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Names such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson are well known now, but one that is often forgotten to history is that of George Dixon. Dixon was notable and legendary in his time, and today among those who have an interest in boxing history, he is considered to be one of the greatest boxers of all-time.
Born in Africville, Halifax on July 29, 1870, he would gain the name of Little Chocolate due to his short stature and weighing only 87 pounds as a young boxer. Prior to boxing, he would apprentice as a photographer and soon became interested in boxing because of the local boxers who came to see his employer to get publicity photographs taken.
He would find success in boxing very early on. On May 10, 1888, he claimed the World Bantamweight Championship in a fight against Tommy Spider Kelly. On June 27, 1890, he knocked out Nunc Wallace of England in 18 rounds to officially be declared the new champion.
One year later on May 31, 1891, he defeated Cal McCarthy in 22 rounds to win the Featherweight title. With his fame quickly rising, he decided to create a vaudeville troupe, which he named the George Dixon Specialty Company. He toured throughout the United States and Canada for the next several years.
As the 20th century approached, he would see several losses including a seventh round technical knockout to Solly Smith. In another fight on July 1, 1898, he fought 25-rounds against Ben Jordan, losing in a close bout that many felt was one of the best fights in history to that point.
Looking to reclaim his championship, he would fight Dave Sullivan on Nov. 11, 1898 to reclaim the World Featherweight Title.
A reporter at that time stated that Dixon was the best, self-trained man that ever stepped into the ring. He stated that he used a small pair of dumbbells and with either hand he faces an imaginary opponent. He feints and ducks before a spook enemy. He advances on one and then the other foot.
Today, this is called shadow boxing and it is believed that not only did Dixon create the practice, but he was also the first boxer to use a modern punching bag.
He would keep the championship for the next two years, until he lost on Oct. 28, 1901 to Abe Attell.
A following wins against Digger Stanley and Pedlar Palmer in 1903, he would lose his last three fights between 1904 and 1905.
It is estimated that over his career, he had made over $250,000 but he also enjoyed gambling, expensive clothes and entertaining lavishly.
Over the next three years, Dixon would slowly lose his money and end up homeless and an alcoholic. He had been living and begging on the streets of New York. Many of his fans attempted to get him back on his feet to no luck and the media began to report that the end was near for the former champion.
On Jan. 6, 1908, he would pass away in the alcohol ward of Bellevue Hospital. On Jan. 23, a charity boxing match was held to pay the costs of his hospital bills.
His manager, Tom O’Rourke, would have a tombstone made up with the words, “here rests the gamest pugilist who ever lived.”
Over the course of his career, he would have a record, at least in professional fights, of 63 wins, 29 losses and 48 draws. Overall, he would hold the bantamweight title in 1890, and the featherweight championship from 1891 to 1897 and from 1898 to 1900. His 23 world championships bouts, which some say actually numbered 33, would be the most for any fighter until Joe Louis.
Dixon would make huge strides in his sport’s early years. He was the first ever person of African descent to win a world championship in any sport. He was also the first Canadian-born boxing champion. Ring Magazine would rank him as the greatest featherweight boxer of all-time, and he would be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955. In 1956, he would be inducted into the Ring Magazine Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was part of the first class inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2018, he was ranked as the sixth greatest athlete to ever come out of Nova Scotia.
A community centre in Halifax is named for him.
It is not known how many matches he boxed in, but it is believed that he fought in over 1,000 matches, including 22 fights in a single week, which is a true testament to his incredible abilities.
In a 1936 issue of Ring Magazine, Tom O’Rourke would say this of Dixon.
“Of all the fighters I have ever seen none can compare to Dixon in all around fighting ability. What a wonderful left hand. What a double corking punch to the head and body. What a fighting heart and fighting head. What a superb, all around mastery of the manly art he possessed.”
Information for this piece comes from Wikipedia, Canadian Biography, Blackpast.org,