3. Bob Fitzsimmons KO 14 James J. Corbett – March 17, 1897, The Race Track Arena, Carson City, Nev.
Few fights in history can be identified by a single word or phrase, but one specific swing of the fist forever linked the words “Fitzsimmons-Corbett” with “solar plexus punch.” More than 115 years after the fact, Fitzsimmons’ famous blow continues to reverberate through time and although countless other fighters have used it to ride to victory, nothing can ever beat the original.
The pair was originally scheduled to fight two years earlier in Dallas as part of Thomas Edison’s effort to perfect the filming process, but the project was scuttled for the time being when Texas’ legislature passed a ban on boxing. The effort, however, was resurrected when a deal was struck between the parties as well as with the state of Nevada, which agreed to host the contest.
Like most good matches, Corbett-Fitzsimmons featured a contrast in styles. Corbett pioneered the “scientific” style of boxing that emphasized speed, mobility, pinpoint punching and defensive wizardry while the old-school Fitzsimmons relied on the freakish power generated by his blacksmith’s shoulders. Their physical appearances also were diametrically opposed as the tall, dashing Corbett had movie-star looks and a full head of hair while the balding, freckled, spindly legged “Ruby Robert” only looked like a fighter when he was actually fighting. Even though Fitzsimmons weighed between 150 and 160 in most fights and had a 28-inch waist, he was the proud owner of two elephant guns otherwise called fists and he proved their viability to laying out heavyweights with stunning regularity.
Corbett’s long-range feints and stabbing punches controlled the early action while Fitzsimmons, hampered by a nagging right thumb injury, unsuccessfully targeted Corbett’s breadbasket. A quick one-two to the face brought blood from the challenger’s lip in the fifth and a scything right uppercut sent the 10-6 underdog to his knees in the sixth. Fitzsimmons arose and lasted out the round but matters looked decidedly unpromising.
Corbett, however, depleted his gas tank in trying to take Fitzsimmons out and as a result the challenger controlled the next six rounds, though he still couldn’t draw a proper bead for his blockbusters. But in the 13th a Fitzsimmons blast knocked out two of Corbett’s gold teeth, a precursor for what was to come in the next round.
Fitzsimmons feinted a blow toward Corbett’s head, which forced the champion to raise his gloves just high enough to expose his midsection. Spotting the opening, Fitzsimmons instantly shifted to a southpaw stance and planted a full-force left to the pit of Corbett’s stomach. The punch perfectly struck the bundle of nerves that congregated there and the sensory overload essentially paralyzed the lower half of the champion’s body. Though fully conscious, Corbett could do no more than gasp for breath as the final 10 seconds of his reign ticked away. It was a nightmarish scenario for the San Franciscan who was powerless to save his crown.
Less than a half-minute after the blow was struck Corbett was up and ready to fight. But he no longer was world heavyweight champion; that crown belonged to the man who invented the “solar plexus punch.”