James J. Corbett: Gentleman Jim and the Evolution of Heavyweight Boxing (1866-1933)


Explore the life and career of James J. Corbett, the American professional boxer who revolutionized heavyweight boxing with his emphasis on skill over brute strength. From his historic victory against John L. Sullivan in 1892 to his successful title defenses and eventual defeats, Corbett’s legacy as “Gentleman Jim” transcended the ring.

James John Corbett

Source: wikipedia.org

James John Corbett; (1866-1933), American professional boxer, who held the heavyweight championship from 1892 to 1897. The first heavyweight to rely on boxing skill rather than on brute strength, he defeated John L. Sullivan for the title on Sept. 7, 1892.

Corbett was born in San Francisco on Sept. 1, 1866, and attended Sacred Heart College. While working as clerk in a bank, he joined the Olympic Club and at the age of 18 began to box as an amateur. He became a professional in 1886 and drew attention when he defeated heavyweight Joe Choynski in a 27-round bout near Benicia, Calif., on June 5, 1889. The following year he outpointed Jake Kilrain in 6 rounds, and on May 21, 1891, he battled the West Indian Peter Jackson to a 61-round draw.

“Gentleman Jim,” so called because of his fine manners and clean living, fought Sullivan in New Orleans for a $25,000 purse and $20,000 stake. The match was the first heavyweight title bout fought with padded gloves and the first under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Corbett used guile and finesse, avoiding Sullivan’s rushes and scoring with counterpunches. He knocked out the champion in 21 rounds.

Corbett defended his title successfully against Charles Mitchell ( England ), Peter Courtney, and others, but on March 17, 1897, he was defeated at Carson City, Nev., when Robert Fitzsimmons of England knocked him out in the 14th round. Corbett made two attempts to regain the title but was defeated twice by James J. Jeffries (who had won the crown from Fitzsimmons), in 23 rounds on May 11, 1900, at Coney Island, N. Y., and in 10 rounds on Aug. 14, 1903, in San Francisco. Corbett fought a total of 33 bouts, winning 26.


Gentleman Jim appeared in plays, vaudeville, and motion pictures, and took part in radio programs. His autobiography The Roar of the Crowd was published in 1925. He died at his home in Bayside, N. Y., on Feb. 18, 1933. Corbett was elected to Boxing’s Hall of Fame in 1954.

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