By Tracy Callis

Jim Corbett was a boxer deluxe. He was fast, clever, and elusive with excellent speed of hand and foot. He used a repertoire of jabs, hooks, and crosses while keeping his distance during the early part of a fight. But, if he chose to, Jim could stand within an arm’s reach of an opponent and hit him at will without being struck himself. Now and then, when an enemy was flat-footed or off guard, the “Gent” would move in and slam home a hard one. His punch was stiffer than most people give him credit for.  

Corbett was the second champion under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Some historians write that during his entire career (18 years) he never got a black eye or bloody nose. He was “heady” and an exceptional innovator. If a fight did not go according to plan (most did), he could adjust and change tactics in a flash.  

Jim was so quick and smooth that his opponent’s physical size or boxing skills was never a handicap to him. He knocked out John L. Sullivan, the powerful bully. He went 61 rounds with the two-hundred pound Peter Jackson. He made a mess of Bob Fitzsimmons in the early rounds of their championship fight and, had the count been carried out fairly (many sources say it was slow), he would have scored a sixth-round knockout.

But, he did err and get too close to Jim Jeffries – more out of disregard than error. Corbett boxed 23 rounds with Jeffries in their first bout and cut the big man’s face to shreds. Corbett later joked that he was ahead 22-0 going into the fatal 23rd round.

William Brady, manager of both Corbett and Jeffries, when asked to compare the two, said “I have a leaning, a slight leaning, toward Corbett. He combined the most desired qualities of brain and brawn to a degree I have never seen in any other fighter, past or present” (see Edgren 1926).

Houston (1975 p 9) said “He believed in hitting without being hit and moved gracefully about the ring, relying on the speed and accuracy of his hits to wear down opponents …”. Durant and Bettman (1952 p 82) said Corbett “… could feint, slip punches, side-step, and counter with a left jab so fast that it was a blur to the eye”.

Litsky (1975 p 76) said “James J. Corbett was one of the great heavyweight boxing champions and one of the great innovators … He originated the counter punch, the feint, and fast footwork.”


Durant and Rice (1946) called Corbett a skilled boxer who was lightning fast and one of the most scientific fighters of all time. They added, “In the ring he was ice cold. No man before him had ever applied himself to his trade as did Corbett to the study of boxing”.

Burrill (1974 pp 50 51) said “Corbett marked [the] turning point in ring history, replacing mauling sluggers with [the] new school of faster, scientific boxers”. Jem Mace, Britain’s great bare-knuckle champion called Corbett “… the most scientific boxer …” he had ever seen (see Durant 1976 pp 38 39).

Grombach (1977 p 48) wrote that Corbett was the first man to introduce defensive tactics into championship competition and the principle that a man cannot be beaten if he cannot be hit. Willoughby (1970 p 358) wrote of Corbett “… without doubt the greatest of all defensive boxers among the heavyweights …”.

Fleischer and Andre (1975 p 71) stated that at the peak of his career no one could compare with him in quick thinking and cleverness. McCallum (1974 p 22) said “James John Corbett is down in history as the most intelligent prize fighter the ring has ever known – the supreme master of defensive boxing”. Keith (1969 p 114) wrote “Jim Corbett … probably had the fastest and cleverest footwork of any man ever to fight for the world’s heavyweight championship”.

Durant (1976 p 33) said he “… developed the beautifully proportioned body of a Greek athlete” and that he was an accomplished counter puncher.

Odd (1976 p 141) wrote that Corbett appeared to be the perfect athlete with his beautiful muscularity. He earlier wrote (1974 p 16) he [Corbett] placed the science of boxing before brawn and added “Corbett specialized in a straight left lead and a right cross and he cultivated footwork to a fine degree”.

Jim Jeffries said Corbett was “… the cleverest man I ever fought. There isn’t a fighter of any weight, living or dead, who could measure up to him as a boxer” (see Litsky 1975 p 76).

Grantland Rice (1954 pp 142 143) called Corbett “the world’s greatest boxer” and wrote that in 1925, Corbett (at the age of 59) sparred three rounds with Gene Tunney. Rice stated that “Tunney was on the defensive. Corbett was brilliant . He still had bewildering speed! He mixed up his punches better than practically any fighter I’ve ever seen …”. Tunney commented “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in the ring. I learned plenty” (also see McCallum 1974 p 6)


Lardner (1972 p 69) asserted “James J. Corbett was the greatest boxer of all time among the heavyweights and one of the greatest ring generals of any weight. No heavyweight ever approached him in the ability to ride with a punch (and so remove part of its sting); slip a punch; make his opponent lead before he was ready and then counter with a series of pistonlike jabs; feint an opponent into committing a defensive maneuver and then attack the newly vulnerable area; or drift just out of reach of a punch a split second before it reached its intended target”.

In the opinion of this writer, Corbett was the fastest heavyweight boxer ever over the entire course of a fight (not just the early rounds) and the #7 All-Time Heavyweight in boxing history.


Burrill, B. 1974. Who’s Who in Boxing. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House

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

Durant, J. and Bettmann, O. 1952. Pictorial History of American Sports. Cranbury, New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Co.

Durant, J. and Rice, E. 1946. Come Out Fighting. Cincinnati: Zebra Picture Books

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. and Andre, S. 1959. A Pictorial History of Boxing. New York: Bonanza Books

Grombach, J. 1977. The Saga of Sock. London : Thomas Yoseloff Ltd.; Cranbury, New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc.

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

Keith, H. 1969. Sports and Games. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company

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

Litsky, F. 1975. Superstars. Secaucus, New Jersey: Derbibooks, Inc.

McCallum, J. 1974. The World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Radnor, Pa.: Chilton Book Company

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

Odd, G.  1976. The Fighting Blacksmith. London: Pelham Books Ltd.

Rice, G. 1954. The Tumult and the Shouting. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company

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

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