By Tracy Callis

Bob Fitzsimmons was one of the cleverest fighters and deadliest hitters of all time. He was deceptive and ringwise crafty, often pretending to be tired or hurt in order to draw his opponent in close. He would attack the head or body. He could deliver a fast, “whistling” shot to a vulnerable area and achieve a knockout. His ability to recuperate after taking hard blows was unequalled.  

The physical characteristics of Fitzsimmons gave him a weird appearance. For years, he worked as a blacksmith and developed huge shoulders with tight, hard arm and back muscles. His legs were skinny and his head was bald.

Some critics, but few experts, argue that Fitz was too light to be a bonafide heavyweight. He may have been lanky with thin legs but his upper torso was equal to that of a well-developed two-hundred pound man. He may have looked like a joke but no one who fought him laughed.  

Houston (1975, p 13) wrote that although Fitz was “Something of a physical freak, with wide shoulders, and spindly legs, he was nevertheless a sound ring craftsman and a tremendous puncher”.

Gilbert Odd (1974, p 17) also called Fitz a physical freak and fistic phenomenon. He comments that the magnificent shoulders and deep chest perched on spindly legs looked grotesque but had astonishing punching power.  

Usually, Bob was good-natured. He liked to tease and be playful. But, in the ring, an inner viciousness surfaced. He played for keeps. As a middleweight, he knocked out the marvelous and slippery “Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey. As a light-heavyweight, he knocked out the fast and clever Jim Corbett to win the Heavyweight Championship. As Heavyweight Champion, he battered the powerful and rugged Jim Jeffries unmercifully.  

Fitz fought for thirty-four years and, during his career, held three world championship titles – middleweight, heavyweight, and light heavyweight. In 1893, he knocked out seven men in one evening and required only nineteen rounds to do so. All men weighed over 200 pounds. One stood 6-7 and weighed in at 240 pounds (see Carpenter, 1964, p 8).  

John L. Sullivan called him a “fighting machine on stilts”. Jim Corbett said “for his weight and inches, he was the greatest fighter that ever drew on a glove”. Jim Jeffries said he was “the trickiest man who ever fought in the heavyweight division and he could hit like hell. A guy could make just one mistake against old Fitz”.

When Fitz got into the ring with Jim Jeffries, it was fantastic hitting ability against an iron-jaw defense. Bob’s fists hit so hard they smashed nearly everything in the ring. Jeff’s face was a mess. His eyes were swollen almost shut. An ear was ripped loose. His nose was pulverized and his lips bleeding. Fitz broke his hands on Jeffries’ granite chin.  

Edgren (1926, p 55) said “The punching power of Fitzsimmons was marvelous. Every blow seemed to dent Jeffries’ face out of shape”. Hype Igoe, famous sportswriter, wrote that Fitzsimmons gave Jeffries the most awful beating he ever saw a man take in the ring (see Graffis, 1945, p 119).  

Jack Johnson rated Fitzsimmons better than Jim Jeffries or Sam Langford as a puncher (see Lardner, 1972, p 100). David Willoughby (1970, p 357) said that “… Fitzsimmons had perhaps the hardest punch ever possessed by a boxer of his size”. Bromberg (1958, p 23) asserted that “Fitz generated fierce fire power from short range”. Gene Tunney (1950, p 218) wrote that “Fitz could unleash terrific blows for his size, and it is conceivable that he could have taken (Joe) Louis …”.

The writer, John Masefield, described Fitz as a man with “a slouch and a crouch … a way of moving … which deceived you into thinking of a slow moving gorilla; then he would straighten up into a very tall straight limber man, with magnificent shoulders, who moved deathly quick … I felt he that he could stand a very great deal of punching and that his shoulders and long arms gave him a defence not easy to overcome” (see Carpenter 1964, p 3). Carpenter added “The truth may be that there were few men good enough to pierce Fitzsimmons’ defence …”.

Lardner (1972, p 100) wrote that Fitz was sometimes given to wide and ineffective swings but nevertheless was rugged, determined, and crafty and had enormous shoulder, back, and arm development. He later added (1972, p 129) that Fitz was most dangerous when hurt.

Durant (1976, p 39) said Fitz had a superior hook and “… in many ways was the most remarkable fighter who ever laced on a pair of gloves … a physical freak, a 6-foot tall, knock-kneed, red-headed middleweight with a wasp waist … yet he was built like a heavyweight from the waist up – and he certainly hit like one”.  

Fleischer (1972, Appendix VII) rated Fitz as the best knockout puncher and body puncher among the heavyweights. He also asserted that Fitz possessed the best hook. At other times, he called Bob a person of average intelligence who was a “brilliant thinker” in the ring.

McCallum (1975, p 8) described him, “Fitz might not have looked like your idea of a heavyweight champion. From toenails to torso he would evoke only laughs in a bathing suit – knock-kneed, pipestem legs, hairy barrel chest, topped off by a freckled face, garnished with sparse red hair. His looks were deceiving, of course, for his heavyweight arms could deliver blows as devastating as sticks of dynamite … His timing was perfect. He was a superb judge of distance. His punching, therefore, was deadly accurate."

Edgar Lee Masters said “I could put up a good argument to the effect that Fitzsimmons, all things considered, was the greatest fighter who ever lived …” (see Graffis, 1945 p 113).

It is the opinion of this writer that Bob Fitzsimmons was the greatest middleweight fighter of all-time, the second greatest light-heavyweight fighter of all-time, and the best “pound-for-pound” fighter in the history of the boxing.


Bromberg, L. 1958. World’s Champs. Retail Distributors, Inc.

Carpenter. H. 1964. Masters of Boxing. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

Durant, J. 1976. The Heavyweight Champions. New York: Hastings House Publishers

Edgren, R. 1926. The Big Fellow (Jim Jeffries) (contained in Liberty magazine for seven weekly issues from July 31 to September 11, 1926)

Fleischer, N. 1972. Jack Dempsey. New Rochelle, NJ: Arlington House

Graffis, H. 1945. Esquire’s First Sports Reader. New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc

Houston, G. 1975. SuperFists. New York: Bounty Books

Lardner, R. 1972. The Legendary Champions. New York: American Heritage Press

McCallum. J. 1975. The Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions. Radnor, Pa: Chilton Book Co.

Odd,G. 1974. Boxing: The Great Champions. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited

Tunney G. 1950. Was Joe Louis the Greatest? (contained in Collier’s Greatest Sports Stories, 1955, pp. 215-225). New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

Willoughby, D. 1970. The Super Athletes. Cranbury, NJ: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

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