Yesterday I explained the statistical method I'll be using to rate all the former lineal World Heavyweight champions in a series of articles that will run over the next few months (maybe longer... it's a mammoth effort!) Today we begin at the bottom, with the boxer I rate as the 37th (and therefore worst) former World Heavyweight Champion. Mind you, he was still the Heavyweight Champion of the World, which is more than most boxers can ever even dream of, so well done to him ...
In the annals of heavyweight boxing, Marvin Hart kindles no legend and inspires little dreamy nostalgia. He was World Heavyweight Champion only briefly, from 3 July 1905 until 23 February 1906, winning the then vacant crown by defeating Jack Root after Jim Jeffries had retired. Although Jeffries refereed the Root-Hart bout, indicating tacit approval on the former champ's part of the contest's legitimacy, Hart's claim to be champion was far from unanimously recognised at the time and was further devalued when he lost the title in his first defence to Tommy Burns. To further complicate matters, Jeffries made an ill-advised comeback in later years to take on Burns' conqueror Jack Johnson.
Hart doesn't score too highly here; he was champion for only a few months and didn't have to beat a reigning champ to take the crown. The greatest achievement of Hart's career was winning a 20-round points decision against the great Jack Johnson in March 1905; that victory boosts his score in this category, although many reports at the time suggested that Johnson was robbed, with the referee awarding Hart the fight on the basis of his 'aggression' rather than favouring Johnson's far superior science and accuracy. The Root victory, reversing an earlier career loss, is also a decent achievement, given that the Czech-born Root is regarded by some as the first Light-Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Hart lost the title in his first defence against Tommy Burns and his overall record is pretty unimpressive with seven losses (more if you count 'newspaper decisions') and four draws. After losing the title his career declined rapidly.
Reports of the time largely describe Hart as a rugged and uncultured boxer, with an awkward and somewhat clumsy style. It seems he was aggressive and pretty durable, once being described as a fighter of the "whirlwind variety", but severely limited skills-wise; Burns, for example, totally outboxed him, and was no master boxer himself. Mind you, Hart does seem to have been something of a character - apparently while in Reno preparing for the Root fight he delighted locals when he grabbed a rattlesnake which had wrapped itself around his leg and killed it by throwing it against a tree, before training in front of a group of curious ladies while wearing pink tights. I like that.
One of Hart's strengths was his determination and willingness to keep fighting, even in adversity. When he won the title against Root he did so having hit the canvas in round 7, coming back to halt his opponent in the 12th. Having said that, Hart suffered a quick knockout defeat against 'Wild' Bill Hanrahan early in this career, and his post-world title career and physical conditioning was disappointing; for example, he was reported to be "fat" and "looking as if a day's training had been an unheard-of thing in his repertoire" for his 1908 contest against John Wille.
Hart barely made a ripple in boxing history, let alone the wider world. He's the most anonymous and seldom remembered former heavyweight champion. Only in recent years has a book even appeared about him.
Boxiana verdict: It's no surprise that Hart brings up the rear of the 37 lineal heavyweight champions. He's little more than a footnote in the division's history, albeit an interesting one. He suffers from the fact that when Jeffries retired, it was the first time the lineage of the heavyweight title had been broken; such an unprecedented situation inevitably caused debate and contention.
Total marks (out of 50): 18
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N.B. For the purposes of consistency, this series of articles uses the fight records found on BoxRec. I'm aware that, particularly in the era of newspaper decisions, no contests etc there are possible different interpretations / statistics quoted in different sources. Any queries, check BoxRec and then contact me if you have a further query.
Luke G. Williams