I.N. Choynski (circa 1896): “If Christ would come to San Francisco, he would find his ministers, of all denominations, eating the juiciest steaks, drinking the choicest wines, wearing the costliest garments, and visiting the houses of those who give princely entertainments. If Christ came to San Francisco, he would say, ‘Father let me pass this wicked city, where suicides, failures, and hypocrisy abound, and where people pawn the diamonds of their wife in order to get themselves nominated for an office which pays no salary but has a lot of cabbage (graft).’”
Champion Bob Fitzsimmons vs. Sailor Tom Sharkey
Location: San Francisco, California – Crowd: approximately 14,000 fans which was largest for S.F. bout since Champion Sullivan/Robinson bout of 1883. Scheduled for 10 rounds – Fitz is 2-1 betting favorite – major action on whether Sharkey can survive 6 rounds.
Woman Sportswriter: “There are but two things in this world which will command $10 a seat – grand opera and a fight – the alpha and omega of human emotion. To a woman, the most interesting thing at a fight is the men outside the ropes. The superior male animal, without the varnish, with all his brute instincts on exhibition, is an instructive, if not an attractive spectacle.”
Pre-bout: Fitzsimmons enters ring – receives applause – Sharkey enters ring – thunderous applause, especially from $2 back seat crowd – boxers shake hands. Referee Wyatt Earp has been handed a $10,000 check to turn over to the winner.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Over ten thousand people saw the fight, among the spectators being a number of women.”
Woman Sportswriter: “It had been advertised that many women would see this fight. There were a few sandwiched about, some in a sub-gallery, shadowed by seats and closely escorted; a closely yelled pair in a lower box and another feminine couple minus their hats, in another box. Perhaps it was in their honor that the floors were remarkably clean, some of the ushers in evening dress and the whole place uniformly quiet until the big fight began.”
Referee dispute: The two corner men/managers debate who should ref the bout. No matter the name – the other would dispute. Sharkey manager, Lynch, offers the name of his famous friend, Wyatt Earp. Fitz manager, Julian, questions whether Earp has experience. Lynch lies and states Earp has referred several bouts, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Arizona. Hesitantly, Julian agrees.
Four hours before the bout – several East Coast patrons and local San Franciscans – approach Julian and warn him that Wyatt Earp has been paid off – and that he will not allow Fitzsimmons to win. The next 3-4 hours are chaotic – as Julian wants Earp dismissed as referee – Lynch will not hear of it.
This dispute continues until fight time. With pugilists and referee inside ring – Julian climbs through the ropes and tells Earp to his face that he knows this is a fixed fight. Earp insists this is not true. Julian tells ringside reporters – on record – that he has been informed that Earp has been paid off to guarantee a Sharkey victory.
The person who resolves the dispute is Fitzsimmons himself. He feels the crowd is against him and will blame him if the bout does not take place. Sharkey has suspicious bandages wrapped around his hands. Champion conditions if Sharkey’s bandages are removed – over the objection of Lynch – he will accept Earp as referee – over the objection of Julian.
ROUND 1: Sharkey bobs head and gloves – steps forward and throws right to head – misses – throws left to head – misses. Sharkey backs – bobs head and gloves – steps forward and lands left to body – backs. Sharkey bobs head and gloves – steps forward and throws left to head – misses – Fitz counters with a high left jab to head – misses. Sharkey pauses – bobs head and gloves – charges forward to throw left – Fitz expects and throws a short left jab that lands to face –follows with a right that lands to jaw – Sharkey knocked to the ground.
Sharkey rises following 2nd knockdown – a bit dazed as he covers up – backs. Fitz steps forward – a couple left feints – Sharkey bobs head and attempts to cover – Fitz throws left half hook that lands to jaw – Sharkey flops backward to ground – slightly tangled in lower ropes. Fitz assists Sharkey until the Irishman staggers back to his feet.
Woman Sportswriter: “At the end of the round there were two sleek, shining bodies, glazed with sweat and shining in the fierce light. Sharkey was heaving like a draught horse and seemed much the wearier of the two, Fitzsimmons looking about him all the time and on his feet.”
ROUND 2: Champion is anxious to begin round – stands and fidgets as he waits. Bell sounds – Fitz steps out – feints left to head – follows wit a left that lands to the forehead – Sharkey attempts to step forward and throw right to head – misses wildly – Fits steps back to easily evade.
