CLAIMED as England’s first world heavyweight champion, Bob Fitzsimmons was a remarkable character and boxer. He was the first triple title-holder in boxing history, winning the heavyweight, middleweight and light-heavyweight championships in a career that lasted 27 years.
As a young man he had worked as a blacksmith and legend has it that this developed his muscular upper body. His appearance was often described as “freakish” and “ugly”. He was bald from an early age, covered in freckles and sparse tufts of ginger hair contributed to his other nickname, “Ruby Robert”. Below the waist he had skinny legs, was knock-kneed and flat-footed. Yet he was prepared to fight men much bigger and heavier than himself while weighing not much more than a heavy middleweight. He was a mere 11st 13lbs when he beat James J. Corbett for the world heavyweight title in 1897.
Born in Helston, Cornwall on May 26, 1863, Fitzsimmons was taken to New Zealand as a child and never actually fought in England, moving in 1883 to Australia, where he turned professional and ran up a record of 15-5 with six No Decision fights, mostly in Sydney. In 1890, when he was 28, he crossed the water to America and never looked back. Three knockouts earned him a shot at world middleweight champion “Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey. In an exciting, vicious battle he knocked Dempsey out in the 13th round. Because of his punching power and the more lucrative heavyweight division purses, Fitzsimmons turned his attention to the big men. A sensational 95-second victory over Irish born Peter Maher at Langtry in Texas earned him a shot at Corbett’s world heavyweight title.