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The Boilermaker Exhibition

Lest We Forget…

Mixed martial arts, mixed matches, and combination fights are not a new development. Even when following Greek pancratium and its long lineage through the fearsome hybridization melting pot of American Frontier rough & tumble, fights that were more than mere boxing—more than mere grappling—have been of great interest.

This fascination often lies in the comparison of styles as opposed to the comparison of the athletes themselves. But we must never jump to the conclusion that a kicker knocking out a grappler means that kicking is necessarily superior, or that a grappler choking out a striker means that grappling is the be-all-end-all. This merely means that in these particular instances, the victorious athlete was better than their opponent or that luck was on their side.

With that out of the way, we must admit that no matter what is “proven” by mixed matches, they hold appeal. Let’s look to one such historical mixed match.

Jim “The Boilermaker” Jeffries

Heavyweight boxing champion Jim “The Boilermaker” Jeffries was coming off of his victory against the canny (and physically smaller) Bob Fitzsimmons. Jeffries is mostly known for his defeat in his comeback fight against Jack Johnson and the racial nastiness surrounding the lead-up to the fight rather than for the athlete and force of nature he was before his downfall.

In his prime, Jeffries was considered somewhat invincible. This opinion was not so much due to his boxing prowess, which many derided or found rudimentary at best, but more for his phenomenal strength and stamina. Add to that his ability to ride through a good deal of punishment.

Jeffries was an astonishing stamina machine for such a big and powerful man. A typical day following his training regimen looks like this:

  • Rise at 6 AM.
  • Work with pulley-weights for ten minutes. Then…
  • Wind sprints for 20-minutes.
  • For breakfast: A lambchop and two soft-boiled eggs. No coffee, tea, milk, water, or fluid of any kind. Jeffries believed excess fluids cut down on speed.
  • Rest till 9 AM. Then…
  • Run 14 miles.
  • After the run, a rubdown and rest.
  • At 2:30 PM get back to work.
  • Play several games of handball for speed and wind.
  • Skip rope and punch the bag for 20 minutes.
  • Enter the ring to spar for 16 3-minute rounds. His partners are instructed to slug as hard as they can while he holds back.
  • Finish with more skipping rope, throwing the medicine ball, and high-speed shadowboxing sprints.
  • For supper: Lambchops, spinach or asparagus, and still no fluids (I know we scoff at his superstition, but I wonder which one of our dietary “facts” will be scoffed at next Tuesday?).
  • Take a long walk to loosen up and finally…
  • At 9 PM drink a glass of water (slowly) and go to bed.

Now, that is one helluva workload. If we compare this to Jeffries’ boxing deficit we can get a taste of how and why this workhorse made it as far as he did. Frankly, most people are not willing or able to endure such a Spartan regimen.

The Man From The West

Jeffries picks up the title on June 9th, 1899. He then did what most champions of the era did—took to the stage to travel the world and offer audiences horrible thespian skills. Jeffries traveled with a show called “The Man from the West”. He also did boxing exhibitions at most of these engagements as well as some baseball umpiring.

In these exhibitions, local champions would step into the ring and The Boilermaker would treat them nicely while they did what they could. Remember, Jeffries was used to holding back as it was a mainstay of his sparring style.

He travelled to England with his show and boxed many more exhibitions, knocking out more than a few folks who wanted to see if they could “get some licks in on the champeen.”

The French Champion

In France he was slated to face a “champion”. Now, the champion’s name is elusive in the accounts, but the circumstances and outcome remain consistent.

The intrepid French champion negotiated to kick as well as use fists, so it is unclear if he was a boxing champion looking for an extra advantage or a la savate champion looking to capitalize upon his wares. Either way, Jeffries was informed of the request and upon hearing that the challenger wished to kick as well, he replied, “Go ahead.”

Accounts state that Jeffries went to work with “jabs to the nose, hooks to the body, and light raps to the chin.” Jeffries used a balance-upsetting strategy and the challenger “never got a kick away.”

When the challenger began to stagger around the ring, Jeffries started holding back. His corner had advised him it was bad form to “knock out such an eminent athlete.”

Unable to “carry” his opponent longer, Jeffries ended the bout by casually pushing him through the ropes. This mixed match will never solve the “which style is better” debate, but in this case I think we can confidently state that a very powerful man held sway because of his athletic attributes which were aided and abetted by his boxing.

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36 thoughts on “The Boilermaker Exhibition”

  1. Re:The Boilermaker Exhibition- Because Jeffries was mostly known because of his loss to Jack Johnson, could you possibly pass on Jack Johnson’s daily routine as well?

  2. Jeffries, as large as he was at well over 200 lbs, also ran the 100 yard dash in10 seconds (only .7 seconds slower than Bob Hayes Olympic record from 1964) and could high jump 5’10”. That boxer who wanted to kick was probably a La Savate champion as James J Corbett agreed to the same deal with a Savate champion just a few years before but that match never came off. If you want to see a boxer using a style very similar to Jeffries’ style, watch Rocky Marciano in his crouch. Jeffries was phenomenal (as was Marciano)

  3. I think everyone who knows anything about early boxing history will tell you that Jeffries threw that fight with Johnson.

