When Heavyweight Champions Retired with Their Titles
By: Ken Hissner
James J. “The Boilermaker” Jeffries retired as World Heavyweight Champion in August of 1904 with a 19-0-2 (16) record. He had defeated the likes of Australia’s Peter Jackson, 51-3-13, from the Virgin Islands, Ireland’s “Sailor” Tom Sharkey, 26-2-6 (twice), New Zealand’s “Ruby” Bob Fitzsimmons, 55-7-13 (twice & for the title the first time), former world champion James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, 10-2-3 (twice), and Gus Ruhlin, 27-6-3 (reversing an earlier draw).
It was only the demand from his pastor stating “we have a coward amongst us” not coming out of retirement that forced him back. He had gained over 100 lbs and hadn’t fought in a month shy of six years but came back as the “white hope” to dethrone World Champion Jack “Galveston Giant” Johnson, 52-5-11, on July 4th, 1910 in Reno, Nevada before approximately 16,528 in attendance under the blistering hot sun. Promoter and then referee Tex Rickard would halt the bout in the 15th round of a scheduled 45 rounds as Johnson retained his title.
“The Fighting Marine” Gene Tunney, took the title from Jack “The Manassa Mauler” Dempsey, 57-4-11, in September of 1926 at Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium before a whopping 120, 557 fans in attendance. One day shy of a year Tunney repeated the win though having to come off the canvas during the “long count” in Chicago, IL. Tunney would retire after his next fight defeating New Zealand’s Tom “The Hard Rock from Down Under” Heeney, 32-8-5 on July 26th 1928, with a 65-1-1 (48) record. His lone loss and draw were with Middleweight great Harry “Pittsburgh Windmill” Greb, 195-10-16, prior to winning the heavyweight title. He had four more bouts with Greb going 3-0-1.
It wasn’t until Rocky “The Brockton Blockbuster” Marciano retired in September of 1955 did another heavyweight world champion retire while still champion. He won the title knocking out “Jersey” Joe Walcott, 51-16-1, in September of 1952, while behind in the fight in the 13th of a scheduled 15 rounds. He knocked out Walcott in his first defense in the first round. He defeated former World Champion Ezzard “The Cincinnati Cobra” Charles, 85-10-1, in back to back fights before ending his career coming off the canvas against Light Heavyweight Champion Archie “Old Mongoose” Moore, 149-19-8, to score a knockout in the 9th round.
The last world heavyweight champion to retire with the title was Lennox “The Lion” Lewis, the 1998 Olympic Gold Medalist Super Heavyweight for Canada, but born and now lives in London, UK. He won the world heavyweight title defeating Tony “TNT” Tucker, 48-1, in May of 1993.
Lewis would lose and regain the title in bouts with Oliver “The Atomic Bull” McCall, 24-5, and Hasim “The Rock” Rahman, 34-2. He would retire after in June of 2003 stopping on cuts Ukraine’s Vitali “Dr. Ironfist” Klitschko, 32-1.