From Cornwall to New Zealand
Bob Fitzsimmons was born in Helston. His father was Irish and his mother was Cornish. When Bob was still a young boy, his family emigrated to New Zealand. There, he trained to become a blacksmith (a metal worker). Because his work was very physical, Bob was particularly strong.
Around the age of 17, Bob started bare-knuckle boxing and was said to have had a very hard punch. In 1883, he moved to Australia to begin a professional career as a boxer. After some success in Australia, he moved to the USA. In 1891, Bob won his first World Championship match by defeating Jack Dempsey in the middleweight division. Boxing was still illegal in the USA at this time and fights were often stopped by the police.
In 1896, Bob fought a heavyweight match with Tom Sharkey in San Francisco. Their fight was refereed by the famous ‘Wild West’ marshal (law officer) Wyatt Earp. Although Bob was clearly winning the fight, Wyatt Earp declared Sharkey the winner. To show their frustration, fans loudly booed the decision. The story of the fight, criticising Wyatt, was reported all over the country.
The world’s first feature film
In 1897, Bob fought and knocked out a heavier opponent called ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett. The entire match was filmed and became the world’s first feature-length film shown in cinemas. It was also the first ‘prize-fight’ boxing match to be reported by a woman journalist, Nellie Mighels Davis.
In 1903, Bob won his third World Championship fight in the light heavyweight division. This made him the first boxer to win three World Championships at three different weights. He fought his last match in 1914 and died three years later. Bob’s boxing nickname was ‘Ruby Robert’ because of his red hair and freckles.