boxing’. George was the first boxer to use a scientific approach to boxing training.

A reporter at one of Dixon’s fights wrote that many believed Dixon to be “the best, self-trained man that ever stepped into the ring” and described his new training routine, in which “he uses a small pair of dumbbells, and with either hand he faces an imaginary opponent. As he feints and ducks before the ‘spook’ enemy, he advances on one and then the other foot.” The technique is today called shadow-boxing. Dixon is also thought to have been the first boxer to use the modern punching-bag, which is suspended from the ceiling.

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Dixon was a fast puncher with an excellent left jab, his best punch being a strong right cross to the chin. He also had a strong left hook. His favorite combination was a left jab to the face, followed by a right to the body and a jab back to the face. His famous fighting method included jabbing, feinting and rushing an opponent to the ropes where he would work the body. He was also known for his defensive ability to dodge, evade, and block his opponent’s blows.

At this period there appears to have been less consciousness of race among the lighter classes of boxers than among heavyweights, for Dixon was soon accepted as a worthy competitor. He came to notice after a series of battles with Hank Brennan, known as “the pride of Boston.” In February 1890 Dixon achieved wide recognition when after 70 rounds, the longest fight of his career, he drew with Cal McCarthy, bantam- and featherweight champion of the eastern United States. On 27 June Dixon and Nunc Wallace, the British bantam- and featherweight champion, fought at the Pelican Club, in London, England. At the end of 18 rounds Wallace’s seconds acknowledged defeat.

His opponent, Nunc Wallace, came out gunning in the first few rounds. Dixon was on the defensive until he opened up in the fifth round, and claimed the title in the eighteenth round by a technical knockout. Dixon had now become a champion of a fully recognized weight division.

Dixondefended his bantamweight title with a 40-round victory over Johnny Murphy in Providence, Rhode Island on October 23. By this time he weighed about 115 pounds, and he gave up his bantamweight title and moved up to the featherweight class. In a Troy,

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New York fight against Cal McCarthy on March 31, 1891, Dixon earned the title of featherweight champion of the world and then he took an unprecedented title at a second weight class with a 40-round knockout of John Murphy, in October of 1890. He quickly defended his title against Abe Willis on July 28 in San Francisco, he beat the Australian bantamweight champion, in five rounds, to become world bantamweight champion, the first black and the first Canadian to win a world boxing title.

The claim by Dixon that he was also world featherweight champion because he had beaten Wallace and McCarthy was not fully accepted. In order to silence his critics, on 27 June 1892 Dixon fought Fred Johnson, the new British featherweight champion, and won in 14 rounds. Six weeks later he opposed the amateur Jack Skelly in New Orleans in a bout which was advertised as being for the featherweight championship of the world, and he won easily in eight rounds to collect a purse of $17,500 and his second title.

At 21 years of age he was a dual champion, and the leading Black boxer of the 1890’s.

He was the most famous Black man in the world, earning thousands of dollars for his ring appearances; he held the featherweight belt for most of the following nine years.

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The statistics of Dixon’s career still command attention. He often had between six and ten contests a year, and although many were short, four or five rounds, between 1896 and 1899 he was in 12 bouts of 20 and six of 25 rounds, and in 1903 he had three of 20 and three of 15. On several occasions Dixon travelled across the United States accepting challenges from all comers; in a week of one of these exhibitions he had 22 fights, a number very few modern boxers could match. Mainly because the number of exhibition fights cannot be determined, it is not known how many times Dixon boxed as a professional. His manager claimed that he was in at least eight hundred contests, and it has been suggested that there may have been as many as one thousand.

Dixonretired as a bantamweight in 1892 without being beaten as champion, but he lost his featherweight crown on 4 Oct. 1897 to Solly Smith in 20 rounds. Smith having lost the title himself the next year to Dave Sullivan, Dixon fought Sullivan on 11 Nov. 1898 and won when Sullivan was disqualified after his seconds entered the ring illegally. Dixon gave up the championship for good on 9 Jan. 1900 in New York City to Terry McGovern. Although he maintained a strong following, from then on he increasingly drew or lost against opponents he would easily have defeated in his younger days.

Dixonfought Abe Attell for the featherweight title in 1901, but his long period of dominance was over. "Loose living," noted the Washington Post, "had made inroads on his constitution." The aging fighter toured England from late 1902 through 1905, hoping to stave off financial problems that had left him with little more in the way of assets than a home he owned in Boston; he was reported to have burned through winnings of more than $200,000. After a December 10, 1906, loss to a boxer named Monk the Newsboy, Dixon retired from the ring.

 

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Hospitalized because of complications from alcoholism, Dixon died in New York on January 6, 1909. He was remembered after his death by boxing tacticians, who admired his artistic style; never a brawler, Dixon was a quick, agile fighter who could duck punches with ease and who anticipated the counterpunching styles of a later era of the sport. Dixon was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1956 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and several boxing historians ranked him among the top bantamweights of all time.

Quick Career Overview: Featherweight and bantamweight boxer, 1886-1906; world bantamweight champion, 1888 (recognized, 1890); world featherweight champion, 1891-1900 (with periodic, brief losses of his title); fought famed 25-round draw against Australian boxer Young Griffo, 1895; lost championship to Terry McGovern, 1900; credited with at least 230 and perhaps as many as 800 matches.

George Dixon was rated as the # 1 all time Bantamweight by both Nat Fleischer and Charley Rose. Cox’s Corner considers him to be the # 2 Bantamweight of all time. 

George Dixon is interred in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts.

There is a recreation centre named after him in downtown Halifax.

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