Marvin Hart vs. Tommy Burns

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1906-02-23 : Marvin Hart 192½ lbs lost to Tommy Burns 175 lbs by PTS in round 20 of 20

  • Location: Pacific A.C., Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Referee: Charles Eyton
  • World Heavyweight Title (1st defense by Hart)


  • Marvin Hart, through his manager Jack Curley, extended offers to Bob Fitzsimmons and Philadelphia Jack O'Brien to fight for the title, but both men declined. Hart then accepted a challenge from Tommy Burns, which was accompanied by a $1,000 forfeit.
  • On the day of the fight, Hart was a 2-1 favorite to win and the odds were even money that Burns would stay 10 rounds.
  • Some, including Geoffrey Ward, have inaccurately reported that former World Heavyweight Champion Jim Jeffries was the referee for Hart vs. Burns.
  • The electricity in the arena went out briefly in the 13th round.
  • After the fight, according to the Los Angeles Herald, "Hart's left eye was closed, his right eye was dimmed, his nose was bruised, his mouth was bleeding and his lips were so swollen that he could scarcely talk except in pain."

The following is from the February 24, 1906, edition of the San Francisco Call:

From start to finish, with the possible exception of the tenth and twelfth rounds, when Hart had a small advantage, Burns outfought the bigger man, outgeneraled him and beat him at every point in the game of boxing. At times Burns, although greatly handicapped in weight and height, made Hart look like a novice.
In the opening round Burns was nervous and lacked confidence. After this, however, he quickly sized Hart up and began a systematic attack on his face and body with straight lefts. In the third round he started the blood flowing from Hart's nose and kept it running in almost every round thereafter. In the fifth Burns cut Hart over the right eye and in the following rounds battered the optic until it was closed. The left eye was also badly marked. Hart's face presented a bloody sight practically throughout the fight.
Hart failed to show any sort of championship form. At boxing he stood no show with Burns and at in-fighting his superior strength failed to offset the clever smaller man's generalship. Hart's persistent attempts to rough it in the clinches earned the disapproval of the crowd which appeared to be with Burns almost to a man.
Burns' style of attack was to shoot his left to the face or the body and step inside of Hart's swings, allowing them to go around his neck or ducking them entirely. Hart simply could not land on Burns, and toward the latter part of the fight tried hard to rough it and wear Burns out by using his weight in the clinches. The fight was tiresome, one round being much like the preceding and following ones.
In the fourteenth Burns appeared to have a chance to knock Hart out. He caught the bigger man a right and left on the jaw that sent him staggering for a moment. Quickly seizing his advantage Burns hammered Hart about the face and head until he forced him to cover up and give ground. The crowd went wild with enthusiasm for Burns' effective work.
In the last few rounds seeing the tide cf battle going against him Hart, urged by his chief second, Tommy Ryan, tried desperately to corner his quick-witted opponent and administer a knockout. Every attempt failed, however, and every round increased Burns' lead.
The decision of Referee Eyton was cheered apparently by the entire crowd of 4000 spectators.

The following is from Geoffrey C. Ward's 2004 book Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson:

Hart may have been bigger and stronger and had a more impressive record—thirty-six fights, eighteen by knockout—but he also had a quick temper and no sense of humor whatsoever. To upset him, Burns entered the ring with what he himself remembered as a "ridiculous" amount of tape on his hands and settled on his stool.
Hart demanded they be retaped.
"Why, Mr. Hart," Burns said, peering up at the agitated titleholder. "I didn't think that a big champion like you would mind a little man like me wearing a little tape."
Hart, anger rising, continued to insist. Burns continued to refuse. The argument went back and forth until Hart shouted that he would not fight unless Burns gave in. At that, Burns jumped up, shoved Hart, and shouted back, "Get out of my corner, you cheese champion!"
Hart called Burns "a little rat" and took a swing at him. Jim Jeffries had to interpose himself until the bell rang.[Editor: Jeffries was merely a ringside spectator.]
The furious champion spent eighteen of the next twenty rounds mindlessly rushing at Burns, who sidestepped, hit him as he went by, and kept up what Burns remembered as "a well-rehearsed line of chatter" calculated to keep Hart angry and out of control. When it was over, Burns was the easy winner. With characteristic grace, Marvin Hart claimed he'd been cheated. Burns was "a hugger and a wrestler," not a boxer. Hart had been the victim of a conspiracy. Everybody had been in on it: Burns, Jeffries, even his own manager, Tommy Ryan.

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