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Thursday, December 18, 2014




 The“Boston Strong Boy” more commonly known as John L. Sullivan
fought Jake Kilrain for the last official Heavyweight Bareknuckle Championship of the world under the Prize Ring Rules on July 8th

Two years before the bout took place Richard Kyle Fox the Owner
of the popular Boxing magazine the Police Gazette questioned Sullivan’s right be
called a world champion as he had not up to this point fought Kilrain and had
previously refused to fight him, many considered kilrain the true champion. In
response to this Sullivan’s wealthy friends clubbed together and presented John
L with a magnificent Championship Belt. The belt cost around $10,000 dollars the
  equivalent of $250,000 in today’s money and it was inlaid with 397 diamonds. It
  was inscribed with the words “presented to the champion of

 Sullivan’s draw
with the Englishman Charlie Mitchell in 1888 which was abandoned due to the
terrible weather conditions after 39 rounds led to Sullivan placing an add in
the New York Illustrated News. He challenged Kilrain and set a wager of $10,000
a head, both parties agreed and the date  that was arranged gave Sullivan 6 months
to get prepared.

Sullivan knew this next fight would be his hardest; he was well
out of shape as he had enjoyed the pleasures of drink most nights since
Mitchells fight and he was fortunate that he found a great ally and trainer in
William Muldoon who agreed to help him prepare. Muldoon himself had been a
champion wrestler at a time when Wrestlers were widely acknowledged as the real
strong men of the era. He took Sullivan to his Farmhouse in Belfast, New York
where their new friendship was tested to the maximum.It took a few days before
Sullivan was even sober enough to start the gruelling training regime that
Muldoon had in store.

Money was not on Muldoon’s high list of priorities as he had
even agreed to train Sullivan for nothing should he loose. Milk and oats were
the only food Sullivan could keep down and it took weeks before he could eat the
proper foods to rebuild his strength. Muldoon prepared the breakfast each day
which was only eaten after Sullivan had exercised using dumb-bells, this was
followed by daily 8 mile runs in the morning, gym work, bag work and skipping
and also wrestling. All the hard work paid off and when the training was
finished Sullivan had lost over 40lbs and was back to the fitness levels he had
many years previous. The planned fight in New Orleans caught the public’s
attention and it became the talk in every café, pavement and bar. Something
special was about to happen and everyone knew

The fight was to take place in Richburg in Marion County and a
makeshift ring and seating for the press and moneymen was erected. Kilrain was
the first fighter to approach the ring and did the obligatory “Throwing your hat
into the ring”Sullivan wasted no time and entered the ring soon

Kilrain saw straight away that Sullivan had trained very hard
for the fight and its suggested he had doubts about his own chances in the fight
even before the first bell. As the first round got under way Sullivan was thrown
over Kilrains hip after less than a minute, he evaded Sullivan who was well
known for a great right hand and smothered and wrestled him. Round after round
followed in the blistering heat, Sullivan’s ear was torn open after a thunderous
right-hand roundhouse punch landed and he continued to frustrate Sullivan no

As the fight continued so did the temperature, it rose to well
over 104, the heat drained both men and By round 44 after Sullivan vomited in
the ring it seemed Kilrain was on top. A draw was offered by Kilrain and perhaps
this was a sign that he was just as tired as Sullivan. The fight continued and
the real battle began, not with each other but against oneself to continue when
many would have gave in. In testament to both men’s endurance the fight reached
the 75thround and after Kilrain was warned from the doctor that if he
came out for the 76th he could die, the sponge from his cornermen was
thrown in the air…….After 2hrs and 16 minutes Sullivan was declared the winner
and the Undisputed Champion of the world. 

The world was about to change in respect to Bareknuckle fighting
and Sullivan goes down in History as the last of the Great Heavyweight champions
of the World.

After the kilrain fight Sullivan returned to his old ways of
drinking and once again piled the weight on, he decided to fight again, and, it
was against a younger, fitter fighter named James J. Corbett. Sullivan came into
the fight a sad portly figure but still the odds on favourite. This time it was
to be fought with gloves which then weighed 5oz’s. The title at stake was for
the Heavyweight championship of the world under the Queensbury rules. Corbett
from California out boxed Sullivan and knocked him out in 21

Despite this defeat against Corbett Sullivans legacy as one of
the greatest sporting legends continues to this day, he retired in 1915 and
became a reformed man, he travelled the land preaching the word of god and the
dangers of drink and was the first sportman to earn over



John “Jack“Broughton aka “The father of Boxing” was born in the small village of Baunton on the outskirts of Cirencester in 1704.

Jacks mother died when he was an infant and as a result of her death his father took to drinking heavily. To make matters worse for Jack he then re-married and his new wife was fond of Gin herself.

At the age of 12 he left home with his sister Rosie who was 10 at the time and call it good luck or fighting spirit but he found work in Bristol as a waterman. This hard work was no doubt responsible for his great strength and endurance. Rose married at 18 and Jack began his career as a fighter by beating a hardened Pro at James Figs travelling booth in Bristol.Figg personally persuaded Jack to move to London and learn his trade at his academy.

Jack took to being a student with ease and learnt quickly. It was noticeable from the onset that he was different from the normal fighters who just used brawn and brute strength. Jack possessed something great fighters always have, a great Boxing brain. Weighing in at 14 stone and a little under 6ft he realised that selective punching was the way forward, he mastered the art of blocking punches and parrying and then he would counter with precision shots. He also had great footwork and a long reach.

When Figg retired George Taylor took over the mantle of Champion and in 1740 Broughton defeated him and became champion himself. A year later in 1741 Broughton clashed with George Stevenson and as a result of the fight Stevenson Died Shortly after. It affected Broughton and was even at his bedside when Stevenson died at home. He promised he would try and limit these types of injuries and produced a set of Rules and Regulations called
“Broughtonsy Rules” these rules stayed in force for nearly 100 years until it was improved upon and renamed the “London Prize Ring” rules.

Another fighter to come across Broughton was the Duke of Cumberland, it was a fight with the short- sword and when the Duke was defeated he helped finance Broughton to open his own Academy, this opened in 1743 as the new rules were introduced.

As Broughton began teaching he realised that the gentry of the time were unwilling to participate in the training as they didn’t want to be bloodied while sparring. His response to this was to devise the first set of padded gloves called“Mufflers” these allowed gentlemen to learn the art of Boxing without suffering any external injuries. The fighters at his academy wore them to spar but they were never used in any competitive bouts.

At the age of 46 Broughton fought a 29 year old fighter called Jack slack. For the first few minutes of the fight the older and much more experienced Broughton did what he wanted but then the unthinkable happened, he was caught of a “ Sucker Punch”between the eyes. These were the type of punches that Broughton had always been able to avoid and wether it was down to old his age, inactivity or complacency the punch blinded him and after 14 minutes the fight was over.The Duke was furious with the result as he had lost £10,000 on a wager, he had the academy closed down soon after and also tried to use his influence as a duke to get the magistrates to outlaw the sport. Broughton turned his once successful academy into a furniture market and even made a decent living, although he was still involved in Promoting Boxing even at the age of 53.

Broughton died in 1789 at the age of 84 leaving a vast sum of £7,000 to his family, he is buried in Lambeth churchyard and has the honour of a tablet being laid in Westminster Abbey. It seems strange that it took nearly 200 years to have the words “Champion of England” inscribed on it. This was only done in 1988.

It is believed by many that Jack slack was indeed James Figg’s Grandson.


1. That a square yard be chalked in the middle of the stage; and every fresh set- to after a fall, or being parted from the rails, each second is to bring his man to the side of the square, and place him opposite to the other, and till they are fairly set to at the lines, it shall not be lawful for one to strike the other.

2. That, in order to prevent any disputes, the time a man lies after a fall, if the second does not bring his man to the side of the square within 30 seconds, he shall be deemed a beaten man.

3. That in every main battle, no person whatever shall be upon the stage except the principals and their seconds; the same rule to be observed in by- battles, except that in the latter, Mr Broughton is allowed to be upon the stage to keep decorum, and to assist gentlemen in getting to their places, provided always he does not interfere with the battle; and whoever pretends to infringe these rules to be turned immediately out of the house. Everybody is to quit the stage as soon as the champions are stripped, before set to.

4. That no champion is deemed beaten unless he fails coming up to the line in the limited time; or, that his own second declares him beaten. No second is allowed to ask his man’s adversary any questions, or advise him to give out.

5. That in by – battles, the winning man to have two- thirds of the money given, that shall be publicly divided upon the stage not-withstanding an  private agreements to the contrary.

6. That to prevent disputes in every main battle, the principals shall, on the coming on the stage, choose from among the gentlemen present, two umpires, who shall absolutely decide all disputes that may arise about the battle; and if the two umpires cannot agree, the said umpires to choose a third, who is to determine it.

7. That no person is to hit his adversary when he is down, or seize him by the hair, the breeches, or any other part below the waist; a man on his knees to be reckoned



Before the introduction of the modern day boxing glove many of the older Bareknuckle prize-fighters were responsible for big changes within the sport none more so than James Figg who is credited with the rebirth of Prizefighting.

James figg was born in 1695 in Thame, Oxfordshire, England; he was the youngest of 7 children and was raised from a farming family. He quickly realised he had a natural talent for fighting  as he often went to local fairs challenging the in house fighters to prove to himself and others he was a man to be reckoned with. He soon realised that this talent could earn him money and also local fame.  Figg attended the School of Noble Defence run by Timothy Buck from 1714 and as a pupil he would have learnt to use various weapons including the backsword and quarterstaff.

When he was awarded the Title of “Master of the Noble Science of Defence” his prowess as a fighter was quickly recognised as well as his opportunity to earn vast amounts of money through prize money and also gambling which went hand in hand with it.

When the Earl of Peterborough saw this potential he offered to finance Figg to open an academy to teach the gentry the arts of self-defence. In 1719 he opened ‘Figs Amphitheatre’ in Tottenham Court Road and moved to Oxford Road less than 2 years later. He soon realised the potential to earn money as a prize fighter was greater than that of a teacher so he let his academy to another master and began promoting himself and took on all-comers. He was also helped by his great friend and artist William Hogarth who not only completed a portrait of Figg but also produced publicity leaflets for him. His proud boast was ‘Here I am Jemmy Figg from Thame. I will fight any man in England.

 By 1720, he was openly acknowledged as the London champion, and fought for money roughly each month, great crowds would gather and this was aided by being advertised in the newspapers. There were three rounds in an organized prize-fight: the first with short-swords, the second with fists and the third with the staff. Figg often fought multiple opponents and his most famous fight was with Ned Sutton the Pipemaker” who he beat on three separate occasions. Depending on what information you read some say Figg remained unbeaten throughout his 270 fights and some say he was beaten once by Sutton, regardless which account is true he certainly had a great Career considering he was just over 6ft tall and weighing approx. 185 lbs. It is widely regarded that Figg was perhaps a better fencer than boxer and used his thrusting techniques learnt from his fencing training and adapted them into his fist fighting.

 This verse wrote by diarist James Byrom was recorded after Figg's third encounter with Sutton and can be found here./

Early in Figgs reign there was a challenge from a Venetian gondolier called Carini, Figg found Bob Whitaker to accept the challenge and the huge Venetian was forced to retire due to a body shot. Fortunately with Figg being friends and acquaintances with some very wealthy people as spectators including George the  1st and the Prince of Wales  in 1723 George the 1st sanctioned the construction of a “Ring” in London’s Hyde Park for the use of anyone who wanted to fight. There was one opponent Figg could not defend himself against however, and in early December, 1734 at the end of an astonishing career, this notice appeared in the papers:

 Last Saturday
there was a Trial of Skill between the unconquered Hero, Death, on the one side and till then the unconquered Hero Mr James Figg, the famous Prize-Fighter and Master of the Noble Science of Defence on the other: The Battle was most
obstinately fought on both sides, but at last the former obtained an Entire
Victory and the latter tho' he was obliged to submit to a Superior Foe yet
fearless and with Disdain he retired and that Evening expired at his house in
Oxford Road.

 Figg was 50 when he died and left several children and grandchildren upon his death.

The former Greyhound Inn (now named after him) is traditionally held to have been his headquarters in his early days. His portrait hung over the bar there long after his death and these verses were placed beneath:

The Mighty Combatant the first in fameThe lasting Glory of his native Thame,
Rash and unthinking Men at length be wise,
Consult your safety and Resign the Prize,
Nor tempt Superior Force, but Timely Fly
The Vigour of his Arm, the quickness of his eye.

For anyone visiting Thames why not visit the James Figg  pub in which you can see the blue plaque dedicated to him. 21 cornmarket, thames, Oxon, Qx9 2BLCOPYRIGHT M.BLACKETT 2012



 Tom Sayers was an English Bareknuckle fighter who was born on the 25th May 1826. On paper I suppose he didn’t have the best fighting records compared to others but he is nevertheless down in history as a great.

Tom was the youngest of 5 children, his father James was a shoemaker and his mother Maria stayed at home and struggled
to feed the family as did most during the early 19th century.As most work was centred around London during these times Tom moved away from Brighton at the age of 13 and moved in with his sister and brother in law who was a builder at the time and got Tom fixed up with an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. He continued bricklaying for the next 7 years commuting between London and his parents’ house, and at the age of 20 settled down permanently in London.

Although he had his fair share of cobble fights his first organised fight was at the age of 23, he fought Abe Couch and
finished him easily in 13 minutes and was £5 richer. As Tom Weighed less than 11 stone throughout his career and was quite short at 5ft 8 1/2 he often had to fight heavier men as getting him matched up against fighters of his own weight
proved difficult. This was perhaps the reason that in total he only had 16 fights losing 1 against Nat Langham and drawing 3.

Although he did have few fights compared to some other notable pugilists of the time he did fight some good quality fighter including William Perry and Tom Paddock ,amongst others. The main reason his name was made famous was for his fight with John C Heenan the American bareknuckle fighter. Sayers fight with Heenan looked a total mismatch on paper; Sayers was giving away almost 43 lbs in weight and over 5.5 inches in height.

The date for the fight was set for the 17th of April 1860 and it was to be fought in Farnborough, Hampshire. This was no ordinary fight it was billed as “The International Championship of the World” Heenan also known as the “Benicia Boy “was the first foreign challenger for the championship of England since Tom Molineaux 50 years earlier.The fight was a ferocious one with both men pounding each other, Heenan was the aggressor due to his height and weight advantage but Sayers used his skill to place accurate shots to Heenan face almost blinding him. In the 42nd round and after more than 2hrs 20 mins the crowd overran the ring and the fight was later stopped it was later called a draw. Both men had replica belts made for them in honour of the brave battle they gave.

The British public had great pride in their fighter and as a result more than £3000 pound was raised on condition sayers didn’t fight again. He used his popularity to prepare himself for a life away from the ring and in 1861 he named his circus which he had just bought “Tom Sayers championship circus”. As many fighters before him Sayers business attributes were not on par with his fighting skills and his circus nosedived and was sold off only 1 year since he bought it.

Sayers sadly passed away on November the 8th 1865 aged only 40. He was buried in Highgate cemetery beneath a magnificent and fitting memorial.

Heenan himself died on 28 October 1873 aged only 39. COPYRIGHT M.BLACKETT 2012




 Today’s modern day gloved boxers don’t have the problems of damage to their hands and wrists as much as a Bareknuckle Boxer does. With BKB becoming more popular many fighters wishing to take the sport up are asking how
to avoid and limit potential damage.

Learning how to throw punches correctly and targeting the softer body parts of an opponent are the first things to learn so if you’ve never done BKB before it’s back to basics and learn the differences between punching
without the protection of Gloves and read up on the anatomy of the human body as practised in most martial arts. Aim to throw Accurate and meaningful punches and therefore limit the chances of injury to yourself. 

The chances are when competing in BKB your hands will still suffer even if you use the right techniques and hit the right spots, so then preparing your hands prior to fighting can help.


