Joe Grim, the toughest boxer ever by Ron Jackson

Joe Grim, born Saverio Gianonne in Italy in 1881, was called the ‘toughest fighter who ever lived’, and in many ways he was that.

Grim, who moved to the United States with his family as a nine-year-old, appeared to be oblivious to pain. He was not very bright and worked as a shoeshine boy outside a local boxing club.

When one of the fighters failed to show up for a contest the then 17-year-old Giononne was asked to substitute for him. He received $1.50 for the bout and soon afterwards changed his name to Joe Grim and began boxing for a living.

Contempory reports describe Grim, who only weighed about 66 kg (145 lb) as possibly the worst fighter in the history of boxing. However, he fought anybody from welterweight to heavyweight in a career spanning 12 years and took part in an estimated 400 fights. He only won ten.

Despite his poor record he was one the best known and most popular fighters in the world, because even though he could be beaten and knocked down, no one was able to knock him out. He eventually became known as the Iron Man of boxing.

Grim used to wear bright pink-and-blue trunks and would vault over the ropes before each fight. At the end of the fight, battered and bleeding, he would shout to the fans, “I am Joe Grim and fear no man on earth.”

With his reputation of toughness and ability to withstand pain it became a contest among the top fighters of the day to see who would become the first to knock out Grim.

In October 1903 Bob Fitzsimmons, world champion in three divisions, tried. He had Grim down nine times in six rounds, but the little man got up each time and was still on his feet at the end of the fight.

Jack Johnson, rated as one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, knocked Grim down 18 times in six rounds, but at the end of the fight the Iron Man was still on his feet and smiling at Johnson.

Grim’s ability to take blows to his body was uncanny. It was reported that he let a friend hit him in the stomach with an axe handle. It is said a butchery employee hit him in the mid-section with a sledgehammer. On both occasions he showed no sign of going down.

Even the world heavyweight champion at the time, Tommy Burns, tried to become the first man to knock out Grim. They met in a three-round contest in January 1907. Burns lashed out with everything he had but also failed.

Predictably all the beatings took their toll and a few years after his fight with Burns he was placed in a mental institution. At one time he was kept in a straightjacket to prevent him from injuring himself.