Burns Beats Hart for Heavyweight Title

On February 23, 1906, World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Marvin Hart defended his title in Los Angeles.  When James J. Jeffries retired as heavyweight champion, Hart and Jack Sharkey fought for the vacant title.  Hart was the surprise winner of the fight.

Hart refused to fight Jack Johnson, the recognized best heavyweight.  Instead he fought Tommy Burns, a 5’07” skilled boxer.  Due to his height, Burns often entered fights as the betting underdog but often won with his superior skill.


World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Tommy Burns sparring (Public Domain)

Burns was again the underdog but you couldn’t tell it by looking at Marvin Hart.  At the end of the 20-round bout, Hart’s eyes were swollen shut, his lip was so swollen he couldn’t speak and his face was covered in blood.  Tommy Burns’ face was unmarked.

Hart lasted the entire 20-rounds but the fight probably should have been stopped.  Hart could say he went the distance but at a terrible price.  Unbelievably, Hart tried to say he thought the decision was his even after failing to land a single significant blow during the fight.


Marvin Hart in 1902

From the opening round, Hart swung wildly at Burns, who parried the blows away and fired back jabs and hooks at Hart.  By the fourth round, Hart’s left eye began to swell.  Both eyes were swollen shut by the tenth round.  In the eighth, fourteenth and eighteenth round, Burns almost knocked Hart out.  After Burns hit Hart with 11 unanswered shots in the fourteenth round, the bout should have been stopped.

After the twentieth round, Burns was awarded a unanimous decision.  Burns immediately signed a vaudeville contract and started touring for the next six months.

Burns was always a consummate businessman.  After finishing the tour, he would defend the over the next two and a half years.  Burns continued to use his superior boxing skills to dispatch all challengers, while he waited for the right money offer to defend his title against the great Jack Johnson.

Marvin Hart, who stood 5’11” and weighed between 185 and 195 pounds, continued fighting until 1910 although he never challenged for the title again.  A tough but sloppy puncher, Hart won many fights due to his durability and power.

When Hart died in 1931 at 55 years of age, his wife Florence revealed something else about Hart.  He fought most of his career including his world heavyweight reign while being blind in one eye.  Hart may have lost his title but he was still a tough champion.

Tommy Burns still holds the distinction of being the shortest heavyweight champion in history.  A long shot to win the title, he would reign for three years and defeat 11 challengers.  His reign would last until he accepted the challenge of one of the Top 10 greatest heavyweight boxing champions in history.  Not bad for a little guy.

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Sources: The New York Evening World, February 24, 1906, p. 6





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