The Corbett One Name Study

James John Corbett - 'Gentleman Jim'

I once kept an account of the number of people who were connected to James J Corbett. I gave up when I reached 50 because so many referred to  something told to their grandmother's sister or brother but which they had not found evidence. It was a bit like the tale that goes around about so many Irish emigrants twhose ancestor broke a stick from the Lords hedge and was transported for it.

The following appears to be correct.  James was the son of Patrick J Corbett born in Ballycusheen, Kilmaine parish, Ireland, who was a livery stable owner of Ballenrobe, Mayo, and Katherine McDonald. (Patrick was the son of Patrick and Mary (and they had 5 sons), and this Patrick was the son of James of Ballyforan, nr Athlone

Patrick J and Katherine Corbett had 10 children, four of whom are un-named. These were Frank, Harry, Joseph A., Thomas, Margaret and James John. 

James entered Saint Ignatius and Sacred Heart Colleges at San Francisco. He had been named after his father's brother (Father James Corbett) who had been born after his mother and father left Ireland at a young age, circa 1844.

He married illegally, underage at 18, circa 1884 to Ollie Lake, and this marriage was later annulled. He then married Elizabeth Walsh in about 1844 by whom he had three children, Thomas, Martin James and Mary. He was later to marry Vera Taylor Corbett (maiden name unknown) on 15 August 1894.

That year he starred in the melodrama 'Gentle Jack' at Drury Lane, London. He arranged for his father's brother, Father James to meet them. The boxer's mother indicated that she had no close relatives in England. During the fight with Jeffries he was knocked unconscious and when he came to he indicated that he was being stood over by his cousin Thomas Corbett who he had not seen for years.

'Henry Cooper's 100 Greatest Boxers'
printed by Macdonald & Co. (Queen Anne Press).

(A second Corbett appears after James in the book, that of Harry Corbett. He, however, was not born a Corbett but began life as Henry William Coleman. He started his boxing career as 'Young Corbett' but changing it to 'Harry' when his young brother Dick took up boxing. Harry had assumed the name of Corbett to keep his family from knowing he was fighting for a living.)

James J Corbett. Born: San Francisco, California, 1.9.1866.

Career span: 1884-1903. World heavyweight champion 1892-97.

Ring record: 19 fights, 11 wins, 4 losses (3 stoppages, 1 disqualification); 7 inside-the-distance wins, 2 draws, 2 no contests.

James J Corbett was the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship under the Marquess of Queensbury rules that demanded the wearing of gloves. 'Gentleman Jim' was also one of the pioneers of scientific boxing who practised and preached that the sport should be as much about avoiding punches as landing them. He was never a devastating puncher, but such a master tactition that he could nullify the aggressive work of more powerful opponents by clever footwork and smart defensive strategy.

It was a long time before the American public warmed to this former bank clerk as he beat their hero for all seasons, John L Sullivan, who was used to fighting toe-to-toe sluggers and was outboxed and outsmarted by the fitter, younger challenger.

Like Sullivan, Corbett was the son of an Irishman but he was the complete opposite to the Boston braggart both in his style inside the ring and his behaviour outside. He was a dandy dresser, articulate and quietly spoken. His good manners earned him the nickname 'Gentleman Jim', which was the title of the biographical film in which Errol Flynn portrayed Corbett.

After proving himself an outstanding amateur, Corbett gave up his comfortable life in the bank to go in search of Sullivan. First of all he had to eliminate local San Francisco rival Joe Choynski, with whom he had three viciously fought battles in 1899. The first was declared no contest, and the second - staged on a barge to avoid the police - ended with a knock-out victory for Corbett in the 27th round. He won the third encounter in four rounds.

He earned a crack at the champion by fighting a draw over 61 rounds with Peter Jackson, the black West Indian Sullivan had refused to fight 'on grounds of colour'.

Sullivan failed to take Corbett's challenge seriously enough, and despite a weight advantage of 40 pounds was unable to impose his immense strength on the fight. Corbett kept on the move against the out-of-condition champion and continually beat him to the punch. At 26, he was eight years younger than Sullivan and his fast pace exhausted the 'Boston Strong Boy'. Both men were wearing five-ounce gloves, and Sullivan was unable to wrestle his opponent to the floor as he had often done when fighting with bare fists. Corbett fought a textbook fight, gradually luring Sullivan into his trap. Once he had him puffing and blowing like an old bull he unleashed a stream of blows in round 21 to force the wind and the will out of the old champion, who was knocked out for the only time in his career.

