‘Gentleman Jim’ and the legacy he left Bayside

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the TimesLedger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

Champion heavyweight boxer, actor and Queens resident Jim Corbett was born in San Francisco, Calif. on Sept. 1, 1866. Known as “Gentleman Jim,” Corbett was raised in a middle-class family headed by his Irish immigrant father. He attended college and worked as a bank clerk before mastering the pugilistic arts at a local gym.

Fighting from an orthodox stance, the champion notched 14 wins, five by knockout, in a career spanning 17 years from 1886 to 1903. After retiring from the ring, Gentleman Jim found a successful and lucrative second calling as a Broadway and screen actor. Corbett’s younger brother Dan was a Major League baseball pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and other teams, and his great-great-great nephew, also Dan Corbett, was a heavyweight boxer in the 1990s.

First entering the ring professionally in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1886, the heavyweight great racked up an impressive record of eight wins, two draws and three no contests in bouts from California to New York City before making boxing history in his match with John L. Sullivan in 1892.

Squaring off in New Orleans under Marquess of Queensberry Rules, which dictated that fighters wear gloves, the younger and faster Corbett proved too much for the heavyweight champ and his crouch-and-rush fighting style. Sullivan, who was known as “The Boston Strong Boy,” faltered in the 21st round when Corbett landed a smashing left, heard throughout the venue, that knocked him off his feet. It was now up to Gentleman Jim to defend his new, hard-fought heavyweight title.

At a time when boxing was still outlawed in most states, Corbett only defended his title once, knocking out British fighter Charley Mitchell in three rounds in an 1894 match in Jacksonville, Fla. A short three years later, the San Francisco native relinquished the championship to Bob Fitzsimmons in a 14-round bout in Carson City, Nev.

Although Corbett masterfully outboxed his opponent in a match lasting over an hour and a half, the challenger scored blow after blow on Gentleman Jim until a hit to the solar plexus knocked him off his feet and ended the fight. A film of the contest, titled “The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight,” was the longest moving picture ever recorded when it was released later that year.

Following his retirement from boxing, Jim Corbett went into acting, appearing on stage and in a number of low-budget films, and also gave talks about his fighting career. In 1924, nearing 60 years of age, the Bayside, Queens resident had a friendly sparring match with future champ and admirer Gene Tunney, who marveled that Corbett had not lost his touch after so many years out of the ring.

From 1903 until his passing in 1933 at 66, Gentleman Jim lived in a home which still stands today at 221-04 Corbett Road. His autobiography, “The Roar of the Crowd,” was made into a 1942 film starring Errol Flynn. Jim Corbett, boxing champ, actor and author, was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Notable Quote: “Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the centre of the ring, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round—remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.”

For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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