Tommy Burns (boxer)

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Tommy Burns (June 17, 1881 – May 10, 1955), born Noah Brusso, is the only Canadian born world heavyweight champion boxer. The first to travel the globe in defending his title, Tommy made 11 title defenses despite often being the betting underdog due to his size. He changed sports forever by being the first man to allow an African American a shot at the Heavyweight crown. His biographer, Dan McCaffery, quoted Burns as saying, "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."

Burns was also the first heavyweight champion to give a Jewish boxer a shot at the crown. Burns defeated Joseph 'Jewey' Smith in a fight staged in Paris. On top of that, he fought one bout with a Native American on his way up. According to McCaffery's book 'Tommy Burns: Canada's Unknown World Heavyweight Champion', he also had two black sparring partners and was married for a brief time to a black woman. At a time when most white fighters drew the so-called colour-line, refusing to fight African-Americans, Burns had half a dozen contests with black boxers prior to his clash with Jack Johnson.


Early life

Born in Normanby Township near Hanover, Ontario, Brusso's family lived in several locations around Ontario's Grey and Bruce Counties before moving to Galt, Ontario. From an impoverished family of thirteen children, he travelled to Detroit, Michigan where he began his prizefighting career in 1900. In June 1903, he was discovered playing lacrosse under an assumed name for a Detroit team that was playing in Chatham, Ontario.

Boxing career

After starting his boxing career under his real name, Brusso took the Scottish-sounding name of Tommy Burns in 1904. Although only 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) tall and about 175 pounds (79 kg), size did not stop him from becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion. When Burns met Marvin Hart for the heavyweight championship of the world 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, and went on to defend his title eleven times within a period of less than two years.

All previous world champs had been white Americans, who only defended their titles against other white Americans. Burns, however, travelled the globe, beating the champions of every nation in which boxing was legal at that time, including England, Ireland, France and Australia. Along the way he set records for the fastest knockout (one minute and 28 seconds) and the most consecutive wins by knockout (eight) by a heavyweight champion. He was also the shortest heavyweight champ in history. He also 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 actually successfully defended his title 13 times.

In December 1908, Burns became the first fighter to agree to a heavyweight championship bout with a black boxer, Jack Johnson, to whom he lost his title in a match held in Sydney. He refused to fight Johnson until Australian promoter Hugh McIntosh paid him $30,000 for the fight (Johnson only received $5,000). [1] He was rumoured to be suffering from the effects from jaundice or influenza, and weighed in at just 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. Referee Hugh McIntosh awarded the decision and the title to Johnson. In a filmed interview, Burns named Johnson as the second best boxer up to his time, after James J. Jeffries.

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