In his first defence of the title, Corbett knocked out Englishman Charlie Mitchel in three rounds at Jacksonville in 1894. This was the one and only time Corbett lost his temper in the ring. Mitchell hurled a volley of abuse at him as the referee was giving his final centre-of-the-ring instructions. It was a deliberate ploy by Mitchel to goad Corbett and upset his concentration. But the plan backfired. The insults served only to turn the master of defence into a demon of attack, and he gave Mitchell the biggest hiding of his life before the referee counted him out.

After losing to Bob Fitzsimmons in his third defence following a three year lay-off, Corbett made two attempts to win back the championship against James J Jeffries, but each time he was bulldozed to defeat by his stronger, harder-punching opponent. Corbett never fought again after being knocked out in ten rounds in his second fight with Jeffries, but in a professional career spanning just 19 fights he had become a legend of the ring.

(Editorial Note: He made several appearances on the stage, in films and on radio. He died in 1933. Should anything further be discovered about his ancestry it will appear in a future journal.)


David Corbett , one of the Group's members, contacted various Corbetts employed by the same company he was working for. He received the following reply from one living and working in Los Angeles.

'I would like to help you in the research of the Corbett name, but my ancestors are from Italy. My Grandfather came to the country in the 1890's. He had a resemblance to a fighter 'Gentleman Jim Corbett' and when he came through Ellis Island the highly educated people on the immigration department at that time couldn't pronounce his last name so they gave him the name of Corbett, because of that resemblance.'


By Tracy Callis

Jim Corbett was a boxer deluxe. He was fast, clever, and elusive with excellent speed of hand and foot. He used a repertoire of jabs, hooks, and crosses while keeping his distance during the early part of a fight. But, if he chose to, Jim could stand within an arm’s reach of an opponent and hit him at will without being struck himself. Now and then, when an enemy was flat-footed or off guard, the “Gent” would move in and slam home a hard one. His punch was stiffer than most people give him credit for.

Corbett was the second champion under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Some historians write that during his entire career (18 years) he never got a black eye or bloody nose. He was “heady” and an exceptional innovator. If a fight did not go according to plan (most did), he could adjust and change tactics in a flash.

Jim was so quick and smooth that his opponent’s physical size or boxing skills was never a handicap to him. He knocked out John L. Sullivan, the powerful bully. He went 61 rounds with the two-hundred pound Peter Jackson. He made a mess of Bob Fitzsimmon in the early rounds of their championship fight and, had the count been carried out fairly (many sources say it was slow), he would have scored a sixth-round knockout.

But, he did err and get too close to Jim Jeffries – more out of disregard than error. Corbett boxed 23 rounds with Jeffries in their first bout and cut the big man’s face to shreds. Corbett later joked that he was ahead 22-0 going into the fatal 23rd round.

William Brady, manager of both Corbett and Jeffries, when asked to compare the two, said “I have a leaning, a slight leaning, toward Corbett. He combined the most desired qualities of brain and brawn to a degree I have never seen in any other fighter, past or present” (see Edgren 1926).

Houston (1975 p 9) said “He believed in hitting without being hit and moved gracefully about the ring, relying on the speed and accuracy of his hits to wear down opponents …”. Durant and Bettman (1952 p 82) said Corbett “… could feint, slip punches, sidestep, and counter with a left jab so fast that it was a blur to the eye”.

Litsky (1975 p 76) said “James J. Corbett was one of the great heavyweight boxing champions and one of the great innovators … He originated the counter punch, the feint, and fast footwork.”

Durant and Rice (1946) called Corbett a skilled boxer who was lightning fast and one of the most scientific fighters of all time. They added, “In the ring he was ice cold. No man before him had ever applied himself to his trade as did Corbett to the story of boxing”.

Burrill (1974 pp 50 51) said “Corbett marked [the] turning point in ring history, replacing mauling sluggers with [the] new school of faster, scientific boxers”. Jem Mace, Britain’s great bare-knuckle champion called Corbett “… the most scientific boxer ” he had ever seen (see Durant 1976 pp 38 39).

Grombach (1977 p 48) wrote that Corbett was the first man to introduce defensive tactics into championship competition and the principle that a man cannot be beaten if he cannot be hit. Willoughby (1970 p 358) wrote of Corbett “… without doubt the greatest of all defensive boxers among the heavyweights …”.

