Tommy Burns (Canadian boxer)

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Tommy Burns
Tommy Burns 1912.jpg
Tommy Burns, circa 1912
Statistics
Real nameNoah Brusso
Nickname(s)
  • The Little Giant of Hanover
Weight(s)
Height5 ft 7 in (170 cm)
Reach73 in (185 cm)
Born(1881-06-17)June 17, 1881
Hanover, Ontario
DiedMay 10, 1955(1955-05-10) (aged 73)
Vancouver, British Columbia
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights61
Wins47
Wins by KO35
Losses5
Draws9

Tommy Burns (born Noah Brusso; June 17, 1881 May 10, 1955) 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. [1] 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."

Contents

Burns was the first heavyweight champion to fight with a Jewish challenger, defeating Joseph "Jewey" Smith in a fight staged in Paris. He also fought a bout with a Native American on his way to the Championship. According to one biography, he had two black sparring partners and was married for a brief time to a black woman. Burns, like other white boxers, had half a dozen contests with black boxers before his clash with the legendary Jack Johnson.[ citation needed ]

Early life

Noah Brusso was born in Normanby Township near Hanover, Ontario, as the twelfth of thirteen children of an impoverished Italian-Canadian family. His family lived in several locations around Ontario's Grey County and Bruce County before moving to Galt, Ontario. Noah grew up in difficult circumstances; five of his siblings died before reaching adulthood. [2] Brusso began his prizefighting career in 1900 in Detroit, Michigan. In June 1903, he was discovered playing lacrosse under an assumed name for a Detroit team that was playing in Chatham, Ontario.

Boxing career

Film of the 1907 heavyweight championship prize fight with Squires, shot by the Miles Brothers

After starting his boxing career under his real name, in 1904 Brusso took the Scottish-sounding name of Tommy Burns. He was 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) tall and about 175 pounds (79 kg), but his relatively small size did not stop him from becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion. When Burns met Marvin Hart for the heavyweight championship of the world in Los Angeles on February 23, 1906, Burns was a 2-1 underdog and the betting was 10-7 that he would not last ten rounds. Burns won a 20-round decision and went on to defend his title eleven times within a period of less than three years.

All previous gloved world champs had been European-American U.S. citizens (except for Robert Fitzsimmons, of the United Kingdom and New Zealand), who defended their titles only against other white opponents (although Fitzsimmons fought Jack Johnson after losing the title). Burns travelled the globe, beating the champions of England, Ireland, France and Australia. He was the first heavyweight champion to fight with a Jewish challenger, defeating British boxer Joseph "Jewey" Smith, in a 1908 bout held in Paris. He also fought a bout with a Native American and won.

Burns once defended his title twice in one night, although some historians refuse to accept those wins as title defences, insisting they were exhibition bouts. But in newspapers at the time, they were advertised as heavyweight title fights. If those defences are counted in his record, he successfully defended his title 13 times.

Burns (left) during a sparring session Tommy Burns sparring.jpg
Burns (left) during a sparring session

In December 1908, Burns agreed to a bout with Jack Johnson, becoming the first fighter to agree to a heavyweight championship bout with an African American. Burns lost his title in the match held in Sydney. The fight was ended in the 14th of 20 three minute rounds with Burns failing to land a punch, and being clearly unable to continue. [3] He had refused to fight Johnson until Australian promoter Hugh D. McIntosh paid him $30,000 for the fight (Johnson received $5,000). [4] Burns was rumoured to be suffering from the effects from jaundice or influenza, and weighed in at 168 pounds (76 kg)15 pounds (6.8 kg) lighter than his previous fight, and well below Johnson's 192 pounds (87 kg). The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police. Burns later claimed the disruption was due to spectators' concern he had a broken jaw. He also stated numerous right uppercuts from Johnson led to swelling on his face and the request to stop the fight. [5] Referee Hugh McIntosh awarded the decision and the title to Johnson.

