View Full Version : Philadelphia Jack O'Brien

08-29-2009, 08:40 PM
Next on the list (http://www.sweetboxing.com/showthread.php?t=614)...Philadelphia's finest...Jack O'Brien:


Jack be nimble, Jack be quick...Jack stop embarrassing the guy or he'll hit you over the head with a candle stick. Philadelphia Jack O'Brien is not only possibly the greatest fighter to ever come out of Philadelphia, but he's possibly one of the 10 greatest fighters ever, period. The man truly defined pound for pound, transitioning from Welterweight to Heavyweight with one of the greatest resumes of all time, and he did it without heavy hands. He fought 10 hall of famers, got the better of 7, drew with 2 of the others, and was only beaten without redemption by 1. The hall of famers he met aren't just “ordinary” hall of famers either, all of them can be rated among the top 100 lb for lb fighters to ever live.

A month shy of his 19th birthday, O'Brien began his professional career competing against world class opponents from the onset. Just after his 21st birthday, O'Brien had already competed against the likes of Bobby Dobbs (x3) [Lightweight], Wilmington Jack Daly [Lightweight], and George Cole [Welterweight]. He drew with Dobbs twice, with 1 no decision. Two of the three fights against the vastly more experienced Dobbs were O'Brien's 3rd and 4th career fights respectively. Dobbs would later go on to win the Colored Lightweight Championship from the great Joe Gans. Daly was another more experienced top Lightweight contender that also drew with O'Brien. In the amateurs, Daly won the American Featherweight Championship. With some experience finally under his belt from the Dobbs and Daly fights, O'Brien would step up against a man his own size in George Cole. The experience, not the weight, proved to be the key. O'Brien would meet and have the better of the fight against Cole in all 7 outings of their careers. Cole is one of the great forgotten Philadelphia fighters of his time, with a hall of fame worthy career that included wins and draws over hall of famers from Welterweight to Heavyweight.

While Cole settled around Welterweight, O'Brien kept growing and became a natural Middleweight. And while never weighing more than a Super Middleweight, O'Brien fought the best of the best from Middleweight to Heavyweight. In fact, according to one source or another, he beat every natural Middleweight hall of famer he ever met (given that they were still natural Middleweights at the time). He beat Tommy Burns while Tommy was still a Middleweight. He beat Bob Fitzsimmons for the Light Heavyweight title while both fighters weighed only 5 lbs over the Middleweight limit. He beat Joe Choynski. And in No Decision affairs he's said to have bested Tommy Ryan and Stanley Ketchel. In his March 26th, 1909 bout with Ketchel, Nat Fleischer reported "the consensus of morning and evening newspapers showed that the reporters present had declared O'Brien the winner by a shade." The ending of the fight was controversial, but so was the fact that O'Brien had to work off 2 lbs immediately before the contest as a result of coming in 2 lbs over the 160 limit. It was a non-title affair, but Ketchel threatened to pull out if O'Brien didn't make weight. So, with a Middleweight resume that reads Ketchel, Fitzsimmons, Burns, Choynski, and Ryan, it's not surprising that some rate O'Brien as the greatest Middleweight of all time, despite the fact that he is usually rated as a Light Heavyweight.

But O'Brien's Middleweight accomplishments don't end there! Like the All Time Great Middleweights Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler, and Bernard Hopkins, O'Brien defeated great Welterweights and Lightweights in Middleweight contests. There are a couple differences however. For one, the others are most remembered for their victories over these naturally smaller men, while O'Brien is remembered most for his ring performances against fighters his size and larger. For another, among O'Brien's smaller conquests is the great Joe Walcott, who knocked out Heavyweights. Walcott, a natural Welterweight, actually coined the phrase “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. I doubt Walcott was troubled too much by the extra 10-15 lbs O'Brien had on him. Fellow training mate of his Jack Blackburn, also a conquest of O'Brien, was naturally a Lightweight but would also meet Heavyweights from time to time. Both Walcott and Blackburn are hall of famers, and both are all time greats in the Welterweight and Lightweight divisions respectively.

There's only 3 more hall of famers left unaccounted for that are a part of O'Brien's record, Kid McCoy, Jack Johnson and Sam Langford. Ignoring McCoy for the moment, Johnson and Langford represent 2 of the greatest Heavyweights of all time. O'Brien drew with Johnson, and was knocked out by Langford. Prior to the KO by Langford, the fight was on even terms. Afterward, O'Brien would only fight two more times before retirement. Going into the Langford bout, he had already engaged in over 180 bouts through 15 years. Langford on the other hand was in the prime of his career.

As for McCoy, well, it was a no decision affair with neither fighter proving to be the better man, although O'Brien was the stronger at the finish. This bout was however questionable as to it's validity. This was pretty common place in McCoy fights, as people never knew when “The Real McCoy” would show up. When asked whether or not he ever participated in fixed fights, O'Brien would claim ALL of his matches were fixes. This among other outrageous claims he was known to make demonstrated that his uniqueness was not limited to the squared circle.

One may have noticed while reading that little attention has been given to Jack O'Brien's Light Heavyweight career, despite the fact that it's the only division he won the World title in and is the one in which he is most commonly rated. Well, there's a good reason for that. Simply put, the Light Heavyweight division was not popular, which is why O'Brien vacated the title soon after he won it. He made no defenses of the belt. When O'Brien won the title, the division had only been in existence for roughly 2 years and did not have the prestige of the Middleweight and Heavyweight divisions. So despite coming up from Welterweight, having a resume of besting 5 of the greatest natural Middleweights of all time, and drawing at best with the elite natural Light Heavyweights and above of his day (McCoy, Johnson, Marvin Hart, Burns [2nd fight]), somehow history found it appropriate to rate the man as a Light Heavyweight. It is acceptable, he was a great Light Heavyweight, just not as great as he was as a Middleweight. Nonetheless, O'Brien was highly competitive against top Lightweights through Heavyweights, while his body never progressed past a Super Middleweight. And that's why lb for lb, he was one of the very greatest of them all.


Some articles on O'Brien:


Cyber Boxing Zone had the following to say about O'Brien:

O'Brien was agile, quick and limber; He was a two-handed puncher who was not a particularly hard hitter but landed often; His best punches were a left jab and a hard overhand right; Jack was also a good defensive fighter who blocked punches well and counter-punched accurately

Jack tangled with anyone who was willing - middleweight, light heavyweight or heavyweight - black or white; Nat Fleischer ranked O'Brien as the #2 All-Time Light Heavyweight; Charley Rose ranked him as the #3 All-Time Light Heavyweight; O'Brien was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1968 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994

08-29-2009, 08:50 PM
Vastly underrated fighter who ranks in my top #20 all time fighters that's for sure.

08-29-2009, 09:11 PM

This is the second Burns fight, where Burns outweighed O'Brien by 8.5 lbs. This video highlights the footwork of O'Brien, who was several generations ahead of his time.

08-31-2009, 12:38 PM
The amount of NCs and NDs in early boxing history makes it difficult to really distinguish the winner of a fight. It's good that Boxrec actually try to give you NWS decisions as most sites just give the record as it was.