4. 1897 – Bob Fitzsimmons KO 14 James J. Corbett, The Race Track Arena, Carson City, Nevada – World heavyweight championship
“Ruby Robert” was an enigma on several levels. First, few would believe a balding, spindly-legged 155-pounder could generate enough power to flatten far larger men but Fitzsimmons, whose broad shoulders were crafted from his years as a blacksmith, was one of the most ferocious hitters of his generation. Second, he was among the first to successfully leap weight classes, a practice that is all-too-common today. His first such jump took place when the 33-year-old Fitzsimmons, a onetime middleweight champ, signed to fight heavyweight king James J. Corbett, a man whom “Freckled Bob” pursued for more than five years before finally getting him to consent.
Despite not having defended his title for more than three years, Corbett was installed as a 5-to-3 betting favorite. This despite the fact Fitzsimmons had scored 18 straight knockouts (15 within the first three rounds) before losing a DQ to Tom Sharkey in his most recent fight three months earlier.
Still, Corbett showed no signs of ring rust as he dominated the first six rounds with his quicker hands. Corbett capped his strong start by flooring Fitzsimmons with a series of rights in the sixth. The Cornishman barely lifted himself up at nine and survived the round by clinching and swinging for survival. The knockdown apparently ignited a spark in Fitzsimmons, for he amped up his aggression and his powerful swings gradually chipped away at Corbett’s stamina.
In the 14th, Fitzsimmons would produce boxing’s first punch with a name. “The Solar Plexus Punch” began when Fitzsimmons suddenly squared his body to Corbett’s. As he did so he fired a potent left to the pit of Corbett’s stomach, collapsing his legs as well as his ability to breathe. Temporarily paralyzed from the waist down, Corbett unsuccessfully tried to crawl toward the ropes to haul himself up. The ring’s 24-foot-square area, the ticking clock and his own body conspired against Corbett and just like that the world had a new – and unlikely – heavyweight champion.