FIGHT OF THE CENTURY (1897)
This scene from the San Francisco Examiner, is an artist’s depiction of the “Fight of the Century.” From ringside numerous telegraphers dispatched round by round fight coverage to all of their outlets nationwide. And so throughout the United States boxing enthusiasts were able to “tune in” to virtual “live coverage” of these three fights via their local telegraph offices and newspaper bulletin boards.
But this “live” news coverage did not end there. Beer drinking, bet making, saloon patrons were connected to their telegraph offices via “runners” who were constantly updating their patrons with the latest dispatches.
When Billy Irwin witnessed Martin Flaherty’s knockout in one minute and four seconds of round one his hopes of being the trainer of a World Featherweight Champion vanished before his very eyes. And it was only moments later that his friends, backers, and well wishers in Leadville, Aspen and throughout Colorado learned of this same news.
~ Billy Irwin, Trainer of Martin Flaherty ~
According to an article from The Leadville Miner dated March 1, 1897, “Billy Irwin, the Champion Featherweight pugilist of Colorado, and who has fought and won several hard fought battles to sustain his title, left for Carson city Sunday evening (February 28th), where he will witness the big battle between Corbett and Fitzsimmons on the 17th of the present month. Billy, who is a Leadville boy, will join Martin Flaherty on the way, as he goes to train Martin for his coming fight with Dal Hawkins of California. He (Billy Irwin) is not like Woods of Denver, who is one of Corbett’s trainers and is forced to use pneumatic tires to protect his face and body, as Billy is not built that way, as he has the experience of several hard fought battles, and being raised in a high altitude, he will keep Martin guessing to hold his own. We expect a good accounting of our little townsman as he was the first to leave the Cloud City for the scene of the big fight and The Leadville Miner extends its best wishes.”
The scene of the “big fight” mentioned in the above article was Carson City, Nevada and the time was St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) 1897. This “big fight” was also known as the “Fighting Program of the Century” and it was billed as such because it was a program made up of three World Championship matches. “Gentleman” Jim Corbett of San Francisco was matched to fight Bob Fitzsimmons of Australia for the World Heavyweight Championship. Billy Smith of Boston was matched to fight George Green of San Francisco for the World Welterweight Championship. And Martin Flaherty of Lowell, Massachusetts was matched to fight Dal Hawkins of San Francisco for the World Featherweight Championship (although it was generally recognized that George Dixon and Frank Erne were fighting for the World Featherweight Championship back in New York during that time frame the Flaherty-Hawkins match nevertheless was still billed as the World Featherweight Championship).
In charge of security was Bat Masterson and according to a clipping from the William J. Irwin scrapbook: “In Corbett’s corner were five gunmen led by Wyatt Earp and in Fitz’s corner was Bat Masterson with his gunmen. They were there to see fair play. It was real cozy in that ring in between six-shooters!”
And last but not least, among many other famous pugs and gunfighters, was Martin Flaherty’s trainer: Billy Irwin!
At left is Bat Masterson and at right is Wyatt Earp
“Fight of the Century” (Taken at ring side March 17, 1897).