A.P. reporter telegraphing live: “The button is pressed again and they begin to dance about to the quickstep: Fitz came over three quarters of the way, and after feinting tries the left at the head. Sharkey ducked and caught him around the legs.”
ROUND 3: Sharkey bobs head and gloves – springs forward as he attempts to club top of head with left – misses – throws desperate right to top of head – misses as Fitz evades – aggressive Sharkey steps forward and lands left to body – Fitz counters with right that lands to face – Sharkey throws right to head – misses as Fitz head bobs and steps away. Sharkey regains balance – bobs head and gloves – steps forward to throw left – Fitz stops foe with left jab which lands to head. Sharkey bobs head and gloves – steps forward to throw left – Fitz left jab to forehead lands instead. Sharkey bobs head and gloves – madly charges forward and lands left to body – tries to follow with right but loses balance – Fitz attempts to evade and throw left jab – misses – Sharkey charges forward and lands illegal right to crotch – crowd boos.
San Francisco Chronicle: “The suspicious blows were, however due to Sharkey’s style of swinging. Being so short, he hit in a circular way at Fitzsimmons and when that wily boxer ducked away from him blows that were aimed high at the body struck far below the mark.”
ROUND 4: Sharkey bobs head and gloves – charges forward and throws left to head – misses as the Champion evades – throws right to head – misses as the Champion evades – throws left to head – misses as Fitz evades – steps forward aggressively and pushes foe backward – Fitz falls to butt (no knockdown) – Sharkey is tired and attempts to land left to head – Fitz evades – Sharkey throws right to head – Fitz evades and rises to feet – grabs and holds out of control foe – crowd is yelling with mixed frenzy: Sharkey’s supporters mistakenly believe push was a knockdown. Fitz supporters angry with Sharkey’s repeated fouls and attempt to hit someone who is on the ground.
Sharkey bobs head and gloves – steps forward – Fitz lands over the top left hook to head. Sharkey bobs head and gloves – charges forward and grabs Fitz in clinch – bulls foe back to ropes – tries to illegally pin and punch – lands right to lower body – lands right to lower body – Fitz lands short left jab to head and escapes. Fitz charges and clinches – tries to hold and punch – lands short left to eye – Sharkey bleeds.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “In the fourth round, Sharkey pushed Fitz over on the floor and before Bob could get up, made a couple of vicious swipes at him. Fitz cleverly clinched and avoided damage, but it was a clear case of a foul on Sharkey’s part.”
ROUND 5: Sharkey’s face covered with blood – left eye partially closed. Fitz throws right at bobbing head – misses – Fitz steps forward to throw left – Sharkey pops up and lands hard left jab to head – his supporters roar – Fitz feints left – throws and lands left to face – Sharkey tries to back – Fitzsimmons steps forward with right which lands to jaw – Sharkey knocked to ground – tangled in lower ropes.
This is the 3rd knockdown of Sharkey – and by no account has referee Earp initiated any sort of ‘10’ count. Champion assists Sharkey from slipping out of ring and helps him to his feet.
Woman Sportswriter: “In the fifth round Sharkey fell through the ropes clumsily and Fitzsimmons helped him back.”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “In the fifth, Sharkey did more mean work, grabbing Fitz around the legs and trying to throw him…. A poke on the nose and a left swing on the jaw sent Sharkey down. He rolled under the ropes and would have gone off the platform had not Bob courteously hauled him back.”
Play by play account: “That Sharkey was losing steam was evident. He clinched at every opportunity, striking interlocked, contrary to agreement.”
San Francisco Chronicle: “It seemed as if Sharkey could not help fouling. Not once but a dozen times he wrestled the Australian, butted him with his shoulders and grasped his legs as he tried to hurl him over his head…. Fitz let the sailor have his left and right in the jaw, knocking him through the ropes in a very bad condition. So close was Sharkey to the edge of the platform that he looked as if he might fall off. Fitzsimmons with the coolness of an old ringster, reached out and caught him and pulled him into the ring.”
