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Boxers of Yesteryear: Jim Jeffries

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Jim Jeffries

"The Boiler Maker"

Later to be known as "The Great White Hope"

 

In 1904, when Jeffries was in his prime, Jack Johnson met with him trying to pressure Big Jeff into a title shot. Jeff, knowing the politics of the time, drew the color line. But he told Johnson in dead seriousness, "There's a cellar in the place.’Tell you what I'll do. I won't meet you in the ring because you got no name and we wouldn't draw flies. But I'll go downstairs with you and lock the door on the inside. The one who comes out with the key will be the champ." Johnson refused and walked out.

It is unfortunate that some great boxers are remembered historically for the one loss in their career that somehow obliterates the memory of their other great feats between the ropes. One such fighter who went by the name of James, or Jim Jeffries doesn’t ring many bells in today’s boxing fans’ minds. From the old-time heavyweights he is not among the best remembered. Yet he defended his title successfully seven times against such boxing greats as Tom Sharkey and James J Corbett after initially taking the title by beating Bob Fitzsimmons, on the 9th June 1899 in Brooklyn, New York.

Even by today standards Jeffries, would be considered a great athlete, even if his technique lacked development. He had natural strength, “He was surprisingly fast and agile. He could run 100 yards in 11 seconds, and high jump 5 feet, 10 inches.” That is absolutely remarkable for a man of his size. Consider that Jesse Owens ran the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds a worlds record in 1936 (nowadays they run 100 meters). That a heavyweight boxer, not a track and field athlete, can accomplish such feats is the mark of an excellent athletic talent.

Jeffries retired as an undefeated champion – until historical events were to intervene - When Jack Johnson won the Heavyweight Championship from Tommy Burns in 1908, it was as if one of the White society’s greatest nightmares had come true.  After years of claiming the Blacks’ inferiority compared to the more “civilized” White race, one of “them” was now the champion of the world.  People soon thereafter began to call upon Jeffries to return to the ring, and rid the “dominant” White race from having such a despicable champion as Johnson (such were the attitudes of the era). Despite the great clamor for his return, Jeffries had steadfastly refused to come out of retirement.

In 1909, after Johnson defeated the Middleweight Champion, Stanley Ketchel. (The Michigan Assassin.). The pressure on James Jeffries to return intensified.  Despite the fact that he was 34 years old, weighed 300 pounds and had been retired for five years, Jeffries ultimately consented.  It was a match between white and black, it was a match of race superiority.  Jeffries lost and with that loss much of his earlier accomplishments seem to pale in comparison.

Born in Carroll, Ohio on April 15th 1875 “The Boilermaker” James Jackson Jeffries would go on to be one of the defining sports men at the the turn of the 20th century. Despite living in Carroll it wasn't until he moved with his family in 1891 that things turned upwards. Despite being big for both the time and his age, he was muscularly big standing over 6 foot when very few were even near the height. Whilst at school he would reportedly show an outstanding athletic range of abilities but it was his boxing he would become most famous for and prove to be one of the best in the world at. Jeffries boxed as an amateur until age 20.

It was under the hand of Tommy Ryan, who was a former Welterweight champion that Jeffries would turn professional. Previously Jeffries had been a sparring partner.

Jeffries fought his first recorded bout in the paid ranks against fellow debutant Dan Long who went down twice before being stopped in the second round, following Long Jeffries fought once more that year (1896) against Hank Griffin which was stopped in the 14th round. In fact Jeffries stopped his first 4 opponents as his strength and ability to take a punch proved too much for his opponents. In his 5th fight (Gus Ruhlin) the fight was declared a draw, though many seemed to have think Jeffries had done more than enough to deserve the decision

To finish off 1897 Jeffries would fight the naturally much small, but far more experienced Joe Choynski, who would himself become famous as being the man who would help train Jack Johnson after beating him 4 years later. Jeffries would draw with Choynski over 20 rounds before stringing together 3 straight KO wins. Of those three the most notable name is Peter Jackson, the fighter that had been the commonwealth champion, and arguably the most deserving fighter to fight for the title for the world title for the most part of the 1880's.