As with any form of conditioning start of gradually and build the intensity up over a period of time. The idea is to cause callouses on the knuckles which will harden the skin itself, this can be done by performing the press ups on various surfaces ranging from old carpet and working up to concrete and even sandpaper underneath. Secondly this exercise will put stress on the actual bones themselves which can make them denser due to the body’s natural repair system and less prone to damage.


Try punching into buckets of sand with your knuckles extended, again this is to cause hardening of the skin and after a while as your hands become more accustomed to it you can start adding gravel to the sand increasing the coarseness as times goes by.


Start of gradually bare fist and use this method to not only harden the skin but to make sure you deliver punches correctly using your 1st and 2ndknuckles. Lots of combat sports have various methods of hardening the skin and bones in the hands, this can range from punching trees and rocks and using boards wrapped in rope to punch which is similar to Makiwara boards used in Muay tai .Also get accustomed to forming a solid fist as this will stop damage as there will be less movement in the fingers when hitting the target.

There are also lots of fighters who swear by soaking their hands in various concoctions but the most common seems to be Brine solution, some even use
petrol, whicj i wouldn,t condone unless you want to catch dermititis.

Below I’ve put a few links for you to read up on.

Super hard knuckles

Bare knuckle punching part 1 of 3



Fighting without the protection of Boxing gloves occurs in every pub carpark each weekend throughout the country usually fuelled with alcohol and it goes without saying that one of the main injuries sustained by those involved is damage to their hands. When competing in Bareknuckle Boxing what can and what was done to prevent cuts and lacerations on your only weapon available? Your hands!

There are many articles and books written on the subject of toughening and strengthening the actual internal workings of the hands and wrists of fighter’s and also on which shots landed has the least potential for injury. One subject which often creates ridicule no more so than within gloved boxing community is the suggestion of the use of ointments, potions and
treatments applied to the hands prior to competing. For the future generation of Bareknuckle fighters could the answer lie with what some of the great fighters used in the past and is there any truth that it can be of benefit. OR
Is it all Mumbo Jumbo?

As any building worker will tell you and I can vouch for this myself that after constant hard graft on the buildings or any manual work your hands do toughen naturally. Blisters and tender callouses are only temporary and after a while your hands become like leather. Runners have the same problem with their feet as any beginner runner will tell you so obviously there are ways to toughen the skin that work.

 Is there anything to speed up this effect up?


Urine, be it human or animal derived has for many years been used to toughen not only Boxer’s hands but other athletes including Baseball players:

 In a recent interview with ESPN's Gary Miller, Chicago Cubs outfielder Moises Alou revealed that during baseball season he
urinates on his hands to toughen them up. Alou, one of the few major leaguers who doesn't wear gloves while batting, is backed up by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who says,
"You don't want to
shake my hand during spring training." Even Cubs hurler Kerry Wood mentioned on
a local radio show that he's tried the technique to remedy blisters on his
pitching hand (though he wryly added that there's also a well-known clubhouse
cure for headaches: "crapping in your hat"). Does urine really toughen the skin?

 Many Doctors and Urine Therapy based Professionals suggest that soaking your hands in urine actually has the opposite affect and has been found to soften the hands. Urea is the main component of urine and considering most hand creams contain urea perhaps the doctor are correct. Accordingto Dr. A.H. Free, in his 1977 book Urinalysis in Clinical Laboratory
, urine contains the following.
zinc, vitamins B12, B6, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, inositol, folic acid, biotin, ascorbic acid, potassium, iron, calcium, iodine, manganese, magnesium, nitrogen, lysine, arginine, allantoin, bicarbonate, creatinine, cystine, dopamine, epinephrine, glucose, glutamic acid, glycine, lysine, methionine, orinthine, phenylalanine, phosphorus, tryptophan, tyrosine and water.

So considering all the active ingredients listed without proper research who can dispute what the fighters have used and who am I to question the great advocate of old school boxing Jack Dempsey who did indeed soak his own hands in urine. If it is used then you would need to soak your hands for a minimum of 5 minutes for absorption into the skin.


The following was wrote by the great fighter Bob

“Some trainers use a sort of pickling solution with which they pickle
the hands, face and neck, in order that a blow will not cut the skin so readily.
If my man had a very ten-der skin I might use something to toughen and harden
his face, but as a rule I don’t think that pickling the face and neck does any
To the hands, however, too much attention cannot be paid, and I have
found nothing better than corned beef brine. This does not smell very nice, it
is true, and should be ap-plied three times a day after eating. I would never
allow my man to apply it before eating, as it might affect his stomach, which
would be bad. But, although the brine does not smell anywhere
near as good as
Florida water, it does the business, and that is all that is required. After the
brine is applied and well rubbed in, the following liniment should also be
rubbed in. It can be obtained at any first class drug store, and the ingredients
are as follows; Laudanum, three ounces ; spirits of hartshorn, four ounces ;
alcohol. One quart; iodine, two ounces ; eucalyptic,three ounces. These mixed up
together with ten cents worth of horseradish and five cents worth of alum, make
a liniment which cannot be equalled for strengthening and hardening the bone,
and when applied and well rubbed in it has a tendency to make a man feel fresh
and strong.b
  is basically a mixture of vinegar and water and can come in a variety of

JackDempsey also states….Put camphor ice on your skinned knuckles before you go to bed. In a
few weeks your knuckles will become calloused, and you'll have no more trouble
with them

This is an extract from Billy Edwards' "Art of Boxing and Manual of Training" fro 1888

"If at first they should get a little raw or
rubbed, a few
applications of weak tannic acid solution, or rosin, or
strong pickle out of the salt-pork barrel, will soon make the
and knuckles tough.

It seems evident that a lot of the Bareknuckle fighters of the past did indeed use a variety of techniques to harden the skin.
The Australian army advised their recruits at parachute school to rub in alcohol to harden the skin as well.

A more recent Bareknuckle fighter of the name Paddy Monaghan was also advised to use a brine solution and this advice was
given to him from no other than Jack Dempsey. I spoke with Paddy’s son Tyrone who told me this.

 “My Da would do the same to me when I
was fighting to toughen the skin on my face, it was vinegar in a cup the pour in
the salt, Id lie on the floor and with a cotton wool bud he'd put the vinegar
and salt or salt and vinegar whichever way ... on the skin around my eyes, cheek
bones, the bone on the nose. He'd leave it there to harden and cake, normally
about an hour and a half for that to happen. When it was bone dry and the
vinegar was soaked into the skin then I'd get up go to the bathroom and rub the
salt off but don’t wash it off until the next morning....for BKB my Da used to
do the same with his face and with his


Rubbing alcohol into the hands was another way in which some of the past fighters hardened their hands. Jem Mace for instance used a mixture of Gunpowder and whiskey onto his hands and face. (Perhaps this is where he got his explosive punching from). In all seriousness instead of wasting decent Whiskey it’s much cheaper to use surgical spirit and is used by
rock climbers and runners.

Old bare-knuckle boxers rubbed sheep urine and alum crystals into their hands after punching practice. A better substitute is mentholated spirits. After punching only a fairly rough surface, such as a heavy canvas punching bag, the knuckles will be reddened. Then rub in the spirits and let it dry. It takes about a month of three or four times a week, and your hands get
quite tough.

The likes of petrol and diesel have also been used in the past.

I suppose at the end of the day fighters will choose whether or not to use the methods described above but what I would say is if it worked for some of the past greats then WHY NOT!





Many of the bareknuckle fights of the past went on for many rounds, but this was not always the case. One fight in particular lasted less than a minute and with the
first connecting punch the fight was over.
  Peter Corcoran the Irish born Heavyweight defeated the then high rated Bill Darts to become the first irish born british Champion, after fleeing ireland as a result of an alleged murder he moved around the country, he was backed byanother Irishman named Colonel Dennis kelly and after winning some smaller bouts his biggest fight to date was arranged with Bill darts at Epsom downs racetrack on the 18th may 1771. After this one minute win he defended his title for five years against mostly mediocre oppositions apart from perhaps Sam Best in 1774.

Corcorans last fight was in 1776 against Harry Sellers and although Sellars
was the huge underdog he gained the win in 32 rounds and its known that debts
that corcoran had amassesed while running various inns/pubs vanished soon after so like many of the bareknuckle fights that took place matchfixing may have taken place. Within a year of this fight Corcoran not only lost his business as an inn keeper but died in dire poverty and had to have a paupers funeral. He was
aged only 41.


 Daniel Mendoza was born in Whitechapel, England on July 5th 1764.

 Jewish fighters were once the dominant force in Professional Boxing,  they were ranked the No1 Nationality in front of the Italians and Irish in America during the late 1920’s.In an age long forgotten when Gloved Boxing had only 8 weight divisions and 8 World champions there were 26 Jewish Champions froM 1910-1940. Even though many Jews followed academic careers in later years there has always been a great selection of Jewish Championship Boxers, including promoters and Managers.

However long before these great times Daniel Mendoza made his mark in the sport of Bareknuckle fighting and was perhaps one of the first scientific Boxers.

Growing up in the east end of London where” Jew baiting” was a way for bullies to get their kicks against the normally gentile race Dan fought back with his fists. His parents are believed to have come from Spanish Nobility and were Artisans; he had a Jewish education and more often than not got into fights defending his religion and upbringing. Like young travelling men today boxing was an outlet for some Jewish youngsters and as such many followed in Dan’s shoes.

 It wasn’t long before his name was known in his area for his fighting abilities alas at this stage of his career he fought with more brawns than brain; however when he was
spotted in an early fight by Richard Humphries his raw talent shone through and his life was about to change. Humphries himself was a pugilist known as the“Gentleman Boxer” and he offered his services as a trainer and also as a second to work his corner for him. Dan had his first paid fight against a burly coalheaver and proved his heart for the sport by defeating the much heavier man in 40 minutes and winning 5 Guineas in doing so. 

Mendoza is perhaps responsible for changing the public’s attitude to the Jewish community as he was the first fighter to receive a Royal Patronage which was from from the Prince of Wales. This gave him great pride and he started calling himself” Mendoza the Jew”, without fear of ridicule or retribution.

 As Dan was only 5ft 7 and weighed around 160 lbs he often fought men much heavier and taller than himself and this made him rely on skills which hadn’t really been seen before. He was perhaps the first Bareknuckle fighter to use great defensive skills which allowed him to fight much heavier men. He used blocks, ducking and  sidestepping then hitting with a straight left to even the odds and to avoidgetting caught and he also became the first Middleweight fighter to win the Heavyweight title.

Dans second fight was against Sam Martin aka “The Bath Butcher” for 25 Guineas and he was the victor in 20 minutes. This fight was fought at the Barnet Racecourse and
on his return to London such was his notoriety that he claimed the Championship of England. It’s reported that his fans lit candles and sung songs in his honour on his return home. The bouts that Mendoza is more noted for is his trilogy of fights with his onetime trainer and corner man Richard Humphrey’s (BELOW)

Their first bout was fought on January 9th1788 and after 15 minutes Mendoza lost for the first time in his career and the rematch was set for May 6th 1789. Mendoza obviously used his great boxing brain which he possessed to defeat Humphrey’s in their second bout in which 3000 people turned up to watch including many Jews who wanted to see Mendoza seek revenge. Their last contest was held on September 29th1790, the fight took place in Doncaster in a barn and this fight was the first ever event where spectators had to pay through a gate for admission. This obviously earned the fighters more money and the gate money is a term still used today in gloved
boxing. Mendoza once again beat Humphrey’s by using superior footwork and skill.

Mendoza’s biggest fight came in 1794 when he fought Bill Warr, at Bexley Common and with a win he became the Heavyweight World Champion. It was however short lived as he lost his next fight against John “Gentleman” Jackson in 1795 who was over 40 lbs. heavier and taller by 4 inches. The fight was over in 9 rounds as Mendoza was grabbed by the hair and punched repetitively untilhe was beaten almost to the state of unconsciousness.

The only thing banned was the hitting of a downed opponent or any wrestling below the waist. Everything else – hair-pulling, grappling above the waist, wrestling or tripping your opponent to the ground, and, of course, striking with the bare fists – was allowed.He retired from fighting after losing his title and spent his time and money
writing his memoirs and also tried his hand touring giving Boxing lessons. He also worked as a recruitment sergeant for the army and wrote books on the noble art

The text below is quoted from Mendoza’s book The
Modern Art of Boxing 1789.

The position of the body, which should be an inclining posture, or
diagonal line, so as to place the pit of the stomach out of your adversary's
reach. The upper part of your arm must stop or parry the round blow at the head;
the fore-arm, the blows at the face of stomach; and the elbows, those at the
ribs: both knees must be bent, the left leg advanced, and the arms directly
before your throat or chin.

Sadly he came out of retirement well past his best and lost to Tom Owen in 12 rounds. As with a lot of historical accounts there are often contradictions, some say his fight with Owen was his last and others say he lost to Harry Lee. Various sources quote that he died at the age of 70, 72 or 73 but whichever is true he died without a penny leaving his faithful wife in Debt. It’s also alleged he served 4 years in prison for debts he has amassed.

He was buried in the Nuovo Sephardi cemetery, located in the grounds of Queen Marys College, mile end.

 Regardless on his failings in later life he was responsible for lots of other Jewish fighters to follow him in his footsteps in the ring, into management and also promoters for years to come and for his scientific approach to fighting to be used as a blueprint by the next generation of fighters. The first boxing historian Pierce Egan said that he was “a complete artist”


In the small village of Beeston, Norfolk on the 8th of April 1831 a child was born at around twelve Noon who would in later years become The Heavyweight Champion of the world.

Jems life story is a complex and controversial one, it’s said he fathered 14 children by 5 women, married 3 times (Committing bigamy twice) and more than once failed to turn up to fights and got fined for doing so. He also advertised the wearing of Boxing gloves when he retired and travelled the globe and was responsible for finding fighters such as Bob Fitzsimmons and he also worked and became friends with Larry Foley. Although referred to as Gypsy Jem Mace he denied any Romany ancestry in his autobiography.

Jem was born in a small Labourers cottage on the Wyndham Estate to his father William and Mother Ann. He developed quickly, he walked from the age of 6 months and began fighting and wrestling with his cousin Pooley Mace and little did they know that in those early days of fighting it would end up taking jem across the globe in his pursuit of his pugilistic exploits.

His life would have been so different had he followed in his grandfathers and father’s trade as a blacksmith. At the age of 12 Jem damaged his hand, some say intentionally rather than continuing his job as a smithy but wether this is was an accident or not things were about to change.

Jem had already seen his first Bareknuckle fight at the age of 10 when he visited a local barn used by organisers to entertain the public on Saturday nights. He became intoxicated with the smell and the sounds of a Bareknuckle fight and with the prospect of having the choice of the prettiest women in town should he win he vowed that one day he would be up there fighting himself.

He started fighting the local boys in his town from around the age of 14, he didn’t win many but he learnt to get up and keep trying, he eventually beat them all in rematches as his fighting skills and determination improved. He visited the local fairs where he played the violin to earn extra cash as well as fighting, taking on all comers. It was at one of these fairs that Nat Langham spotted jem after beat up 3 men who had smashed his violin, Langham took him on as an apprentice fighter on £2 a week in his travelling fair. Langham himself was regarded as one of the best middleweight fighters of
his day and also the only man ever to beat Tom Sayers. Jem learnt how to slip punches using his great footwork and he also possessed a great jab and enough power to knock someone out cold.

In 1855 Jem won his first reported Pro fight against John Slack for the sum of £5, the fight was over in 9 rounds lasting a total of 19 minutes. Weighing in at around 10 and 11 stone and only 5ft 9 ½ he often had to give away weight and height to find opponents worthy of his skill.

After a win against a young aristocrat Jem was introduced to a man who would be responsible for the biggest change the art of BKB had ever seen and unfortunately its demise. His name was John Douglas who would become the new lord Drumlaig and the ninth Marquess of Queensbury.

