Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Greatest Heavyweight Boxing Champion" Jim Jeffries Trains in San Pedro

Click on photo to enlarge
James J. Jeffries, considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight boxing champion of the early twentieth century and one of the greatest of all time, was no stranger to San Pedro and the Los Angeles Harbor area.

Born in Ohio in 1875, he moved with his family to Los Angeles at a young age, and lived in the area for the rest of his life.  He was nicknamed "The Boilermaker" because he had worked as one for the Lacey Manufacturing Company during his early pugilistic days.

Jim Jeffries knocked out Bob Fitzsimmons on June 9, 1899 to win the world's heavyweight title. Jeffries retired undefeated in 1905, but mounted a comeback against famed heavyweight champ Jack Johnson in July 1910, who stopped Jeffries in the 15th round in the "Battle of the Century."

Johnson would later say that "When I faced Jeffries in the ring I had a feeling of fear come over me for the only time in my life. It was a horrible sensation."

Jeffries retired and lived in Burbank, where he died at the age of 77 in 1953. At the time of his death, his sister Mrs. Millian Metcalf was reported to be living in San Pedro, along with his brother Jack.

Newspaper accounts from the time document Jeffries' many trips to San Pedro. For example, in July of 1899, Jeffries visited his friends and brothers and took a cruise on the steamer J.C. Elliott. He also demonstrated his well-known physical strength on this trip when he visited a blacksmith shop, and with a few blows from a sledgehammer, severed a piece of heavy iron shafting that was ready to be cut.

In March of 1900, Jeffries did some preliminary training in San Pedro for his upcoming fight with fellow boxing legend "Gentleman" Jim Corbett (Jeffries knocked Corbett out in the 23rd round). Jeffries later recounted that he would run 12-15 miles a day while in training.

After his training for the Corbett fight, he left the port for Catalina Island. A couple of years later, in March of 1902, Jeffries visited friends in San Pedro, intending to go on to Catalina.

On February 27, 1910, while preparing for his upcoming epic battle with Johnson, Jeffries took a day off and again went to San Pedro. Jeffries visited his close friend Luke Kelly, a prominent San Pedro citizen and saloon keeper. They had previously enjoyed many fishing trips in the area, but on this day they spent a quiet afternoon at Kelly's house. They later went to a local half-way house for an Italian dinner, where about a dozen San Pedran sportsmen were invited.

Top left photo: Jim Jeffries holding jump rope in unknown athletic ring; photo credit:
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B2-1234]