In a filmed interview, Burns ranked Johnson as the second-best boxer up to his time, after James J. Jeffries. Johnson defeated Jeffries in 1910 when Jeffries, who hadn't fought for six years, came out of retirement to fight. It is said that Jeffries was grossly out of shape and had lost much of his muscle. In 1909 in Vancouver, B.C., Johnson told a crowd of people that Burns deserved credit as the only white heavyweight who ever gave a black man a chance to win the title. He said, "Let me say of Mr. Burns, a Canadian and one of yourselves, that he has done what no one else ever did, he gave a black man a chance for the championship. He was beaten, but he was game."[ citation needed ]

Burns continued to box occasionally after dropping the title. During the Great War he joined the Canadian army, serving as a physical fitness instructor for troops in Canada. In 1920, and a month after his 39th birthday, Burns challenged British champion Joe Beckett. Burns was stopped in the seventh round when, after suffering two knockdowns, his corner threw in the towel to end the fight.

Life after boxing

After retirement, Burns promoted some boxing shows. In 1928 he moved to New York City where he ran a speakeasy. Although he was wealthy at the end of his boxing career, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression wiped out his fortune. Burns went to work as an insurance salesman and security guard, among other jobs.

In 1948 Burns was ordained as a minister. At the time of his death, he was an evangelist living in Coalinga, California. He died while visiting a church friend in Vancouver, British Columbia, suffering a heart attack at age 73. Four people attended his burial at Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, British Columbia. He was interred in an unmarked pauper's grave. In 1961 a Vancouver sports writer raised funds to commission a memorial plaque for Burns's grave.

Legacy

Burns is one of the more over-looked heavyweight champions in history, best remembered today as the man whom Jack Johnson beat to become the first black heavyweight champion. Yet Burns was the first truly international heavyweight champion, defending his title in America, England, Ireland, France and Australia. His 1907 title defence against Gunner Moir in London was the first World Heavyweight championship fight of the gloved era to be held outside of The United States. Standing at just 5'7", Burns is the shortest heavyweight champion in history, while only Bob Fitzsimmons weighed less in a world heavyweight title fight than Burns's 168½ lbs when losing the championship to Jack Johnson. During his championship reign, Burns typically weighed between 170 and 180Ibs. His reach was 74", which is three inches longer than Mike Tyson's.

Burns's eight consecutive title defences by knockout or stoppage is equalled only by Larry Holmes and remains a record for the heavyweight division. Burns was also the first World Heavyweight champion to win the title on points. Although physically over-matched against Johnson, who handed him his first stoppage loss, it is notable that Burns did not lose inside the distance again until the final fight of his career, at the age of 39. It should be noted, however, that some sources record the result as Johnson having won the title on points after the bout was stopped by the police. The filming of the fight was stopped due to the one-sided nature of the contest, however, and regardless of the official ruling, is generally considered by historians to be a stoppage victory for Johnson.

Burns's reign as heavyweight champion lasted for two years, ten months and three days, the 19th-longest reign in heavyweight history. His eleven consecutive successful title defences is the joint-fourth highest total in heavyweight history, alongside Vitali Klitschko and behind Wladimir Klitschko (18 defences), Larry Holmes (20 defences) and Joe Louis (25 defences). Many of Burns's title challengers, however, were not of World Championship quality, as he frequently defended against the best available local heavyweights while touring the world. In Burns's first defense of the title, for instance, he knocked out James J. Walker in the first round. Walker's record going into the bout was 1–5 and he had lost by stoppage in five of his previous six bouts prior to challenging Burns.

Burns also defended the title three times against Bill Squires. Squires, the Australian heavyweight champion, was actually a 10–9 favourite to defeat Burns, yet lost in the first round. Nevertheless, Squires obtained two further shots at Burns's title, despite losing two of his next three fights following their first bout. His trilogy with Burns is notable, however, as their title fights took place across three different continents (America, Europe and Australia). This remains the only instance in history where two boxers have fought three times for a World title with each fight taking place on a different continent. Burns's best win as champion was a 20-round points decision over Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, who two years previously had stopped Bob Fitzsimmons to claim the World light-Heavyweight championship.