Fleischer and Andre (1975 p 71) stated that at the peak of his career no one could compare with him in quick thinking and cleverness. McCallum (1974 p 22) said “James John Corbett is down in history as the most intelligent prize fighter the ring has ever known – the supreme master of defensive boxing”. Keith (1969 p 114) wrote “Jim Corbett … probably had the fastest and cleverest footwork of any man ever to fight for the world’s heavyweight championship”.

Durant (1976 p 33) said he “… developed the beautifully proportioned body of a Greek athlete” and that he was an accomplished counter puncher.

Odd (1976 p 141) wrote that Corbett appeared to be the perfect athlete with his beautiful muscularity. He earlier wrote (1974 p 16) he [Corbett] placed the science of boxing before brawn and added “Corbett specialized in a straight left lead and a right cross and he cultivated footwork to a fine degree”.

Jim Jeffries said Corbett was “… the cleverest man I ever fought. There isn’t a fighter of any weight, living or dead, who could measure up to him as a boxer” (see Litsky 1975 p 76).

Grantland Rice (1954 pp 142 143) called Corbett “the world’s greatest boxer” and wrote that in 1925, Corbett (at the age of 59) sparred three rounds with Gene Tunney. Rice stated that “Tunney was on the defensive. Corbett was brilliant . He still had bewildering speed! He mixed up his punches better than practically any fighter I’ve ever seen …”. Tunney commented “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in the ring. I learned plenty” (also see McCallum 1974 p 6).

Lardner (1972 p 69) asserted “James J. Corbett was the greatest boxer of all time among the heavyweights and one of the greatest ring generals of any weight. No heavyweight ever approached him in the ability to ride with a punch (and so remove part of his sting); slip a punch; make his opponent lead before he was ready and then counter with a series of pistonlike jabs; feint an opponent into committing a defensive maneuver and then attack the newly vulnerable area; or drift just out of reach of a punch a split second before it reached its intended target”.

In the opinion of this writer, Corbett was the fastest heavyweight boxer ever over the entire course of a fight (not just the early rounds) and the #7 All-Time Heavyweight in boxing history.


Burrill, B. 1974. Who’s Who in Boxing. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House

Durant, J. 1976. The Heavyweight Champions. New York: Hastings House Publishers

Durant, J. and Bettmann, O. 1952. Pictorial History of American Sports. Cranbury, New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Co.

Durant, J. and Rice, E. 1946. Come Out Fighting. Cincinnati: Zebra Picture Books

Edgren, R. 1926. The Big Fellow (Jim Jeffries – contained in Liberty magazine for seven weekly issues from July 31 to September 11, 1926

Fleischer, N. and Andre, S. 1959. A Pictorial History of Boxing. New York: Bonanza Books

Grombach, J. 1977. The Saga of Sock. London : Thomas Yoseloff Ltd.; Cranbury, New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Company, Inc.

Houston, G. 1975. SuperFists. New York: Bounty Books

Keith, H. 1969. Sports and Games. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company

Lardner, R. 1972. The Legendary Champions. New York: American Heritage Press

Litsky, F. 1975. Superstars. Secaucus, New Jersey: Derbibooks, Inc.

McCallum, J. 1974. The World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Radnor, Pa.: Chilton Book Company

Odd, G. 1974. Boxing: The Great Champions. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited

Odd, G. 1976. The Fighting Blacksmith. London: Pelham Books Ltd.

Rice, G. 1954. The Tumult and the Shouting. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company

Willoughby, D. 1970. The Super Athletes. Cranbury, New Jersey: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

Jim Corbett Page

Master Index

Corbett began boxing as an amateur when he was eighteen and within a year he won the championship of San Francisco's Olympic Athletic Club, which produced some fine fighters. Among them was Joe Choynski, a challenging stepping stone to the heavyweight title.

Using the name "Joe Dillon" to avoid losing his amateur status, Corbett fought professionals in Utah and Wyoming before returning to California in 1889 for three fights against Choynski. Corbett won two of them, one by knockout, and the third was stopped by the police after four rounds.

On May 21, 1891, Corbett fought Peter Jackson, an Australian who couldn't get a championship fight against the reigning John L. Sullivan because he was black. The match went 61 rounds before it was declared no contest because both boxers were too exhausted to continue.

Corbett met Sullivan on September 7, 1892, in New Orleans in the first championship fight using padded gloves under the Marquis of Queensbury Rules. He won the title by knocking Sullivan out in the 21st round.

