#108) The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (1897)

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#108) The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (1897)

OR “Aging Bull”

Directed by Enoch J. Rector

Class of 2012

The Plot: Footage of the championship boxing match of James Corbett defending his heavyweight title from Bob Fitzsimmons on March 17th, 1897 in Carson City, Nevada. Although the entire match was filmed, all that survives today is the final 20 minutes.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a detailed rundown of the film’s historical context. Also included is a photograph of the fight that showcases the camera set-ups.

But Does It Really?: Historically yes. It’s kind of amazing that we owe the ability to film feature-length productions to some guy wanting to record a boxing match.

Everybody Gets One: Enoch J. Rector was an early film technician and boxing promoter who may or may not have invented the Latham Loop used to film this fight. As for the boxers themselves, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time and was among the first to incorporate a scientific approach to his boxing technique. Bob Fitzsimmons, aka “The Freckled Wonder”, was known primarily for his fights in Australia, and is still one of the lightest heavyweights ever to compete professionally.

Wow, That’s Dated: Back then boxing had just become legal in the state of Nevada, so the idea of actually being able to watch a boxing match in broad daylight was pretty exciting. Also bowler hats, we need to bring those back.

Other notes

  • Among the film’s historical achievements; it was the longest film produced at the time, and was possibly the first widescreen film (albeit in roughly 1.65:1, not too different from today’s HDTVs). And while not the first boxing film to be exhibited, the length of the fight led to its success, as most prior filmed boxing matches ended in KOs during early rounds, leading to paying customers feeling cheated.
  • When did we move boxing indoors?
  • I wrote this post in the midst of a heat wave, so being toweled off by an attentive pit crew sounds great right about now.
  • There’s something delightfully 1890s about the rounds being called by a man lifting his hat in the air.
  • In true sports fashion, the final knockout is presented again in instant replay.

Legacy

  • Both Corbett and Fitzsimmons continued fighting, though a string of losses led to Corbett’s early retirement. Corbett pivoted towards performing, and his autobiography was eventually turned into the 1942 film “Gentlemen Jim” starring Errol Flynn.
  • Part of this film’s success was the ability to watch a boxing match in real-time. Some things never change.

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