Despite his impressive statistics, Burns is not considered one of the great heavyweight champions. This can be attributed to the poor quality of the majority of his challengers, as well as his unimposing physique and small dimensions. The current (as of June 2020) WBC and lineal heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, for instance, stands 14 inches taller than Burns did, has an eleven inch longer reach and would have outweighed him by approximately 95 pounds. These factors makes it difficult for boxing historians to imagine Burns competing with later heavyweight champions, who would have held significant physical advantages. His one-sided loss to Johnson in his most famous fight demonstrates this fact, and perhaps contributes to Burns's poor historical standing. Yet Burns was a world class fighter who probably would have been a super-middleweight today, where his punching power and relatively long reach would have been far more effective. Footage of his 1907 title defence against Bill Lang shows Burns to have been an aggressive counter-puncher, who was strong on the inside and a good finisher.

Although Trevor Berbick and Bermane Stiverne have also won a version of the World Heavyweight Championship while Canadian citizens, Burns remains the only Canadian-born heavyweight champion in history. (Berbick and Stiverne were born in Jamaica and Haiti respectively.)

Honours

Australian boxer and Welterweight champion Geoffrey Mostyn Murphy would fight under the ring name "Tommy Burns", in honour of his Canadian namesake.

Burns has since been posthumously inducted into the following sporting institutions: the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 9, 1996, and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. [6]