ROUND 6: Fitz throws right to head – misses – throws left to head – misses ducking foe – Fitz lands left to head – Sharkey charges forward and grabs foe around legs – Fitz escapes and becomes angry – steps forward to punch – Sharkey backs – Fitz continues forward – Sharkey charges forward and clinches.
Woman Sportswriter: “At each round and during it and all the time the crowd yelled madly, with hats and arms in air. It was like 10,000 maniacs, each man yelling for his favorite and his money. As the rounds reeled off, with Sharkey still in the ring, the men who bet on his endurance went mad with joy.”
ROUND 7: Sharkey bobs head and gloves – charges forward – Fitz feints left jab – lands right to head – lands left uppercut to jaw – lands right uppercut to jaw – Sharkey rushes and clinches – both grapple and try to punch – bell sounds….
Champion releases – steps toward corner – Sharkey charges and throws right to back of head – Fitz evades – Sharkey throws left to head – misses…. There is no account of referee Earp having issued a single warning to Sharkey for all these repeated illegal fouls.
A.P. reporter telegraphing live: “Fitz is after the marine like a tiger. Sharkey won’t let go of a clinch. Fitz is looking for a good opening to jab that left in. He finally finds it and lands both hands. Sharkey gets the better of the mix-up. He is fighting foul. Fitz is not as fast in this round and the sailor lands frequently.”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Fitz swung his right repeatedly for the jaw, but in some manner
Sharkey escaped. The left jabs always connected, though, and Tom was decidedly on the wane. Bob himself was none too strong and seemed to be a bit tired when the round closed.”
ROUND 8: Champion lands straight left to head – Sharkey wobbles backward – Fitz follows and lands right to top of crouching foe’s head – both near ropes – Fitz throws left hook to head – misses as Sharkey bobs and evades – Irishman desperate and clinches around waist – Fitz tries to shake loose – Sharkey will not let go of hold – referee Earp intervenes – unsuccessful as he tries to separate boxers – Earp finally pushes pugilists apart. Sharkey staggers toward center ring – attempts to be defensive and protect face – Fitz lands left jab to stomach – lands left jab to stomach and backs – Sharkey sways and is unable to defend himself but tries to keep gloves upward – Champion steps forward and lands hard left to exposed stomach – Sharkey’s gloves drop – Fitz follows with right uppercut which lands to chin – Sharkey collapses to ground….
The crowd is in pandemonium – referee Earp is not offering a count – Sharkey writhes on floor as if fouled – 10 to 20 seconds elapse with no count or signal – crowd roars its approval at the apparent knockout. Sharkey stops moving and lay still.
Champion Fitzsimmons raises his gloves in triumph – acknowledges appreciative crowd – Sharkey’s corner man, Lynch, has entered ring and shouts conversation with ref Earp. Several seconds pass – Lynch shakes fist in triumph but no one notices. Another 25-30 seconds elapse when it is announced to the crowd that Fitzsimmons has been disqualified – Sharkey declared the victor. All heck breaks loose – boos and hisses shower from all directions. Fitz entered the ring favored to win – but not the crowd favorite. Referee Earp sort of tries to wave his hands toward crowd – receives hate and invective – threats and curses – “fraud” and “fix” and “cheat” are shouted at him as he promptly gets the heck out of there. Sharkey still lay on ground – this is usually when a boxing mob tries to show its humanity by quieting and showing concern to a fallen or injured pugilist. But with ref Earp gone – shouts and curses – boos and hisses are aimed at Sharkey and his corner men.
Woman Sportswriter: “It was a lame conclusion. Sharkey fell over like a collapsed balloon. He writhed in pain, where a moment before he had been fresh and strong. They carried him out – the man who had been like a lion, while Fitzsimmons friends shouted that he was shamming, and the sailors supporters swore he was not, until for a moment it looked like a hundred fights all over the house. Fitzsimmons paced about the ring shaking his fist, spitting his rage, and the crowd stood up in its chairs, everybody talking at the top of his voice, with the decision in doubt because no one would listen. The referee had vanished like the Arabian Jenie.”
Tom Sharkey post bout comment: “I am certain that Fitzsimmons fouled me deliberately to save himself from defeat. It was getting too plain to him that I was gaining in strength, while he was going downhill, so to speak, so he thought he would lose on a foul.”
