R.I.P. Jimmy Bivins
As the boxing world mourns the death of Jimmy Bivins, one of the greatest fighters to never get a title shot, we at the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive thought we’d take a peek in the Bivins file and see what Hank had collected on this neglected pugilist. Among a fat sheaf of articles spanning the arc of Bivens’s career–from his youthful stint as wartime “duration champ” to his belated induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame–we found a page of Hank’s own handwritten observations on the fighter. He was keeping notes for his own reference, not for posterity; his comments were technical in nature and hardly eulogy material. Still, as the sporting world considers Bivins’s legacy, surely we should throw Hank’s two cents into the mix. After all, as a fellow giant of the boxing world, a Kaplan “two cents” trades at a pretty high exchange rate! We reproduce it here:
- Delivered his punches with speed.
- Had a long reach though only 5’9″, but most important, he knew how to use this physical advantage.
- His timing was excellent.
- Good left hook, but expert with the left jab. Actually used it as an offensive weapon.
- Best instinct for what opponent in is position to do.
- Fought 11 world champs–beat 8.
- Was not a Fancy Dan boxer, but had great boxing skills in center ring.
- Was not a great K.O. puncher, but could hurt his opponent when it was his intention to do so.
So who were the eight future world champions that Bivins beat, out of the eleven that he fought?
Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Billy Soose, Joey Maxim, Anton Christoforidis, Melio Bettina, Teddy Yarosz, Gus Lesnevich. Six of the eight he defeated in the first two years of his professional career (1940-1955.) However, none ever gave him a title chance.
Other heavyweight contenders that he triumphed over included Charley Burley, Bob Pastor, Tami Mauriello, and Lee Savold.
And of course, Bivins twice fought his buddy Joe Lewis: once in a 1948 exhibition match and again, in 1951, when he dropped a 10-round decision that he himself always believed to be political: “I thought I won that one too, but Louis was looking for a title shot so they gave it to him,” he told Ring magazine.
Besides Hank’s notes, we also found a piquant letter to Hank from Gary Horvath, the lifelong friend of Bivins who was appointed the aging fighter’s legal guardian after he was found suffering from neglect at the hands of his own family members. There are too many colorful epithets to reproduce here, as he recounts his ongoing feud with Bivens’s older sister over his visitation rights and guardianship, but the letter attests to Hank’s evident concern for the fighter and Horvath’s desire to reassure him that “Jimmy” is recovering. Such personal, uncensored documents hiding amongst the clippings, programs, and such are what make forays into Hank’s archive so rewarding.
Of course, even sifting through newspaper clippings from a sixty-odd year span of time is fascinating in its own way, even if the printed materials are not one-of-a-kind. Articles from the 1940s, when Bivins was on a red-hot, 27 match winning streak, sound curiously blase or ambivalent about the reigning wartime “duration champion.” A couple reporters opined that he was not even close to a match for Joe Louis. A lackluster bout with Lee Savold at Madison Square Garden drew particular scorn from the press; one writer described the 3.5 to 1 favorite as fighting “more like a 6 to 5 favorite facing a scared little boy.”
However, as the years went by, Bivins’s stature gained more recognition. Among other accolades, Ring Magazine published a laudatory feature on him in 1974. In the article below, Jersey Joe Walcott even chooses Bevins as his personal pick for “Boxing All Time Great!” Despite winning the encounter in a split 10-round decision, Walcott ranked his opponent among the three toughest he ever faced.
At the other end of the scale, this very local newsletter describes Bivins’s afterlife as a trainer in Cleveland. Bivins was regarded as a “super gent” for his work with youth and his unassuming ways. And that’s not a bad way to be remembered, either.
By Charlotte Jackson