By Guy Louis Rocha and Eric N. Moody
The Heavyweight Championship Fight That Time Forgot
The main problem confronting Egan and Livingston was how to get the rest of the fight world to acknowledge the Hart-Root contest as a world heavyweight title fight. A sizable investment had been made in constructing an arena at the eastern limits of Reno. In order to fill the 6500-seat open-air amphitheater, the contest had to draw regional, if not nationwide, attention as a title bout. In 1905, the combined population of Reno and its sister city Sparks would have barely filled the arena.
At the same time, the Reno Athletic Club put up a $2500 guarantee, paid the required $1000 license fee to the state, and promised Jim Jeffries $1000 to referee the bout. The club, or more precisely its two ambitious boxing promoters who were putting up the money, stood to lose a considerable sum if the fight failed to draw.
Reno’s two daily newspapers made no bones about the nature of the fight: Marvin Hart and Jack Root were going to do battle for the world heavyweight crown. The Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette boldly proclaimed that ring referee Jeffries himself was expected to crown the new champ. Promoting the fight and the town, the journals were doing their very best to make sure that on July 3 – the rescheduled fight date – all eyes would be focused on the growing metropolis bordering the Truckee River. Egan and Livingston, no doubt, had a hand in the publicity hype.
Accompanied by his manager, Jack McCormick, Hart arrived in Reno on June 9 and established training headquarters downtown at the Reno Wheelman’s clubhouse. Not quite six feet tall, he was twenty pounds over his usual fighting weight of 195 pounds. A rigorous training schedule, including considerable road work, soon would not only result in a trim fighter, but also bring an unscheduled confrontation with a poisonous reptile.
In mid-July, according to local newspaper accounts, Hart found that a rattlesnake had wrapped itself around his leg while he was running down a rural road. Stepping on the snake’s head, the pugilist calmly pulled the creature off his entrapped appendage and killed it by throwing it against a tree. No mean feat.
With stories like these, the amiable Hart soon became the favorite of Reno fight fans. On the afternoon of June 22, the Wheelman clubhouse opened its doors to the women of the community. The gym was packed with 200 curious ladies and their required escorts. Hart, who had donned a suit of pink tights for the occasion, proceeded to tear a punching bag from its moorings. One woman was heard to cry out, “Oh, suppose that was a man. Would he hit him that hard?” The ladies went home that afternoon thoroughly delighted with the manly exhibition.
Following his every move, the local press played up Hart’s trout fishing exploits in the Truckee River, his participation as official starter in the fifty-five mile race between the Reno Wheelmen and the New Century Bicycle club of San Francisco, and especially his discovery of a “new” boxing punch. When Hart’s manager was asked for a description of the lethal blow, McCormick would say only that it was a “corkscrew punch” and was “a bird.” Supposedly, it was similar to Fitzsimmons’ controversial “solar plexus” punch, which was credited as the knockout blow in his Carson City fight with “Gentleman Jim” Corbett in 1897. This “new” weapon in Hart’s boxing arsenal created quite a stir within the area’s sporting crowd.
So did the arrival of Jack Root and Jim Jeffries on July 1. Root, under the guidance of manager Houseman, had been training at Ogden County, Utah with heavyweight contender Mike Shreck. A crowd numbering in the hundreds greeted the former light heavyweight champion as he stepped off the train. Root was lean and mean at five feet, ten inches and 175 pounds, but even so, some boxing aficionados questioned why he hadn’t worked out in reno and acclimated himself to area conditions, as Hart had done.
Our hour after Root’s arrival in the Truckee Meadows, Jeffries was mobbed at the Southern Pacific Depot. His face deeply tanned from the balmy climate of Southern California, where he opened a farm, the retired champion turned boxing referee heard shouts of “Hello Jim,” “Oh, you, Jeff!” and “Hail to the chief!” A small boy wriggled through the mass of humanity clustered up and down Commercial Row until he stood next to “the king who voluntarily abdicated his throne.” He then started to feel the ex-boxer’s massive arms and legs. Jeffries paid no attention, wrote one reporter, “he probably thought it was a fly.”
Although the throng of fight fans and sportswriters expected to hear Jeffries announce that he would crown the new heavyweight champion, the ex-champ did not, before or after his coming to Reno, make such a statement. His pronouncement at the time of his retirement would remain uncharged even after he refereed the Hart-Root fight: “I have no power to confer the world’s championship upon any man. The championship rests with the people. They and the press will be the best judges.”
In part 3: Judgment Day