From the archives... Fitzsimmons KOs bear!
Luke G. Williams
In the first of an irregular series, Luke G. Williams brings you strange episodes from boxing’s rich history which he has uncovered in various newspaper archives...
While doing some background reading about Bob Fitzsimmons for my ‘ranking the heavyweights’ series for this website the following item from the New York Herald, as reprinted in the South Wales Daily News in July 1897, caught my eye.
I can only assume it is genuine and not a hoax, but who knows? It certainly makes for entertaining reading – I knew that Fitz had KO-ed ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett, but never knew about his bout with a grizzly!
Fitzsimmons was World Heavyweight Champion when the following incident occurred, which makes we wonder whether we should retrospectively recognise is as an official title defence!
BEAR AND PUGILIST.
FITZSIMMONS v BRUIN.
The New York Herald of July 18 publishes a telegram from Rye, N.Y., which states: - A hundred or more excursionists at Rye Beach yesterday morning saw a desperate and exciting battle between Robert Fitzsimmons, the champion pugilist of the world, and a large black bear. Fitzsimmons, with his wife and family and dog Yarrum, is summering in Rye, and the champion has grown quite popular with the villagers through constant attendance at their clam bakes and other social affairs.
A few weeks ago some of his admirers gave him a large pet bear called Jennie. The bear was formerly owned by “Fred” Clark, a Port Chester photographer and has a vicious reputation. It is related of Clark that while at a dance in the Port Chester Opera House last winter he was worsted in a fight, and, going home, got the bear and turned her loose on the dancers.
On several occasions the animal has tried to kill her keeper. But Fitzsimmons took Jennie and placed her in a cage near his cottage. While he was playing with his great Dane dog Yarrum yesterday morning near the bear-house Jennie became enraged because the dog approached too near her, and bounded at him. The chain snapped, and the bear sprang upon the dog and attempted to kill him. The bear then hurled the dog away and ran into the woods, where she climbed a big oak tree.
Fitzsimmons and the dog ran after her, and after unsuccessful attempts to frighten her down by throwing missiles, Fitzsimmons climbed to the limb where Jennie had taken refuge and attempted to shake her off. The bear tried to spring upon him. The crowd below shouted in terror, and several persons started for a gun.
The prizefighter finally caught the animal behind the right ear with his powerful right fist, and knocked her to the ground 25 feet below. She fell into a crowd of excursionists, who fled in all directions, many of the younger ones, who were in bathing suits, jumping into the Sound. They were saved from danger by the dog, which again enraged the bear in a rough and tumble fight. A gun had arrived, and several persons volunteered to shoot the bear, but Fitzsimmons protested that they might kill Yarrum, and said he could subdue her himself.
The fourth round in the exciting combat had now arrived. The bear, with her large right paw, gave Yarrum a ferocious cuff which sent him rolling on the beach. She then rushed at Fitzsimmons, and forced him into a fence corner, where she tried to hug him. His clothing was torn to pieces, and he would have been killed by the hard punishment the bear was inflicting upon him had he not succeeded in getting Jennie’s head against the fence and giving it a powerful blow, which sent her sprawling on the ground.
Fitzsimmons jumped on the prostrate animal, and, calling for help, got a rope. His friends tried to persuade him to shoot Jennie. The bear was by this time panting and out of breath, and ‘Fitz’ after letting it get its wind, started for the beach. The animal attempted to fight again, but was subdued with a club. The fight seemed to be dying out of her, and she was dragged into the water and held until the chain was repaired, when she was securely locked up in the cage.
Mrs Fitzsimmons was an interested spectator from the cottage, and one of the first on the scene after the fight was over.
“Oh, Bob,” she cried, “you look worse used up than the day you fought Corbett.”
Fitzsimmons was covered with blood, and his clothing was torn to ribbons. Yarrum was also badly used up, and was bleeding profusely from half-a-dozen wounds. I was told by Fitzsimmons this afternoon that he had always treated the bear kindly, and never allowed the dog to torment it.
“I believe the animal is naturally vicious,” he said, “and may decide to give it to a museum. I have fought fifty prize fights, but never had any one hug me like that bear.”