Did you know New Zealand can lay claim to a middleweight, heavyweight and light heavyweight world boxing champion?
And that it was all one man?
Bob Fitzsimmon’s story could be claimed by Great Britain (where he was born) or Australia ( where he began to fight professionally) but he began his career in New Zealand - in fact, in Timaru to be precise.
Robert Fitzsimmons was born to policeman James and his wife Jane (nee Strongman) in Helston, Cornwall on May 26, 1863. The couple had had 12 children of which Bob, as he was known, was the youngest.
His parents brought their five youngest children to New Zealand on the Adamant in 1873 and after landing in Lyttelton ended up in Timaru. James set up a blacksmith’s forge and after finishing school Bob joined the business where the hard heavy work at the forge was instrumental in the development of his arms and shoulders that lead to the devastating punch that would be his trademark.
In 1880, famous British pugilist Jem Mace visited New Zealand and organised a boxing tournament. Bob entered and won - knocking out four opponents to do so.
Then he won again the next year and began a professional career in Australia from 1883 to 1890 before heading to America.
He won his first three fights before he was matched with Jack Dempsey for the world middleweight championship in New Orleans in 1891.
He won by knocking the champion out in the 13th round.
Bob fought in different weight classes - finding some more difficult than others - until in March 1897 he knocked out James J Corbett to become heavyweight champion of the world. In fact he became the lightest to ever hold that title.
He lost the title on his first defence but in 1903 took the light-heavyweight championship of the world from George Gardner - winning on points and became the first boxer to hold titles at three weights.
Bob married four times, Louisa Johns who he married in 1885 and had a son with. After their divorce he married Rose Samnell and had three children. After Rose died in 1903, he married Julia May Gifford which also ended in divorce. He married Temo Ziller in 1915.
He died on October 22, 1917 in Chicago, Illinois. He is buried at the Graceland Cemetery.
Bob’s official record was 61 wins, 57 by knockout, 8 losses and four draws.
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