George Dixon Biography
May Have Fought Bouts (800 ), Fought Twice in One Day, Paid Cost of High Living
Known as "Little Chocolate" or "The Chocolate Drop," Canadian-born boxer George Dixon became the first black boxer to hold a world championship when he defeated British fighter Nunc Wallace in 1890 to take the bantamweight crown. He later won the world featherweight championship as well, becoming the first boxer of any ethnicity to hold two championships of different weight classes. Dixon was noted for his defensive skills and precise style, and for many years after his retirement in 1906 he was hailed as a pioneer of "scientific" boxing. Considered one of the best small boxers of all time, Dixon faced racial hostility when he defeated prominent white fighters of the day.
Dixon was born in Africville, an African-Canadian community near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on July 29, 1870. He spent time in Boston, Massachusetts, with his family as a child, becoming inspired to try his hand at boxing after being sent to a match one day while he was working in a photographer's shop. Dixon stood five feet, three and a half inches and weighed only 87 pounds when he first stepped into the ring professionally in Halifax on November 1, 1886, but he knocked out opponent Young Johnson in the third round.
May Have Fought Bouts (800 )
That bout was the beginning of a boxing career that would be considered insanely strenuous by today's standards. Various figures have been given for his official record; the Boxing Registry credits him with 50 wins, 26 losses, and 44 draws. Those 120 fights, however, were just the beginning. Boxing was Dixon's life, and the main source of financing for what became deepening addictions to gambling and alcohol. Dixon spent his life on the road in the United States, England, and Canada, giving boxing exhibitions and taking on anyone who was willing to fight him for money. Matches at that time ran until one fighter was knocked out or exhausted, often running 50 rounds or more, and boxing gloves were used only intermittently. The Cyber Boxing Zone Web site lists over 230 Dixon bouts, and estimates of how many matches he participated in have ranged as high as 800.
In 1888, after several victories in Boston over top fighters, Dixon claimed the world bantamweight championship. The sport's governing bodies at the time had an even less well-defined hierarchy than they do today, however, and others laid claim to the championship as well; one was Charles "Cal" McCarthy, against whom Dixon fought a grueling 70-round draw on February 7, 1890. Dixon sailed for England with his lifelong manager Tom O'Rourke on May 3 of that year, and after he knocked out the previously invincible Wallace in 18 rounds on June 27 he was widely recognized as the bantamweight champion.
Dixon defended his bantamweight title with a 40-round victory over Johnny Murphy in Providence, Rhode Island on October 23. By this time he weighed about 115 pounds, and he gave up his bantamweight title and moved up to the featherweight class. In a Troy, New York fight against Cal McCarthy on March 31, 1891, Dixon earned the title of featherweight champion of the world and an unprecedented title at a second weight class with a 40-round knockout. He quickly defended his title against Abe Willis on July 28 in San Francisco, and he held the featherweight belt for most of the following nine years.
Fought Twice in One Day
He lost occasionally, but several came back to win in a rematch against the same fighter. On October 4, 1897, Dixon relinquished his title to Solly Smith in a 20-round loss in San Francisco, but he came back to win a series of bouts in 1898 and 1899 that were billed as championships. Between 1890 and 1900 he lost only a handful of fights even as he took on numerous boxers in exhibition matches. On May 2, 1893 he fought against James "Sun" Ashe and Billy Nally within the course of a single day. On March 7, 1895 in New York, Dixon took on and beat Sam Bolen, who outweighed him by 20 pounds.
Dixon had many admirers in the white boxing community, and old-timers of later eras would fondly remember his career. In 1893 he wrote an autobiography, A Lesson in Boxing. But some of the same racial controversies that swirled around the career of heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson also plagued the high-living, sharp-dressing Dixon, who married the sister of his manager O'Rourke. After he knocked out Jack Skelly at the Olympia Club in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 6, 1892, the club banned mixed-race bouts. His fight against "Torpedo" Billy Murphy on December 15, 1893, ended in a riot.
Still, some of Dixon's fights were considered classics. An example was Dixon's 25-round draw against Australia's Young Griffo on January 19, 1895. Those who attended the fight on Coney Island in New York, noted the Washington Post in 1915, "had the opportunity of witnessing an encounter between two boys who have certainly never been excelled, and probably never equaled, in the matter of ring science."
Paid Cost of High Living
On January 9, 1900, Dixon came out on the losing end of an eight-round knockout at the hands of "Terrible Terry" McGovern in New York. Although Dixon claimed that McGovern had not made weight for the fight, he lost again to McGovern later that year. Dixon fought Abe Attell for the featherweight title in 1901, but his long period of dominance was over. "Loose living," noted the Washington Post, "had made inroads on his constitution." The aging fighter toured England from late 1902 through 1905, hoping to stave off financial problems that had left him with little more in the way of assets than a home he owned in Boston; he was reported to have burned through winnings of more than $100,000. After a December 10, 1906, loss to a boxer named Monk the Newsboy, Dixon retired from the ring.
Hospitalized because of complications from alcoholism, Dixon died in New York on January 6, 1909. He was remembered after his death by boxing tacticians, who admired his artistic style; never a brawler, Dixon was a quick, agile fighter who could duck punches with ease and who anticipated the counterpunching styles of a later era of the sport. Dixon was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1956 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and several boxing historians ranked him among the top bantamweights of all time.
Hickok, Ralph, A Who's Who of Sports Champions: Their Stories and Records, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Roberts, James B., and Alexander G. Skutt, The Boxing Register, McBooks, 2002.
Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1913, section 3, p. 3.
Washington Post, November 23, 1913, p. S2; December 20, 1914, p. S3; November January 31, 1915, Sports section, p. 4.
"George Dixon ('Little Chocolate')," Cyber Boxing Zone, www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/dixon-g.htm (April 24, 2005).
"Ring Champions: Dixon, Buirns, McLarnin & Langford," Canada's Digital Collections, http://collections.ic.gc.ca/heirloom_series/volumb4/tributes.htm (April 24, 2005).
—James M. Manheim