Tom Sharkey

Last updated
Tom Sharkey
Tom Sharkey c1910.jpg
Nickname(s)Sailor Tom
Weight(s) Heavyweight
Height5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Reach70 in (178 cm)
BornNovember 26, 1873
Dundalk, Ireland
DiedApril 17, 1953(1953-04-17) (aged 79)
San Francisco, California, US
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights54
Wins by KO34
No contests2
Sharkey's headstone Thomas Sharkey headstone.JPG
Sharkey's headstone

Thomas "Sailor Tom" Sharkey (November 26, 1873 – April 17, 1953) was a boxer who fought two fights with heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries. Sharkey's recorded ring career spanned from 1893 to 1904. He is credited with having won 40 fights (with 37 KOs), 7 losses, and 5 draws. Sharkey was named to the Ring Magazine 's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time. [1]


Early life

Sharkey was born in Dundalk, Ireland. His story began when he ran away from home and went to sea as a cabin boy. In 1892, Sharkey landed in New York City and joined the United States Navy. He was eventually deployed to Hawaii where he began his pro fighting career.


Standing 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) or 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m) tall, Sharkey was a standup brawler, who came right after his opponents. Sharkey was easy to hit, but rough and tumble and a hard puncher. He had unusually broad shoulders for a man of his height, and sported a tattoo of a star and battleship on his chest. In 1900 he also acquired a large cauliflower ear, courtesy of a brawl with Gus Ruhlin, that added to his persona.

Sharkey's first bout against a front-line fighter occurred in 1896 when he fought Joe Choynski, who was later to knock out legendary heavyweight Jack Johnson, in an eight-round match. Sharkey followed that fight up by challenging "Gentleman Jim" Corbett. The two met and the fight was ruled a draw after four rounds due to police interference.

Sharkey vs. Fitzsimmons

Interior of the Mechanics Pavilion, San Francisco, in 1897. Christian Endeavor Convention Hall, Mechanics' Pavilion, July, 1897, San Francisco, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.jpg
Interior of the Mechanics Pavilion, San Francisco, in 1897.

On December 2, 1896, the San Francisco Athletic Club sponsored a fight at the Mechanics' Pavilion in San Francisco between Bob Fitzsimmons and Sharkey. Unable to find a referee, at the last minute they called on former lawman Wyatt Earp. He had officiated 30 or so matches in earlier days, though not under the Marquess of Queensbury rules. [2] The fight may have been the most anticipated fight on American soil that year. It had been billed for the heavyweight championship of the world, as it was thought that the champion, James J. Corbett had relinquished the crown.

Fitzsimmons was favored to win, and bets flowed heavily his way. Earp entered the ring still armed with his customary Colt .45 and drew a lot of attention when he had to be disarmed. He later said he forgot he was wearing it. Fitzsimmons was taller and quicker than Sharkey and dominated the fight from the opening bell. In the eighth round, Fitzsimmons hit Sharkey with his famed "solar plexus punch," an uppercut under the heart that could render a man temporarily helpless. The punch caught Sharkey, Earp, and most of the crowd by surprise, and Sharkey dropped, clutched his groin, and rolled on the canvas, screamed foul. [3]

Earp stopped the bout, ruling that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey when he was down. His ruling was greeted with loud boos and catcalls. [4] Earp based his decision on the Marquess of Queensbury rules, which state in part, "A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes." Very few witnessed the foul Earp ruled on. He awarded the decision to Sharkey, whom attendants carried out as "...limp as a rag.". [5]

Sharkey vs. Jeffries

Sharkey (left) during his fight with Jeffries Jeffries vs sharky.jpg
Sharkey (left) during his fight with Jeffries

Sharkey claimed the heavyweight title until Corbett resumed his fighting career, who was recognized as the champion until he was knocked out by Fitzsimmons in a title bout. Sharkey was involved in another controversial fight when he faced Corbett on November 22, 1898. In this bout Sharkey manhandled the shifty and elusive Corbett. He threw him to the ground, hit him with hard punches to the body and head and seemed on the verge of imminent victory when one of Corbett's seconds jumped into the ring in the ninth round. The referee disqualified Corbett and awarded the bout to Sharkey.

On January 10, 1899, Sharkey faced another ring legend, the tricky Kid McCoy. Sharkey knocked out McCoy in the tenth round thereby securing a shot at the heavyweight title then held by James J. Jeffries. The two had met previously, fighting a hotly contested 20-round slugfest on May 6, 1898. The decision went to Jeffries in a close fight. Nevertheless, Sharkey vowed to beat the 6'2½ burly Jeffries in the rematch.

The two fought a memorable twenty-five round bout on November 3, 1899, in Coney Island, New York. The match was the first championship fight filmed for motion pictures, and was first indoor fight successfully filmed. The lights required for the filming were so hot that they burned the hair from the top of both fighters' heads.