Moving to London was a eye opener for Jem and with it his opponent were alot tougher than he’d been used to. He defeated a fighter with a reputation called Bill Thorpe in 17 rounds in a brutal fight which left Thorpe beaten up so bad that he’d never fight again. It wasn’t all plain sailing for Jem though as his character was called into question more than once. He failed to turn upto fights, conceded some and his seriousness for the fight game was questioned more than once..

On the 13th of June 1861 he regained his reputation as a great fighter by beating Sam Hurst and with it the title of Champion of England, it took Jem 40 minutes to win in 8 rounds. He then defended the title the following year against Tom King but lost against king in his next fight. His next fights comprised of a win and a draw against Joe Goss, after his win against Goss an estimated 10,000 people met him at Lime Street station and carried him through the streets on their shoulders. He also drew a fight against Joe Coburn. And in1865, the organisers of the Liverpool Olympics, invited Mace to become the boxing instructor at the Liverpool Gymnasium.

In 1867 Mace was arrested on the night before his scheduled title defence against Ned O'Baldwin. He was bound over in court not to fight again and because of this he decided to go to the U.S.A to continue his fighting.

Jem arrived in the US in 1869 and was greeted by John Heenan who realised the potential to earn money by getting Mace to fight Exhibition bouts, this was fine for Jem to make extra cash but he wanted big fights and the man he had his sights on was the American Champion Tom Allen. Even though Allen was also English he held the American Heavyweight title. The
prize money was $2,500 and after a hard fought battle Jem won in 10 rounds lasting 44 minutes. Jem was a much more accomplished wrestler and after he threw Allen to the ground and landed on him heavily, he was taken to his corner with
the crowd on their feet thinking allen had broken his neck but his injury was not as serious as it appeared but it was enough for Allen’s cornerman to toss up the sponge to end the fight. The fight was also for the Heavyweight championship of the World.
This is the summary of the fight as printed in the  New York Times.

St. Louis, New Orleans. “There were people in both hemispheres
who thought that Tom Allen was really a great fighter until that memorable May
10, 1870, when he met Jem Mace, at St. Louis, to fight for $2,500 a-side and the
Championship of the World. Allen was ten years younger but in forty-four minutes
Mace, the veteran, hit his antagonist to pieces and justified his claim to be
the world champion. Mace had turned forty.”

I doubt whether any man ever had such a thrashing as Tom had
that day; but he took his gruel like a hero and proved that, so far as gameness
went, he was as good a man as his friends had made him out to be, though his
scientific attainments were not much more than

By 1871 Jem was the owner of a pub and restaurant but controversy followed his fights, one planned fight with Joe Coburn was overbefore it had begun as police stopped the fight going ahead so a new date was set for June 2nd in Kansas City. The fight will be remembered forall the wrong reasons as Coburn failed to turn up and Mace was awarded to prize money regardless. It didn’t seem to faze Jem as that very night he and Allen put on a Exhibition bout in the Walnut Street Theatre. It was third time lucky for the planned fight as on November the 30th they did meet up and Jem retained his titles after a draw was declared in the 12th roundand after fighting for 3hrs 38 minutes.Jems globetrotting tour continued with a visit to Sydney, Australia in 1877, he met up with Larry Foley who as well as being a renowned prizefighter himself also ran a Boxing academy known locally as the Iron Pot. Jem eventually opened his own academy in Melbourne and also took over a hotel in
Flemington with An American prizefighter called Jack Thompson. Mace helped to set up a fight between Foley and Abe Hicken and after a convincing win for Foley it turned out to be the last Official Bareknuckle fight in Australia as all future Boxing fights would be fought under the Queensbury Rules.

Jem then Visited New-Zealand in 1880 and it was he who is credited with finding the future world champion Bob Fitzsimmons. Regularorganised Tournaments took place as well as Exhibitions. He returned in 1882 and had over 60 exhibition fights and also it was at this time that that Fitzsimmons beat a man 6 stone heavier called Herbert Slade.

Meanwhile in 1882 in the USA a certain John L. Sullivan beat Paddy Ryan, Jem used his influence to get a fight between Slade even though he was well beaten by Fitzsimmons. Slade was put into Exhibitions in America and England to get him into shape but despite all this training Sullivan thrashed him in 3 rounds before police stopped the fight round at Madison Square Gardens, New York. Sullivan toured the US on a large scale tour and wore gloves in all these bouts, this is after jem had advised Sullivan on the benefits of using gloves as he didn’t have to be careful of his hands so much under the Queensbury rules.

Jem returned to England where he continued giving exhibitions, a fighter called Charlie Mitchel got fed up with Jems continued criticism of the English fighters at the time and eventually agreed to fight Jem for the English  Heavyweight title. It was to be fought over 6x2 minute rounds wearing 6oz gloves, Jem was approaching 60 at the time and after 4 rounds he was beaten by the younger man. Before the police interviened.

 After even more exhibitions as well as talks on the benefits of wearing gloves in the USA he worked for a Liverpool Boxing club in 1897 aged 66 and even managed to travel to South Africa yet again in exhibitions. At the age of 73 he refereed a boxing tournament at the Theatre Royal. Its even reported that at the age of 78 jem was giving boxing exhibitions. Jem had earned an estimated £250,000  in his career, also most was squandered on women and his celebrity lifestyle. He was regarded by many as the father of modern scientific boxing.

For having led such a thrilling and exciting lifestyle Jem ended up busking to earn money in the streets of Jarrow, Tyne and wear and in 1910 he sadly passed away.

Below is what the death certificate said;
November 30th: Died at 6 Princes Street, Jarrow (Co. Durham).
James Mace, male. 79 years....of no occupation. Cause of death: senile decay,
certified by W. M. Jennings MRCS. Present at death and informant: Norah Le Neve,
cousin*, Pitt Heap, Jarrow. Death registered second December 1910.

Jem was buried in an umarked grave with no headstone except for
the markings 594

In 2002 Jems remains were transferred to the MacMillin plot at
Anfield Cemetery, the ex-Liverpool Boxers association raised the money for the new headstone and the belt which Jem won against Sam Hurst in 1861 was sold, it spent time at Madison Square Gardens ring museum in New York before ending up at the Sussex Ex-Boxers Association archive.

A lifesize statue of Mace v Allen in Louisiana which was erected
in 1987.


Type the words “Bareknuckle Boxing “into any search engine on your laptop or home computer and 99% of the video clips available will be of Travellers fighting. At one time having an opportunity to witness these fights was for a select few but with the introduction of YouTube it has allowed anyone to view the fights in the comfort of their home.

Even though money regularly changes hands in these fair play fights most are arranged to settle a dispute between feuding clans, and in doing so can actually stop further trouble happening. I’ve watched most that are available online and I can’t see how anyone can call them Brutal and Barbaric. The vast majority of the fights end up in a draw and it’s even encouraged so that both parties involved can walk away without losing face.

I know the fights take place outside of the traditional Boxing ring and to an outsider the fact that they don’t wear glove seems to put them into the same category as people fighting in the street. You have to remember no weapons are used, the fights are kept clean by nominated people who act as referees, it’s all stand up, no low blows etc, and after the fight handshakes are
exchanged, wellmost of the time anyway.

 So how come Bareknuckle Boxing has such a bad name?

 Is it the fact that the fights don’t take place in a ring? Well some of the best Bareknuckle fighters throughout History never fought in a ring.

 Is it that large amounts of money are often involved in these fights that put people of?  Apart from the fact no taxes are paid
why should it, Mayweather can earn up to $50,000,000, how many people reading this have earned money and not declared it, so it can’t be this.

 Is it the bad image of the No Rules underground type fights that takes place?  These types of fights won’t ever be seen on YouTube and they make the fair play type fighting look tame in comparison. Large amounts of money are involved, horrific
injuries can occur and most of the spectators and organisers are perhaps not the most law abiding members of society. I don’t believe this type of fighting should even be called BKB.

Is it simply that the fighters don’t wear gloves? Well I think there’s enough documentation to prove that BKB is one of the safest forms of combat along as it’s organised correctly with a full set of rules and regulations and all safety measures in force for the fighters protection.

All of the above reasons may contribute to the fact that the authorities and indeed the public have such a strong negative opinion about BKB, but the real reason is far much simpler.


After many meetings with the police it’s obvious that they try and stop sanctioned bouts going ahead because of their negative attitude towards Travellers even though in reality the majority of fighters wanting to take part are from the settled community. COPYRIGHT M.BLACKETT 2012



The Expression “Happy as Larry” is believed to have originated from the Australian Bareknuckle Boxer Larry Foley.

Laurence “Larry” Foley was born on the 12thDecember 1849 near Bathurst, New South Wales. His fighting abilities place him as one of the most successful pugilist and trainer Australia has ever seen.

During his long and illustrious career he weighed between 140 -154lbs and was
around 5ft 9.

Foley went to work as a servant to father D. O’Connell at the age of fourteen and although it was his intention initially to enter into the life as a priest he decided against it and when he reached 18 he moved to Sydney to be a builders labourer. Street gangs were rife in the area and one way to survive was to join up and that is exactly what Foley did. Gangs roamed the
street fighting between local suburbs and within a short time Foley became involved in a gang called the “Green” or catholic gang and soon became the leader. He became a feared street fighter which was aided by the fact he was
  trained by the former Bareknuckle Boxer John “Black” Perry.

On 18 March 1871 Foley fought Sandy Ross, Ross was the  leader of the 'Orange' or Protestant group so as well as an opposing gang member Ross was at the other end of the spectrum as far as religion was concerned, the fight lasted seventy-one rounds before police intervened. Foley gained huge recognition in the area for this fight and around this time to supplement his income he earned money being a building contractor.

George Hill, a member of the “Fancy” and sporting patron recognised Foleys talent and arranged various exhibitions and Prizefights, he remained unbeaten through all of these and even managed to have an exhibition fight with the ex-world champion Jem Mace, who himself was touring Australia. Abe Hicken who was recognised as the Australian Champion challenged Foley and after failed attempts to hold it in Melbourne it eventually took place on the 20 March 1879 in New South Wales. Spectators totalling over 700 made their way from Melbourne by a special train and after 16 rounds Foley was declared the winner and crowned the Australian champion.

After an unbeaten career of around 23 fights Foley decided to open up an academy and also to become a publican like many great fighters had done in the past and to teach other up and coming fighters. He can be thanked for finding and training great fighters like Bob Fitzsimmons, Peter Jackson and Young Griffo. Fitzsimmons went on to become a 3 weight division champion and Young Griffo the featherweight Champion. Foleys successful academy was based in “The Whitehorse Hotel” and at the rear of the academy “The Iron Pot” was situated where Foley would arrange and promote fights himself.

Foley decided to come out of retirement in 1883 at the age of 39 when he was challenged by William Miller, the wrestler and Boxer, Foley gave away over 2 stone in weight and 3 inches in height. The fight would be with gloves and it was declared a draw after 40 rounds as spectators rushed to the ring after it looked like their idol Foley was staring defeat in the face, the police were called and even though it was an official draw Miller was awarded the £500 stake money the following day when Foley gentlemanly conceded defeat. 

Ironically the very streets that Foley became involved during his gang days he demolished them when he became official demolition contractor for New South Wales until 1903 when he retired. He left an estate worth over £11,000 when he died of heart disease on the 12thJuly

Ben Caunt

The bells of the Great Clock of Westminster rang across London for the first time on 31st May 1859, and Parliament had a special sitting to decide on a suitable name for the great hour bell. During the course of the debate, and amid the many suggestions that were made, Chief Lord of the Woods and Forests, Sir Benjamin Hall, a large and ponderous man known
  affectionately in the House as "Big Ben", rose and gave an impressively long speech on the subject. When, at the end of this oratorical marathon, Sir Benjamin sank back into his seat, a wag in the chamber shouted out: "Why not call him Big Ben and have done with it?" The house erupted in laughter; Big Ben had been named. This, at least, is the most commonly accepted story. However, according to the booklet written for the old Ministry of Works by Alan Phillips: 

"Like other nice stories, this has no documentary support; Hansard failed to record the interjection. The Times had been alluding to 'Big Ben of Westminster' since 1856. Probably, the derivation must be sought more remotely. The current champion of the prize ring was Benjamin Caunt, who had fought terrific battles with Bendigo, and who in 1857 lasted sixty rounds of a drawn contest in his final appearance at the age of 42. As Caunt at one period scaled 17 stone (238 lbs, or 108 kilogrammes), his nickname
  was Big Ben, and that was readily bestowed by the populace on any object the heaviest of its class. So the anonymous MP may have snatched at what was already a catchphrase."

Regardless which story is true Ben Caunt goes down in the history books as a great Bareknuckle fighter “Big Ben” as a nickname was very apt considering the barrel chested pugilist weighed around 18 stone and was nearly 6ft 3.

Born in 1814 near Newstead railway station, his occupation as a blacksmith prepared him well for a life as a fighter and aged only 20 he fought a member of his own family Richard Butler, at Wighay Field Hucknall in which he won. Within a year the relatively inexperienced Caunt faced the English champion Bendigo Thompson and was unlucky to be disqualified for a foul blow in the 22nd round when he hit Thompson as he was on one knee, this tactic was employed by Thompson throughout the fight as a way of a gaining time to rest. A return match took 2 years to get organised and in a hard battle Caunt secured the victory after 76 rounds when he he himself was disqualified for going down without being hit even though Thompson claimed he had tripped.

Not much is known about many of caunts fights so the only evidence are the fights which were high profile but its safe to say that he would have fought many more than is accounted for. Once Caunt claimed the title of Champion he lost and regained it against Nick ward. As he was the champion again he went to the States in which he competed in exhibitions as the sport was popular in the US and as a champion he could earn large sums of money.

Newmarket racecourse was the next venue for Caunts fight as he defended his title again the hard man John “Brassey” Leecham; it was a successful defence in perhaps one of his hardest fights.

In 1845 after already defeating Bendigo for the second time they met yet again and after 96 rounds caunt was disqualified for
going down without being hit. With the rules in force at the time many of the fights were untidy and with disappointing results in which fighters used as many dirty tactics to win. Like many fighters before him and many after Caunt became
a publican and promoter as he retired from the sport in 1857. He did however make one more appearance as he fought the current champion Nat Langham. Caunt was well past his best but still managed to gain a draw. 

"The Coach and Horses" pub at St. Martin's Lane had made Caunt plenty of money but tragedy was to strike when 2 of his children, his son and daughter were to die in a fire which totally destroyed the pub. On September 10, 1861 he sadly passed away from pneumonia and was buried close to where his children were laid to rest Parish Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall. On his death a mask was made of his face and he looks relatively unmarked considering some tough battles he had
in his years of one of Nottingham’s finest fighters. BELOW IS THE ACTUAL DEATH MASK OF BEN CAUNT COPYRIGHT M.BLACKETT 2012


Throughout the history of Bareknuckle Boxing it has been well documented in a somewhat misleading way that the followers of this ancient and noble sport were characters of ill repute. Even going back to the days of the Cestus and the introduction of the metal spikes and studs to inflict as much damage and injury to the fighters as possible often leading to death were as a result of what the public demanded, BLOOD AND GUTS
When these gloves of death were abolished the sport quickly followed it into obscurity and remained dormant for well over a thousand years.

When the sport resurfaced among its supporters were the Aristocracy who financed the first organised amphitheatres and the accounts of many of the big fights are within easy reach of anyone with a simple computer. Its suggested that the reason BKB became less fashionable towards the late 1800’s was the violence and rowdy crowds that followed these fights and the more you read the more the sport is Blackened by dodgy betting, fixed fights, deaths and general chaos and disorganisation. Bear baiting and cockfighting events were still able to be advertised in the newspapers at this time but not the Noble Art.

Many painters and artists followed the fight scene and they produced some great works of art including paintings, sketches and pottery which showed or celebrated the sport. Infact stamps have been issued showing the past fighters and museums throughout the world and collectors seek out any items to do with Bareknuckle Boxing.

