BIVINS, JAMES LOUIS “JIMMY” (6 December 1919-4 July 2012) was a professional boxer, who beat some of the top fighters of his day, but never fought for a championship. He was called by Sports Illustrated the best modern heavyweight never to get a title shot.
Bivins was born in Dry Branch, Ga., the son of Allen and Fleda Bivins, and moved to Cleveland three years later with his parents and three sisters, Maria, Viola and Fannie, settling on the east side in the area around Woodland Avenue and East 55th Street. Bivins, who ran track in his youth like his idol, JESSE OWENS, saw Jack Johnson fight in an exhibition at the Globe Theater on Woodland Avenue and was mesmerized by the sport. Owens recommended Bivins take up BOXING because it paid better.
Bivins, who stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall but had a 79-inch wingspan, won the Cleveland Golden Gloves novice featherweight title in 1937, and two years later won the tournament’s welterweight title. He made his professional debut in 1940, stacking silver dollars in his shoes to make the weight requirement. In his first fight, he beat Emory Morgan with a first-round knockout.
By 1942, he’d fought and beaten top contenders like Anton Christoforidis, Tami Mauriello and JOEY MAXIM, a fellow Clevelander who he’d first boxed as an amateur and with whom he’d remain friends for decades afterward. Bivins was identified as the top contender in the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions, but all boxing titles were frozen during World War II. Heavyweight champion Joe Louis said when he went into the army that Bivins was the champ “for the duration,” but never gave him a title fight. Bivins also served in the U.S. Army in World War II.
His career also included fights against Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott and finally, in 1951, Joe Louis. The two fought in a six-round exhibition in Baltimore, with Louis prevailing in a unanimous decision. The $40,000 purse was Bivins’ biggest payday as a boxer. Bivins retired in 1955 with a record of 86-25-1, having met seven future boxing Hall of Famers, beating four, and 11 world champions, beating eight.
He was married three times, with his first two marriages ending in divorce. His second wife, Dollree Mapp, later married Archie Moore and was involved in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, MAPP V. OHIO, involving search and seizure, relating to an investigation into a bombing at Don King’s home. His third wife Elizabeth was described as a calming influence in his post-boxing career, which saw him drive a truck and train young boxers.
Elizabeth Bivins died in 1995, and he moved in with his daughter Josette, his only living child (two sons predeceased him) and her husband Daryl Banks. Police found Bivins in the attic of their COLLINWOOD home, emaciated and mistreated in 1998. Daryl Banks served eight months in jail
In his later years, he lived with his sister in SHAKER HEIGHTS. After her death, he moved to the McGregor Home, where he died of complications of pneumonia. He is buried at Evergreen Memorial Park in BEDFORD HEIGHTS.
Bivins was inducted into the GREATER CLEVELAND SPORTS HALL OF FAME in 1978, the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1988, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999 and the California Boxing Hall of Fame posthumously in 2015. In 2000, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL sponsored legislation to name a park at the corner of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street for him.