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The First Monster Upset of the 20th Century Happened on a Thanksgiving

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  • The First Monster Upset of the 20th Century Happened on a Thanksgiving

    Click image for larger version  Name:	thanksgiving.PNG Views:	0 Size:	557.5 KB ID:	20386

    By Arne K. Lang

    One wouldn’t have thought that holding a big fight on a Thanksgiving would be a smart idea. True, many workers get the next day off and get to sleep late. However, it’s a day when family comes first and a big meal with all the trimmings doesn’t lend itself to getting off one’s rump to attend a boxing show.

    However, back in 1901, a very important fight was held on Thanksgiving. It produced a big upset with the accent on BIG and when the smoke cleared, the world had a new featherweight champion. Moreover, it would be one of the most hashed-over fights until it eventually receded from memory. It would be no exaggeration to say that it ranked right up there with Dempsey-Firpo and Hagler-Hearns among fights chock full of goosebumps compressed into a tight window of time.

    The principals were Terry McGovern and William Rothwell whose ring name was Young Corbett II, a name that paid homage to his trainer Johnny Corbett. There was no top-10 pound-for-pound list back then, but had there been, Terry McGovern would have assuredly reigned supreme.

    Terrible Terry, the pride of South Brooklyn, was a ring marvel. Heading in, he had lost only twice in 63 bouts, both times by disqualification. Thirty-five of his wins had come inside the distance – this in an era where knockouts were not as common as they are today. During one 175-day stretch in 1899, McGovern forged 12 consecutive knockouts, all coming within the first three rounds.

    Signature wins? Terry McGovern had several. On Dec. 12, 1899, he knocked out British bantamweight champion Pedlar Palmer in the opening round in one of the first big international prizefights contested on American soil. Nicknamed “Box o’ Tricks,” the clever Palmer was the Willie Pep of his day. On Jan, 9, 1900, he knocked the immortal George “Little Chocolate” Dixon into a short-lived retirement with an eighth-round stoppage. Later that year, he stopped reigning lightweight champion Frank Erne, a Future Hall of Famer, in the third round before an SRO crowd at Madison Square Garden.

    Young Corbett II hailed from Denver, Colorado. He had defeated George Dixon in his most recent fight, but by then Dixon was considered over-the-hill and the word from Denver was that Corbett II had been fortunate to get the nod, finishing the fight with his face bathed in blood. Earlier in his career he had been stopped in eight rounds by 18-year-old Chicago prospect Benny Yanger. “As far as cleverness is concerned there are probably fifty men at his weight who could make Corbett look like an amateur,” ventured boxing promoter/newspaperman Lou Houseman, the sports editor of the Chicago Inter-Ocean.

    Terry McGovern came to the fore when New York was the leading destination for big fights. But the state legislature had repealed the ultra-liberal Horton Law -- the repeal took effect on Sept. 1, 1900 – and New York for the rest of the decade would be a boxing wasteland so far as big fights were concerned. That’s how McGovern’s title defense against Young Corbett II wound up in Hartford, Connecticut. But this was still pro-McGovern territory. Young Corbett II had fought almost exclusively in Colorado, never venturing farther east than Des Moines.

    Terrible Terry and Young Corbett II fought hammer and tongs from the opening bell. The second round, in which both fighters were on the canvas, was a blur. Terry McGovern came up swinging like a wildcat after being sent down by a left hook. He returned the favor with a right hook and then staggered Corbett before a rattling exchange in which Corbett put Terry on the deck again with a right to the jaw. McGovern struggled to get upright, but was unable to beat the “10” count. It was all over at the 1:44 mark of round two.

    It was a massive upset.

    New York Evening World sports editor Robert Edgren, who covered thousands of prizefights, would write that the first round of the battle was the most furious three rounds of boxing that he had ever seen. Other eye-witness accounts bear witness that it was a jaw-dropper. Looking back twenty-five years, syndicated sportswriter Joe Williams wrote that no featherweight fight, before or since, matched it for savagery and drama.

    Styles make fights, as they say, and Young Corbett II, the stockier of the two featherweights, had Terry’s number. He KOed McGovern again in their rematch in San Francisco, another doozy of a fight in which both were groggy at times until the Denver lad applied the finisher in round 11. (The photo that accompanies this article, McGovern on the left, is from their second fight. The man in the middle is referee Eddie Graney.) They would fight once more, hooking up in Philadelphia in the fall of 1906 where fights were restricted by law to 6 rounds, and although this was an entertaining and closely-contested match, by then Young Corbett II was also considered damaged goods and the event wasn’t a big news story.

    It was snowing in Hartford on Thanksgiving 1901 when fight fans descended upon the city for the McGovern-Corbett fight. It was a very unpleasant day, made more unpleasant for Terry McGovern’s fans by what transpired inside the arena – a humdinger of a fight, that was true, but one with a sad conclusion.

    Ringside reporter Robert Edgren returned to New York on the special train that brought McGovern’s rooters back home from Hartford. He would write that the mood was as somber as if they had attended a funeral.

    To all TSS readers, here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

  • #2
    I think Arne’s nickname should be “Box o’ Tricks” 😎

    Nice read. 👍

    Happy Thanksgiving TSS crew.

    I’m grateful to be a writer here!

    Comment


    • #3
      So am I

      Comment

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