Sharkey took the early lead when he battered the larger Jeffries, but Jeffries gained control of the fight in the later rounds and the bout was awarded to him. During this fight, Sharkey suffered a broken nose and two broken ribs, and his left ear swelled to the size of a grapefruit.

Later life

In 1938 he entered Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, according to newspaper accounts, desperately ill. He died there in 1953 and is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.[ citation needed ]

Titles in pretence
Preceded by World Heavyweight Champion
December 2, 1896 November 22, 1898
Lost bid for undisputed title
Title next held by
Sam Langford

Related Research Articles

Tommy Burns (Canadian boxer) Canadian world champion boxer (1881–1955)

Tommy Burns was a Canadian professional boxer. He is the only Canadian-born World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. The first to travel the globe in defending his title, Burns made 13 title defences against 11 different boxers, despite often being the underdog due to his size. Burns famously challenged all comers as Heavyweight Champion, leading to a celebrated bout with the American Jack Johnson. According to his biographer, Burns insisted, "I will defend my title against all comers, none barred. By this I mean white, black, Mexican, Indian, or any other nationality. I propose to be the champion of the world, not the white, or the Canadian, or the American. If I am not the best man in the heavyweight division, I don't want the title."

Bob Fitzsimmons British boxer

Robert James "Bob" Fitzsimmons was a British professional boxer who was the sport's first three-division world champion. He also achieved fame for beating Gentleman Jim Corbett, and he is in The Guinness Book of World Records as the lightest heavyweight champion, weighing just 165 pounds when he won the title. Nicknamed Ruby Robert and The Freckled Wonder, he took pride in his lack of scars and appeared in the ring wearing heavy woollen underwear to conceal the disparity between his trunk and leg-development.

Billy Papke American boxer

Billy Papke was an American boxer who held the World Middleweight Championship from September 7 to November 26, 1908. In 1910-12, he also took the Australian and British versions of the World Middleweight Championship, though American boxing historians generally take less note of these titles. With a solid and efficient punch, 70 percent of his better publicized career wins by decision were from knockouts, and roughly 40% of his reported fights were as well. Papke was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001. Sportswriter Nat Fleischer, original owner of "Ring" Magazine, ranked Papke as the seventh best middleweight of all time. Announcer Charley Rose ranked him as the tenth greatest middleweight in boxing history. He was elected to the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1972.

Sam Langford Canadian boxer

Samuel Edgar Langford, known as the Boston Tar Baby, Boston Terror, and Boston Bonecrusher, was a Black Canadian boxing standout of the early part of the 20th century. Called the "Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows", by ESPN, Langford is considered by many boxing historians to be one of the greatest fighters of all time. Originally from Weymouth Falls, a small community in Nova Scotia, Canada. He was known as "The Boston Bonecrusher", "The Boston Terror", and his most famous nickname, "The Boston Tar Baby". Langford stood 5 ft 6+12 in (1.69 m) and weighed 185 lb (84 kg) in his prime. He fought from lightweight to heavyweight and defeated many world champions and legends of the time in each weight class. Considered a devastating puncher even at heavyweight, Langford was rated No. 2 by The Ring on their list of "100 greatest punchers of all time". One boxing historian described Langford as "experienced as a heavyweight James Toney with the punching power of Mike Tyson". He has been ranked among BoxRec's 10 best heavyweights in the world fourteen times, and was ranked No.1 from 1910 to 1913. He was also ranked as the best middleweight in 1907 and fifth best welterweight in 1903.

Jack Sharkey Lithuanian-American boxer

Jack Sharkey was a Lithuanian-American world heavyweight boxing champion.

James J. Corbett American boxer

James John "Jim" Corbett was an American professional boxer and a World Heavyweight Champion, best known as the only man who ever defeated the great John L. Sullivan Despite a career spanning only 20 bouts, Corbett faced the best competition his era had to offer, squaring off with a total of nine fighters who would later be enshrined alongside him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Corbett introduced a truly scientific approach to boxing, in which technique triumphed over brute force. He pioneered the daily boxing training routine and regimen, which was adopted by other boxers elsewhere and has survived to modern days almost intact. A "big-money fighter," Corbett was one of the first athletes whose showmanship in and out of the ring was just as good as his boxing abilities. He was also arguably the first sports sex symbol of the modern era after the worldwide airing of his championship prizefight against Robert Fitzsimmons popularized boxing immensely among the female audience. He did so in an era in which prizefighting was illegal in 21 states and was still considered among the most infamous crimes against morality.

James J. Jeffries American boxer

James Jackson "Jim" Jeffries was an American professional boxer and World Heavyweight Champion.