It seems odd to many that Poets would follow such a hard and sometimes brutal pastime, they certainly didn’t write their verse in a slamming and critical way but they honoured the great will and courage of the fighters taking part. The sports writer and sometimes forgotten poet Pierce Egan followed and wrote accounts of what took place up until the middle of the 19th century. A few of the poets who not only supported but wrote classic lines included Lord Byron, himself a decent boxer and all round sportsman, he was even instructed in fisticuffs by John “ Gentleman” Jackson which Byron described as
his master.
In 1811 a short piece by Byron goes as follows.

“Who shoot not flying rarely touch a

Will he who swims not to the river

And men unpractised in exchanging  

Must go to Jackson ere they dare to

Among other poets who put pen to paper and had real passion for it included Thomas Moore, John Keats, John Clare and John Reynolds.

A great piece was written by Egan “A boxing we will Go” which attempted give the sport credibility and indeed pride in Britain at a time when many wanted the sport outlawed, and at the time of writingBritain was at war with France.

“Come move the song and stir the glass,
For why should we be sad?
Let’s drink to some free-hearted lass,
And Crib, the boxing lad.
And a boxing we will go, will go, will go,
And a boxing we will go.
Italians stab their friends behind,
In darkest shades of night;
But Britons they are bold and kind,
And box their friends by light.
The sons of France their pistols use,
Pop, pop, and they have done;
But Britons with their hands will bruise,
And scorn away to run.
Throw pistols, poniards, swords aside,
And all such deadly tools;
Let boxing be the Briton’s pride,
The science of their schools!

This was just one verse of the poem and it’s well worth reading it in full and lots of others available on the internet. Regardless that eventually Gloved Boxing took over BKB I look forward to the day that modern poets will write about the current fights and also the fights in the future.


When reading about Bareknuckle fighters of the past there are a many that stand out for various reasons, it could be that they had beat the best, their style was unique, or it could be that they were responsible for changes within the sport.

Since the 1700’s the big names of the sport from the days of Figg are well documented and it’s easy to find out information about their lives at the push of a button, unfortunately there are many more that have been forgotten or never recognised as the years go by. 

One fighter who stands out to me but very little is known about him is Johnny Broome who was born in Birmingham on March 14th 1818.

Johnny also known as “Young Duckro” weighed between 130-140 lbs and stood 5ft 6 ½ tall, he fought at lightweight and it’s reported that he remained unbeaten as a fighter yet I can only find two accounts of his fights.He apparently won the lightweight Championship of England by beating Jack Hannan in Oxfordshire, England on January 26, 1841. The bout lasted 47 roundsand 79 minutes. He defended his title against a fighter called “Bungaree” on April 27th , 1842 near Newmarket, England. Broome won in 42 rounds and 57 minutes.

It’s obvious that he must have fought in other fights especially as it’s recorded that he became English BKB champion but his other notable achievement was competing in the Grand National at Aintree, Liverpool.

He accepted an offer to compete in the 10thofficial running of the handicap steeplechase on Match 1st 1848, he was riding
in a field of 29 which was the biggest field since the race had first took place and although he didn’t finish but he managed to to get round on the second lap before falling at the famous Beechers Brook.

It’s not known how much money he had earned in his career as a Prize-fighter but evidence suggests that he had lost all his money on Gambling and bad business dealings and when his name was blackened by a scandal involving an alleged fixing in a game of cards he fell out of favour with the public and the fans who had supported him. Everything became too much for him and on May 31st 1855 aged only 37 he took his own life by slitting his throat and bleeding to death after walking into the kitchens at the Wrekin Tavern, Bow Street and was buried in the West Norwood Cemetery.

One person who took the news of his death badly was his more famous younger brother Harry Broome nicknamed “The Unknown” a champion fighter himself, he retired from the prize- ring upon hearing about his brother’s death but when the fighter Tom Paddock claimed that he was indeed the champion he decided to prove otherwise and the fight was set for May 1856. In bells lifemagazine on the 2nd December 1855 an announcement was made fromHarry which read.

"MR. EDITOR, It was my intention never to have entered the Ring
again, but the persuasions of my old friends and backers have determined me to
pull off my shirt once more. I now come forward for the satisfaction of the
public, to determine who's the better man, Tom Paddock or myself. I will fight
him for£200 a-side and the Champion's

He had won the welterweight title on October 11th1843 by beating Fred Mason in the 39th round lasting 1 hr 21 mins and
although he was perhaps more competent as a wrestler than boxer he had beaten some worthy opponents including “The Tipton Slasher” William Perry, after Perry was disqualified in the 15th round for hitting Broome while he was kneeling.

The fight with Paddock was scheduled twice before Broome eventually fought him at Manningtree, England. Members of the fancy had turned up in force including 2 members of Parliament and an Indian prince, and although Broome started off well he eventually lost the fight to the heavier man but showed great courage and heart by lasting 51 rounds in 1 hr and 3 minutes.
Broome never fought again and died aged 47 in 1865.  COPYRIGHT M.BLACKETT 2012

I'd lke to thank Mick Hill author of  Famous Pugilists of the English Prize-Ring  1719-1870 for the following details of Johny Broomes full fight record..Thanks Mick.
Undated, Tom Ellis, Birmingham , Won  6 Rounds  30 minutes   £10

1833, Bill Howell,Allerbury Common, Worcs, Won  9 rounds 75 minutes  £10

1834, Jack Hunt.  Draw  220 minutes

1835, Charles Spilbury,  Sutton coalfield, West midlands,  Won  30 rounds   63 minutes   £20

1838, Bob Gallett,Witton, Worcs,  Won  9 rounds   35 minutes   £20

1839, Charley Jones, Woore, Cheshire   Won 31 rounds   36 minutes   £100

1840, James Mcginty, Glasgow, Won 71 rounds  153 minutes   £60

1840, Joe Bostock, Early, Warwicks, Won  29 rounds  47 minutes  £100

1841, Jack Hannan, New Park farm, Oxon,  won 47 rounds    79 minutes   £1000
Now generally  recognised as the best Light-weight in the country

1842, John Gorrick, Newmarket, suffolk,  won 42 rounds  57 minutes  £600

He retired from the ring unbeaten as far as records show.

Micks book can be purchased here...


Born on the 2nd July 1781 in Hanham, Gloucester Tom Cribb is one of the best known of the English bareknuckle fighters of the 18th century.

At the age of 13 he moved to London, it may seem a young age today but back then it was considered the norm for children to seek their own fame and fortune. After a few jobs that didn’t suit him including an apprentice bellringer he started work as a coal heaver at Wapping Docks. Cribb would become known as “the Black Diamond”in his fighting career due to the obvious dirty nature of working with coal. As with many fighters the manual work he did helped in his preparation as a pugilist and the area he was raised in produced notable fighters such as John Jackson, Jem and Tom Belcher, Henry Pearce, John Gully and Tom Spring. This was perhaps due to the fact that the Bristol was at the ep-icentre of the early stages of Bareknuckle Boxing alongside London and Birmingham.

At the age of 24 Cribb had his first fight in which he beat George Maddox on January 7th 1805 it was a fight which lasted 76 rounds going on for 2hrs 10 minutes, after he secured another victory on the 21st may the same year he decided to become a full time fighter with the help of Cpt Robert Barclay.

Many fighters past and present learn more from a loss than sometimes a win and in Cribbs fight against George Nicholls this is exactly what happened, his inexperience showed when he was outboxed throughout and lost in 52 rounds. This loss was a great learning curve for Cribb and it proved to be his only ever defeat.

Other notable victories for Cribb included Bill Richmond, Tom Belcher, and on the On 25th October, 1808 Cribb beat the British champion Bob Gregson in 23 rounds in a 30 ft roped ring,with this win Cribb was the new British champion. After a second win against Belcher at  The Epsom Downs on 1st Febuary 1809 Cribb announced his retirement from the ring and ventured into the dubious role as a Publican.

Just like in a Rocky film, when Cribb retired a fighter came onto the scene from America called Tom Molyneaux, after a protégé of Cribbs “ The Bristol Unknown” was beaten by him Cribb wanted revenge especially after the American claimed he was a better fighter than Cribb. Their first meeting ended in the 34th round when Molyneaux couldn’t go on any further despite the fact that he made it a hard fight for crib early on. Some believe if the crowd hadn’t of disturbed the fight earlier on crib may have been beaten but it wasn’t to be and Cribb was  victorious.

In 1811 a rematch was fought and crib prepared much harder than previous, he lost 35lbs in weight and trained for a solid 3 months to get him into peak condition. 25,000 spectators turned up to this eagerly awaited  encounter and the crowd included  a host of celebrities.A 25ft ring was used and by the end of the second round it looked like the fight could be over soon as Cribbs right eye was closed completely and just like micky did to Rocky, John Gully lanced the enormous swelling which made it possible for crib to continue. The pattern of the fight changed dramatically and in the 9th round Cribb landed a shot which broke Molyneaux,s jaw, he fought on with great bravery but within 2 rounds Cribb knocked him out flat and he had to be carried out of the ring by his cornermen. Cribb was mobbed  on his return home and mixed with the likes of Lord Byron and the Prince Regent. Another landmark for this fight was that a trophy was awarded which was the
first to be given in recognition of being the British champion.

At a presentation dinner for this great reward at the Castle Tavern, Holborn on 2nd December, 1811 Mr Robert Emery of the Theatre Royal said this.

“"You are requested to accept this cup as a tribute of respect
for the uniform valour and integrity you have shown in your several combats, but
most particularly for the additional proofs of native skills and manly
intrepidity displayed by you in your last memorable battle, when the cause
rested not merely on individual fame, but for the pugilistic reputation of your
native country, in contending with a formidable foreign

He retired to Woolwich and lived to the age of 66, he was buried in the Mary Magdelane Church Woolwich and on the 1st May 1854 a monument of a lion was placed on his grave. See below  COPYRIGHT M.BLACKETT 2012



Samuel Elias known as Dutch Sam was born in the Whitechapel area of London to Dutch parents on April 4th 1775. As he weighed only 130-135 lbs and 5 ft 6 he often had to fight men much bigger and taller than himself yet he was a feared fighter nevertheless.

He was regarded as one of the best scientific boxers of his time and considering his friend, trainer and occasional corner-man was Daniel Mendoza it’s obvious where Samuel himself a Jew learned his great skills from. Mendoza was responsible for encouraging hoards of Jewish fighters into the game and into management in later years. Samuel’s first fight was in 1801 and he soon became known as “The man with the iron hand” this was partially due to the fact that he was the first fighter to use the UNDERCUT or more commonly known as the UPPERCUT. This punch knocked men out much bigger than himself and he confused and baffled fighters as they didn’t know how to block or evade it.

In a career totalling over100 fights which was considerable during these early years of Puglism he only ever lost 2 bouts. His most famous accolade was a trilogy of fights he had with Jem Belcher in which Samuel won 2 with 1 draw.

One of Samuels’s strange routines was his fondness for Gin; even during his fighting career he drank 3 glasses 3 times a day every day. He retired in 1810 but foolishly decided to fight again in 1814 going against his doctor’s advice. Bill Nosworthy was the much younger and heavier man in their bout but Samuels went into the fight a shell of his past and looking terribly thin and gaunt, not surprisingly his final fight would end as a loss. Within 2 years aged only 41 he passed away, how much Gin was responsible isn’t clear but it certainly didn’t help. 

This is the description of the etching to explain the satirical aspect...
A prize-fight. 'Dutch Sam', a Jew (left), staggers back under a blow in the face from a younger and better-looking man, Bill Nosworthy. Each has a backer and a bottle-holder. The background consists of a crowd of spectators, Jews being
prominent, especially among those seated on the ground in front. At the back of the crowd is a coach; on the roof a sailor stands astride; he waves hat and bludgeon, shouting "go it Duff that your sort [cf. No. 8073, &c.]." A man on  the box says: "I say Jack D—me how the Baker Knock's him about I'm afraid he'll  make a Dead man of him." A man next him adds: "Yes he is marking weight on his  Loaf." Two Jews say to each other: "O dish will be my ruin Dush Sham is a Bad  shilling," and: "Yesh, Yesh." Another says: "I hopes sham vill knock his pork  chops about." Two on the extreme right say: "Ah 'tis a shocking shites" and "D—d  Bad Bargens to day". An Englishman says: "There he goes right and left." Two men  on horseback shout at each other: "done 6 to one" and "done." A slanting shower  is indicated; a man standing on the coach has an open umbrella.
Dec 1814


 Bareknuckle Boxing between moustached men has been discussed at length in many books, pubs and websites, much is known about the past greats of the sport and many fights took place for honour and money and it’s seen as one of the manliest of sports.

However the fairer sex have also competed in Bareknuckle Boxing but it’s an activity that many feel inappropriate for a woman to compete in Women’s Gloved Boxing is considered worthy of its inclusion into the Olympic Games and the 2012 London Olympics  proved that women have an equal right to be in the squared circle, infact the crowds that supported them in London was equal to that of men, if not more.Gloved
Boxing for women has a huge future but what about the women who competed in Bareknuckle Boxing of the past and in the future will women feature in bouts. As an advocate of Bareknuckle boxing and considering i feel that it’s a safer sport as gloved Boxing if it’s organised correctly then why not.

One of the first printed acknowledgements of women competing was in 1722 , the London Journal tells of about 2 women who put on a great battle of honour and were greatly applauded by the crowd. It then has an advertisement which reads;

“I, Elizabeth Wilkinson, of Clerkenwell,
having had some words with Hannah Hyfield, and requiring satisfaction, do invite
her to meet me upon the stage, and box me for three guineas; each woman holding
half-a-crown in her hand, and the first woman that drops the money to lose the
battle “

A reply was quick to follow which goes;

“"I, Hannah Hyfield, of Newgate Market, hearing on the resoluteness of Elizabeth
Wilkinson, will not fail, God willing, to give her more blows than words –
desiring home blows, and from her, no favor: she may expect a good

The fight took place away from any crowds in a location not known; the only clue about the result came about leading upto
another bout when a Billingsgate fish woman  called Martha Jones challenged Wilkinson, Wilkinson said that she had previously beaten the Newgate Market basket woman, she was referring to Hannah Hyfield. Wilkinson was already
declaring herself the city Championess and she recorded another win against her challenger when she fought at the Boarded House in Marybon Fields.

In 1728 Wilkinson now married to the booth owner John stokes was calling herself Elizabeth Stokes and this is perhaps when
people will remember her name. Anne field challenged Mrs Stokes and an announcement was posted in the Daily Post which read ;

"I, Elisabeth Stokes, of the city of London, have not fought... since I fought the
famous boxing woman of Billingsgate 9 minutes, and gained a complete victory,
which is six years ago; but as the famous Stoke Newington ass woman dares me to
fight her for 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the
said sum. And doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be
more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her

Once again Elizabeth stokes was declared the winner.

As fencing and the use of weaponry was the main event and attraction many of the early bareknuckle fights were classed as
the undercard, perhaps more so in Figg’s Day. It also appears that tag fighting used to occur between couples of mixed sexes. Bouts continued to take place and one in particular in 1803 made it into “Famous fights “. Amy Russell and Julie Pyne were the fighters and it took place at the front the Crown Inn, the landlord like many at time had links with Pugilism and when the fighters stripped to the waist which was common at the time the battle continued till both were covered in blood, with little rules being enforced very often it was more brutal than men’s fighting and the women often ended up naked and covered
in blood. Certainly womens Bareknuckle Boxing continued but they never achieved the fame and glory of their male counterparts.

I believe that women should be able to take part in any Martial art/Combat sport and I don’t consider Bareknuckle Boxing any different although I doubt they will ever fight half-naked but then one can always hope.


The argument that arises more often than not when discussing Bareknuckle Boxing is WHICH IS SAFER, GLOVED BOXING OR BAREKNUCKLES? AND DID IT MATTER?

  Evidence by the BMA and indeed many neurologists throughout the world show that Gloved Boxers are much more prone to brain damage than their prizefighter counterparts. The reason is simple and straightforward and you don’t have to have medical knowledge to understand the reasoning behind their findings. It’s all linked with Boxers taking repetitive headshots and with padding on the fighters hands the head was one of the main targets unlike fighters competing in Bareknuckle Boxing.