  4. Wow!!! What a guy. Just the everyday regiment most couldn’t do today. Just in the read you can see he was a honrable man not over confident but believed in himself and the titles speak for themselves

  5. This generation can learn a lot from those before us if we would just shut – up and listen and watch once in a while … They did some things you won’t see again and didn’t have to brag about it!
    “Never criticize someone for doing something you said couldn’t be done”.

  6. Sounds like the French Champion’s detriment was not only to covert his planned focus & dependence to kicking, but him giving Jeffries a heads up by asking to kick. Jim, knowing what was coming, then knew he needed to drain his opponent’s kicks out of him by immediately targeting sensitive areas with repeated fast power combinations which sucked the wind & his will right out of him. Great training story regimen & boxing history lesson. Gross awkward diet though. Lamb chops for breakfast and dinner? Ewwwww! What the hell is a soft boiled egg? Krispy Kreme glazed donuts makes you fast too! Sounds like Jeffries only downfall was eating late at night.

  7. This is a very interesting blog post. It perfectly shows the great advantage of a man who trains hard. Thank you.

  8. “Gentleman Jim “the Boilermaker” Jeffries” would probably be a better, albeit longer, description of him. I could not survive on one glass of water a day – in the summer I can drink up to 5 litres if I’m working outside (this is the current maximum allowance for washing, cooking AND drinking per person in Namibia).

    His workouts seem quite balanced and nine hours of sleep would allow his body to rest and repair, but it seems sad that even though they are champions, they end up as circus sideshow exhibits.

  9. I tend to agree that it is not always the style of the art being practiced, But more down to the individual’s personal capabilities.
    Great article.

  10. Fantastic article about a great man who could do gruelling workouts. Hilarious, factual story too. I did shotokan Karate for a few years but that could not compare to bare knuckle boxing. They were truly HARD MEN.

  11. What an interesting time period for professional athletes!
    I wonder how our modern warriors would fare having to switch-hit after their match and provide acting, training and diplomatic skills to the amusement of their audiences.

  12. A boxer’s hands are more efficient with less telegraphics to warn opponent of next delivery. A grappler of same size and weight would take a beating just trying to get hold of a boxer. A kicker usually telegraphs his kicks and to be effective has to elevate his hips to opponents head height to deliver a stun blow of a kick. A boxer by nature of training is a constant moving target by bob and weave, ducking, dancing and blocking followed by retaliatory strikes. Even martial arts followers resort to hand strikes as preferred strike delivery method as well as block methodology.

  13. I have always believed that the ability to be able to absorb some “punishment will act to the benefit of the absorber because when you hit some one as hard as you can and they come back at you without appearing to be affected<you will many times lose heart or your coolness of mind, to your detriment, in what is going on I do know what I am telling you because I have been able to use it several times I am fortunate that I have a bone structure that allows me to absorb severe blows with out any apparent effect……………….

  14. Interesting story that is well written. The debate about which technique is most effective will always go on, with each technique supported by the members of their own area of study. Who would win between Bruce Lee and Mike Tyson? What about Muhammad Ali who could ever beat the “Champ” in his prime? They are all the greatest right up until they aren’t. Interesting fight coming up in Japan between our champ Floyd Mayweather and Tenshin Nasu Kaw the Japanese kick boxing “kid” champ.

  15. Bottom line “no matter how much you train or know you are still fighting the man” .We are all different in how we receive information. A man fighting for his life and family will fight with vicious intent more so then a man fighting for pay.

  16. His neglect of fluids aside that was a tough
    regimen. Sign of a dedicated athlete. And the “roper doper” was a good way to tire ones opponent while saving ones energy for that opening. Good story, thanx.

  17. John Belushi trained for the Decathlon by running alota miles and downing alota donuts. “Little chocolate donuts”
    I heard somewhere that Rocky Marciano chewed the juice out of his steaks and then spit it out, to stay in trim.
    Joe Frazier was able to bet Ali when they were both in their prime. Ali won a few decisions that he shoulda lost because he was favored. A Canadian boxer beat the snot out of him and sent him to the hospital, but Ali “won”. The Ali / Frazier series went 2 out of 3 for Ali, but it could been 2 out of 3 for Joe. There’s no room for doubt about the one Frazier win, and the final Frazier loss.

  18. what an insane training program he went through. I don’t think most boxers today could do that kind of training. great story on a great athlete.

  19. Thanks for the article, my experience with fluids if counter to Jefferies. I carry a canteen while skiing because reactions in the bumps falter with the slightest dehydration. You order and the muscle doesn’t respond or at least not quickly. Style to style fighting is too complex to equationalize, even between 2 fighters it can be day to who wins.