Based on James J. Corbett's autobiography, a bank teller is helped by an ambivalent woman to become a boxer and challenge John L. Sullivan.
In 1887 San Francisco Jim Corbett (Errol Flynn) and Walter (Jack Carson) attend an illegal fight; but police break it up and arrest them. Judge Geary (Wallis Clark) says the sport should be for gentlemen. At the bank Jim gets a raise for having gotten Geary off. Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith) withdraws silver for a poker game at the Olympic Club, and Jim goes with her, borrowing a dollar from his father Pat Corbett (Alan Hale). She pays for lunch. In the gym Jim sees Geary and boxes English instructor Watson. Geary asks Victoria to sponsor Jim. During dinner Jim goes outside to fight his brother George (James Flavin). Jim has himself paged in the club. Irritated members pay English champion Jack Burke to box. In the first American fight with the Marquis of Queensberry rules Jim knocks him out in the second round. Jim dances with Victoria, and Walter drinks. Jim kisses Victoria and blocks her slap. Clinton DeWitt (John Loder) asks Walter to leave, and Jim goes with him. They wake up in a Salt Lake City hotel. Billy Delaney (William Frawley) gives Jim $10 to fight Miller, and Jim comes back to win.
In San Francisco Pat Corbett meets John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond). Jim sees Victoria with Dewitt and quarrels with her. Jim's ma (Dorothy Vaughan) cries, and Jim consoles her. Jim boxes at the wharf. The sheriff is thrown into the sea. Jim is knocked down three times and out of the ring into the sea but knocks out his opponent before the police arrive. Jim takes a train to New Orleans to fight and wins. He defeats Jackson in 61 rounds. In New York Jim appears in the show Gentleman Jim and sends money to his family for a house and a saloon. Jim sees Sullivan in a show and calls on him to get him angry. In 1892 Delaney tells Jim that Sullivan will fight him for $25,000, but they need $10,000 for the side bet. Jim sees Victoria, who says she is busy for three weeks. Jim asks her father Buck Ware (Minor Watson) for the money. Victoria wants to see Jim knocked flat and loans Delaney the money secretly. At a play she sees Jim with Anna Held.
Sullivan parades in New Orleans. Jim's family arrives in a fighting spirit. Jim says he won't go in the ring before Sullivan and tricks him. Jim gets Sullivan angry and dodges his blows for 21 rounds, then knocks him out to become champion. Victoria gives Jim a giant hat. Sullivan comes in and gives Jim his medal. Jim says he is glad that Sullivan is not ten years younger, and they wish each other good luck. Victoria follows Jim outside and admits she loves him. They start to quarrel, and he says she will make a marvelous Corbett.
This true story of early boxing history portrays the
spirit of the era and two famous boxers with winning attitudes.