While gloved fights had taken place in the late 1800’s the last recognised World Championship Bareknuckle fight was in 1892 when Sullivan fought Kilrain. Sullivan then decided that his days as a prizefighter was over and he would defend his title with gloves on which he did unsuccessfully against James J.Corbett. 

Even though the Queensbury Rules were formulated in 1867 it wasn’t until 1891 that the National Sporting Club was formed, it was based in Covent Gardens, London and was set up to add credibility to the Noble sport of self-defence and for the well off to watch bouts with timed rounds and none of the crowd trouble which was once associated with Prizefighting. Although
the NSC was given permission to stage boxing matches as long as they were scientific exhibitions it was obvious that the fights staged were far from exhibitions and were fought for money and with trained well skilled Boxers.

In 1897 an American fighter called Jimmy Barry came over to England to fight for the world title against the Brit Walter Croot, with less than a minute to go at the end of the planned 20 round fight Croot was caught with a huge punch that felled him and he hit his head on the wooden board of the ring floor and as a consequence died a few days after suffering a broken
  skull. It attracted adverse publicity on both sides of the water and to improve the safety padding was installed on the ring floor. However only four years in 1901 the club and the sport of Boxing itself was put on trial when another fighter died after an international fight, Billy Smith from Philadelphia fought Jack Roberts from London for a purse of£100. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened up until the end of the 7thround when both men tripped and Smith hit his head on the middle rope and then on the floor, he came out for the next round but it became obvious that all his energy was gone and
something wasn’t right when he sank to his knees and was counted out. Smith was taken unconscious to Charing Cross hospital but sadly died 2 days later.

An inquest into his death identified compression to the brain as the cause of death, be it by a fall or a punches taken and the
NSC was praised in its duty of care by it having padded flooring instead of the old boards, the verdict reached was Accidental Death. The police however pursued charges of Manslaughter against the referee and timekeeper as well as the seconds including the legendary commentator Reg Gutteridge’s Grandfather ArthurGutteridge. The trial took place at Bow Street court and the prosecution statedthat the NSC was given permission to stage exhibitions only and the fight in which Smith died was far from it, he told the court that boxing was a Barbaric sport and the 10 second rule encouraged fighters to inflict as much damage to each other as possible. The defence stated that more deaths arise from football than boxing and nothing happened in the fight which was not within the rules.The jury couldn’t decide so a retrial was ordered.

The Barrister defending the members of the NSC told the court that he was a fan of boxing and the sport encourages great heart and pride in Englishmen and after the Judge said that smith didn’t die as a result of a punch and he’d much rather people used their fists than knives and it took the jury only 2 minutes to find the defendants not guilty. The outcome obviously paved the way for boxing as a legitimate sport….even though the issue of safety is questioned constantly.



Tom Spring was an apt name for a fighter who didn’t have the biggest punch or the best punch resistance, yet he had great skill and footwork, he was born Tom Winter on the 22nd February 1795 in the village of Fownhope, Herefordshire, England, As with any fighter who relies on great footwork and timing to help him cope with the big hitters of the day especially as he was fighting at Heavyweight he fought like a counterpuncher, he developed what he called the “Harlequin Step”  the Ali Shuffle of its day, he would get in close, avoiding the punches coming at him and then releasing his own barrage of fast punches. This technique saved him from much punishment throughout his career. Another name he was given by some was “The light tapper”. In his prime he weighed around 186lb and was just short of 6ft so in today’s weight divisions he would have been lucky to make it to cruiserweight.

At the age of 17 while serving as a Butcher in Hereford he had his first fight against john Hollands a much taller man and even though Spring was inexperienced he won the fight in 45 minutes over 15 rounds. As with many Bareknuckle fighters past and present he often suffered hand problems and perhaps this is the reason for his lack of power, but in hindsight he became a much more scientific boxer because of it.

Spring was in the right place at the right time when he met up with the fighter Tom Cribb who was the reigning English Champion, he was impressed with the way spring fought and persuaded him to go to London and it was the start of much to come. After 2 more bouts in which he beat Jack Henley and Jack Stringer in the 11thand 29th round respectively the time had come for him to face much stiffer challenges.

In 1818 he was face the much more experience Ned Painter from Lancashire, weighing in at around 185 lbs an 5ft 9 he was more of a stand up fighter, an old fashioned style relying on more brawn than brain but as strong as an ox with a  great athletic physique. The way championships were fought for during these early times were quite disorganised and after spring beat painter he claimed the English championship and when he lost the return bout he again challenged painter and
when he refused Spring once again claimed the title.

From 1819 -1821 Spring was successful in his next 5 bouts against Jack carter in round 71, Ben Burn in round 11,Bob Burn in round 18,Joshua Hudson in round 5 and Tom Oliver in round 25. When the great Tom Cribb retired in 1822 like many champions before him he nominated a fighter to take over his mantle and Spring was the fighter who was now recognised as the British Champion. During this time Spring had toured the country giving exhibtions and even fought his mentor Cribb himself.

It was a year later in 1823 that Spring fought again, his opponent was Bill Neat a butcher by trade and known as “The Bristol Bull”. Spring was to lose this fight after suffering a broken arm in round 6 but he bravely fought on until the 8th, the fight in total lasted 37 minutes. In 1824 his legacy as a great fighter would be written after his 2 epic battles with Jack Langan. Langan was known as“The Irish Champion” and although he was only 5ft 9 and weighed around 165lbs he was a rugged as they come, he was a deep sea diver and travelled to various countries to fight.

In their first meeting more than 30,000 spectators turned up to see the fight in Worcester and it goes down in history as the first fight that had a special grandstand erected on the racecourse to cope with the vast crowds who wanted to
  see it, people are reported to have climbed the masts of sailing ships in the nearby River Severn to watch. The ring was raised off the floor allowing the great crowd to see the fight and although Spring won the fight in 77 rounds lasting an amazing 2.5 hrs a great tragedy occurred when the erected grandstands collapsed.Whether it was a result of the waterlogged conditions on the racecourse or not,many spectators were seriously injured and although this occurred during the
  actual fight the bout continued.

A little less than 6 months later they would fight again, this time in Warwick and once more Spring was the winner, the fight went 76 rounds lasting just short of 1 hr 50 minutes. This was to be Springs last fight as he retired shortly after.Even though he never fought again in the ring he did keep involved in the sport and when he bought the Castle Inn, Holborn. Perhaps due
  to the tragedy that occurred in which many were injured he set up a “Fair playclub” on 25 September 1828 at his pub, it was set up to ensure fair play and peace and order in and out of the ring. He also arranged fights and made sure he was
  present when contracts were signed.

In 1846 he was presented with a silver tankard in a testimonial for what he had done inside and outside the ring for the sport. He became very wealthy as a result of his fighting and being a publican but sadly passed away on the 20thaugust 1851 aged only 56. He was buried at the West Norwood Cemetery under his real name of Thomas Winter.

He was all but forgotten soon after his death, until, in 1951, a
Herefordshire police sergeant, A V Lucas formed the Tom Spring Memorial
Committee to fund a memorial in West Norwood, London where Spring was buried.
The committee also established a rustic memorial made from a cider press near
Spring’s birthplace in Woolhope mill and a suitably inscribed bronze plaque ( SEE BELOW)


Known as “The Fighting Sailor” because of his time spent in the Royal Navy Tom King was an accomplished Bareknuckle Boxer and Gloved Boxer.

 The East-End fighter was born on August 14th 1835 in Stepney, London. Poverty was rife at the time especially in the east end,Cholera was the main cause of death and institutions like Dr Barbados and The salvation army setting up help for the locals signified the hard times faced by the residents then and throughout the 19th Century. His birth also
  coincided with an Act of Parliament which helped the needy escape poverty by
  allowing them funding to Emigrate. In 1835 only 320 took up the offer  and yet the year after over 5241 left for pastures new, a large amount went to Canada. Perhaps for this reason Tom decided to join the Royal Navy and it was here that he learnt his trade as a fighter.

It appears that he didn’t stay in the Navy very long and when he came out he started working in the docks as a foreman. Standing at 6ft 2 and weighing around 12.5 stone (175lbs) he was not only a skilled fighter but fast and nimble footed as well. As a foreman he would have had to be very firm and he gained respect off his fellow workers and proved his authority when he fought with several workers.

It was around this time that Tom’s skills were noticed by Jem Ward the former English Heavyweight champion who took him under his wing and began training him in the skills of a fighter. I’ve seen on many sites that Tom fought a fighter called “Brighton Bill” but the only fighter with this name died many years earlier in 1838 his proper names was William Phelps and he died fighting Owen swift and because of his death the “ London Prize Ring rules “ were introduced.

It could be another fighter with the same name but regardless Tom made his pro debut in 1859 against a fellow worker called Bill Clamp he impressed his trainer and those watching by winning by KO in the first round. His next 2 fights saw him win in the 49th round in just over an hour against Tom Truckle and a draw when police intervened against a fighter called Young Broome (I presumed it was Harry Broome the younger brother of Johnny Broome but I can’t find any evidence that it actually was). When the fight was called a draw they moved location and had a fight the same day, this time King
  won in 22 minutes.

Considering Tom King had very few fights his next opponent was against the great fighter Jem Mace the Blacksmiths son from Norfolk and this was for the Championship of England. They met twice in 1862.

Their first bout took place on the 28thof January, Considering a title fight was at stake and King was the big underdog Mace was outboxed for a large proportion of the fight but during the days of Bareknuckle Boxing the fights can last as long as it takes and Mace got a second wind.  Experience then showed and although Mace was fighting practically blind due to the damage to his face he’d received he caught King with a punch in the throat which ended the fight in the 43rd round lasting 1hr 8 minutes.

A rematch was made following King’s loss and on the 26th November the same year the pair once again met to decide the
  championship Of England. This time Mace was the one who took control of the fight early on, he must have become complacent and King caught him off guardand knocked the champion on the floor, Mace bravely fought on for another 2
  rounds but the fight ended in the 21st round when Maces corner tossed in the sponge and King was crowned the new

Mace tried to get another shot to regain his title but King refused and accepted a challenge from John C. Heenan “ The Benicia Boy”in 1863 East Sussex .Heenan the American fighter who had only 3 recognised Bareknuckle bouts in his career was awarded what many thought to be unjustified a draw against Tom Sayers after the crowd entered the ring. With this dubious draw he was thought of as a favourite to beat King and although Heenan started off well his stamina faded and he was well beaten by the end of the 24th round. Like many Bareknuckle bouts of the time many were filled with controversy
  and this proved to be no different, a long count after king was knocked down in the 18th was supposed to have took place but the Ref let the fightcontinue and King won in 35 minutes. Mace was obviously desperate to have the chance to meet up again in the ring and he even went to the length of trying coax him King to fight again by confronting him in the street like a few modern Boxers have done in later years, king remained unfazed and refused another rematch. He decided to retire and the title became vacant. 

What makes King different to most who had fought before is that he didn’t turn to drink or succumb to a unhealthy lifestyle upon his retirement. He became a successful business man as a bookmaker and married into a very wealthy shipping magnets family. He died aged 53 in 1888 and was buried in cemetery in west Norwood. London. (See below)


Bareknuckle Boxing has had its share of tragedies in and out of the ring and one such fighter who lost his life at the age of only 26 was the Scottish Campion Alexander McKay.

Even though very little is known about McKay it is known he was born in 1804, no records are kept as to how he got into fighting but it is known that he had 5 fights in total. At the age of 23 his first recorded fight was against the Irishman Simon Byrne for £100 on the 3rdmay 1827. Byrne was also a novice fighter with a record of 1 win and a loss prior to his first fight with McKay but the Irishman won in 5 rounds.

Although he lost his first fight McKay proved his worth by winning his next 3 fights against Peter Curran and Paul Spenser twice.It was his rematch with Byrne on the 2ndJune 1830 that made the headlines and by this time McKay was the Scottish champion and Byrne the Irish Champion. It was a huge fight for both men as the winner was guaranteed a fight with the English Heavyweight Champion Jem ward as well as £200 being offered to the winner which is a vast sum of money for the time.

Bareknuckle Boxing was quite disorganised at this time but it did have many patrons who supported and backed the cause and one fighter in particular Tom Spring set up the “Fair play Club” this was as a direct result as many spectators were injured at one of his fights with Nat Langan when the first ever Grandstand was built to house some of the 30,000 who turned up to watch his fight collapsed  in 1824. Spring set up this club to try and also stop the corruption which took
place in many fights and most contracts for bouts at this time were signed at his Tavern in Holborn, so contracts were signed and a venue set.

Many fights used to take place near county borders which made it more difficult for the magistrates and police to stop the fights taking place and this bout was no different, originally it was to be fought in Buckinghamshire near Hanslope but this changed to Salcey Green in Northamptonshire. Both men were quite inexperienced but nevertheless it attracted a lot of attention and perhaps it could have been down to Byrne’s Management team who included the great Tom Cribb and Gentleman Jackson who also acted as sponsors for the fight.

When Byrne and McKay finally met on the 2ndof June 1830 and began fighting it was obvious from the start that Byrne was the much better technical fighter and McKay was the brawler and relied on tiring out his opponent which worked against many fighters but Byrne was more clever than that and used his skill to outwit the big bombs coming at him. In the 47th round Byrne caught McKay with a punch to the throat that made him collapse to the floor unconscious, his cornermen carried him to the corner, he regained consciousness but complained of bad headaches. Within 30 hours of the fight he died in a local pub and after tests were performed it was noticed his brain had bled causing death.

The news of McKay’s death caused massive rioting in Scotland and many people died, most of the rioting was directed against the Catholics due to Byrnes Irish roots and churches were even burned down. The rioting may have influenced the decision to arrest Byrne which they did as he tried to flee England and was put on trial for manslaughter and locked up in a jail in Buckinghamshire. It was inevitable that with the support than Byrne had in his career including members of the royal family and wealthy backers that he would receive the best defence. The town had attracted huge media interest and as well as the backing off Barristers and solicitors the defence found witnesses who stated that McKay fell the night before the fight and this may have caused the injury. It’s not surprising that a verdict of “Not Guilty” was the outcome and Byrne was acquitted considering his support he had and the influential connections. If Byrne had of been found guilty then it would have had huge repercussions including members of the royal family.

McKay is buried in Hanslope Churchyard with these poignant words

  and athletic was my frame
Far from my native home I came
And bravely
fought with Simon Byrne
Alas, but never to return.
Stranger take warning
from my fate
Lest you should rue your case too late
If you have ever
fought before
Determine now to tight no more"

Sadly Byrne himself died in a fight against James Burke but that’s another story


Although this picturE (left) is depicting rat catching " The Pit" as it was referred to was often used for bareknuckle fighting. The owner of this rather dubious establishment was the co founder of the Dead Rabbits gang in new york known as Kit Burns although his real name was
Christopher Keyburn (February 23, 1831 – December 19, 1870).
Situated  at  no 273 Water Street, near the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge it was named the
Sportsmans hall. The lower room in the building i...s shown in the picture and was made as an amphitheatre where spectators would sit on wooden benches and witness and wager on many Bareknuckle bouts although this type of fighting often resulted in horific injuries as no rules were adhered too.
To allow fights to continue as long as possible " Blood Sucking" used to take place, this was to haunch the flow of blood and the bouncer of the club named "Snatchem" George Leese had this job to perform where he would enter the pit and suck on the fighters wounds to enable them to continue fighting. Its ironic that " The pit" was hired out for evangelical meetings.One such meeting held at Sportsman's Hall in September 1868 was described by the New York World,

 "The Water Street prayer meetings are still continued. Yesterday at noon a large crowd assembled in Kit Burns' liquor shop, very few of whom were roughs. The majority seemed to be business men and clerks, who stopped in to see what was
going on, in a casual manner. In a few minutes after twelve the pit was filled up very comfortably, and Mr. Van Meter made his appearance and took up a position where he could address the crowd from the center of the pit, inside the
barriers. The roughs and dry clerks piled themselves up as high as the roof, tier by tier, and a sickening odor came from the dogs and debris of rats' bones under the seats Kit stood outside, cursing and damning the eyes of the missionaries for not hurrying up.Kit said, "I'm damned if some of the people that come here oughtn't to be clubbed. A fellow 'ud think they had never seen a dogpit before. I must be damned good looking to have so many fine fellows looking at me".

