Ron J. Jackson’s new book on the barge battle between legends James J. Corbett and Joe Choynski is one exciting read.
By John J. Raspanti
I love old movies, especially of the boxing variety.
One of my favorites is Gentleman Jim, made in 1942, starring the late, great Errol Flynn.
Combining fact and fiction, the film recounts the story of a brash bank teller, James J. Corbett, who, with the help of some rich San Francisco friends, and support of his boisterous family, eventually challenges John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight championship of the world in 1892.
There’s a scene in the movie where Corbett fights local rival, Joe Choynski, on a barge. In the background is a ship (actually a prop from Flynn’s The Sea Hawk, filmed the year before) filled with fight fans.
The fight is an exciting one, with a number of knockdowns leading up to the scene when Corbett finally prevails.
For years I’ve wondered what really happened when Corbett and Choynski fought each other. I’ve read biographies on both of them, but since the bout went down not far from where I live, I’ve always been curious to know more.
A few months ago, I found a book dedicated to the bout and protagonists, entitled, Fight To The Finish: The Barge Battle of 1889, by Ron J. Jackson Jr. The book is filled in the details I had been searching for.
Jackson spent four years researching and writing Fight To The Finish, though, as he says on the acknowledgement page, “the idea for the book has existed in my imagination for three decades."
The end result is a thrilling account of one of the most brutal fights in boxing history.
Corbett and Choynski were bitter rivals, who grew up not far from each other on the tough streets of San Francisco.
As Jackson writes, there, boxing styles were as different as their personalities.
Corbett, quick of hand and foot, was a dandy, loaded with confidence, while Choynski, the son of a Jewish immigrant, was a brawler. They had one thing in common.
They liked to fight.
Three earlier fights, one stopped by the local sheriff, settled nothing. The stage was set for their final match, which would be held on a barge near Bencia, CA, on June 5, 1889.
Jackson’s prose is sharp and informative. His descriptions of people and places, which have long since faded away, are brought back to life in vivid detail. His account of the epic fight between Corbett and Choynski is gritty and exciting.
Fight To The Finish is also filled with a collection of photos, which add depth.
This is a definitive book on an incredible event that captures two legendary fighters in all their glory.