John L. Sullivan American boxer

John Lawrence Sullivan, known simply as John L. among his admirers, and dubbed the "Boston Strong Boy" by the press, was an American boxer recognized as the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing, de facto reigning from February 7, 1882, to September 7, 1892. He is also generally recognized as the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing under the London Prize Ring Rules, being a cultural icon of the late 19th century America, arguably the first boxing superstar and one of the world's highest-paid athletes of his era. Newspapers' coverage of his career, with the latest accounts of his championship fights often appearing in the headlines, and as cover stories, gave birth to sports journalism in the United States and set the pattern internationally for covering boxing events in media, and photodocumenting the prizefights.

Joe Choynski American boxer

Joseph Bartlett Choynski was an American boxer who fought professionally from 1888 to 1904.

Paddy Ryan American boxer

Patrick "Paddy" Ryan was an Irish American boxer, and became the bare-knuckle American heavyweight champion on May 30, 1880, after he won the title from Joe Goss. He retained the title until losing it to the exceptional John L. Sullivan on February 7, 1882.

Hazards Pavilion Former auditorium in Los Angeles

Hazard's Pavilion was a large auditorium in Los Angeles, California, at the intersection of Fifth and Olive Streets. Showman George "Roundhouse" Lehman had planned to construct a large theatre center on the land he purchased at this location, but he went broke and the property was sold to the City Attorney, Henry T. Hazard. The venue was built in 1887 by architects Kysor, Morgan & Walls at a cost of $25,000, a large amount for the time, and seated up to 4,000 people. The building was constructed of wood with a clapboard exterior, and the front was framed by two towers.

Philadelphia Jack OBrien American boxer

Joseph Francis Hagan was the world light heavyweight boxing champion in 1905 when he defeated Bob Fitzsimmons for the universal world title. Rather than defending his title, O'Brien instead abandoned it in order to fight at heavyweight. Nat Fleischer, founder and editor of The Ring Magazine, ranked O'Brien as the No. 2 All-Time Light Heavyweight, and famed boxing promoter Charley Rose ranked him as the No. 3 All-Time Light Heavyweight. O'Brien was inducted into the Ring Magazine hall of fame in 1968, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.

Tom O'Rourke was born in Boston and became a boxing manager in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Sailor Burke American boxer

Charles Presser (1885–1960), who fought under the name Sailor Burke, was an accomplished New York welter and middleweight boxer who often competed against light heavyweights including several contenders and champions. These included controversial black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, American welterweight contender and European champion Willie Lewis, and British world middleweight championship Billy Papke.

Jackie Fields American boxer

Jackie Fields was an American professional boxer who won the World Welterweight Championship twice. Statistical boxing website BoxRec lists Fields as the #19 ranked welterweight of all-time. Fields was elected to the United Savings-Helms Hall of Boxing Fame in 1972, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Bob Armstrong (boxer) American heavyweight boxer

Bob Armstrong, was a heavyweight boxer known as the "King of the Battle Royal". He was born in Rogersville, Tennessee, but he moved with his family to Washington, Ohio when he was three years old.

Ed Martin (boxer) American boxer

Edward "Denver Ed" Martin was an American boxer who was the World Colored Heavyweight Champion from February 24, 1902, when he beat Frank Childs, until February 5, 1903, when he lost his title to Jack Johnson, the only Colored Heavyweight Champion to win the world's heavyweight championship.

Al Phillips English boxer

Al "The Aldgate Tiger" Phillips was a Jewish English professional featherweight/lightweight boxer of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, who won the European Boxing Union (EBU) featherweight title, and British Empire featherweight title. Phillips took both the British Empire and sanctioned British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) British featherweight Title against the powerful black feather British Guianan Cliff Anderson in fifteen rounds at Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, England in 1947.

The Fitzsimmons vs Sharkey Heavyweight Championship boxing match between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey was awarded by referee Wyatt Earp to Sharkey after Fitzsimmons knocked Sharkey to the mat. Earp ruled that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey below the belt, but very few witnessed the purported foul. The fans at the December 2, 1896 fight in San Francisco booed Earp's decision. It was the first heavyweight championship fight since James J. Corbett, the prior champion, had retired from boxing the year before. The fight may have been the most anticipated fight on American soil that year.


  1. "- TIME". April 27, 1953. Archived from the original on June 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  2. Reilly, Joe. "Born To Uphold The Law: Frank Sulloway's Principles Applied to the Earp-Clanton Feud of 1879–1882" (PDF). Drexel E-Repository and Archive. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 12, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2011.
  3. Barra, Alan (November 26, 1995). "BACKTALK;When Referee Wyatt Earp Laid Down the Law". New York Times. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  4. Rasmussen, Cecilia (June 4, 2000). "LA Then and Now: Mrs. Wyatt Earp Packed Her Own Punch". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
  5. Shillingberg, William B. (Summer 1976). "Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special Myth". Kansas Historical Quarterly. 42 (2): 113–154.