Best of a Century:

Fights of the Century

Decade: 1910-1919

Ad Wolgast vs Joe Rivers, World Lightweight Championship, July 4, 1912

By: Monte Cox

Image The Fistic Fireworks for the fight of the decade from 1910-1919 occurred on the appropriate date of July 4th in 1912.  Only a couple of months after the sinking of the Titanic another dramatic ending was taking place in a boxing ring, complete with  rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air. It was a battle for Wolgast World Lightweight Championship, a thrilling fight with the type of explosive and controversial ending that boxing fans cry over.

The defending champion Ad Wolgast was a tough and wily competitor, good enough to defeat Battling Nelson in the 40th round to win the title a year earlier. Wolgast had also beaten the great Owen Moran previous to winning the title. The challenger, Joe Rivers, was and up and coming lightweight out of California. He had kayoed Johnny Kilbane in 16 rounds and Frank Conley, one of the top lightweights in the world, in 12 rounds, to EARN a shot at the title. It is noteworthy that Rivers had to beat two of the top fighters in his weight class to recieve a shot at Wolgast. Today's fighters are often fed a diet of tomato cans and GIVEN a shot at a world title (which is further cheapened by the fact that there are 3 recognized "world" champions.)

Wolgast started off strong the first three rounds. Rivers, the younger, hungrier and more aggressive fighter began to take over around the 4th. Wolgast relied on his experience and the rough-housing tactics of a crafty veteran to try and out fight. The two fought at a gruesome pace over the first 12 rounds of a heated battle. Rivers was leading on rounds going into the 13th.

Near the end of the 13th Wolgast landed a hard left to the body that appeared to many at ringside to have been low. Rivers, who saw the punch coming, tried to beat Wolgast to the punch with a hard right counter to the jaw. Both men went down! Both were hurt! It was the most electrifying double knock down in boxing history!!

Then came the controversy (surely not in boxing?!). The referree Jack Welsh could have easily ruled the bout a double knockout! However the Ref said he knew of no precedent for ruling a double knockout and so assisted the champion whose "punch had landed first" to his feet while counting to count out Rivers. Ad Wolgast was declared the winner. Wolgast handlers had to carry him from the ring. Rivers arose a few seconds later unaided. The controversy went on for weeks. This fight was as explosive a slugfest as Robinson-Gatti 1 and 2 with the addition of a double knockout!!! But with an ending just as distasteful as Lewis-Holyfield. It was a trajedy of epic proportions to the fans of that day. They cried just as hard as some 16 year old girl who would go see the movie "Titanic" some 86 years later.

Honorable Mentions:

Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries, July 4, 1910. Another Fireworks display. This one put on by Johnson who dominated the "over the hill" Jeffries. Loads of historical significance but not as competitive or as thrilling as Wolgast-Rivers.

Jack Dempsey vs. Jess Willard, July 4, 1919. A popular date for great fights in this era. Historically siginificant as a one sided massacre.

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