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The Day in Sports | COUNTDOWN TO 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century

May 11, 1900

Corbett Took Punch With Grain of Smelling Salt

May 11, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ninety-nine years ago today, a 19th century heavyweight boxing champion and a 20th century champion met and the result proved that no matter which century you're in, big, strong and young beats small, quick and old.

The champion was James J. Jeffries, still Los Angeles' only heavyweight champion. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Jeffries, 25, had won the championship in 1899 and was defending it for the third time.

The challenger, James J. Corbett, from San Francisco, had beaten John L. Sullivan in 1892 to win the championship, then lost it to Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897. He was 33, 6-1 and 188.

The site was New York's Coney Island Athletic Club, where Jeffries had won the heavyweight title in 1899 by beating Fitzsimmons.

A Los Angeles preacher's son, Jeffries was a spectacular physical specimen. He had a heavily muscled upper body, yet--as legend has it--had been clocked at 100 yards in 10 seconds more than once.

Friends often told of Jeffries shooting a deer in the mountains above Tehachapi, field-dressing it, then carrying it nine miles on his shoulders, not stopping once, to a campsite.

Jack London, who covered several of his fights, described Jeffries' physique this way: "His is a perfection of symmetry that is the fruit of the highest organic development."

And on May 11, 1900, he needed every bit of his strength.

Corbett, keeping his distance and defending himself expertly with a cross-armed defense, won nearly all the early rounds with a hit-and-run style. But he began to wilt under the blazing arc lights being used to enable cameramen to film the fight.

In the 23rd round, the rallying Jeffries drove Corbett into the ropes with a left to the body and when he bounced back, the champion caught him flush on the chin with another left.

Of the punch, Jeffries, in his autobiography, "My Life & Battles," wrote, " . . . he fell to the floor solidly, like a sack of grain."

Jeffries retired undefeated in 1905, then lost to Jack Johnson in a 1910 comeback match. He died at 77 in 1953. Corbett was 65 when he died in 1933.

Also on this date: In 1923, Pete Schneider of the Pacific Coast League's Vernon team hit five home runs--two of them grand slams--and drove in 14 runs in a 35-11 Vernon victory at Salt Lake City.

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