Sailor Tom Sharkey’s Big Balls

San Francisco, Mechanics Pavilion, 1896

In the fall of 1896 the most talked about event in the city was the upcoming Robert Fitzsimmons – Tom Sharkey face off, with Federal Marshal Wyatt Earp serving as the third man in the ring.

All week long rumors swirled about the city that the ‘fix was in’ and before the fight Marshal Earp felt obliged to address the crowd and declare his intentions to “call things as I see them, and not as someone else may want them called.” What Wyatt Earp could never have imagined was how prophetic his words were about to become.

In the eighth round of the fray Ruby Rob landed a hard uppercut to Sailor Tom’s jaw and followed it up with his infamous solar plexus punch (aka the Fitzsimmons shift), which landed profoundly low on Sharkey’s groin. Sharkey withering in pain fell face first to the canvas and fainted. The Sailor’s seconds removed him from the ring while he was still unconscious.

Back in the dressing room an examination, by a physician, of the Sailor’s testicles, as witnessed by Wyatt Earp, confirmed the low blow to the groin, and the famed marshal stayed true to his words and did indeed call it as he saw ‘them,’ awarding the fight to Sharkey on disqualification, turning over the $10,000 prize money to Sharkey’ manager.

The crowd, not privy to the examination, hotly criticized the decision.

Fitzsimons’s manager obtained a court injunction preventing Sharkey from cashing the prize money check, charging that Earp’s decision had been ‘determined in advanced.’ A San Francisco newspaper, whose owner purportedly had lost $20,000 on a Fitzsimmons’s wager, printed a scathing attack on Earp’s character. A compromise was finally reached days later when a team of six different physicians, three of which were chosen by Fitzsimmons’s people, reconfirmed a three days later that Sharkey had indeed suffered genital trauma. The newspaper printed a retraction.

This was no ‘get on your knees and breath it out’ shot; two years later James J. Corbett got lucky, the ‘Fitzsimmons shift’ landed where it meant to, in the solar plexus, Corbett only lost his title.