Corbett, James J. (1866–1933)

views updated

James J. Corbett (1866–1933)

James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett is more than a boxing legend. He was the first of a new breed of modern-era boxers who approached the sport of boxing methodically. The fast, sleek Corbett believed in training for his fights and in employing speed and strategy rather than uncontrolled power to outmaneuver an opponent.

Through the late nineteenth century, professional boxing was not so much an organized sport as a barbaric fight-to-the-finish free-for-all in which bare-knuckled combatants wrestled and clawed their way to victory. Boxers were more like hooligans who exuded a rough, crude manliness. The sport became more orderly with the institution of the Marquis of Queensberry rules (named after Sir John Sholto Douglas [1844–1900], the eighth Marquis of Queensberry, who helped draft the new boxing rules). Bouts consisted of three-minute rounds featuring minute-long rest periods in between, and to protect their hands, boxers wore five-ounce, padded gloves. On September 7, 1892, the first modern-era heavyweight championship match was held with the Marquis of Queensberry rules in effect. The reigning champion was John L. Sullivan (1858–1918), nicknamed "The Boston Strongboy," an old-style, bare-knuckle boxer. Corbett was the challenger. Their match is the most significant in the sport's history. The smaller, quicker Corbett avoided Sullivan's bullish assaults and wore him down. He knocked out the exhausted champ in the twenty-first round to claim the heavyweight crown—and the modern era of boxing was born.

Unlike other boxers of his time, Corbett hailed from a middle-class family and attended college. While still the champ, he performed on the stage and in vaudeville. He continued doing so after losing his title to Bob Fitzsimmons (1863–1918) in 1897.

—Rob Edelman

For More Information

Fields, Armond. James J. Corbett: A Biography of the Heavyweight Boxing Champ and Popular Theater Headliner. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.

"'Gentleman' Jim Corbett." The Cyber Boxing Zone. (accessed December 14, 2001).

Myler, Patrick. Gentleman Jim Corbett: The Truth Behind a Boxing Legend. London: Robson Book Ltd., 1998.