The Best Boxer You Never Heard Of
Time and even his own daughter almost erased the memory of Jimmy Bivins from the minds of boxing fans. Though you have probably never heard of him, Bivins, a native of Twiggs County, is regarded as one of the best boxers of his era. While he never won a championship, Jimmy Bivins, is regarded by experts as one of the best Light Heavyweight Fighters of the 20th Century.
James Louis “Jimmy” Bivins was born in Dry Branch, Georgia on December 6, 1919. His parents, Allen and Fleta, lived on their farm on the Old Griswoldville Road in the Smith District of northwestern Twiggs County. The Bivins joined many other African American families who migrated to work in the industrial complexes of the Northeast and Midwest, leaving their boll weevil infested red clay farm behind.
The Bivins moved to East 53rd Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Allen worked as a fireman for the Ohio Cleaning Company. James and his sisters Viola, Maria and Fanny May attended the neighborhood school. It was in when he was in his teens when Jimmy learned how to box. In his first celebrated match, Jimmy lost to Storace Cozy in the third round of the 147-pound class in the AAU Championship in San Francisco.
Bivins entered the world of professional boxing as middleweight. His first professional fight came in Cleveland on January 15, 1940 with a one round TKO over Emory Morgan. His sixth straight professional victory came in April in Chicago in an eight-round decision over Nate Bolden. Bivin’s remarkable streak of 19 consecutive wins, highlighted by ten-round victory over Charley Burley, ended in his last match of the year, when he lost a rematch with Anton Christoforidis.
Jimmy picked up right where he left off in 1941. As a light heavyweight, he won six of eight bouts. In his fourth and probably the most important match of his early career, Bivins beat Joey Maxim in a ten-round decision in a match fought at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Maxim won the world light heavyweight championship in 1950. In defense of his title in 1952, Maxim, a native of Cleveland, beat challenger Sugar Ray Robinson in the only one of his 201 matches where he failed to answer the bell. Bivins ended 1942 with a record of seven wins and one loss. Ring magazine named him the number one contender in the heavyweight and light heavyweight classifications.
In his opening bout of 1943, Bivins defeated Ezzard Charles, a fellow Georgian and regarded as the third greatest light heavyweight of the 20th Century, in ten rounds. Bivins continued his meteoric career completing the year with eight victories and no defeats. His win over Ami Mauriello earned Jimmy the Duration Heavyweight Title. Bivins won his only match in 1944, a year which saw few matches while he served in the United States Army. During that last full year of the war, Jimmy Bivins was known as the interim or unofficial Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Bivins ran his win total to fifty-two before a devastating loss to Jersey Joe Walcott in the winter of 1946. Until that point, Bivins had not lost a boxing match since June 22, 1942. Jimmy lost again in June and didn’t fight until two weeks before Thanksgiving when he was defeated by Ezzard Charles in the tenth round for his third consecutive loss.
In 1947, Jimmy Bivins regained his winning style and won ten matches and only losing one. He carried a five match winning streak into a rematch with Archie Moore, which he lost in the 10th round. Just sixteen days later, he lost another ten round bout with Ezzard Charles. After a six round exhibition match with the great Joe Louis on November 17, 1948, Jimmy lost his third match of the year, a defeat by fellow Clevelander Joey Maxim.
Jimmy Bivins continued to win, garnering six wins in eight matches in 1949. By 1949, his competition was becoming less noteworthy. After winning one of only two bouts in 1950, once again Bivins put together seven match winning streak, which came to a screeching halt on August 15, 1951, when he lost a heavyweight match to Joe Louis. His only consolation was his winnings. Though he lost the match to one of the greatest fights ever, Bivins was paid $40,000.00 his largest cash prize ever. His last great fight came in Chicago on November 26, 1952 when he lost to Ezzard Charles. For the rest of his career, Jimmy could only manage to fight small time fighters. He won his last four bouts, his final victory coming at home in Cleveland on October 28, 1955.
One of the darkest moments in Jimmy Bivins’ life came not on the mat of a boxing room, but in the home of his own daughter. Forced to live with his daughter after the death of his wife, Bivins was horribly mistreated by his daughter and her husband. When Bivins failed to show up at the local gym, concerned friends went out to look for him. Bivins was found in the attic of his daughter’s home, bundled in a urine-stained blanket, missing a portion of his finger, blind in one eye and emaciated down to 110 pounds. It was the athlete in him that guided him through one of the toughest battles of his life. Just like he did in the 1940s, Jimmy battled and won, regaining his old fighting weight. His former pupil Gary Hovrath helped to bring his mentor back to the gym.
In his 112 fight career, the 175-pound 5-foot 9 inch tall Bivins posted an illustrious record of 86 victories (thirty one by knockouts,) twenty-five losses, and one draw. He fought seven members of the Boxing Hall of Fame, defeating four of them. He squared off against eleven world champions, defeated eight of them, including Joey Maxim, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles.
Though he never won a boxing title, the voters of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999 recognized the remarkable achievements of Jimmy Bivins during the 1940s. A five-man panel appointed by the Associated Press named Jimmy as the fifth greatest light heavyweight boxer of the 20th Century. In commenting on his induction, the quiet Bivins remarked, “I knew one of these days they would recognize me. I did the best I could. I’m glad it was appreciated.”