On this day in 1909, one of the greatest pound-for-pound stars of the sport’s early days passed away, as George “Little Chocolate” Dixon died at just 37 years of age, just over two years after retiring from active competition.
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, George Dixon was the first black man to win a world title in any division. In 1890, just prior to turning 20, he knocked out Nunc Wallace in London to claim the bantamweight championship. In March 1891, he knocked out Cal McCarthy in Troy, New York, to claim the featherweight crown.
George Dixon was an extremely quick and agile fighter and a tremendous counter puncher, packing power in both fists. In many ways, he was a tiny version of his contemporary, John L. Sullivan, and like Sullivan, Dixon benefitted when bare-knuckle, London Prize ring rules were replaced by the gloved, Marquess of Queensberry code. The standardized, three-minute rounds allowed an explosive puncher like Dixon to build upon an advantage, rather than forcing him to yield a 30-second break to an opponent, every time his man hit the ground.
Perhaps the most famous fight of Dixon’s career was his eight-round destruction of Jack Skelly, at the Olympic Club in New Orleans as part of the “Carnival of Champions,” leading up to James Corbett’s famous defeat of Sullivan for the heavyweight title. Dixon’s thrashing of Skelly was so scandalous to the racist southern crowd at the time that black fighters were banned from the Olympic Club afterward.
Like most fighters of his era, Dixon earned the bulk of his living performing traveling exhbitions. The tiny, 5’3″ Dixon would face all comes and often fight two or three times in a day. His road manager once estimated that he fought as many as 800 fights during his career.
Dixon was rated by Nat Fleischer, the founding editor of The Ring as the greatest bantamweight of all time. He held the featherweight title for most of a decade, despite weighing well below the division limit. He dropped that title in 1901, to Abe Attell, another of the true greats of the late 19th/early 20th century.