Let anyone who still believes that boxing is only about brute strength look no further than Fritzie Zivic, probably the cleverest and craftiest boxer in history. Adaptable, sly, and poetic, Zivic was also notorious for having no respect for the rules of the game. Courageous and determined in front of a pair of gloved fists, he often countered them with his thumbs, his head, and his elbows, along with his own pair of dukes. Often cited as “the dirtiest fighter in boxing history”, he was perceptive enough to foul only when the referee couldn’t see.
Born Ferdinand Henry John Zivchich in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Zivic came from a family of fighters. Working in the steel mills to beef up his physique, he went pro in 1931 and showed only mixed promise. Indeed, he holds the record for the most losses any world champion has ever had. With 65, he lost nearly a third of all his bouts. But he was still feared and dreaded as a fighter who could seriously give you the business even when you beat him.
In his 18-year career, Zivic faced a veritable who’s who of great boxers, including Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, Billy Conn, Henry Armstrong, and a slew of other greats. He even fought the oft-avoided Charley Burley on three separate occasions, beating him the first time. After losing to Burley on their rematch and rubber match, Zivic showed his shrewdness by having his manager buy Burley’s contract and see to it that Fritzie wouldn’t have to face him again.
Zivic’s greatest achievement may have been his victory over a near-fatal case of pneumonia in 1937. As the press declared his boxing days “finished”, they apparently forgot to tell him and he went on to win the Welterweight Championship of the World from the indomitable Hank Armstrong. In possibly the most foul-infested champion fight ever, Referee Arthur Donovan famously said, “If you guys want to fight that way, it’s okay with me.”
Zivic never made more than a purse more than $25,000 and, after boxing, went to work as a boilermaker. He died at 71 of Alzheimer’s Disease. Through a long career of butts, thumbings, low blows, and elbow strikes, he was never disqualified.