The popular, dapper Corbett spent much of the rest of his career capitalizing on his championship without much fighting. He appeared in Broadway shows, fought an exhibition for the first boxing movie at Thomas Edison's laboratory, and toured England triumphantly after his first title defense, a 3-round knockout of Charley Mitchell on January 25, 1894.

Corbett lost the championship when Bob Fitzsimmons knocked him out in the 14th round on March 17, 1897, in Carson City, NV. He twice tried to regain the title against James J. Jeffries, but was knocked out both times, in the 23rd round on May 11, 1900,and in the 10th round on August 14, 1903.

"Gentleman Jim" is generally considered the first really scientific fighter because he used speed and knowledge of his opponent's strengths and weaknesses to develop a strategy for a fight, rather than depending on brawn and sheer volume of punches. He fought only 19 professionals bouts, winning 11, 7 by knockout, and losing 4, 3 by knockout. He also had 2 draws and 2 no-contests.

International Boxing Hall of Fame


Fight-by-Fight Record


May 30 Joe Choynski near Fairfax, Ca NC 4  (Stopped by police)

Jun 5 Joe Choynski Benecia Harbor, Ca TK 27

Jul 15 Joe Choynski San Francisco, Ca W 4

Jul 29 Dave Campbell Portland, Or D 10

Sep 28 John Donaldson San Francisco, Ca Exh 3

Dec 12 Billy Smith San Francisco, Ca W 10


Feb 17 Jake Kilrain New Orleans, La W 6

Mar 20 Mike Donovan New York, NY Exh 3

Apr 14 Dominick McCaffrey Brooklyn, NY W 4

Apr 30 John Donaldson Sacramento, Ca Exh

Jim Daly Exh

Oct 8 John D. Spreckels San Francisco, Ca Exh


May 21 Peter Jackson San Francisco, Ca D 61

Jun 26 John L. Sullivan San Francisco, Ca Exh 4

Aug 5 Jim Hall Chicago, Il Exh 4

Oct 8 Ed Kinney Milwaukee, Wi W 4


Jan 18 Mike Donovan Philadelphia, Pa Exh 1

Jan 19 Jim McVey Philadelphia, Pa Exh 3

Jan 20 Jack "Bubbles" Davis Philadelphia, Pa Exh

Jan 21 Bob Caffrey Philadelphia, Pa Exh 3

Jan 22 Mike Donovan Philadelphia, Pa Exh 3

Feb 16 William Spilling New York, NY Exh 1

Feb 16 Bob Caffrey New York, NY Exh 1

Feb 16 Joe Lannon New York, NY Exh 3

Mar 2 Jim Brady Philadelphia, Pa Exh 4

Mar 3 Billy McLean Philadelphia, Pa Exh 4

Mar 4 Tommy Monoghan Philadelphia, Pa Exh 2

Mar 5 Jim Daly Philadelphia, Pa Exh

Apr 6 Jim Daly New Haven, Ct Exh 3

Apr 8 Jim Daly Buffalo, NY Exh 3

Apr 13 Jim Daly Rochester, NY Exh

Apr 23 Jim Daly Chicago, Il Exh 3

May 30 Jim Daly Trinidad, Co Exh

Aug Jim Hall Chicago, Il Exh 4

Aug 20 Jim Daly Newark, NJ Exh 3

Aug 20 John McVey Newark, NJ Exh

Aug 20 Jim Daly Newark, NJ Exh 3

Aug 25 Jim Daly Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 29 Jim Daly New York, NY Exh

Aug 29 Jim McVey Newark, NJ Exh

Sep 2 Jim Daly Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Sep 3 Jim McVey Philadelphia, Pa Exh