Bob Fitzsimmons post bout comment: “He fouled me at every clinch. I appealed eight times, and then, seeing that it was no use protesting, I quit and went in hitting my man just where I wanted to. In the fifth round Sharkey clinched and caught me round the hips. The referee deliberately stuck his fingers in my face, cutting my eyelid with his nails.”
Referee Wyatt Earp: “Julian came to me before the fight and said he had been told I was fixed. I am a friend of Lynch to be sure, but I know Sharkey only slightly. I first met him the night before he fought Corbett. Fitzsimmons I met four years ago, and was introduced to him by Bat Masterson, the best friend I have on earth. If I had any leanings they would be toward Fitzsimmons, for I know that Bat Masterson, who is in Denver tonight, had every dollar he had on Fitzsimmons.”
W.H. Naughton (boxing writer): “If Fitzsimmons struck Sharkey a foul blow last night I did not see it. But even at that I would scarcely like to go on record as saying that the punch on which the fight was given the sailor was not foul.”
San Francisco Chronicle: “It was Bob Fitzsimmons hand that struck the $10,000 blow last night, but the referee – none other than Wyatt Earp, who is better known in gun fighting circles than to pugilism – called it a foul and gave the trophy of battle, a certified check for a little fortune, to the sailor fighter who lay hopelessly knocked out in his corner of the ring.”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Then Fitz got up to finish the job in a workmanlike manner. A right half arm jolt under the chin sent the sailor’s head to one side. A left hook similarly applied sent him over backward. Then came the much disputed foul. Very few of the immense crowd could be convinced that Fitz had been unfair and it is almost certain that if a foul were committed, it was unintentional.”
San Francisco Chronicle: “There was pandemonium of shouting from the short enders who hadn’t looked for anything beyond winnings on the rounds and a fierce, long sustained deep-throated yell of ‘fraud’ ‘job’ ‘robbery’.”
Martin Julian: “This man Sharkey, who they claim was so badly knocked out, actually took the check out of the referee’s hand and stuck it in his belt directly after he fell down.”
Post bout legal issues: A ‘stop payment’ is placed the night of the bout on Sharkey’s certified $10,000 check. That is supposed to be impossible as Sharkey/Lynch were waiting to cash it the moment the bank opened. But they underestimated Martin Julian, who called the President of the bank – informed him an injunction would be placed on the check that morning in court – that a scandal had ensued that would likely place people in jail. The president personally placed a hold on the cashier’s check before the bank opened. The decision is made to let the legal system decide the winner – or at least who is entitled to the money. Testimony for the record is offered in the lawsuit. Sharkey’s trainer, Australian Billy Smith admits in Judge Sanderson’s court that a ‘fix’ was in and names the four who planned the scam: J.J. Groom, J. H. Gibbs, Danny Lynch, and Tom Sharkey. Wyatt Earp agreed to the scam in which he would disqualify Fitzsimmons on a body punch. Earp was to be paid 25% – or $2,500 for his necessary participation in the fraud.
Several days following this testimony the legal system bites back. The District Attorney decides that the testimony offered is proof than an illegal prize fight has taken place and that everyone involved may be arrested. The judge dismisses the lawsuit – states that courts do not resolve civil legal issues involving criminal activity.
Tom Sharkey returns to the bank with his cashier check and demands payment with all sorts of threats. He is told that nothing can be done. Sharkey asks if he can have any of the funds. He is told that 15% is placed under some sort of legal injunction. Sharkey waives this amount – collects $8500 – and leaves the bank a happy and relieved man.
The final player of this scandal drama is former undefeated Champion, James Corbett. He had decided it was premature and a mistake to have surrendered such a prestigious and lucrative position as Heavyweight Champion. Corbett has made it clear pre-fight that he wishes opportunity to face the winner and Champion in order to regain his title.
“Gentleman Jim” – no fan of Fitzsimmons – offers his opinion, without having seen the bout, that he believes the disqualification of Fitz by ref Earp was legitimate. Corbett tells the Brooklyn Daily Eagle the day following the bout that he believes Fitzsimmons felt the fight was slipping from his grasp and as he landed a left hook to chin – simultaneous landed an intentional knee to groin so fast that spectators would not be able to witness this devastating foul. The main problem with this theory is none of the principals – or the referee – had suggested that Fitz landed a knee to groin.
