This historic fight was a title defense for James J. Corbett and he selected James J. Jeffries, a former sparring partner of his and a big heavyweight even by modern standards.
Jeffries had learned much of his trade training with Corbett and was now handled by Corbett’s old manager, William Brady. Corbett, who had been put on the back burner during Bob Fitzsimmons reign, wasted no time in suggesting a title fight between his old sparring partner and himself.
Corbett, who had little left in the tank at 34, agreed to the match. The fight was set for the Seaside Arena in Coney Island, New York.
While Jeffries went through the motions in training, Corbett prepared like a Spartan for battle. He knew, with his speed, he could box rings around his larger and stronger opponent, but he was giving up size, strength, almost 30 lb. in weight and a seven-year age difference. The key was stamina and the ability to last the 25-round fight limit.
The early rounds of the fight went according to script for both sides. Corbett would open fast and box pretty for a while, but “Big Jeff” would wear him down with a couple of body shots and put an end to the show. The only problem was Jeffries could not lay a glove on the “Dancing Master”. Round after round. Corbett had his way, darting in to land with a flurry of punches, then dancing away to avoid any sort of retaliation. By the 20th round, Jeffries’ corner was in a panic. Manager Brady dismissed trainer Tommy Ryan from the corner and took charge himself with the simple but direct order, “Knock him out or lose your title!”
Such words were music to Corbett’s ears. All he had to do was stay upright for the last five rounds and he would be Heavyweight Champion once again. Jeffries dispensed with trying to box his old mentor and now began to stalk Corbett around the ring, looking for an opening. Corbett danced away from any threat through the 22nd round.
Midway through the 23rd round, Corbett leaned back to avoid a Jeffries blow, bounced off the ropes and was put on the canvas by a short right hand. The gallant effort was over in a blink of an eye. Corbett found himself embraced by the public as never before, after his gallant effort to regain the title. The adoration was short-lived, as his next fight, a five-round knockout over Kid McCoy, was widely believed to be a fix.
Corbett managed to contest for the Heavyweight title one last time when he met Jeffries for a second match in San Francisco in 1903. Now 37, reflexes slowing, Corbett survived a withering body blow in the second round and used every trick he knew to hang on until being knocked out in the tenth.
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