Prizefighters with the capacity to absorb punishment, whether or not they can dish it out, are generally crowd favorites. All the world loves the gutsy underdog who can take a beating and still come up for more. So it was natural that everyone loved Joe Grim.
A turn-of-the-century lightweight, born Saverio Giannone, Grim was the wonder of his time. Records of his earliest fights are sketchy, but it is generally believed he never fought below his weight division; certainly, no record of such a fight can now be found. On the other hand, he was always going in over his weight. And he was always being slugged to the canvas, only to bounce up and come in for more.
A New York columnist once extolled this Italian-born fighter's tenacity and courage. "Joe Grim had participated in perhaps 500 bouts," he wrote, "but a little more than half have been recorded. After getting up from a knockdown, the thick-necked pug—who stood but five-foot-seven—would get up, grin and clap his gloved hands together, mocking applause for his rival, and resume fighting with added fury."
For all his endurance, Grim was a surprisingly light puncher who apparently scored only three knockouts in his career. On the other hand, he was kayoed only three times. Because he was impervious to all but the hardest blows, he seldom bothered to block punches or to roll with them. His style was to tear in and keep swinging, hit or miss. Sometimes, after a particularly tough fight, he would turn handsprings or dance a jig before leaving the ring. The fans ate it up.
On occasion, to goad a cautious boxer into action, Grim would stick out his tongue or his chin and invite his opponent to take a free shot. "Hit me good, not a tap," he would say. Boxers who fell for the invitation usually found themselves being outfought and looking silly when they couldn't floor him.
Cartoonist and boxing Writer Robert Edgren once said of Grim, "Knocking the Iron Man down with fists is a waste of time and effort, for he keeps getting up. To drop Grim for a long count, a boxer—if permitted—should use a crowbar or a baseball bat."
Grim's professional debut in 1903 was an auspicious one, in its way. During that first year he took on four men who at various times held no fewer than six world titles. There was Barbados Joe Walcott (later to become world welterweight champion), Philadelphia Jack O'Brien (light heavyweight champ), Joe Gans (lightweight) and Bob Fitzsimmons (middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight). Fitzsimmons dropped Grim repeatedly—some say 17 times—in their fight and stared goggle-eyed at the young lightweight as he kept struggling to his feet.
One reason Grim consistently rated such topflight opposition was his utility as a human punching bag. He didn't hit hard enough to worry opponents excessively, and he made such a good and durable target. And there was always the possibility of knocking him out and gaining notoriety for the feat.
Grim's b�te noire, the man who played Tony Zale to his Rocky Graziano, was Sailor Burke, a savage puncher of the era who fought him four times with pulverizing results. In their first bout in 1905 the Sailor won in three rounds. In May of the following year Grim met Burke again, and after being staggered and dropped repeatedly through the first two rounds, he was kayoed in the third—his first knockout. Grim protested the decision and offered to fight Burke again, which he did exactly one month later. The script was identical. Burke kept flooring Grim, only to see the smaller boxer rise to his feet. For six rounds they traded blows and—despite the knockdowns—it went for no decision. Burke was disgruntled. "I don't know how he stood the six rounds," he said. "I want another crack at him."
Grim obliged. The following April they fought another six-rounder that was notable chiefly for the carnage and Grim's tenacity. In the end the referee called it a draw.