The officer tried to roll up the sweatpants that Bivins was wearing so he could photograph the old man's legs, but the calves were so swollen that the pants "looked like sausage casings," Gibbons says. "I tried, but I couldn't do it." Later Gibbons went out to the car and told Putnam what he had found. "We gotta call the paramedics," he said.
Two hours later Bivins was being wheeled into Meridia Euclid Hospital, where he began a long struggle to survive.
Bivins's weight that day, 110 pounds, was nearly 75 pounds below his fighting weight of the mid-1940s, when he was the No. 1-ranked heavyweight contender in the world. (The undisputed tide, held by Sgt. Joe Louis, had been frozen while he served in the Army during World War II.) Over a 15-year professional career, from 1940 until 1955, Bivins had 112 fights, of which he won 86, 31 by knockout. He whipped eight men who had been, were or would soon become world champions, from Joey Maxim to Ezzard Charles to Archie Moore. A graceful, smart and very quick ambidextrous boxer schooled by the renowned Cleveland trainer Whizzbang Carter, Bivins took on everyone and feared no one.
Indeed, when he fought his way through a 26-bout undefeated streak, beginning with a decision over Maxim on June 22, 1942, and ending when he lost a split and much-disputed decision to future heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott on Feb. 25, 1946, Bivins ruled a boxing mecca. Cleveland was the hometown not only of Bivins but also of Maxim and former light heavyweight champ Anton Christoforidis, and the three young fighters used to pack the city's old Arena. Bivins loomed nearly as large on the national sporting scene as that other black hero from Cleveland, Jesse Owens.
Bivins was born in Dry Branch, Ga., but moved to Ohio as a boy with his parents and three sisters. Jimmy came of age in the Depression, tracking his father, Allen, from job to job, whether it was cutting wood or cleaning and firing up boilers. "My dad took me everywhere he went," says Bivins. "He taught me boiler work until I could do it as well as he could. He bought a Model T Ford and taught me how to drive when I was eight years old."
The family lived in an integrated, middle-class neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland, and Jimmy, like many of that city's youths in the 1930s, idolized Owens. "I used to go out and watch Jesse practice running at East Tech," Bivins recalls.
The pivotal event of his youth came the day an uncle took him to the Globe Theater to see former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. "Johnson fought an exhibition," Bivins says. "He was after the money then. I said, 'I want to be like him.' "
Bivins was an honor student, and a cocky one at that. He says, "I used to hold up my homework in class and say, 'Can you beat this?' I was smarter and more studious than the other kids. They chased me home every day. They never could catch me. One kid chasing me was a Golden Gloves fighter. I got to a place where I couldn't run anymore, so I stood and fought. I beat the stew out of him! The day I stopped runnin' is the day I started fightin.' "
That led him into the arms of Carter. "Whizzbang taught me the manly art of self-defense," Bivins says. After an amateur career in which he won two city Golden Gloves titles, Bivins turned pro as a welterweight on Jan. 15, 1940, and stopped a pug named Emory (KO) Morgan in the first round at Cleveland Public Hall. His first paycheck: $25. Bivins had 20 fights in '40 and won 19, rising to the middleweight division along the way and becoming the world's No. 6-ranked contender. Except for 1944, when he had only one fight before entering the service, Bivins fought at least eight times a year from 1941 through 1945, and the record shows him beating one roughneck after another, including former middleweight champions Billy Soose and Teddy Yarosz and former light-heavyweight champ Melio Bettina.
When he first fought the great Charles, on Jan. 7, 1943, as a light heavyweight, Bivins tipped the scales at 174½ pounds, nine more than Charles. Bivins put the future heavyweight champ on the deck four times and won nine of the 10 rounds. "He was tryin' to knock me out, but he couldn't hit me," says Bivins. "I was slippin' and slidin' with Ezzard Charles."