Fitzsimmons: the original pound for pound king?
Luke G. Williams
Regular readers of Boxing Monthly online may be aware of my search for the earliest verifiable usage of the classic phrase ‘pound for pound’ within a boxing context.
In an article published in BM online last month I revealed that the commonly held idea that the ‘pound for pound’ concept originated during the heyday of the great Sugar Ray Robinson was a myth. (Click here to read this article).
Indeed, thanks to research by writer Gary Lucken, I was able to provide readers with a selection of references which indicated the concept of describing the best boxer in the world regardless of weight as the ‘pound for pound’ greatest was part of boxing’s common linguistic currency well before the 1940s and 1950s.
In this article, I mentioned that the earliest usage of the ‘pound for pound’ phrase found by Gary was in the Evening Star newspaper, dated 3 April 1906.
Describing the great Battling Nelson, the Star declared that after his victory against Jimmy Britt, the Dane was regarded as “the fighter of the century at his weight, and it was believed that he would never back water or split hairs when required to meet any boxer on a pound for pound basis”.
However, Gary’s tenacious research has now found some even earlier references, which suggest that the pound for pound term was originated not in honour of Sugar Ray Robinson, or Battling Nelson, but as a tribute to the great former heavyweight, light-heavyweight and middleweight world champion Bob Fitzsimmons.
Reflecting on Fitzsimmons’ loss to Jim Jeffries in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 12 June 1899, the ‘Old Sport’s Musings’ column declared:
“Taking him pound for pound, Bob Fitzsimmons was the greatest fighter that ever stepped into a ring … When the annals of Fistiana in the last decade of the nineteenth century are compiled, posterity – or that portion of it which will follow the boxing game – will doubtless wonder what manner of man was this that held both the heavy and the middle-weight championship.”
In August the following year, the same columnist returned to this theme after Fitz had KO’d Gus Ruhlin, despite giving away 25lbs in weight, declaring.
“Bob Fitzsimmons is assured of a niche in the temple of fistic fame, but it is a rather sad commentary upon the quality of contemporaneous sportmanship that he is not now given the credit his merits deserve. I have repeatedly declared that, taking him pound for pound, he is the greatest fighter who ever breathed…”
These references open up the possibility that it was perhaps this anonymous Philadelphia sports columnist who coined the entire concept of a ‘pound for pound’ best boxer, and that he did so in honour of the great Fitzsimmons.
If so, it provides yet another claim to fame for Fitz, who was born in Cornwall and became the world's first, and arguably greatest, three-weight world champion.