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Bloody Fight in Sausalito

By Larry Clinton, President

The following excerpt is from the Sausalito News of February, 1952.

Many Sausalitans coming home from the bustling city to relax in this picturesque and peaceful community, will be surprised to know that Sausalito saw a bloody battle around the turn of the century.

The story is told in an article clipped from the new magazine “Gentry.” According to the “Gentry” clipping – a reprint from an eastern publication of that era -- this particular Corbett-Choynski bout was “a most bloody and brutal encounter.”

Corbett defeated Joe Choynski of San Francisco in one of the most “grueling, rough and dirty” fights ever staged.  The battle was reported to have actually taken place in two acts in spring, 1885.  Corbett met his opponent in a stable loft in Sausalito, crowded with more than 100 “hysterical” spectators who expected a police raid at any moment.

A check with old-time Sausalitans who well remember the two fighters, disclosed that the barn – a 26x29 foot structure – was either located on the present site of the downtown park or between the Chinese laundry on Bridgeway, just south of Princess Street.  It is believed that the stable which was located on the present plaza was the one, however, since it was the largest in town.

An ex-pugilist Patsy Hogan refereed and Corbett and Choynski wore two-ounce gloves.  The article describes how Corbett made a gory mess of  Choynski’s “countenance” for almost four rounds, while the latter retaliated with “ponderous thumps” to the mid-section. 

At the start of the fourth round, Corbett broke his right thumb on the side of his opponent’s head.  And at this point, the Marin county sheriff could stand no more.  He stopped the bout.  If memories of Sausalito’s long-time residents serve them correctly, Frank Haley was the sheriff at that time.

The account of the fight goes on to state that the second act of the fight was resumed six days later, on Tom Williams’ barge anchored off Suisan Bay.  Skin-tight gloves were used and under a broiling sun, “the two plug-uglies belabored each other for 27 rounds.  Finally, a stunning left by Corbett broke his opponent’s proboscis, causing unconsciousness.”

The writer of the eastern account of the west coast fight left no doubt he frowned on this “savagery” in the art of self-defense.  Contending that Corbett, an erstwhile banker, stick to his banking, despite the fact that he was then being eyed as a possible opponent for the great John L. Sullivan.

In addition to his banking job, Corbett was boxing instructor at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.  He had three sisters living on Cazneau Avenue and visited them frequently.  He trained in Sausalito for a great many of his fights, taking on his sparring partners in the Dexter apartments, which were located opposite the old San Francisco Yacht Club building on Bridgeway, then known as Water street. 

Corbett also had a few pupils in Sausalito whom he instructed in the art of boxing.

As the editor of the “Gentry” article points out, Corbett no only became the world’s heavyweight champion less than three years after the bloody bout with Choynski, but is revered as the father of scientific boxing and the inventor of the art of shadow boxing.  Many claim he was the most adroit boxer of all.

All this may leave the reader wondering what was what.  Was the bloody battle actually staged here or was Corbett actually a scientific boxer?  The Sausalito old-timers have a simple explanation for this one.  The bloody battle, or at least nearly four rounds of it, took place in Sausalito and Corbett was adroit enough, but “there was just bad blood” between him and Choynski, a Golden Gate baker boy.


James J. Corbett, a year after his epic Sausalito boxing match.

Photo: Wikipedia public domain image





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