James J. Jeffries

From Academic Kids

James Jackson Jeffries ("The Boilermaker") (born April 15, 1875 in Carroll, Ohio, United States died March 3, 1953 in Burbank, California) was a world heavyweight boxing champion.


Jeffries was the prototype for the modern athlete. He stood 6' 1 1/2" tall and weighed about 214 lbs in his prime. Despite his bulk, Jeffries, who was not a trained sprinter, could purportedly run the 100 yard dash in a little over 10 seconds. The world record in 1900 for the 100 meter dash was 10.8 seconds. While working as a sparring partner for James J. Corbett, Jeffries consistently outsprinted Corbett. Corbett, whose brother was skilled enough to play professional baseball, was an outstanding all around athlete and had never lost a footrace to any of his campmates. Jeffies was also nimble and could purportedly high jump over six feet. Another story told by Jeffries was that he once purportedly drank a gallon of whiskey while bedridden, in order to cure pneumonia.

His greatest assets were his enormous strength and stamina. Jeffries fought out of a crouch with his left arm extended forward. He was able to absorb tremendous punishment while wearing his opponents down. A natural left-hander, he possessed one punch knockout power in his left hook.

In 1891, his father moved his family from their Ohio farm to Los Angeles, California where the powerfully built and athletic teenager boxed as an amateur until age 20 when he started fighting professionally, going undefeated. On June 9, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York he defeated Bob Fitzsimmons to win the Heavyweight championship of the world. That August, he embarked on a tour of Europe putting on exhibition fights for the fans. Jeffries was involved in several motion pictures recreating portions of his championship fights. Parts of his other bouts and films of some of his exhibition matches survive to this day.

During his reign as champion, Jeffries defended his title seven times, including two knockout victories over former champion Corbett. Despite the fact that Jack Johnson was at the time the preeminent challenger, Jeffries adhered to a colorline that then existed in professional boxing regarding the heavyweight championship. Whites and blacks had fought one another in sanctioned bouts for years, but at the time sports insiders and the population at large were decidedly against risking the loss of the championship to a non-white fighter. Jeffries refused to give Johnson a chance at the title, deciding instead to retire undefeated in May of 1905. He served as a referee for the next few years, including the bout in which Marvin Hart defeated Jack Root to stake a claim at Jeffries' vacated 'title.'

An example of Jeffries ability to absorb punishment and recover from a severe battering to win a bout came in his rematch with Fitzsimmons for the title, who is regarded as one of the hardest punchers in boxing history. After losing his crown to Jeffries, Fitzsimmons fought and KOed Jim Daly, Ed Dunkhorst, Gus Ruhlin, and Sharkey. This earned him a rematch with Jeffries, which occurred on July 25, 1902 in San Francisco.

For nearly eight rounds Fitzsimmons subjected Jeffries to a vicious and merciless battering. Jeffries suffered a broken nose, both his cheeks were cut to the bone, and gashes were opened over both eyes. It appeared that the fight would have to be stopped, as blood freely flowed into Jeffries' eyes. Then in the eighth round, Jeffries lashed out with a terrific right to the stomach, followed by a lethal left hook to the jaw which knocked Fitzsimmons unconscious.

Five years after retiring, Jeffries made a comeback and on July 4, 1910 at Reno, Nevada. He fought champion Jack Johnson, who had staked his claim to the heavyweight championship by defeating Tommy Burns at Rushcutter's Bay in Australia in 1908. Johnson defeated Jeffries in the 15th round after Jeffries, who had never been knocked down in his career, was knocked down repeatedly, causing his corner to throw in the towel.

Johnson's reign as heavyweight champion provoked racial hostility and spawned the "great white hope" era in boxing. Johnson, who was a skilled and fearless champion, easily defeated the "white hopes" who challenged him. The newspapers of the day began clamoring for the undefeated Jeffries to come out of retirement to reclaim the heavyweight championship for the white race. Although, Jeffries hadn't fought in six years, was 35 years old and had reportedly ballooned to over 300 lbs, he allowed himself to be persuaded to accept the match.

It didn't take long for Jeffries to realize he had made a big mistake. Johnson easily controlled him and appeared able to end the bout whenever he pleased. It was obvious to all that this was not the same Jeffries who had reigned as champion. He was rusty, and lost and was said to have lost over 100 lbs in preparing for the fight. This ordeal weakened him and he was unable to bull Johnson around, as he had every other ring opponent he faced. Jeffries, who had been known for his seemingly superhuman stamina, faded fast under the mid day Reno heat. Aside from a few flashes of the Jeffries of old, the results of the fight were never in doubt.

Jeffries, however, made no excuses. After the fight he stated that he never would have been able to defeat Johnson, even if they had fought in his prime. Jeffries later changed his tune and in his biography implicated that he had been drugged prior to meeting Johnson. Jeffries never acknowledged Johnson's quality as a fighter; Johnson, in his own biography, named Jeffries as the greatest heavyweight of all time.

In his later years, Jeffries trained boxers and worked as a fight promoter. He promoted many fights out of a structure known as "Jeffries Barn." Jeffries Barn is now part of Knott's Berry Farm, a Southern California amusement park. On his passing in 1953, he was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

An all-around fighter with a devastating punch, many consider him one of the great heavyweight champions of all time. James J. Jeffries was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Preceded by:
Bob Fitzsimmons
Heavyweight boxing champion
Succeeded by:
Marvin Hart

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