Sep 5 Jim Daly near Spartanburg, SC Exh

Sep 5 Jim Daly near Gainsville, Fl Exh

Sep 5 Denny Dillon near Gainsville, Fl Exh

Sep 5 Mike Donovan near Gainsville, Fl Exh

Sep 5 Jim Daly New Orleans, La Exh

Sep 7 John L. Sullivan New Orleans, La KO 21

Won Heavyweight Championship

Sep 14 Jim Daly Philadelphia, Pa Exh 3

Sep 15 Jim Daly Providence, RI Exh

Sep 16 Jim Daly Boston, Ma Exh

Sep 17 John L. Sullivan New York, NY Exh 3

Sep 21 Jim Daly Waverly, NJ Exh

Sep 22 Jim Daly Brooklyn, NY Exh

Sep 23 Jim Daly Waverly, NJ Exh 3

Sep 23 Jim Daly Newburgh, NY Exh

Sep 26 Jim Daly Albany, NY Exh 3

Sep 29 Jim Daly Buffalo, NY Exh 3

Oct 4 John Donaldson Wilmington, DE Exh 3

Oct 5 John Donaldson Asbury Park, NJ Exh


Sep 4 John Donaldson New York, NY Exh 3

Oct 4 John Donaldson Wilmington, DE Exh 3

Oct John Donaldson Interlaken, NJ Exh

Nov John Donladson Cleveland, Oh Exh

Nov 27 John Donaldson Buffalo, NY Exh

Dec 16 John McVey Mayport, Fl Exh

Dec 16 Dan Creedon Mayport, Fl Exh

Dec 16 Tom Tracey Mayport, Fl Exh

Dec 16 John Donaldson Mayport, Fl Exh

Dec 31 John Donaldson Mayport, Fl Exh

Dec 31 Dan Creedon Mayport, Fl Exh

Dec 31 Tom Tracey Mayport, Fl Exh


Jan 18 John Donaldson Mayport, Fl Exh

Jan 18 Dan Creedon Mayport, Fl Exh

Jan 19 John Donaldson Mayport, Fl Exh

Jan 19 Dan Creedon Mayport, Fl Exh

Jan 25 Charlie Mitchell Jacksonville, Fl KO 3

Retained Heavyweight Championship

Feb 24 Charlie Mitchell New York, NY Exh 4

May Jim Daly Paris, Fr Exh

Sep 7 Peter Courtney Orange, NJ Exh 6


Jan 4 Jim McVey New Orleans, La Exh 3

Feb 2 Steve O'Donnell Minneapolis, Mn Exh

Feb 18 Steve O'Donnell Philadelphia, Pa Exh

Feb 28 Steve O'Donnell Scranton, Pa Exh

Jun 8 Jim McVey New York, NY Exh

Jun 27 John L. Sullivan New York, NY Exh 3

Aug 13 Jim McVey Buffalo, NY Exh 3

Aug 13 Jim Daly Buffalo, NY Exh 3

Sep 30 John Donaldson New York, NY Exh 1

Sep 30 Jim Daly New York, NY Exh 1

Sep 30 Steve O'Donnell New York, NY Exh 3

Sep 30 Tom Forrest New York, NY Exh 3

Sep 30 Steve O'Donnell New York, NY Exh 3


Apr 15 Boyd Frazer Chicago, Il (5:00) Exh 1

Jun 24 Tom Sharkey San Francisco, Ca D 4

Aug 7 Billy Woods Cripple Creek, Co Exh 4

Dec 14 Jim McVey New York, NY Exh 3


Mar 17 Bob Fitzsimmons Carson City, Nv KO by 14

Lost Heavyweight Championship

May 14 Jim McVey Buffalo, NY Exh 4


Jul 27 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 27 Ray Doyle Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 28 Ray Doyle Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 28 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 28 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 28 George Green Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 29 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Jul 29 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 2 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 2 Ray Doyle Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 2 Tom Lansing Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 4 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 4 Tom Lansing Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 6 George Considine Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 6 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 6 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 7 Tommy Rice Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 7 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 7 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 9 Tom Lansing Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 9 Billy Lavigne Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 9 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 9 A.L. Rice Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 9 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 10 Tom Lansing Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 10 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 13 Tom Lansing Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 13 Steve O'Donnell Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 13 Jim McVey Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 14 Steve O'Donnell Asbury Park, NJ Exh 6

Aug 15 Tom Lansing Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 15 Billy Lavigne Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 15 Tom Corbett Asbury Park, NJ Exh

Aug 16 Steve O'Donnell Asbury Park, NJ Exh 6

Nov 22 Tom Sharkey New York, NY LF 9


Mar 20 Mike Donovan New York, NY Exh 3

May 11 Jim Jeffries Brooklyn, NY Ko by 23

For Heavyweight Championship

Aug 30 Charles "Kid" McCoy New York, NY KO 5


Dec 8 Tommy Burns Detroit, Mi Exh 3


Aug 14 Jim Jeffries San Francisco, Ca LT 10

For Heavyweight Championship


Mar 4 Jack Dillon Indianapolis, In Exh 3


Gene Tunney New York, NY Exh 3