Professional boxing record

Professional record summary
61 fights47 wins5 losses
By knockout351
By decision104
By disqualification20
Draws9
No.ResultRecordOpponentTypeRound, timeDateLocationNotes
61Loss47–5–9 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Joe Beckett RTD7 (20)16 Jul 1920 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Prince Rupert, British Columbia, CanadaFor Commonwealth heavyweight title
60Win47–4–9 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Bob BrackenKO4 (10)19 Sep 1918 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada
59Win46–4–9 Flag of the United States.svg Battling BrandtKO4 (10)26 Jan 1914 Flag of the United States.svg Taft, California, U.S.
58Draw45–4–9 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Arthur Pelkey PTS62 Apr 1913 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Manchester Arena, Calgary, Canada
57Win45–4–8 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Bill RickardTKO6 (15)8 Aug 1912 Canadian Red Ensign (1907-1921).png Saskatchewan, CanadaWon vacant Canadian heavyweight title
56Win44–4–8 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Bill Lang PTS2011 Apr 1910 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Sydney Stadium, Sydney, AustraliaWon Commonwealth and Australian heavyweight titles
55Loss43–4–8 Flag of the United States.svg Jack Johnson PTS14 (20)26 Dec 1908 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Sydney Stadium, Sydney, AustraliaLost world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
54Win43–3–8 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Bill Lang KO6 (20)3 Sep 1908 Flag of Australia (converted).svg West Melbourne Stadium, Melbourne, AustraliaRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
53Win42–3–8 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Bill SquiresKO13 (20)24 Aug 1908 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Sydney Stadium, Sydney, AustraliaRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
52Win41–3–8 Flag of Australia (converted).svg Bill SquiresKO5 (10)13 Jun 1908 Flag of France.svg Neuilly Bowling Palace, Paris, FranceRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
51Win40–3–8 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Jewey SmithKO5 (10)18 Apr 1908 Flag of France.svg Neuilly Bowling Palace, Paris, FranceRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
50Win39–3–8 Saint Patrick's Saltire.svg Jem Roche KO1 (20), 1:2817 Mar 1908 Saint Patrick's Saltire.svg Theatre Royal, Dublin, IrelandRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
49Win38–3–8 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Jack Palmer KO4 (20)10 Feb 1908 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Wonderland London, EnglandRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
48Win37–3–8 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Gunner Moir KO10 (20)2 Dec 1907 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg National Sporting Club, London, EnglandRetained world heavyweight title (National Police Gazette)
47Win36–3–8 Flag of Australia (1903-1908).svg Bill SquiresKO1 (45), 1:284 Jul 1907 Flag of the United States.svg Mission Street Arena, Coma, California, U.S.Retained world heavyweight title claim;
Won vacant world heavyweight title ( National Police Gazette ) [7]
46Win35–3–8 Flag of the United States.svg Philadelphia Jack O'Brien PTS208 May 1907 Flag of the United States.svg Naud Junction Pavilion, Los Angeles, California, U.S.Retained world heavyweight title claim
45Draw34–3–8 Flag of the United States.svg Philadelphia Jack O'Brien PTS2028 Nov 1906 Flag of the United States.svg Naud Junction Pavilion, Los Angeles, California, U.S.Retained world heavyweight title claim
44Win34–3–7 Flag of the United States.svg Fireman Jim Flynn KO15 (20)2 Oct 1906 Flag of the United States.svg Naud Junction Pavilion, Los Angeles, California, U.S.Retained world heavyweight title claim
43Win33–3–7 Flag of the United States.svg James J WalkerKO1 (10), 2:5528 Mar 1906 Flag of the United States.svg National Athletic Club, San Diego, California, U.S.Retained world heavyweight title claim
42Win32–3–7 Flag of the United States.svg Jim O'BrienKO1 (10), 2:1828 Mar 1906 Flag of the United States.svg National Athletic Club, San Diego, California, U.S.Retained world heavyweight title claim
41Win31–3–7 Flag of the United States.svg Marvin Hart PTS2023 Feb 1906 Flag of the United States.svg Pacific Athletic Club, Los Angeles, California, U.S.Won world heavyweight title claim
40Loss30–3–7 Flag of the United States.svg Jack Twin SullivanPTS2017 Oct 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Pacific Athletic Club, Los Angeles, California, U.S.Sullivan claimed the American and world middleweight titles
39Win30–2–7 Flag of the United States.svg Dave BarryTKO20 (20), 2:1831 Aug 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Woodward's Pavilion, San Francisco, California, U.S.Retained Pacific Coast middleweight title
38Draw29–2–7 Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg Hugo KellyPTS2028 Jul 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Light Guard Armory, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
37Draw29–2–6 Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg Hugo KellyPTS107 Jun 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Light Guard Armory, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.For Kelly's world middleweight title claim
36Win29–2–5 Flag of the United States.svg Dave BarryPTS202 May 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Germania Hall, Tacoma, Washington, U.S.Won Pacific Coast middleweight title
35Draw28–2–5 Flag of the United States.svg Jack Twin SullivanPTS207 Mar 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Tacoma Athletic Club, Tacoma, Washington U.S.Billed for the world middleweight title
34Win28–2–4 Flag of the United States.svg Joe SchildtKO631 Jan 1905 Flag of the United States.svg Ballard, Seattle, Washington U.S.
33Loss27–2–4 Flag of the United States.svg Philadelphia Jack O'Brien NWS67 Oct 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Panorama Building, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
32Draw27–1–4 Flag of the United States.svg Billy WoodsPTS1516 Sep 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Seattle Theater, Seattle, Washington, U.S.