The sportsman arms was closed down in 1870 after Kit burns was charged with animal cruelty by the founder of the ASPCA Henry Burgh. Burns and everyone involved were arrested and took to court where they were aquitted. After the trial Burns caught a cold and led to Pneumonia and he died on december the 19th 1870 and is buried in Calvary cemetery. Not much of the original building still stands to this day although apartments have been built in its
place and is the 3rd oldest building in Manhattan. COPYRIGHT 2013 M.BLACKETT


Sometimes when you google searching for info interesting stories come up and
names crop up who have done bareknuckle boxing and it leads onto other articles
here is something i just found and it mentions a bareknuckle boxing family
called the  Lidburys....some great pics as well

Below is a great link for information on the Lidbury family, if anyone has other photos or info than whats here can you inbox the page and we can pass them on to the family..If it helps to jog any memories George Lidbury also boxed under a  promoter named Jack Soloman..


I doubt few if any fighters have the distinction of having a former president write a foreward in a book written about them. There is however one such fighter who competed in Bareknuckle Boxing and gloved boxing and was fortunate enough in his career to have stepped into the ring with perhapos the 2 biggest icons of the
sport in John L Sullivan and Jack "nonpariel" Dempsey. Mike Donavan earned the monicle Professor due to his scientific approach to the sport and apart from being a great fighter he was also a leading trainer of the time. Below is the text written by none other than Theodore Rooseevelt about Donavan.


"Some as good citizens as I know are or were prize-fighters. Take Mike Donovan of New York.
He and his family represent a type of American  citizenship of which we have a right to be proud.
Mike is a devoted temperance man and can be rehed upon for every movement in the interest of
good citizenship. I was first intimately thrown with him when I was Police Commissioner. One evening he
and I — both in dress suits — attended a temperance meeting of Catholic Societies. It culminated in a
lively set-to between myself and a Tammany Sena- tor who was a very good fellow, but whose ideas of
temperance differed radically from mine and as the event proved, from those of the majority of the
meeting. Mike evidently regarded himself as my backer — ^he was sitting on the platform beside me
and I think felt as pleased and interested as if the set-to had been physical instead of merely verbal.

"Afterwards I grew to know him well both while I was Governor and while I was President and
many a time he came on and boxed with me."

Below is a link for the full text "  Mike Donavan; the making of a man"


Modern day boxing halls are often described as having an electric atmosphere and yet this expression was well suited to a 19th
century saloon in the US owned by English born Boxing promoter, referee and all-round entrepreneur Harry Hill.

Harry was born in 1827 and left his native Liverpool, England aged 25 and immigrated to the US after meeting a wealthy Sugar magnate called George M. Woolsey at the Epsom Racecourse where Hill had frequented  and worked since boyhood. Gambling had always been a fascination to Harry but his biggest gamble came when he accepted his sugar daddy’s offer to look after his stables in New York.

Taking risks was something which Harry seemed to take in his stride and within 2 years of moving to the states he left the stables in Astoria and moved to New York City to buy and sell horses. Lady luck shone upon him and by 1854 he had saved up enough money to buy a general dealer store which he then was granted permission to be able to sell alcohol, this opened an opportunity for him to further expand by opening a salon and concert stage.

It was an old two storey wooden building where guests would pay a charge to enter, even though women could technically gain entry no woman with any worth ever did except the staff and women of ill repute. It catered for a variety of entertainment including singing, dancing, billiards and Prize fighting. A selling point was that the nightly entertainment could continue in electric light due to its installation by no other than Thomas Edison and he used this fact to gather publicity to the fights which were held there. Many notable fighters fought at Harry’s saloon including John Sullivan in his fight under the Queensbury gloves 2 round win over Steve Taylor and a list of some of the greats of the days of pugilism including Jem Mace, Mike Donavan, Herb Slade, Jack “Nonpareil Dempsey and also a host of wrestling bouts. Women’s boxing was also commonplace and helped Harry sell even more overpriced drink and none other than Nell Saunders and  Rose  Harland fougt.

Other notable regular visitors to the saloon and friends of Harry’s was the great wrestler and friend and trainer to the “Boston Strongboy” William Muldoon and the National Police Gazette founder Richard K. Fox who reported on many of the fights which took place. The Gazette was about the biggest sports paper and after falling out with John L Sullivan one night at the saloon Fox went looking for a fighting capable of defeating him and of course this resulted in Sullivan’s bout with Jake Kilrain.

Harry earned a vast fortune in the saloon and dance hall in the 32 years he owned it and was one of the main figures in regulating boxing bouts in the USA and evaded the authorities by announcing most of the fights as exhibitions and even though his emporium gained a lot of negative press due to the heavy drinking and prostitution he was eventually elected into the Bareknuckle Hall of Fame in 2010.


An image of Harry Hills saloon and dance hall which was situated on Houston Street, near Broadway.


Through his love of Gambling rather than having any real interest in Bareknuckle boxing Prince William Augustus, son of King George 2nd
helped the great Jack Broughton open an academy to teach the art of pugilism. 

Born in 1721 to George the 2nd he attained the title of the Duke of Cumberland and many other titles when he reached his 5th birthday. Williams mother died when he was just 16 and it was always her wish for favourite son to join the navy and become “Admiral of the fleet” however it didn’t appeal to the young prince and he soon left and set his sights on joining the Military and by the age of 21 attained the title of Major General. 

Jack Broughton had already become Bareknuckle Boxing Champion of
England and in 1740 he defeated George Stevenson in that fateful fight in which
Stevenson died shortly after, he also defeated Prince William in a fight with
the short sword and noting the skills Broughton processed the Prince helped
finance Broughton’s Academy and he even made Broughton a Royal

 Having already served in Syria the Prince stood side by side with his father the then King in the Battle of Dettigen against the French in 1743 and although he was wounded he returned home a hero and with it a promotion to Lieutenant General. As aroyal Bodyguard and a Yeomen of the Guards Broughton also travelled with the King and Prince and that very year Broughton’s Academy opened and the rules which were formulated were put into practice at the academy as well. With the
prince’s influential friends Broughton ended up with many rich and powerful students to teach them the manly art.

After pursuing a career in the military and quite an distinguished one at that the Prince would become known as “The butcher of Culloden” for his ruthless tactics in his quest for victory against the Scott’s in 1746. He led his men to the Scottish highlands killing all men, women and children he came across and showed no mercy at all.

In 1750 the Prince appealed for Broughton to come out of retirement and fight Jack Slack a butcher, the Prince thought that it was a way to earn money on side-bets and Broughton reluctantly agreed. As a firm favourite the Prince was believed to have wagered over £10,000 on a Broughton victory and no one believed Slack would have any chance at all. Broughton took control of the fight until he was hit with a punch straight to the nose which made his eyes swell and left him practically blinded. A writer at the time Pierce Egan reports that the Prince shouted,

“‘What are you about, Broughton? You can’t fight. You're beat”.
Broughton bravely replied: ‘I can’t see my man, your Highness. I am blind, but
not beat. Only let me be placed before my antagonist and he shall not gain the
day yet’.

Broughton had to retire from the fight and the prince lost his bet, Broughton’s academy was closed down, and although it is quoted in many articles that it was soon afterwards it’s believed it remained open for a few years afterwards before Broughton turned it into a successful furniture store. Regardless of his fall out with the Prince, Broughton still received his pension for being a Yeoman and was even buried in the West Cloister in Westminster Abbey next to his wife Elizabeth on his death in 1789 aged 86. It took till 1988 though that the words “Champion of England” was inscribed on his gravestone.

His old friend the Prince eventually left the military with his career in tatters and left most of his public offices and retired from public life and became a huge card player and gambler although he did help set up the Jockey Club and a famous horse called “Eclipse” was born at his Stud farm.When his father died in 1760 his Nephew became George the 3rd and the once fit and healthy prince became massively overweight due to his less than careful lifestyle and died on the 31st of October 1765 aged 44 of a suspected heart attack and was also buried at Westminster Abbey.



The Hatchett Inn situated in Bristol, England dates back to 1606, and during the
1800's it was at the centre of pugilism. The area produced many notable
Bareknuckefighters of the past including Jem Becher,Tom Cribb,John Gully, Henry
Pearce ...and Benjamin Brain and all these great fightersfought at the Hatchett at one timeor another as well as other pubs in Bristol.To honor their achievements a plaque was unveiled and named "The Bristol Boys" this was
performed by the former boxer Glenn Catley and in attendance at the opening
ceremony were many relatives of the geat fghters of the Regncy period......
The youtube clip below is of the unveiling ceremony itself


When Sullivan fought Charlie Mitchell he not only had to fight in drenched conditions and freezing temperatures but against a man he called " that bombastic sprinter".
The fight was held at the Baron de Rothschild's estate at Chantilly and the
fight was a fiasco. Mitchell ran the full fight avoiding anything that sullivan
accepted to land and even the lightest tap he recieved he went down.
In Mitch...ell's corner was his father in law ' Pony' Moore who
had bet every penny he owned on Charlie.

At the first fall, he cried out : " there goes my boy!"
 At the second fall, he screamed: " there goes my house!"
And when Mitchell went down the third time he howled," There goes my estate and everything!"

The ref called it a draw when both men were exhausted and purple with cold, even though both were standing for the 39th round the fight was over. Sullivan felt frustrated that he couldnt land a telling punch on Mitchell and to make matters worse he had to endure passing the night in the next cell to Mitchell when they were both arrested by Police WHO had been waiting behind bushes on the estate they had fought on.


Just as John l . Sullivan had the help from Muldoon to shed his excess weight in his build up to kirain fight, Tom Cribb was also helped in his return bout with Molineaux in which he lost over 30 lbs.The man responsible was Captain Barclay.
He allowed Cribb to train on his esate supervised by himself in Stonehaven which he had inherited at the age of 18 when his father died.
Barclay had amazing stanima and held many records of walking endurance including walking 1000 miles at the rate of 1 mile per hour for 1000 consecutive hours to win a wager of 1000 guineas.
He served in the Welsh fusiliers before getting involved as a Fancy
of the sport headed at the time by the Prince of Wales. The traning routine he put Cribb through certainly paid off as when he met Molineaux for the second time he won convincenly in 11 rounds and Barclay  in return made over £10,000 in side bets which is worth well over half a million pounds in todays money.


This Bareknuckle fighter died 95 years ago today in 1918, he hailed from Birmingham, England and as well as being a formiddable middleweight fighter in which he is regarded as one of the best he also moved up in weight and fought at heavyweight. Weighing in between 130-175lbs and being only 5ft 9 he didnt let his smaller frame from taking on anybody.

He is noted for offering his opponents out in street fights prior to any arranged bout and he loved to see his name in the tabloids and this was one of the main reasons why he was able to get big scale fights as he was a loud mouth challenger to many.

 He went on to fight the biggest baddass of them all John L.Sullivan
twice, in his first encounter he knocked John L down in the very first round
before police stopped the fight and the pair met up again in france 5 years
later in 1888 years and the  fight was declared a draw after over 2 hrs and 39 rounds of a hard and bloodfilled bout in the pouring rain and it was even
suggested as being as being for the world title. Prior to their second encounter he also fought Jim Corbett but was knocked out in the 3rd round in an alleged world championship fight.His fighting career spanned over 20 years which included many exhibition matches  like most of the fighters of the time and he even fought in a few wrestling bouts. He competed against some of the big names in the sport including, jake kilrain, jem mace,frank slavin and  jack burke among others..


Just as Gypsy Jem Mace, the former Bareknuckle boxer and one of the men who supported the wearing of gloves in later life had denied any Gypsy heritage to further his career as a fighter, so to avoid any discrimination, another boxer also denied his true roots for similar reasons.

Andy Bowen the lightweight boxer was born on May the 3rd 1867 in New Orleans, and although he was considered white by the authorities, his true bloodline is believed to have been that of Irish and Spanish. New Orleans had only come under American rule since Napoleon sold the Louisiana territories, which included New Orleans in 1803 to the Americans, and even though new Orleans was very multi-cultural, it would have been very difficult for anyone who wanted a career as a boxer to be anything other than white and Bowen was accepted by the well to do and New Orleans Athletic club because of this.

Bowen had worked as a blacksmith and various fruit picking jobs and was a decent all round sportsman, including baseball. He started boxing officially aged 20 and he remained unbeaten going into his 13th bout in 1890, although he lost by knockout to Jim Carol, in the 21st round he continued his career. By 1893 he had only lost one more fight, but this year would put Bowen on the map and in the record books in his fight he had with Jack Burke.

On the 6th of April 1893 Bowen and Burke met at the Olympic Club, New Orleans, and even though gloves were worn, each round lasted 3 minutes and was fought under the early Queensbury Rules, there was no set number of rounds and the fight would continue as long as it took for a winner to be declared, it was a fight of endurance, where the strong would prevail and the weak would fold.

It’s reported that up-to 9000 people had come to watch the fight, most of them supporting Bowen, their home town fighter and although the crowd yelled and called out for their man, it soon became quieter the longer the fight went on. It was common for fights of endurance, as this such fight was, to go on for a long time but no one had expected just how long they would be fighting for. As the fight went past the 30th round some people left, some fell asleep and to sum it up, one
 local paper, the New Orleans Daily Picayune announced, "ARE STILL FIGHTING." Even though the fight was lengthy it wasn’t a fight frenzy, it was not filled with lots of blood and gore, and as such when many of the crowd shouted for a draw, the local police, who did indeed call a halt to many endurance fights, if they thought it was too brutal, decided to let it go

Eventually after 110 rounds, lasting 7 hours and 19 minutes, both fighters refused to continue and although technically it was a no-contest, the referee, Professor John Duffy, and those organising the bout, decided the purse should be split between the pair of them, 50-50. Burke had broken both his hands landing punches on Bowens head. It goes down as the longest boxing bout in history, with gloves. It even eclipsed the bareknuckle bout of 6hrs 15 minutes, between James Kelly and Jack Smith, in 1856, Australia.

This however was not the last headline that Andy Bowen would make, and in December 1894 in his bout with Kid Lavigne, from Saginaw, Michigan, he made the front page news for all the wrong reasons.

The venue for this bout was the Auditorium Club, Louisiana, and again it was fought with gloves.The contest was fairly one sided in the favour of Lavigne and the supporters of Bowen felt something wasn’t quite right with his stamina when he was swinging his arms around as if to ease the tiredness, in the 18th round, Lavigne landed a huge punch which caught Bowen and he fell, hitting the floor hard, his head hitting the wooden boarded ring. Bowen was knocked unconscious and never
recovered, in the dressing room he  was apparently  waving his hands about as if to block punches. Lavigne and his seconds and timekeeper, consisting of Pugilist Jim Hall, Sam Fitzpatrick, Martin Murphy, and George Consadine, and also Referee John Duffy, were at once placed under arrest, with lavigne, charged with Murder, then bailed, and eventually, they were absolved of any wrong doing.


At a time when America offered dreams and aspirations to the
poor and impoverished, many left the shores of Ireland and sailed to the
promised land of opportunity. One notable Bareknuckle fighter who happened to find and live this dream, not without controversy though, was John Morrissey.

Originally from the small town Templemore, County Tipperary,
Ireland, John was born in 1831 and with his parents desperate to escape the
poverty and famine which was widespread throughout Ireland they emigrated to the U.S and settled in Troy, New York, when John was just 3 years old.

