James J. Corbett

James John Corbett (1866-1933) was a World Heavyweight Champion whose his scientific approach to boxing, and his many innovative techniques, earned him the moniker Father of Modern Boxing. Among other things, he is famous for defeating the legendary Irish-American boxer John L. Sullivan.

James J Corbett

Corbett did 20 fights during his boxing career and fought all the big names of the era, including nine fighters that are now – just like him – enshired in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In 1942, his autobiography was used as the foundation for the Hollywood movie Gentleman Jim, with Errol Flynn starring as Corbett.

Short facts about James J. Corbett

  • Name: James John Corbett
  • Nickname: Gentleman Jim
  • Born: 1 September, 1866, in San Francisco, California, United States
  • Died: 18 February, 1933, in Bayside, Queens, New York City, United States
  • Nationality: USA
  • Weight class: Heavyweight
  • Height: 185 cm
  • Reach: 185 cm
  • Boxing stance: Orthodox
  • Total fights: 20
  • Wins: 11, including 5 KO wins, 5 wins by decision and 1 win by disqualification
  • Losses: 4, including 3 by KO and 1 by disqualification
  • Draws: 3
  • No contests: 2

Examples of boxing career highlights

Corbett vs Jackson

In 1891, Corbett fought crosstown rival Peter “Black Prince” Jackson. The match garnered a lot of attention since the two fighers were both boxing instructors as San Francisco’s two most prestigious athletic clubs. The fight ended with no-contest after an astonishing 61 (sixty-one) rounds.

World Heavyweight Champion

On September 7, 1892, Corbett became World Heavyweight Champion by defeating the legendary John L. Sullivan who had held the title since February 1882, i.e. for more than a decade. The championship fight took place in New Orleans, where Corbett won by knocing out his opponent in the 21st round, after having use his innovative boxing techniques to successfully dodge Sullivan’s rushing attacks.

Corbett successfully defended his title against the English boxer Charley Mitchell, but lost it to Bob “Ruby Robert” Fitzsimmon (also from England).

One of the first recorded boxing events

In 1894, Corbett fought Peter Courtney in the second recorded boxing match in the world: Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph. The event was filmed at the Black Maria studio in New Jersey.

The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight becomes the longest film

The abovemention championship fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmon lasted for over 90 minutes, and when it was released as a film, it was the longest film ever to be shown in cinemas at the time.

The fight against James J. Jeffries

Many boxing historians consider this the greatest fight of Corbett’s career, even though the didn’t win it.

Fitzsimmon’s had persistently refused to fight Corbett and instead selected the huge heavyweight boxer James J. Jeffries for the title defense. Jeffries was an old sparring parter of Corbet and new his techniques well. “Big Jeff” was also seven years younger than Corbett, and weighed nearly 30 lbs more.

The fight took place at Coney Island in New York, and had a 25-round limit. By the 20th round, Jeffrie’s people were in an uproar, because the fast and agile Corbett was successfully avoiding Big Jeff’s attempts, while also darting in to quickly land punches. This peformance continued through the 21st and 22nd round as well, but midway through the 23rd round, Corbett leaned back to ge away from a blow, bounced off the ropes and was promptly knocked down by a short right hand from Big Jeff. After being counted out, Corbett received enormous praise from the crowd for his gallant effort.

Acting career

After retiring from boxing, Corbett worked as a film actor, and also performed in a minstrel show with Cornelous O’Brien.

In a letter written by Thomas Edison in 1930, the inventor states that “I remember Jim Corbett very well, for he was a very important part of the first motion picture that we made for public exhibition. Yes, he can justly claim the distinction of being the oldest living film star, and I extend him my heart congratulations.


  • Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph, 1894
  • Actor’s Fund Field Day, 1910
  • How Championships Are Won—And Lost, 1910
  • The Man from the Golden West, 1913
  • The Burglar and the Lady, 1914 (This movie is based on a play of the same name, and Corbett appeared in the play as well.)
  • The Other Girl, 1915
  • The Midnight Man, 1919
  • The Prince of Avenue A, 1920
  • The Beauty Shop, 1922
  • James J. Corbett and Neil O’Brien, 1929
  • Happy Days (1929)
  • At the Round Table, 1930