NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 16: Sugar Ray Robinson (L) takes a hard right from opponent Fritzie Zivic, but it would not be enough; for Sugar Ray Robinson would go on to win the bout by TKO at 0:31 in round 10 of 12 in Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, January 16, 1942. (Photo by The Stanley Weston Archive/Getty Images)
In today’s boxing world, most fighters end their careers well before their 65th fight.
This guy had 65 losses.
And among the victims in his unbelievable list of 157 wins and 87 knockouts lies a truly mind-boggling bunch of legends and all-time greats that met him in the ring to learn just how dirty boxing can be.
Ferdinand Henry John Zivicich was born in the blue-collar stronghold that was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 8, 1913, to Croatian and Slovenian parents. He was the youngest of a group of five children who were born in a time and a neighborhood in which fighting in the streets was far from an optional recreational activity. His older brothers Pete and Jack made the Olympic team for the 1920 Antwerp Games.
He made his debut in 1931 but lost in his second outing, and started building a reputation as a rough-and-tumble brawler with a no-holds-barred attitude towards the sport.
“(The public) put a label on me as a dirty fighter, but I never lost a fight on a foul in my life,” Zivic would tell author Peter Heller years after his ring career was over. “I’d give them the head, choke ‘em, hi ‘em in the balls, but never in my life used my thumb because I wanted no one to use it on me. I used to bang them pretty good. You’re fighting, you’re not playing the piano, you know”.
He lost to Lou Ambers in a junior welterweight contest in 1935 and to future light heavyweight champ Billy Conn a year later in a middleweight clash, illustrating the kind of challenges he was willing to accept in order to get in the ring with the best of his era.
He had his first flash of greatness when he defeated future Hall of Famer Charley Burley in 1938, losing in the rematch to one of boxing’s greatest fighters among those who never won a title.
But 1940 would be his finest year. After racking up an 11-2 record in the first nine months of that year capped by a win against the great Sammy Angot, Fritzie was matched with the legendary Henry Armstrong with the welterweight championship at stake. In his finest performance ever, Zivic rallied in the final round to outhustle “Hurricane Hank” and take his belt by decision.
A defense against Al “Bummy” Davis and a memorable clash with fellow all-out brawler Lew Jenkins put an end to a memorable year, and he started the following year with another win over Armstrong, but he would lose the belt to Freddie Cochrane in July and never hold a title again.
With his career being far from over, he faced a young 25-0 Sugar Ray Robinson two fights later, losing by decision. He had his revenge against Cochrane in late 1942 only to see Armstrong get his own revenge on him a couple of fights later.
Zivic continued elbowing and headbutting his way through the welter and middleweight ranks for a few more years, dropping decisions against the likes of Beau Jack, Jake LaMotta, Bob Montgomery and many others. “The Croat Comet” finally called it quits in 1949.
After his boxing career was over, he became a boxing manager, a steel mill worker, a bartender, a salesman and a dozen more occupations. If there is a dictionary entry for the term “pug nose”, a pic of ol’ Fritzie’s sniffer should appear right next to it.
He passed away on May 16, 1984, without ever finding the opportunity to learn how to play the piano.
Zivic was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.