Corbett’s timing to reenter the ring – along with resolution of the scandal – proved fortuitous for both he and boxing. With utter refusal by both public and media to acknowledge Sharkey as Champion – and no legal recourse for Sharkey – an unprecedented decision in the history of sports is in order to resolve matter and lessen the taint of scandal: that James Corbett remains undefeated Heavyweight Champion. That he never ‘retired’ and simply took a break from boxing – like many Champions, including Sullivan. Corbett was more than willing to go along with this arrangement, since it placed him back into a power position, but it was understood that his first defense must be against Fitzsimmons. A previous guaranteed $25,000 purse for a 20 round bout would be accepted by both pugilists.
This meant that Tom Sharkey was not the heavyweight Champion, because the Fitz/Sharkey battle was not a Championship bout. This meant that neither Bob Fitzsimmons nor Peter Maher had been heavyweight Champions – and that their previous Championship bouts were not. This means – as we near 2010 – that the last heavyweight Champion from Ireland remains Paddy Ryan (1880-82).
For the first several hours following the bout – partisan dispute is fierce – Sharkey is the new Champion – and this is just another boxing scandal. By the following day, the tide has already turned against Sharkey. Though sports media acknowledges that Fitzsimmons has been disqualified and lost – no one calls official victor, Tom Sharkey: “CHAMPION”. The days that follow increase any anger and outrage against the Irishman. Sharkey insists he is Champion – and will fight Corbett – but his voice is slipping from minority opinion to almost a sole pathetic whine. The news spreads across the nation and world that a heavyweight Championship bout has been “fixed” – an intentional fraud committed – and that it’s unresolved who possesses the title.
Wyatt Earp as referee faces the worst media publicity of his life. The worst previous involved an outraged Tucson media when he and Doc Holliday and three others pumped five bullets into the back of former deputy sheriff, Frank Stillwell. The five were also involved in a less publicized murder – five bullets to the back – in a case of mistaken identity – believing they had killed someone named “Indian Charley” and instead it was an innocent Hispanic named, Florentino Cruz. The Tucson Daily Star (1882) editorialized of Earp/Doc Holliday: “Their paths are strewn with blood.” Earp/Holliday and those other three successfully raced to the New Mexico border while chased by an Arizona law enforcement posse (which included Sheriff Behan and Ringo). The arrest warrant charge: murder. Maximum conviction sentence: execution (hanged). Tucson was a fairly sophisticated larger Southwest city – contrary to popular American East Coast opinion – with an extensive history as a central civilized region – so the cold blooded murder by Earp/Holliday outraged its citizenry. For those who believe Tucson as ‘lawless’, I can assure that public murder was an aberration and not ‘normal’ for this region.
For the value system of American East Coast citizenry – and sports fans throughout the world – the cold blooded murders of an innocent Hispanic and a former deputy Sheriff were ‘acceptable’ because of the lawless west romance stuff – but the rigging of a boxing bout was deemed ‘unacceptable’ and morally reprehensible.
Day of Recovery: March 17th, 1897
Former heavyweight Champion legend, John L. Sullivan would not know that his morning would begin at ‘rock bottom’ – though there would be future arrests due to public drunkenness still to come – and would conclude by evening as the first step toward the rest of his life. Sullivan is an emotional and physical wreck, consumed by daily thoughts of suicide, with his only obsession as the reclaiming of his Championship title. Though he would always be ‘John L. Sullivan’, and no one understood the value of that name more than the man himself, his self-esteem had been driven for years as a tough son-of-a-bitch, while only the toughest of the tough can call them self ‘Heavyweight Champion’. Sullivan attends the Corbett/Fitzsimmons bout anxious to fight the winner: “I know that I still have one good fight left in me.” He could not understand at the moment – though he one day would – that reclaiming the heavyweight Championship is the last thing his life needs. First, a small step, is his need to rid himself of his own humiliation, the daily reminder, as cocky James Corbett holds the esteemed title that was once proudly his own. Second, the much larger step forward, is to abstain from the sick, disgusting drug (whiskey) that has ruined a great life and had stopped being fun long ago…. That day would one day come, too.
From my 4th book, “My LIFE Before DEATH (boxing historian memoir)” on Amazon for $6.99)…