Mike Gibbons – The Saint Paul Phantom

By Jim Galiano.

Mike Gibbons was one of the best Middleweight fighters to never hold a world title.  Mike started his career in 1908.  His brother Tommy followed two years later.  Mike Gibbons fought in possibly the toughest era in the history of the Middleweight division.  His style wasn’t exactly a crowd pleasing one, however.  Descriptions such as “methodical,” and “safety first” describe Gibbon’s style to a tee!

I don’t believe the phrase, “Stunk the whole joint out,” was coined by a journalist covering one of his fights… but you get the point.  Gibbons’ priorities were – don’t get hurt, don’t get cut, don’t get marked.  If you have to take a punch to give a punch… pass.

All that being said, Gibbons was a master boxer.   Mike Gibbons only lost 3 out of 129 bouts.  Two of his defeats were during a comeback from his retirement from the ring.

Those who saw Gibbons fight live said “The Saint Paul Phantom” had a good right hand.  But his knockouts usually came after his opponents tired.  And his opponents usually tired while trying in vain to slow down their elusive opponent.

Harry Greb was so frustrated by Gibbons’ defense that he said to his manager, Red Mason, “You sonafabitch, from now on match me with one guy at a time!”

Fighting Gibbons was like chasing one fighter while blocking the punches of another.

Mike and his brother Tommy were scientific strategists who study their opponents thoroughly.  They knew styles made fights and crafted their in the ring strategies based upon each opponent specifically and individually.

“First of all we keep books.  By ‘we,’ I mean my brother Tom and I.  It was Tom’s idea to keep a book on fighters.  I used to have a lot of loose notes that I would consult but it got to be a cumbersome task, so Tom started a big account book and in it we have a careful resume of every fighter in the business either of us is apt to be called upon to fight as well as those we have already fought and are liable to be called upon to meet again.”

“Every bit of strength that a fighter is known to have is jotted down in this book along with his weakness, his temperamental aspects, his habits and how they are liable to affect his ring work, etc.”

“The tough fellow, the slugger who is willing to tear at you and take a chance, must be made to back up,” wrote Mike Gibbons.

“The clever fellow who is anxious to stand off at long range and exchange his ‘Long Toms’ with you, must be made to come into you.

“That’s all there is to the Mike Gibbons system to beating them all.  It needs little further explanation. The really great boxer is the fellow who can make his opponent do exactly what he should not do.”

Mike Gibson used his mind like a general preparing for battle.  In doing so, he rode an incredible stretch of 11 years and over a hundred fights without a loss.

The boxing experts and writers of Gibbons era all say that Gibbons’ interest in not getting hit and hurt caused him to blow his opportunity to pick up the title that was up for grabs after the death of Stanley Ketchel.  After defeating Jeff Smith, Willie Davis and Jack Denning, he was matched with Eddie McGoorty who outweighed Gibbons by 10 pounds.  It was agreed that the winner would be recognized as the legitimate, Middleweight Champion of the World.  The fight, in plain English, was dud.  Gibbons ran, clutched and danced his way to the final bell.  Angry fans pelted the ring with garbage and booed Gibbons out of the ring.

Afterward, Gibbons bounced back to meet and defeat the best fighters of his era including McGoorty in a rematch.  He was again considered to be the uncrowned Middleweight Champion.  Mike defeated Jeff Smith (again) and Ted “Kid” Lewis leading up to his fight with “The Giant Killer,” Jack Dillon.

Dillon, a Middleweight himself, earned his nickname by knocking out Light Heavyweights as well as Heavyweights.  Dillon carried one-punch power as well as the ability to grind and opponent down over the course of the fight, stopping him with accumulated damage.

The bout was scheduled for 10 rounds.  Most experts didn’t think Gibbons stood much of a chance of staying away from Dillon bombs for 10 rounds.  They met on November 16, 1916.  Gibbons put on a clinic, winning all ten rounds decisively – sometimes hitting Dillon with as many as 9 or 10 consecutive punches without taking anything in return.  For Dillon, it was like trying to hit a ghost!

Mike Gibbons retired in 1918.  As with many fighters, his retirement wasn’t to last.  He returned to the ring and defeated the likes of Harry Greb, Jeff Smith, Leo Houck and 26 other men in newspaper decisions.

He retired for good in 1922 and went on to be a successful businessman.  He passed away in 1956 while playing poker with friends.

Gene Tunney emulated the fighting style of Mike Gibbons, patterning his style after watching him over a period of time training in the gym.  Like Gibbons, Tunney would face the big punchers of his day.  Most notably, Jack Dempsey.  Mike Gibbons was never stopped in a career that spanned over 100 fights.

– The Boxing Magazine: August 2009

2 Responses to “Mike Gibbons – The Saint Paul Phantom”

  1. MikeHanson says:

    Good stuff … Gibbons is 28-0 in my universe right now.

  2. admin says:

    That book that he keeps must be getting thicker with every fight!

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