Life in Troy was not much different than the conditions in Ireland and before John reached the age of 13 he already had to go out and find
work, regardless what it was, to bring money into the household and helped to feed his 7 sisters. Trouble seemed to follow the youngster and the Irish blood in him got him into trouble with the local police through fighting and petty crime and after numerous labouring jobs the once small youngster developed into a powerful 6ft Teenager .His taste and reputation for violence spread and it wasn’t long before he was working as a collection agent for various crime lords in troy and thieving from cargo ships in the docklands area in which he became a renowned local brawler, what he lacked in finesse and grace in the fighting art he excelled in grit and determination.

It seemed that his parents dream of a better life had turned sour when John was convicted of burglary and assault with intent to kill, and was fortunate to only be sentenced to 2 months in Albany prison, and upon his release he moved to the centre of the action, at the time, New York City.  He decided upon New York City to visit a fighter called Charlie Duane who had rejected an offer to fight John, when he lived in Troy, as a barman. As soon as John got to New York he barged into the club where he thought Duane was and announced that he would “fight anyone in the house” similar to the great John L. Sullivan’s famous saying. John was attacked by many of the locals and beaten up, one of his attackers is believed
to have been William Poole, better known as “Bill the Butcher”, the owner of the club Isaiah Rynder, who was a gang leader and politician admired John’s tenacity and bravado and was reputed to have nursed his wounds and cared for him until he made a full recovery. The club was a resting place and meeting point for many of the city’s best brawlers and criminal underworld including the Bareknuckle champion of America Tom Hyer and it’s ironic that the building
was directly opposite city hall.

It was not long after while in New York that John earned his nickname which he would be known as, throughout his fighting career. “OLD SMOKE”. He had already become a renowned street-fighter and a man to be feared and when he fought a local gang member by the name of Tom McCann his reputation as the most feared man in New York was cemented. McCann was convinced that John had taken a liking to his Mistress Kate Ridgely, who he visited on several
occasions, and so the 2 men fought for the affections of  her. In the ensuing fight with McCann, John was knocked to the ground and fell against a lit stove, his back and clothing was burnt as he lay in the hot embers but rose like a Phoenix from the ashes and with smoke coming from his back he gave McCann a proper beating. Word spread quickly throughout the underworld and John’s name of “Old Smoke” stuck with him until his death.

Around this time many Americans got “Gold fever” and being a man of chance, John sailed for California with the intention of prospecting and striking it rich, but instead of backbreaking work looking for gold he set up various gambling dens and took the gold from the other prospectors in a game of cards called Faro, originally a French game of chance and the most popular card game in the 19th century. The Gold rush was responsible for the growth of many settlements as 1000,s flocked as they were bitten by the “Fever”, San Francisco for example had a population of 200 in 1846 and just six years Later it had grew to over 30,000 and by 1870 150,00.

While In California John had his first official Prize-fight against an the newly crowned Californian champion George Thompson, the fight went ahead on August 31st 1852 and although many reports suggest that John won by KO its alleged that Thompson was giving John a Boxing lesson, so John’s supporters threatened Thompson’s corner-men and he deliberately fouled John to purposely loose the fight, a small price to pay for his own life and that of his friends. John moved back to New York with plenty of  coin in his pocket and he wanted to fight the best around, and that man was the former American Champion Yankee Sullivan.

At first Sullivan snubbed John’s call out for a fight but he eventually decided to teach the kid a lesson, so it was arranged for October the 12th 1853. The experienced Sullivan who had only lost to Tom Hyer, a friend of William Poole’s was the underdog against John who had no boxing ring craft but had lots of heart and courage and age on his side, Sullivan was nearly 40 at this time. The venue was in Boston Corners, which was on the edge of 3 states making it difficult for lawmen to put a halt to the fight, it also meant that many of John’s supporters from Troy would be present. The fight itself would have been a disappointment for anyone going who wanted to see a classic fight, Sullivan was in complete control and when it looked like John was going to be stopped in the 37th round Sullivan momentarily dropped his guard, John rushed him, pinned him against the ropes and proceeded to choke him, one of Sullivan’s supporters entered the ring and knocked John down, although this rule of choking wasn’t deemed an illegal move then, someone interfering in the fight was. While John was still on the ground, Sullivan hit him, which was another foul move. All chaos then ensued and the ref struggled to gain control after the ring was invaded with men fighting. The ref awarded to win to John when Sullivan, who was too caught up in other disputes, failed to come to scratch in the allotted time. John was now the Champion of America and he used
this prestigious title to further his business endeavours, in and out of the ring.

As an Irish immigrant and now a national celebrity he became interested in the local politics in New York, with his notoriety as a man not to be intimidated he was employed to protect the ballot boxes during the local Tammany elections. This is where he ran into his rival and opponent to the Irish, William Poole, also known as Bill the Butcher. John had employed the roughest men he could find to let the votes be cast as fair as possible and the show of force stopped interference by Poole. A fight between Poole and John was only as matter of time and although John was beaten up it is uncertain as whether it was at the hands of Poole in a fair fight or John was jumped on by Poole’s henchmen. The New York Times printed a story to say that John had indeed lost to Poole on July 28th 1854 but regardless of this result
  for his success in protecting the ballot boxes, John was given permission to open gambling houses in New York.

William Poole was shot by one of John’s gang members, Lew Baker in the heart the year after and survived for nearly 2 weeks before succumbing to the bullet, with Tom Hyer and a room full of Native Americans sitting at his bedside Poole said with his dying breath “Good bye boys: I die a true American!” The funeral procession was huge with thousands in attendance and John had even arranged for people to throw rocks from the rooftops at the mourners. All of those believed to been involved in Poole’s murder were took to court, including John, but all were eventually acquitted after 3

After a brief retirement from the ring John fought John C  Heenan , who was also from Troy and coincidently his family had also emigrated from the same town as John, in Ireland, both their fathers are believed to have been friends. The fight took place on the 20th of October 1858 in Ontario, Canada, in-front of around 2000 spectators. Although Heenan had a reputation as a strong and fearsome fighter this was his first recognised fight and entered the ring with a reputed injury. Writers described John as “a magnificent animal” and “one of the most splendid specimens of human development we have witnessed.” And the training which John put in against the 200 lb, 6ft 3 Heenan, paid dividends.

It was a bitterly fought contest in which Heenan started off well, hitting John with sickening  shots, Johns conditioning and natural stamina paid off and one writer stated “Heenan would have knocked out any man in the United States — except Morrissey.” but as the rounds went on he grew tired and weak.

The following is taken from the New York Herald and gives an account  of the 11th and final round.

“Heenan came up staggering, and looked pitiful, the fight being
entirely out of him from Morrissey's severe hitting in the latter part of the
fight. He was hardly able to stand up, and when Morrissey went up to him his
guard went down, and Morrissey hit him a very severe blow on the jugular, which
knocked him out of time, and he fell on his face, Morrissey step-
ping away from him. And thus ended the fight for the championship of America Morrissey, at
the end of the fight, jumped over the ropes and walked to the house, while
Heenan did not re-cover his consciousness for half an hour after the fight was
over.Morrissey says this is his last fight, and it is to be hoped he will keep his word”

John walked away with $5,000 in side bets and he retired from prize-fighting after refusing a rematch which in turn let Heenan claim the crown. It was printed in the National Police Gazette that john refused the rematch due to injuries he received from the terrific sledgehammer blows in their first fight and told Heenan to go to the UK and fight Tom Sayers for the Championship of the world.

With his retirement from the ring in 1859 John turned his attention to his two other interests, Politics and Gambling and by 1861 he had opened a gaming house in Saratoga with the funds he had earned as a fighter and the money from his other gambling joints. Within 2 years he had set up a trotting track where he had race meeting with thoroughbred horses, it was such a success that he decided to expand, and after getting some backing and purchasing over 100 acres of land he built the Saratoga Race Course which opened to the public in 1864. Not being a man to sit back and be content with what he had, he built one of the most prestigious gambling houses in Saratoga’s Congress Park in 1870 where the rich and famous gathered in one part of the club house and the normal gambling men and women on the ground floor. The
Saratoga racecourse is still open to this day and its considered the oldest sporting venue in the US. It was also used in the film “Diamonds are forever” one of the classic James Bond films.

Considering the time and investment he had put into his gaming houses he still found time to run for congress with the backing of his friends at Tammany hall, furthermore after standing down as a member of congress after getting some of his old crooked friends sentenced to prison he reached his heights in the political world by winning election to state senate twice in 1875 and again in 1877.

The man who had came from such humble beginnings found fame and fortune, and everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, he had lived the American dream but after contracting pneumonia he sadly passed away on May 1st 1878, aged 47. All of the state senate attended his funeral where it’s estimated that between 15 and 20,000 people paid their respects on the streets. He was buried in St Peter’s Cemetery in Troy, New York.


The events in the Bareknuckle sporting calendar for the year 1777 include a Prize-fight between Harry Sellers and Joe Hood for £50 at one of the leading racecourse at the time, Ascot Heath Races, for the championship of
England, in which Sellers won the title, but for many that year will be best
remembered for the birth of Henry Pearce on May the 7th.

Born at a time when the bigger and more organised Prize-fighting
contests were held in more rural locations, away from possible constabulary
 interference, the English Racecourse became somewhat of a safe haven for
 events, it more or less guaranteed spectators, and the very men who were
 involved in the races, became backers and organisers for the sport of Pugilism.
 He was just one of the many men born in Bristol that emerged as a fighter which includes Jem Belcher, John gully and Tom Cribb, and its locality for arranged fights was only bettered by the capital itself, London.

Henry Pearce is better known as “The Game Chicken”, and the origin of this comes from the fact that he used to sign any papers or documents with the word Hen, also the fancy and fans in general likened his brave fighting style to that of a game cockerel. It may have also been that at only 5ft 9 and weighing in around 170lbs he often fought much heavier men and in consequence he had to have a hard hitting and aggressive style to his fighting. It  has to be remembered that during his days as a fighter, gambling went part and parcel with prize-fighting, at the various racecourses which staged the events
and other lesser venues, cock fighting and other forms of animal fighting was one of the attractions in these brutal and often barbaric times.

Very little is known about his childhood apart from that his father used to travel around the local pubs in Bristol arranging fights between young Hen and other boys in the area and we can only assume that it was to obviously wager money on, whether this contributed to his future style one can only hazard to guess. He soon became big news in Bristol and gained a
reputation, and eventually another fighter by the name of Jem Belcher recognised his fighting abilities and arranged for him to move to London in 1803, Henry was then aged 26. London was the mecca of the fighting world at the time and it
wasn’t long before Belcher had arranged Henry’s first recognised  Prize-fight against fellow fighter Jack Fearby, in which Henry won in 10 rounds, lasting 30 minutes. His win was much to the liking of his supporters and the general talk
was that a great fighter had been unearthed and due to the fact that Belcher had retired that very year due to an eye injury, he believed Henry should be recognised as champion. As a relative newcomer to the sport, many other fighters questioned Belchers opinion at Henry claiming the title, and one such fighter by the name of Joe Berks wanted a crack at the upstart. It was arranged to be fought in a ring and in the space of 20 minutes Henry defeated him and had the rightful claim as the English Champion. His Championship recognition was furthermore accepted when Henry defeated Berks again in 1804 and although at the time he would never have believed it, the year ahead,1805 was to be his last year as a fighter.

After successfully defending his English title against Elias spray and Tom Carte, both of which he defeated in 35 minutes, he arranged an exhibition fight in Debtors Prison against John Gully, a fellow Bristol fighter and I believe this is the first time a fight had been allowed in prison grounds. At the age of 21 due to debts accrued in a failed butchery business, Gully was imprisoned, very few people in debtors prison ever received help from the outside, but after a terrific exhibition with Henry a benefactor named fletcher Reid paid of all his debts and in the same year as his release the two fighters would be fighting for real, outside of the prison grounds.

The fight was due to take place in July 1805 and it was originally due to have not only Henry v Gully but also two other fights, but after it was found out that Bailiffs were on their way it became chaos and eventually on that day only one fight took place, Tom Cribb was one of the fighters taking part and he went on to lose his first ever fight that day against George Nicholls, both from Bristol, just like Henry. Gully and Henry’s fight was rescheduled and eventually took place on October, in the small village of Hailsahm in Sussex. Due to Gully being quite successful and holding his own in his exhibition with Henry, there was much anticipation for what was to come. Both fighters were set for a hard battle and this was also Gully’s first ever organised prize-fight. There was no reason to believe that there would be any interference and was not likely to be stopped by the authorities due to the likes of many affluent and noble spectators being present, including the Duke of

The fight itself was a hard fought one, although for most of the 64 rounds, lasting over 70 minutes, Henry was in control, but he did have to endure fighting with a badly damaged eye for the last 40 odd rounds. Gully was eventually worn down and in the end he couldn’t continue. Henry had successfully defended his title yet again, but Gully had shown great courage and his time to be champion himself would come.

Henry’s next fight was against Jem belcher, Jem had come out of retirement and it’s believed he resented the popularity of his old friend. Belcher hadn’t fought for 2 years and also had to fight with sight in only one eye, due to an injury he received when a racquetball hit him in the eye and surgeons had no choice but to remove it.  Although with his inactivity and having only one eye it didn’t bother Belcher one bit, he was after all related to great fighters from the past including Jack Slack and James Figg, fighting was in his blood, and he knew nothing else.

In December 1805 the two once friends met and the hard hitting aggressive Henry overpowered Belcher in 18 rounds, when the one eyed former champion couldn’t fight on. Pierce Egan, one of the first sports writers gave an account of the fight, and this extract is his description of how the fight ended.

stood up; but it was only to display his exhausted state, as his left-arm was
entirely useless, and he could not move it from his side; and Jem now, for the
first time in his life, declared he could fight no longer! The Chicken, elated
with the sound of victory, and particularly from the hitherto invincible
Belcher, to shew his activity, leaped in and out of the ring, and by throwing a
summerset. Then he went over to shake hands with the prostrate Belcher. But he
said nothing about the eye.”

Henry had to retire from fighting as reigning champion after the encounter with Belcher due to his declining health and died aged just 32 in his hometown of Bristol. His constant drinking and party life after his retirement spiralled out of control and he became a shadow of his former self. Despite this, two incidents which made the news showed that the once brave fighter never lost that courage, he so often showed, outside of the ring. The first report was of him saving a trapped woman from a house fire and also an encounter he had with 3 men who were attacking a woman, in which he intervened and beat the three men up, gave Belcher great reports and  admiration.

The final fight of his life came in the form of Tuberculosis and this was one battle he didn’t win and passed away on the 30th of April 1809.


Born in picturesque beach side suburb of Muizenberg in Cape
Town, South Africa on the 25th of May 1957 Coenie lived not too far
from the idealic sandy beaches of his hometown. It was an area with a reputation for a great community of white sharks and water-sports were an attraction for many of the locals and tourists in which it is now regarded as the birthplace of surfing in South Africa.

Perhaps looking back, leaving this safe environment contributed
to a harder lifestyle for Coenie, and paved the way for his talent in boxing.
After moving with his parents and 7 sisters to a rough council neighbourhood he soon got involved in a fight, this taste for fighting would end up being his career and lifelong passion. Street gangs were rife in his new surroundings and it wasn’t long before the Naïve 12 year old who wasn’t streetwise encountered one of the local gang members called Mickson McCloghan within a few days of moving there. Coenie had never been in a street fight before and his only taste of fighting had been on the Judo Mat, so when McCloghan, who had learnt to Box started pushing Coenie about a fight ensued. Although being capable at Judo and
 instinctively throwing Mccloghan to the ground he let him back up and he felt the brunt of a couple of stiff jabs which made his nose bleed, Coenie’s mother had seen what had happened and intervened in the fight and gave him a bigger hiding when they got home.

