By Angelo Prospero Jr.
They didn’t come any smarter, cuter or craftier in the ring than Fritzie Zivic. Born May 8, 1913 in Pittsburgh, this Croatian-American came from a fighting family. Four brothers were also professional fighters.
Fritzie Zivic was a professional in every sense of the fistic word. He didn’t have to worry about being in shape. Constant battles kept him in top condition. Sometimes he would fight three times a month. He ended up with a total of 230 bouts in a career that started in 1931 and terminated in 1949.
The pugilistic life of Fritzie Zivic contained several phases. In the first four years he had a respectable record as he won twenty-five fights out of his first 31. Starting with a loss to future champion Lou Ambers in 1935, he suffered a series of reverses that would have dampened the spirits of a less determined individual. he lost ten decisions in a row.
However, beginning on June 9, 1936, fighting an average of twice a month, Zivic won 20 of his next 22 contests, losing only to the famed Billy Conn and Canada’s Tommy Bland.
The years 1938 and 1939 found Zivic headlining all over the East. He was in his prime, fighting and beating the best in the world and stamping himself as the number one contender. The valuable lessons he had learned in the tank towns were now paying dividends. Zivic became a master craftsman, adding a few tricks of his own, including the infamous thumb to the eye.
Finally a win in 1940 over Sammy Angott catapulted him to number one contender for welterweight honors. The title was held by all-time great Henry Armstrong, who had overwhelmed all opposition since dethroning Barney Ross.
Zivic and Armstrong met for the title on January 17, 1941 and Fritzie Zivic won a hard-fought 15-round decision. The following year he knocked out Hammerin’ Henry in twelve rounds, one of two KO’s inflicted upon the ring great in his Hall of Fame career. The pug-nosed craftsman was now sitting on top of the boxing world.
However, Zivic’s tenure as champion was short-lived. On July 29, 1941 he lost a close 15-round decision to Freddie “Red” Cochrane. Fritzie couldn’t get Cochrane back in the ring for a title fight even though he did defeat the Redhead in a ten-round non-title go. Cochrane enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and the title was frozen for the duration.
Fritzie Zivic then entered the next phase of his career, a ranking contender who fought the best in both divisions. He lost a pair of bouts to the great Ray Robinson and matched gloves with Tommy Bell, Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery and even the granite-chinned Jake LaMotta.
He had four wars with Jake. Both had similar styles even though LaMotta outweighed him by ten pounds. Both had durable chins, were rough and tough and neither had a great KO punch. LaMotta won three out of four, but all were close, hard-fought battles.
After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Zivic had 18 fights in 1945. He scored an impressive upset victory over 19 year-old knockout specialist Billy Arnold on January 15, 1945. Arnold had come out of Philadelphia with a long list of knockouts. Zivic was supposed to be just another big name on Arnold’s way to the title. Fritzie surprised the youngster and the bettors with an eight-round decision.
Starting with a loss to Harold Green on June 22, 1945, Zivic entered the final phase of his boxing career. He became a trial horse and journeyman who traveled all over America displaying his skills. He traveled to tank towns tackling local favorites and met fighters he had previously fought on the way to the title.
In 1947, he dueled the venerable Kid Azteca in Mexico City. His first beat the kid back in 1939 and repeated the win in 1944.
The year 1949 marked Zivic’s last fights. He went out a winner, taking decisions over Al Reid and Eddie Steele in Macon, Ga. In all, Zivic had 230 career bouts, winning 154. He was stopped only four times. he fought a total of ten world champions.
Always a tiger in the ring who used all the ricks of the trade – some legal and some illegal – Zivic was a gentle person outside the ring and enjoyed great popularity in his community. he may have been the last of boxing’s legendary journeymen.