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James J. Corbett, John L. Sullivan and the 1st Gloved Hvwt Championship of the World

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376px-James corbett 1890He was no gentleman at all.In that way, James J. Corbett, who was promoted under the moniker “Gentleman Jim”, was like all pugilists. He was a rough and tumble sort who made his living beating people up.

No matter how beautiful a particular style may appear to the eye or how effortlessly a boxer may seem to glide across the canvas as if he were an ice dancer or a ballerina, make absolutely no mistake: these men are in the business of hurting people.

And for Jim Corbett, business was good.

Corbett was the antithesis of the man he succeeded as heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan, in many ways. Where Sullivan was brute force, sheer will and indomitable forward aggression, Corbett made the science of beating people up look sweeter than that. Corbett employed impeccable footwork and precise timing. He used his jab the way a man like Sullivan couldn’t understand. He studied his opponents as the fight unfolded itself before him. He was always thinking and always moving. Everything he did had purpose.

The two men finally met September 7, 1892. Sullivan had been the most popular champion in the sport’s history. By many accounts, he was the Babe Ruth of boxing. Better put, when he came on the scene years later, Babe Ruth might actually have been the John L. Sullivan of baseball.

Sullivan was bigger than life. The barrel-chested, gregarious puncher, sporting arguably the greatest mustache in history, made his way to the top of the sport the most difficult way possible, and he probably liked it that way. He became heavyweight champion of the world before that title really even existed, and he did it without gloves or timed rounds or boxing commissions, and at a time when boxing was illegal and men fought anyway.

Perhaps the best way to describe Sullivan is this: when he passed away at age fifty-nine, he did so with only ten dollars in his pocket and a smile on his face. The ground was so frozen that day they had to use dynamite to bury him.

Sullivan had held the heavyweight title for ten years before he met Corbett. By most accounts, he was on the downward slope of the most impressive heavyweight career to date. “The Boston Strong Boy” had carried the sport from bare-knuckled, back-alley street fights into a future that would go on without him—one of timed rounds, reduced clinching and gloved combatants.

Corbett’s defeat of Sullivan in 1892 is recognized as the first heavyweight title match under the Marquess de Queensbury rules. It ushered in a new era for the sport.

It would be difficult to do, but Corbett knew that Sullivan would wear out as the rounds went on and, as always, Corbett had a plan.

“Now, I knew that the most dangerous thing I could do was to let Sullivan work me into a corner when I was a little tired or dazed, “ he wrote.“So I made up my mind that I would let him do this while I was still fresh. Then I could find out what he intended doing when he got me there. In a fight, you know, when a man has you where he wants you, he is going to deliver the best goods he has.”

Corbett used the early rounds to figure his opponent out.Sullivan would continue to rush him, throwing the wide, looping and powerful shots that had made him champion. Corbett’s fancy footwork, faints and sharp jabs were just effective enough to keep the menacing marauder at bay.

In the third round, it was time. Corbett knew he’d have to let loose his power.

Just as the first two rounds had gone, Sullivan had corralled Corbett into the corner. Up to that point, the fleet-footed challenger was able to slip away unharmed, though he also had yet to land anything substantial in return. Not this time.

“Then just as he finally set himself to let go a vicious right I beat him to it and loosed a left-hand for his face with all the power I had behind it,” Corbett remembered. “His head went back and I followed it up with a couple of other punches and slugged him back over the ring and into his corner. “

Sullivan’s nose was broken but his spirit was not.Like all great champions, he would not give up his title easily. It would have to be taken from the proud champion.The crowd roared as Sullivan made a made dash toward Corbett at the sound of the next bell.

“He came out of his corner in the fourth like a roaring lion, with an uglier scowl than ever, and bleeding considerably at the nose,” Corbett remarked.

For some reason, to a guy like Corbett, this meant he knew he had Sullivan right where he wanted him.

“I felt sure now that I would beat him, so made up my mind that, though it would take a little longer, I would play safe.”

Corbett played it safe the only way he could against a dangerous fighter like Sullivan: very carefully. He kept himself out of harm’s way with subtle tricks that were just coming into style at the time. Hell, he probably helped invent them. He’d feint. He’d sidestep. He’d hold on for dear life at times and turn his opponent around. And where all that failed, he used his fleet feet to stay out of Sullivan’s reach.

The fight lasted until the twenty-first round. Corbett tells the tale better than anyone. It’s his to tell, anyways—his and John L. Sullivan’s.

“When we came up for the twenty-first round it looked as if the fight would last ten or fifteen rounds longer. Right away I went up to him, feinted with my left and hit him with a left-hand hook alongside the jaw pretty hard, and I saw his eyes roll. . . . Summoning all the reserve force I had left I let my guns go, right and left, with all the dynamite Nature had given me, and Sullivan stood dazed and rocking. So I set myself for an instant, put just 'a little more' in a right and hit him alongside the jaw. And he fell helpless on the ground, on his stomach, and rolled over on his back! The referee, his seconds and mine picked him up and put him in his corner; and the audience went wild.”

James J. Corbett became the first gloved heavyweight champion of the world that night. He went on to successfully defend the title two years later against Charlie Mitchell before losing by knock-out to Bob Fitzsimmons via the famed “solar-plexus” punch in a fight he had been winning up to that point. Corbett tried to no avail to get the rematch (Fitzsimmons was smarter than that), but instead ended up facing his very own former sparring partner for the title, James J. Jeffries, who had dethroned Fitzsimmons by walking through the smaller man’s punches before knocking him out in the eighth round. Corbett out-boxed Jeffries for most of the rounds of their two fights, but Jeffries was too big, too strong and too young for Corbett, winning both fights by knockout.

Corbett enjoyed the stage life while he was champion and continued his thespian pursuits even after. He brought a certain kind of flair to the ring, not only in how he fought inside of it, but what he did outside of it as well. He was schooled, well-read and could carry on conversations with all manners of society. He may not have really been a gentleman, as he was so often billed on fight cards, but he was one hell of a fighter and one hell of a man.

Reference: Corbett, James J., The Roar of the Crowd: the true tale of the rise and fall of a champion (1926)

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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