Tommy Gibbons

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Class of 1993
Old Timer Category
Hall of Fame bio:click
World Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee

Name: Tommy Gibbons
Birth Name: Thomas Joseph Gibbons
Born: 1891-03-22
Birthplace: Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
Died: 1960-11-19 (Age:69)
Hometown: Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
Stance: Orthodox
Height: 6′ 0½″   /   184cm
Reach: 74″   /   188cm
Boxing Record: click

Tommy Gibbons Gallery

Career Overview

Famous for being the only man to last fifteen rounds against boxing immortal Jack Dempsey, Tommy Gibbons was an accomplished fighter in his own right. Utilizing terrific technique, a tricky defense, and a rugged chin, Gibbons fought some of the best fighters of the "Golden Age of Sports" as a middleweight to heavyweight, including five future hall-of-famers.

Gibbons got his start in boxing as a young man in St. Paul at the local YMCA. He turned professional in 1911 as a welterweight at the age of twenty, knocking out one Oscar Kelly in Minneapolis. He relocated to New York before his third bout and went undefeated in first twelve outings to secure a match with fellow up-and-comer Billy Miske in 1914. The fight, held in Hudson, Wisconsin, lasted a full ten rounds, but as state law forbade official decisions at the time, the bout was declared a no-decision. Still, more reporters at ringside felt that Gibbons had the better of the action. In 1915 the pair fought a rematch, to another no-decision which again was felt to be Gibbons's fight. Almost immediately following this, Gibbons leapt into a match with Pittsburgh's Harry Greb, a wild-swinging middleweight brawler who would later be recognized by The Ring magazine as the single greatest middleweight in history. According to reporters, only Greb's fabled toughness saved him from a knockout. The fight went the distance and was officially a no-decision, but no one doubted who the winner was. Gibbons spent the next several months traveling and fighting less than stellar opponents in Canada, Missouri, Milwaukee, New York, and Scranton before taking on Battling Levinsky, who was the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world at the time, though, because Gibbons was only a middleweight, the title would not be on the line. Though Gibbons was by now undefeated in twenty-four pro fights, Levinsky was a veteran of an amazing 181 fights. Again the fight ended in a no-decision, but reporters gave their verdict to Gibbons.

Gibbons continued his undefeated streak for the next three years--fighting a variety of competition and fighting in places such as Dayton, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Baltimore, Akron, Terre Haute, Des Moines, Buffalo, Denver, Minneapolis, Calgary, Seattle, Peoria, and Edmonton. On May 15, 1920 he fought a second no-decision against Greb. Even Greb's hometown paper reported that Gibbons handed him "the licking of his life." In a rematch two months later, which took place in a thunderstorm at the open air Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the fight was closely contested in the early goings but Greb's aggressive style made all the difference in the final third of the bout. The newspapers gave their verdict to Greb. Technically, though, Gibbons was still undefeated and he continued to be so through his bouts with moderate level fighters like Chuck Wiggins and Dan (Porky) Flynn in the next few months. On June 22, 1921 he knocked out Willie Meehan, the San Francisco "Fat Boy," who had twice beaten the great Jack Dempsey earlier in his career. Against Gibbons, Meehan lasted less than a round. In fact, for all of 1921, Gibbons scored twenty-one knockouts, ten in the first round. On March 13, 1922, Gibbons was back in the ring with his old nemesis, Harry Greb. This time Greb was the more active fighter and walked away with a fifteen round decision, handing Gibbons his very first professional defeat. A few months later a disqualification against Billy Miske became a second defeat. Gibbons did go undefeated in his next six however and, when Jack Dempsey's handlers was looking for his first title challenger in two years, they picked Gibbons as a credible contender who would still be an easy mark.

Gibbons's first and only title shot occurred on July 4, 1923, in the oil town of Shelby, Montana--challenging Jack Dempsey. Dempsey was rusty and Gibbons exploited that fact by using his terrific defense and slick movement to keep his opponent uncomfortable and off-balance. Despite this, Gibbons used virtually no offense. He was content to keep the heavyweight champion at a distance and avoid any confrontations. Through fifteen rounds, neither man landed anything of significance. When it ended, Dempsey, who had been the aggressor throughout, was declared the winner. Because a disappointing turn out of 8,000 failed to cover the expenses of putting on the fight, three banks of Shelby went bankrupt paying Dempsey his guarantee of $300,000. That left nothing for Gibbons, who was not even reimbursed for his traveling expenses. His only payment was the satisfaction in knowing that he was the only man ever to last the fifteen round championship distance against the rampaging Dempsey.

After putting together a string of four consecutive knockout victories, Gibbons took on yet another future hall of famer, Georges Carpentier--the former light heavyweight champion of the world. Carpentier was an extremely popular fighter and a veteran of the ring with great skills, although he was on the down slope of his career. The bout went ten rounds and was declared a no-decision, but the next day's newspapers declared Gibbons the deserving victor. Six follow-up knockout wins--including a sixth round stoppage of light heavyweight contender Kid Norfolk--led to a match against Gene Tunney, the future heavyweight champion of the world. Like Gibbons, Tunney was a slick, skilled fighter who had already faced some of the world's best boxers, but Tunney was an up-and-comer still in his prime. Gibbons, at age thirty-four, tired as the fight went on. Tunney knocked him out in the twelfth round, the only knockout defeat suffered by Gibbons in his 106 professional bouts.

In retirement, Gibbons worked as an insurance salesman as well as the sheriff of his native St. Paul. He died on November 19, 1960 at age 69. In 1993 Gibbons posthumously won induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Sources

Roberts, James B. and Skutt, Alexander G. Skutt. The Boxing Register (4th ed.)
Kahn, Roger. A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring '20s
Cyber Boxing Zone profile [1]

Miscellaneous

  • His May 1, 1917 Seattle Arena bout with Chet McIntyre was an exhibition, as announced prior to the fight, although the day-after newspaper reports do not reflect this.
  • Brother of fellow Hall of Fame boxer Mike Gibbons, as well as the uncle of mid-1930s light-heavyweight contender Jack Gibbons.
  • Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee, Class of 2010 [2]
  • Mother of Gibbons Brothers Dies of Pneumonia, Nov. 24, 1917 Tacoma Times [3]

External Links

  • Tommy & Mike Gibbons Preservation Society [4]
  • Harry Greb site [5]