Hall of Famer
Inducted in 1955
World Heavyweight Title
Successfully defended title in 11 bouts around the world
Tommy Burns was Canada's "little big man" of boxing. Though small in stature, he brought enormous strength, skill, and confidence into the ring. Measuring a mere 5'7", Burns was the shortest man to ever hold the heavyweight title and the only Canadian to claim it. Burns was born Noah Brusso to parents of German stock, but he changed his name upon entering the ring in response to concerns from his mother. He chose his working title to match the other big Irish names in his sport--John L. Sullivan, Gentleman Jim Corbett, Jack O'Brien, and Jim Jeffries. Known for his profane tongue, unorthodox style, and shattering right hand, Burns often surprised spectators by defeating opponents who surpassed him in both size and strength. He famously fought American Marvin Hart for the heavyweight championship title in 1906. Clearly outsized by the 6', 190-pound boxer, Burns had the odds at ten to one against him. The skillful Burns, however, used every tactic he could think of to taunt and enrage his opponent, making him lose his edge. After 20 rounds, the stocky Canadian was declared heavyweight champion of the world. Burns defended his title in eleven bouts, including one draw, against boxers from the U.S., England, Ireland, France, and Australia. For two years, he stormed the globe and dominated the ring. In Ireland, it took him a mere 88 seconds to knock out Jem Roche, a record for the shortest heavyweight title bout. In 1908, however, Burns met his match in black boxer Jack Johnson. In a much publicized and highly controversial bout, Burns lost his title and Johnson became the first ever black world heavyweight champion. Burns continued to make appearances in the ring until 1920. In his 60 career bouts, he won 36 by knockout, nine by decision, and had eight draws. Burns was only knocked out once, and that the final fight of his career. Following his retirement from the ring, Burns held odd jobs the world over. He worked in the clothing industry in Calgary, operated a hotel in England, and ran a speakeasy in New York. He eventually turned to religion and lived out the rest of his life as an evangelist minister.