31Win27–1–3 Flag of the United States.svg Cyclone KellyKO4 (20)19 Aug 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Germania Hall, Tacoma, Washington, U.S.
30Win26–1–3 Flag of the United States.svg Hans EricksonKO39 Jul 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Kemmerer, Wyoming, U.S.
29Win25–1–3 Flag of the United States.svg Joe WardinskiKO11 Jul 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
28Win24–1–3 Flag of the United States.svg Tony CaponiPTS69 Apr 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Chicago Athletic Association, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
27Draw23–1–3 Flag of the United States.svg Tony CaponiPTS618 Mar 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Battery D Armory, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
26Draw23–1–2 Flag of the United States.svg Mike SchreckPTS627 Feb 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
25Win23–1–1 Flag of the United States.svg George ShrosbreeKO526 Feb 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Battery D Armory, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
24Win22–1–1 Flag of the United States.svg Ben O'GradyKO3 (10)28 Jan 1904 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
23Win21–1–1 Flag of the United States.svg Tom McCunePTS1031 Dec 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.Retained Michigan State middleweight title
22Win20–1–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jack O'DonnellKO1125 Nov 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Evanston, Illinois, U.S.Retained Michigan State middleweight title
21Win19–1–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jack ButlerKO28 Nov 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, U.S.Retained Michigan State middleweight title
20Draw18–1–1 Flag of the United States.svg Billy MoorePTS1024 Oct 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Amphidrome, Houghton, Michigan, U.S.Retained Michigan State middleweight title
19Win18–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jack HammondKO3 (10)12 Oct 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Soo Opera House, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, U.S.Retained Michigan State middleweight title
18Win17–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jim DugganKO925 Sep 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Amphidrome, Houghton, Michigan, U.S.Won Michigan State middleweight title
17Win16–1 Flag of the United States.svg Earl ThompsonKO318 Apr 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
16Win15–1 Flag of the United States.svg Dick SmithKO3 (6)25 Mar 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Delray Athletic Club, Delray, Michigan, U.S.
15Win14–1 Flag of the United States.svg Reddy PhillipsDQ2 (6)25 Mar 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Delray Athletic Club, Delray, Michigan, U.S.
14Win13–1 Flag of the United States.svg Jim O'BrienPTS1013 Feb 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Handloser Hall, Delray, Michigan, U.S.
13Loss12–1 Flag of the United States.svg Mike SchreckPTS1016 Jan 1903 Flag of the United States.svg Light Guard Armory, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
12Win12–0 Flag of the United States.svg Tom McCuneKO7 (10)26 Dec 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Light Guard Armory, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
11Win11–0 Flag of the United States.svg Reddy PhillipsTKO9 (10)6 Nov 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Lansing, Michigan, U.S.
10Win10–0 Flag of the United States.svg Jack O'DonnellKO1119 Sep 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Butler, Indiana, U.S.
9Win9–0 Flag of the United States.svg Dick SmithPTS108 Jul 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Mount Clemens, Michigan, U.S.
8Win8–0 Flag of the United States.svg Dick SmithKO227 Jun 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Nelson's Opera House, Mount Clemens, Michigan, U.S.
7Win7–0 Flag of the United States.svg Ed SholtreauPTS1016 May 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
6Win6–0 Flag of the United States.svg Ed SholtreauTKO1 (10), 1:3518 Apr 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
5Win5–0 Flag of the United States.svg Billy WalshPTS64 Apr 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Handloser Hall, Delray, Michigan, U.S.
4Win4–0 Flag of the United States.svg Archie SteeleDQ2 (6)5 Mar 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
3Win3–0 Flag of the United States.svg Harry PeppersRTD2 (8)3 Mar 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Weyler's Hall, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
2Win2–0 Flag of the United States.svg Billy WalshTKO5 (8)5 Feb 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
1Win1–0 Canadian Red Ensign (1868-1921).svg Fred ThorntonTKO5 (10)16 Jan 1902 Flag of the United States.svg Handloser Hall, Delray, Michigan, U.S.

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References

  1. Tommy Burns - Encyclopædia Britannica; Retrieved 2011-07-21
  2. Dan McCaffery. Tommy Burns: Canada's Unknown World Heavyweight Champion. 2000, page 11-2
  3. Jack Johnson: Unforgivable Blackness , PBS America
  4. "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson". PBS. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  5. "The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]), 05 July 1910,Page 17. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers". Lib. of Congress. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  6. "Tommy Burns". oshof.ca/. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
  7. https://ia600303.us.archive.org/12/items/policegazettespo1918aust/policegazettespo1918aust.pdf
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Marvin Hart
World Heavyweight Champion
February 23, 1906 December 26, 1908
Succeeded by
Jack Johnson
Records
Preceded by
James J. Jeffries
6
Most opponents beaten
for the world heavyweight championship
11
7th opponent beaten on 2 December 1907

3 September 1908–16 December 1940
Succeeded by
Joe Louis
Preceded by
James J. Jeffries
8
Most wins in
world heavyweight championship fights
13
9th win on 17 March 1908

3 September 1908–31 January 1941
Succeeded by
Joe Louis