Puncher from the Past: Jimmy Bivins
By Eric Armit
Sun, 11 Feb 2024
JIMMY (Cleveland Spider-Man) BIVINS
Born: 6 December 1919 Dry Branch, Georgia, USA.
Died: 4 July 2012 Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Record: 112 fights, 86 wins (31 by KO/TKO), 25 Losses, 1 Draw
Division: Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight
Turned Pro: 15 January 1940
-Had 20 fights in 1940 winning his first 19,including outpointing Charley Burley, before losing a majority decision against Anton Christofordis on December 2. He had beaten Christofordis three weeks earlier. In his next fight in January 1941 Christofordis beat Melio Bettina to gain recognition as National Boxing Association (NBA) light heavyweight champion.
-Had an indifferent 1941 going 4-3 but scored a win over former NBA middleweight champion Teddy Yarosz
-1942 was a breakthrough year for Bivins as he beat former middleweight champion Billy Soose and reigning light heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich in a non-title fight and also future champion Joey Maxim and title challengers Tami Mauriello and Lee Savold
-1943 Won all nine of his fights including wins over future heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles (voted greatest light heavyweight of all-time by the Ring Magazine in 2002), Christofordis, Mauriello, Lloyd Marshall and Melio Bettina. By the end of the year having previously been rated No 1 light heavyweight Bivins was rated No 1 heavyweight by Ring Magazine.
-1944 The heavyweight title was effectively frozen during the Second World War with Joe Louis and Bivins in the US Army so Bivins did not get a title fight and had only one fight in 1944.
-1945 Bivins had 8 fights and was 7-0-1. He drew with Bettina but in August but he floored Archie Moore six times and knocked Moore out in the sixth round.
-1946 He had eight fights. He scored four wins in the first six weeks of then year but then suffered three losses in a row dropping a split decision against future heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott-a loss that snapped an unbeaten run of 27 fights for Bivins- and being outpointed by Ezzard Charles.
-1947 He was 8-3 in 11 fights being beaten inside the distance by Charles and Moore.
-1948 He had 9 fights winning 6 but was beaten on a majority decision by Moore, on points by Charles and on a split decision by Maxim.
-1949 He was busy as usual with 8 fights winning 5 but was knocked out by Moore and lost a close decision to another future champion Harold Johnson
- 1950 to 1955 He stayed busy but was now losing more. In 1951 He was beaten inside the distance again by Moore and in August that year finally fought the by now ex-champion Louis but lost on points ( some say this was an exhibition match but it was over ten rounds and Louis was declared the winner), He was beaten in 1952 on points by Charles. In September 1952 he knocked out 18-1 prospect Coley Wallace who scored a win over Rocky Marciano in the amateurs and would play Joe Louis in the film The Joe Louis Story. Bivins retired in 1953 and made a brief return winning two fights in 1955 beating future heavyweight contender Mike DeJohn in October and then retiring.
-Bivins was a good class track and field competitor but saw Jack Johnson fight an exhibition which made him consider boxing. Although born in Georgia from the age of three Bivins lived in Cleveland and it was Olympic gold medallist Jesse (Cleveland) Owens who recommended he go for boxing instead of track and field-as the pay was better! He won a silver medal at the 1949 National AAU championships and turned pro the following year.
-He started out weighing 154lbs but did most of his fighting in the range of 175 to 190 at a time when anyone over 175 was classified as a heavyweight which is why he was rated as No 1 at both light heavyweight and heavyweight at times in his career.
-During his career he faced seven future Hall Of Fame boxers and beat four and eleven fighters who held world titles and beat eight.
-Between 1942 and 1946 he had that 27-bout unbeaten run where he scored wins over Joey Maxim, Tami Mauriello, Bob Pastor, Lee Savold, Ezzard Charles, Anton Christoforidis, Lloyd Marshall, Melio Bettina and other rated fighters and also knocked out Archie Moore. It could be argued that but for the Second World War he would have fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title with a chance of winning but instead has had to settle for perhaps being the best heavyweight never to get a title shot.
Bivins was married three times. His second wife Dollree Mapp, had her own claim to fame. She was around boxing and was arrested by police after a bombing at Don King’s home. Her arrest was not directly related to the bombing but the police searched her house and confiscated property and she won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision relating to Search and Seizure. Third wife Elizabeth looked after Bivins well and he worked as a truck driver and helped advise young boxers at local gyms. The story took a turn for the worse when Elizabeth died in 1995 and he moved in with his daughter. After a while neighbours became concerned at not having seen Bivins for a long time. The police entered his daughter’s house and found Bivins living in filth in the attic seriously emaciated and mistreated. His son-in-law was jailed for eight months and Bivins moved in with his sister before going to a care home where he died from pneumonia in July 2012 at the age of 92.
-He had been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted posthumously into the Californian Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015. The Cleveland Council named a park after him.
About the Author
Born in Scotland, Eric Armit started working with Boxing News magazine in the UK in the late 1960’s initially doing records for their Boxing News Annual and compiling World, European and Commonwealth ratings for the magazine. He wrote his first feature article for Boxing News in 1973 and wrote a “World Scene” weekly column for the magazine from the late 1970’s until 2004. Armit wrote a monthly column for Boxing Digest in the USA and contributed pieces to magazines in Mexico, Italy, Australia, Spain, Argentina and other countries. Armit now writes a Weekly Report covering every major fight around the world and a bi-weekly Snips & Snipes column plus occasional general interest articles with these being taken up by boxing sites around the world. He was a member of the inaugural WBC Ratings Committee and a technical advisor to the EBU Ratings Committee and was consulted by John McCain’s research team when they were drafting the Ali Act. He is a Director and former Chairman of the Commonwealth Boxing Council. Armit has been nominated to the International Boxing Hall of Fame the past two years (2019 and 2020) to which he said, “Being on the list is an unbelievably huge honour.”
Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eric Armit.
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