James J. Corbett may have been known as a “gentleman,” but he made his living with his fists.
The boxer, who was dubbed by the media as “Gentleman Jim Corbett,” was the first to use a scientific approach to the sport.
Near the end of his life, he lived in a home near Little Neck Bay and died at age 66 in Bayside.
Corbett was born and raised in San Francisco and first pursued a career in acting before taking up boxing.
He has been called the “Father of Modern Boxing” due to his taking a scientific approach to the sport, rather than just brawling.
In 1891, he fought Peter “Black Prince Jackson,” his cross-town rival in San Francisco, in a no-contest competition that went on 61 rounds.
He then went on to fight reigning Heavyweight Champion John L. Sullivan, whom he knocked out in the 21st round by using a technique that involved dodging his opponent’s attacks and wearing him down with jabs.
Two years later, he knocked out Great Britain’s Charley Mitchell in three rounds in a title defense match. That same year, he fought Peter Courtney in one of the first recorded events to be caught on film.
Corbett later lost his Heavyweight Championship to Cornish boxer Bob Fitzsimmons.
The fight was released in movie theaters as “The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight.” At the time, the 90-minute film was the longest motion picture to have been screened in cinemas.
Corbett attempted to lure Fitzsimmons to a rematch, but his former opponent refused.
His next bout was with James J. Jeffries, who was significantly larger and seven years younger.
Corbett implemented a strategy during which he threw a series of punches and then danced away from his opponent, eventually wearing him down. Although Jeffries won the fight, Corbett was once again in the public's favor.
After retiring from the sport, Corbett returned to acting, appearing in low budget movies and minstrel shows on stage. In 1942, Errol Flynn portrayed the boxer in the film “Gentleman Jim.”
Corbett died in 1933 and was buried in Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Cemetery. He was posthumously elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
His brother, Joe Corbett, was a Major League Baseball pitcher.