However as he was black he was all discriminated against, as John L Sullivan had used “the colour line” to prevent a fight. The he would fight future heavyweight champion James J Corbett in 1981 (51 round no contest). Jeffries had stopped him in the 3rd round as Jackson was coming back from 6 years out of the ring. Note worthy though is that less than a year after Corbett had fought Jackson - Corbett went on to win the world title beating John L Sullivan. Two wins on points (the first of Jeffries career) would follow, the first being “Sailor” Tom Sharkey who was a tough fighter himself and would fight Jeffries again a few years later. The second was Bob Armstrong a relative journey man who would be the last man to fight Jeffries before he got a chance at the world title that was the held by Bob Fitzsimmons (“Ruby Rob” had beaten Corbett for the title).

The fight with Fitzsimmons for the world title was fought in June 1899 on Coney Island was (Jeffries 13 fights, 0 loses) - (Fitzsimmons had fought over 60 times previously). The fight finished in the 11th round as Jeffries would stop the heavily favoured Brit to take the world title back to the hands of an American.

That August, he embarked on a tour of Europe putting on exhibition fights for the fans. Jeffries was involved in several motion pictures recreating portions of his championship fights. Filmed portions of his other bouts and of some of his exhibition matches survive to this day.

As his first defense he would give a rematch to Sharkey and again Sharkey would extend him over the distance and lose a points contest in what is often described as being a close contest that Jeffries had deserved to win.

In his first contest of the 20th century he faced relative novice Jack Finnegan who was outweigh by 50-60 lbs, the Brooklyn Edge described Finnegan as looking like a boy when compared to Jeffries. The fight would be stopped in the first round after Finnegan had been down 3 times in quick succession. A fight with former world champion James J Corbett would follow and Corbett had seemed to be on the way to taking the fight (and title), using his boxing brain and an strategic and clever fighting style that valued defence first. In the 23rd round Jeffries knocked Corbett out cold before he had even hit the canvas.

Jeffries broke the ribs of three opponents in title fights: Jim Corbett, Gus Ruhlin, and Tom Sharkey. Jeffries retired undefeated in May 1905. He served as a referee for the next few years, including the bout in which Marvin Hart defeated Jack Root to stake a claim at Jeffries' vacated title.

An example of Jeffries' ability to absorb punishment and recover from a severe battering to win a bout came in his rematch for the title with Fitzsimmons, who is regarded as one of the hardest punchers in boxing history. The rematch with Jeffries occurred on July 25, 1902 in San Francisco. To train for the bout Jeffries' daily training included a 14-mile (23 km) run, 2 hours of skipping rope, medicine ball training, 20 minutes sparring on the heavy bag, and at least 12 rounds of sparring in the ring. He also trained in wrestling.

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We find maltaboxing.net invaluable when finding out which fighter has the
best stats and toughest chin. The indepth articles that are available are
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For nearly eight rounds Fitzsimmons subjected Jeffries to a vicious battering. Jeffries suffered a broken nose, both his cheeks were cut to the bone, and gashes were opened over both eyes. It appeared that the fight would have to be stopped, as blood freely flowed into Jeffries' eyes. Then in the eighth round, Jeffries lashed out with a terrific right to the stomach, followed by a left hook to the jaw which knocked Fitzsimmons unconscious.

Sam Langford, the great light-heavyweight fighter, advertised in newspapers his willingness to fight any man in the world, except Jim Jeffries.

Six years after retiring, Jeffries made a comeback on July 4, 1910 at Reno, Nevada. He fought champion Jack Johnson, who had staked his claim to the heavyweight championship by defeating Tommy Burns at Rushcutters Bay in Australia in 1908.

