5. James J. Jeffries W 25 Tom Sharkey II – Nov. 3, 1899, Coney Island Athletic Club, Brooklyn, New York
Injuries: Dislocated left elbow, singed scalp
Jeffries’ first defense of the heavyweight title he blasted off Bob Fitzsimmons’ head five months earlier was his second meeting with Sharkey, against whom he won a 20-round decision 18 months ago. Sharkey had earned this opportunity by scoring a one-punch first-round KO over Gus Ruhlin, a nine-round DQ over ex-champ James J. Corbett when Corbett’s second jumped into the ring during the round, a 10-round KO over Charles “Kid” McCoy and a two round blast-out of Jack McCormick. Though the 215-pound “Boilermaker” outweighed his challenger by 32 pounds, experience told him a long, draining, punishing bout was ahead of him.
Even before a single punch was thrown this match already was historic: It was the first attempt to film a fight using artificial lighting. It was an exercise of trial-and-error and in that vein two errors were made. First, the lights hung just a few feet above the fighters’ heads and as a result both men’s scalps were singed. Second, the intense heat was such that Jeffries lost 20 pounds during the bout.
The conditions only worsened Jeffries’ discomfort because he entered the ring with a dislocated left elbow he injured a week before the fight. Once the opening bell sounded the punishment meted out was brutal even for the times. Jeffries believed he had one hard punch in his injured left arm and in round two he scored a bull’s eye – and a knockdown. Sharkey arose immediately and, as Jeffries feared, his arm was rendered nearly useless for the remainder of the contest.
Sharkey gained steam with each succeeding round and by the 10th he had the champion battered and bloodied. But Jeffries was known for his ability to take a thrashing only to come on stronger and in the 11th he again lived up to his reputation by firing a right to the temple that dropped Sharkey to his knees. Once again, the rugged challenger arose and resumed his heavy scoring.
Heading into the final five rounds of this grueling 25 rounder, Sharkey looked to be ahead but Jeffries had one final stretch drive in him as for the next three rounds he imposed his greater size and strength. And yet Sharkey, who went toe-to-toe with the larger champion despite two broken ribs as well as multiple facial cuts, rallied in the final two rounds and blasted the exhausted but unyielding champion until the final bell. Referee George Siler, the bout’s only scoring official, raised Jeffries’ hand and declared him the winner of perhaps the most intense heavyweight title bout ever staged.