Young Corbett, Denver’s first and only world boxing champion, was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame posthumously in 1978 after gaining national fame and becoming a hometown hero in Denver.
The recognition by his native state seems long overdue and comes after he took his place among the ring immortals by being elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1965.
Corbett received national attention when he knocked out “Terrible” Terry McGovern in the second round of a featherweight title fight in Hartford, Connecticut, November 28, 1901.
William H. Rothwell was born in Denver, October 4, 1880. It was on Swansea Street that he first learning to protect himself by using his fists. When he started fighting professionally at the tender age of seventeen, he took his ring name after his manager, Jimmy Corbett. Boxing was popular in the rip-roaring mining towns of Colorado and Corbett had several fights in such towns as Leadville, Cripple Creek and Aspen.
Standing only five-feet two-inches tall, he gained acclaim as a deadly puncher. In a memorable fight in Denver, he stopped Oscar Garner in the second round and then beat Kid Broad and ex-champion George Dixon.
After his forty-second fight, Manager Corbett figured the time had come to take his protégé east, and a title bout with Terry McGovern was negotiated. It was considered a mismatch by most eastern critics, as McGovern was viewed, pound for pound, one of the deadliest punchers in the boxing game. In the previous two years he had scored seventeen knockouts, including a string of twelve straight.
The betting gentry wagered the feisty twenty-one year old from the Rockies would take the count within five rounds. Although the featherweight limit was 122 pounds at the time, by mutual agreement the fighters agreed to scale in at 126 pounds. It was a slam-bang battle from the opening bell. Corbett ripped over a right to the jaw late in the first round and the champ went down but jumped up without a count.
Early in the second round another right to the jaw floored McGovern, but again he leaped to his feat without taking a count. The champion fought back, but Corbett refused to give ground, landing a vicious uppercut to the champ’s jaw and McGovern landed on his back and was counted out. A new champion was born.
Corbett’s victory touched off a wild celebration back home in Denver, and Corbett’s mother, two sisters and younger brother were the focus of national attention.
Unfortunately, Corbett’s fame was short lived. Unable to make his weight, he had to relinquish his featherweight title. Abe Attell, who fought many of his early fights in Denver, was recognized as the featherweight champion.
Corbett campaigned as a lightweight with moderate success, then returned to Denver for his last fight against Kid Broad in 1902. Corbett began instructing youngsters and retired in 1910 with a record of thirty-four knockouts in 104 fights.
Corbett died in April, 1927, only a few months after he had appeared in an exhibition at the Elks Club against Mike Mongone, an opponent in his early days in the mining camps.
Standing only five-feet two-inches tall, he gained acclaim as a deadly puncher.