The fight, which was promoted and refereed by legendary fight promoter Tex Rickard, and became known as "The Fight of the Century", soon became a symbolic battleground of the races. The media, eager for a "Great White Hope", found a champion for their racism in Jeffries. He said: "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of winning the title for whites."

Jack Johnson won however by vicious TKO after the 15th round when Jeffries' corner threw in the towel. Jeffries made no excuses for his humiliating defeat and stated afterwards that "I could have never beaten Johnson even at my best."

Jeffries had ballooned up to 300lbs during his retirement and training was not easy anymore for a 35-year-old man. He had no time for tune-up contests. He had no option but to win the fight. He needed to be the great, unstoppable Grizzly Bear once again and take out supreme champion. Jeffries knew himself that Johnson’s techniques were far a head of him and that he wasn’t nearly the man of his youth anymore although he was able to slim his body to about 230lbs. His handlers tried to encourage him by telling him that the bout was fixed in his favour, but then the word came that it was on the level and would go for 45 rounds if needed. Jeffries became desperate. The pressure on his wide shoulders was unbearable. The money of the bettors poured onto him. The interest that the fight drew was bigger than anything seen before. All advertisements of the fight declared that Jeffries would win. In truth he was beaten man before the bout had even started.

Jeffries, as brave as ever, did give it a try. He took the fight on Johnson, but the new champion gave him no chance. His outstanding defensive technique stopped every shot of Jeffries and in the return he busted Jeffries up. Jeffries kept trying as before, but this time his efforts were futile. Johnson just laughed at his once so mighty punches, mocked Jeffries and tortured him. Jeff could do nothing back. It was like the Ali-Holmes fight 70 years later: the torture kept getting worse and worse, but the crowd hoped for a miracle that had happened often before. This time it never came. In the fifteenth round, Johnson downed him three times and Jeffries’ corner stopped the contest. It was the 21st contest of Jeffries’ career and the only one that he lost.

After the fight, all the glory around Jeffries was gone. He was no more the invincible champion, but a fallen hero who had let his people down. He retired again, this time for good, and was soon forgotten.

In his later years, Jeffries trained boxers and worked as a fight promoter. He promoted many fights out of a structure known as "Jeffries Barn", which was located on his alfalfa ranch at the southwest corner of Victory Boulevard and Buena Vista, Burbank, California. (His ranch house was on the southeast corner until the early 1960s.) Jeffries Barn is now part of Knott's Berry Farm, a Southern California amusement park. On his passing in 1953, he was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

Jeffries also ran a saloon in Downtown Los Angeles and worked as a fight promoter. Some of his fights were captured on film, and he was reportedly also a technical advisor on the Warner Bros. biopic "Gentleman Jim" (1941), starring Errol Flynn as his old adversary Corbett. He died at his ranch in Burbank, California on the 3rd of March 1953. Howard O. Sackler's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Great White Hope" (1969) was based on the racial dynamics behind Jeffries' bout with Johnson.

James J. Jeffries was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

As a professional online poker
guide we are naturally interested in boxing.
We find maltaboxing.net invaluable when finding out which fighter has the
best stats and toughest chin. The indepth articles that are available are
both knowledgeable and informative" pokerlisti
ngs.com

History has not been kind to Jeffries, had he not taken the ill-advised comeback against Jack Johnson, he surely would be remembered with much more glamour now.

Sources: Wiki, Fightbeat, Eastsideboxing, Boxingprofile, Coxscorner, Britannica and other unknown sources - Ring history, Boxers of yesteryear

 

 

As a professional online poker
guide we are naturally interested in boxing.
We find maltaboxing.net invaluable when finding out which fighter has the
best stats and toughest chin. The indepth articles that are available are
both knowledgeable and informative" pokerlisti
ngs.com

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Jeffries Vs Sharkey

Jeffries Vs Fitzsimmons

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Jeffries vs Johnson

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Jeffries vs Johnson Rd 15

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