His first taste of fighting that day may have been the litmus paper that encouraged him to join a local boxing club after being suggested by a local lad Dassy Lockert, who had knocked on Coenie’s door asking him if he was interested to learn to box at the Wynberg Sport club. Unbeknown to his mother as he would never have allowed it, Coenie went boxing training twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday and after adapting to it well he had his first amateur bout just over 3 months later aged 13. After telling his mother he was going to Scouts, Coenie went to Wynberg Town Hall where he was to make his debut as an Amateur, he faced an opponent named Colin Blaine and over a five year period the two were to face
other 7 times. Their first encounter resulted in a clash of heads in the first round and although the bout wasn’t stopped and Coenie went on to win, it did leave him with a swelling the size of an apple. On arriving home after his first win his step-father guessed he had been boxing by the state of his face and when he found out Coenie had not only won but had brought home a trophy he woke his mum who wasn’t happy that her son had been fighting and throughout Coenie’s
career she only attended one of his fights. His continued rivalry with Colin Blaine over the 5 years ended with 6 wins to Coenie and one loss, it was this loss and the first that Coenie had tasted that served him well for his future career.

Even though he narrowly lost on points in his second and return bout Coenie’s trainer told him that he must know how to lose to appreciate winning, and never to be a bad looser, and  Coenie told me,

"I have lived like this knowing that I did my best, even if i lost, I gave my best”.

In a long and impressive amateur career Coenie  had 87 bouts suffering only 6 defeats, he won many titles in this time which included the Western Province Title as a Junior and Senior and also the South African Coastal Title at Junior level and Senior. Coenie also boxed in the army in which he did his obligatory National Service and won many fights while
serving as well as representing the then OFS Province, (Orange Free State, prior to 1994). After completing his National service Coenie reached the decision to turn Professional as he felt he had achieved all he could as an amateur, he moved to the heart of the Pro game in Durban, which is over 1600km from his first boxing gym as an Amateur in Cape Town. The move from Amateur to Pro changed for Coenie in regards to the training and preparation for contests,as an Amateur, twice a week training at night was sufficient but that all changed. Coenie was now training 5 days a week, which included a morning 5-10km run and gym work and sparring on an evening, he also had to be more careful regarding his eating habits to make weight on fight night and then intense training 6 weeks before each bout, with a wind down 1 week before, mostly
concentrating on speed-work and keeping a check on his weight.

The skill of the trainer is to make sure you reach your peak on fight night, not to over exercise and Coenie had quite a few trainers in his Pro career which included some good and bad. His first trainer was a Scotsman called Johnny Hogg who had been a Booth fighter, others included an Indian trainer called Chin Governer and also another UK trainer named Barry Skilton. He was also trained by a man who although had never fought himself he knew how to train and teach and he was called Lucky Campanes.

Coenie’s first pro fight  resulted in a loss over 4 rounds to Louis Fourie, yet many felt that Coenie had won the fight, including the newspapers against the unbeaten pro with a record of 12-0, and this gave him the drive to continue as well as taking on board what he had learnt from his old Amateur coach about losing with dignity and learning from any loss. His pro career lasted from 1976 to 1985 and finished with a record of 40 fights with 25 wins, 2 draws and 13 losses. Although Coenie lost a challenge for the South African welterweight title over 12 rounds on points in 1980 his greatest win was
just 2 years later culminating in him winning the vacant South African Light-Middleweight Title by knockout in the 8th round against the experienced Morris Mohloai. Coenie decided to retire in 1986 after he felt his heart wasn’t
in it anymore, many fighters go way beyond when they should be fighting and it seems that the time was right, yeah he missed the training as he had been in and out of gyms since the age 12, the pats on the back after a win and the fame that
went with being a pro he missed but he didn’t want to become a human punch-bag

 " I knew that my time had come” he told me.

This could have been the end of what would have been a successful career for Coenie as both an amateur and a pro, yet more fighting was to come, after all it was what he knew and had trained in for many years so after a layoff he returned to the ring after training in Kickboxing and at the age of 40, in 1997, he won the South African K1 championships.

 It was around this time that his first trainer, the Scotsman, Johnny Hogg suggested to Coenie to make some extra cash on the side. Johnny was a gambling man through and through and whether it was to line his own pockets or Coenies the suggestion of fighting Bare-knuckles was talked about. It meant earning over 10 times the current rate for a 4 round gloved contest and the winnings would be split 70/30 so it was a big temptation. There were no weight limits in these underground contests and a round ended when there was a knockdown, reminiscent of days gone by. Obviously the fights took place away from anywhere open so Coenie’s first proper Bareknuckle bout was staged at the Trust bank underground parking area in Cape Town. All the cars were parked on the bottom floor and the fights were contested on the top floor with just a few selected crowd and of course the bookmakers. Johnny took Coenie to one of the bookmakers who asked if he could fight and when he  replied “yes” he got the ring man match him up with an opponent, whom he never met or knew nothing about. 

Johnny told Coenie he had put a bet on him to win and the next moment he was called to the middle of the crowd, there were no ropes, just chairs to form a basic ring and when he saw his opponent who looked like a bodybuilder, around 200kg and around 6ft 8 who had a face like he’d been hit by a baton he wondered what he was doing there with all these dubious looking characters. Coenie was dressed in boxing clothing and Boots while this giant of a man had normal trainers and short trousers on, when they shook hands prior to fighting, Coenies hands looked like a Childs compared to his opponent and then the order was given TO FIGHT, in which below is Coenies description of what happened next.

“Johnny told me to move and box, well I went out to meet this fighter in the middle of the so called ring and he rushed at me,  i moved and hit him with speed and hurt my left hand against his head. He threw
punchers but was to slow to hit me and then i smelled that he had been drinking alcohol and i hit him with a right cross on his mouth and smash my fist into his teeth but split his lip and his tooth came through the lip and he just rushed at me. I counter punched him till he went down and they called time, he went to his corner and me to my corner,  I had some water and my fists were both hurting with my left hand swollen and my right hand bleeding from the tooth. well we started to fight again but I could see that my opponent was not fit and was swinging wild and slow and was breathing hard so i hit him a few rights to the body and the next thing he went down and threw up and that was the end of the fight”.

Coenie had 3 more bareknuckle bouts that year winning them all by KO but he always suffered hand problems which is the most common injury for anyone fighting without the protection of gloves, especially when hitting the head and he still has teeth marks on his hands from the fights he had. Although it was a ruling that all fighters shook hands before and after, in reality it wasn’t always followed, other rules were that there was no wrestling allowed and after a knockdown a fighter went to hi corner, where they could have a drink before resuming the fight. Some of the fighters were fuelled with alcohol
beforehand and they shouldn’t have been fighting really and often the winner had to search to find the bookie to receive his wages. Coenie went on to tell me

“My few fights in bare knuckle boxing was a bit of a joke as most of the chaps that I fought against were just from the street who could maybe have given me a hiding in a street fight but not in a ring. They could not hold or kick you and although there were a few of these fighters that put some boxers down and out
they had to do that in the first round because they were not fit as most of these fighters never train for these fights and the boxing guys did have training. Boxing in a ring with a ref and Bare knuckle fight not the same, it was like a school fight ,as soon as the fighter got hurt the crowd would shout “coward” and then he just tried to survive and he knew that he could walk around and say he drew with so and so
but the truth he was a chicken shit. I had such a fight that lasted 60 min and all the fighters did was to grab and hold untill the crowd called it  time out and a draw and that was also my last fight in bare knuckle Boxing. Johnny asked me many times to fight but I  just could not fight with another fighter who would call you names but then run or hold most of the time and try and poke your eyes out But the crowd did enjoy this type of fighting and there were a few times the crowd would get involved with the fight but that is another story The control and rules did not always work out and sometimes the fight did get out of

Coenie believes that a trained boxer should be able to adapt to bareknuckle boxing quite easily and that you must be dedicated and have a heart and never be afraid to put all in. Boxing has control and good rules whereas bareknuckle boxing in South Africa in against the law and all that type of fighting is done underground. He belongs to the East Rand Vet Boxing Association (ERVBA) on the East Rand and still trains, runs and hits the punch bag and does weights. Even though he hasn’t ever thought how he would have competed against fighters from a different time period he told me he would have liked to have seen how he would have done against fighters in his own time such as Robert Duran ,Sugar Ray Leonard and Gert Steyn and although he enjoyed his days as a boxer and would do it all over again, given the chance he would have moved to Gauteng and Willie Toweel’s Gym and 
I would have stayed away from women and booze not good for a fighter and family” he told



Everyone loves an underdog, and this fighter could well be classed as the original Rocky, he was plucked from relative obscurity and given the chance to fight for the World Title.

Born in 1851 in New Zealand, Herbert Slade known as “The Maori” is an interesting character in the fight game to say the least. Although he was around 6ft 2 and weighed around 200lbs he never had any true
credentials to warrant a fight for the Heavyweight championship of the world, yet he would face the “baddest” man on the planet, who could lick any son of a bitch, in the shape of John L. Sullivan, on the 6th of August

Slade, the son of an Irish father and native New-Zealander Mother, became
somewhat of a celebrity, not just in his native lad but even in the USA, and
the former Butcher and farm worker was advertised nationally as the man to de-throne the Champ.

Many boxers became eligible to fight for titles at the time by proving themselves against lesser opponents, to work their way up the pecking order, but because of the huge animosity between Richard Fox, of the Police Gazette, and Sullivan, he was put straight into the fight on the recommendation of one of the most respected fighters of his day, Jem Mace. Fox was so desperate to find an opponent  to fight Sullivan, that when Mace suggested he may have found a worthy challenger, the fight was made and perhaps the biggest publicity campaign ever
seen in the USA was set in motion.

Mace had met Slade when he toured New-Zealand and although Slade never had any boxing experience except for an amateur competition he entered, which he lost, he was a decent wrestler and renowned athletic all-rounder. With Slade being a big strong man, Mace guessed he could teach him the finer points in boxing and the pair engaged in many
exhibition contests. When the pair arrived in the USA the papers were covered in headline stories of “The Giant” Slade. The efficient Fox knew how to create hype and when it was known that Fox him-self had wagered $5,000 of his own money on a Slade win, the public believed this could be a great fight in the making. Everywhere that Mace and Slade went the crowds and media followed, they were desperate to see this Brown skinned “Wildman” from a far distant land.
Considering the racism tension at the time, Fox’s promotional skills were exemplary and even the New York Times got in the act describing Slade as “a veritable mountain of flesh.”

It’s believed that even prisoners on death row were allowed a stay of execution until the outcome ofthe fight had been decided. It also has to be remembered that Slade was the first Non-white fighter ever to compete for a World Title and this alone created as much hype as anything else.

On the day of the fight which took place in New York, at Madison Square Gardens, which had only been open for a few years, the place was packed to the rafters, as many as 10,000 was believed to have entered, with thousands more waiting outside in torrid conditions due to the weather.

The fight itself was an anti-climax considering the enormous anticipation, Slade who was 32 at the time was severely outclassed and after being put down in the first and second round the end came in the third. He was game enough but was too slow and clumsy, this was his first competitive boxing fight so he was well out of his depth, but his gameness
impressed Sullivan enough that he arranged him to travel the states engaging in exhibitions on his tour, in which he fought Sullivan on numerous occasions. As well as the many exhibitions bouts he competed in he did have some other real
fights in-between, although he never won any of them he did achieve a draw with the great Charlie Mitchell 2 months after his unsuccessful attempt at being World champion. His last fight was a loss against Charles Lange on the 11th of august 1891, aged 40 and had a total fight record of 0-1-6. He sadly passed away aged 69 in Utah, where he settled after his fighting days was over.

Slade was inducted into the Māori Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 amidst many criticisms due to his lack of ability compared to the other athletes honoured, yet many believe due to him fighting for the title with being mixed race he deserves the recognition and the award.


Owen was born on the 21st of December 1768 in Portsmouth Common, a barren wasteland on the South Coast, it changed its name to Portsea, which it is known by today in later years. Press gangs were in operation during this time and the Admiralty often gave orders for many men to be collected from the surrounding areas while Tom was growing up, alas very little is known about  his childhood. When he was 7 he would have surely witnessed Captain Cook arriving back in Portsmouth on-board HMS Endeavour after his circumnavigation trip but what is known is that he served his trade as not only a noted pugilist but also a Publican and Oilman, and this is where he got the mantle “The Fighting Oilman”.

His first named opponent although its date remains a mystery was Bill Savage, in which Tom beat him in an hour. Although no records of him receiving any formal training in the fistic arts exist upto this point, we can only assume he acquired his fighting skills by the many fights which would have taken place outside all the Inns and taverns and docklands of neighbouring Portsmouth, whereas the bigger organised fights at the time were all in Bristol and London He was regarded as a strong and skilful fighter often described as a scientific, meaning he didn’t just brawl but used distance and varying punches, while regarding his own defence. During all his bouts the 5ft 8 fighter never weighed more than 170LBS.

At the age of 28 he did indeed travel to the epicentre of the fighting world, London, but initially it was to continue his trade as an oilman. The job entailed carrying kegs of oil around the streets for delivery and on one occasion he was nearly run over by a horse and cart, and when the driver got out he hit Owen, this was to be a big mistake as Owen gave him a good beating. It was by chance that the fight was witnessed by a man in the know and he introduced Owen to “Gemtleman” John Jackson who had just retired from the prize-ring himself after beating Mendoza and had just opened a school to teach the gentry the noble art. Owen was now in the position of being able to be matched and receive money for his fighting and subsequent instruction in the art of fighting.

His next fight with William Hooper aka “The Tinman”, who hailed from Bristol was for the Championship of England as Hooper had beaten William Wood , a Coachman, who he himself claimed the title after the death of Benjamin Brain. On November the 14th 1796 Owen and Hooper fought in Harrow, London for the championship and the fitness fanatic Owen won in just over an hour, lasting 50 rounds, even though many other fighters of the day rebuked his status as champion, including a fighter he would meet in later years, Daniel Mendoza. Owen and Hooper were to fight again a little over months later and Owen won again, although it is not known how long the fight lasted. He was soon to lose his claim on the title when he fought Jack Bartholomew the same year when he was defeated in 30 minutes, lasting 26 rounds.

1799 was Owens next fight at the racecourse in Enfield and he took on a fighter called Housa the Jew, and like many Jews of the time he fought to escape the poverty they often lived in. It’s unclear if Owen lost to the better man or the layoff he had had affected him, but Housa won in convincing style in 42 minutes after Owen failed to come to scratch and resulted in the second defeat for Owen in a row. He regained his winning ways 3 months later in Deptford, London when he fought Jack Davis who weighed in at  around 14 stone, and he won in an hour. The following year in 1800 Owen returned near
to his hometown and fought a renowned and feared fighter by the name of “Fighting Tar” a sailor weighing around 16 stone, in Portsmouth, this was a win for Owen in 50 minutes and he then decided to retire from the sport, he was aged

In 1805 Owen was charged with causing a riot and conspiracy on Putney common when he seconded a fight between Joe Berks and Hen Pearce, he was sentenced to 3 months in prison in Horsemonger- Lane. 

Despite being retired for 20 years from fighting he decided to toe the line once more, his opponent would be no other than a man who had disputed his right to be called champion all those years ago, Daniel Mendoza, who himself had not fought in 14 years. Banstead Downs in Surrey was the venue for this bout between the two men in their 50’s, Owen was 52 and Mendoza was even older at 56. Owen won in 12 rounds lasting 15 minutes but they shouldn’t have been fighting that day and the purse money was way less than he had received over 20 years previous, as I can’t imagine any backer putting up lots of cash for this particular bout.

After his final victory against the aged Mendoza he became a publican like many fighters before and after him. He passed away in 1843 aged 74 and although he was a well-respected fighter he is also credited with his alleged design of one of the most used pieces of exercise equipment today, the dumb-bell.

A verse below appears in Pierce Egan’s Boxiana

“For knowledge of life, and rigs of the town
Tom Owen’s the lad that always is down!
He’s awake in the fancy, alive in the ring-
And merriest of chaunts he’s ready to sing;
As a good second, Tom’s entitled to fame,
He’ll win if he can, and stands up for the game!





Four years prior to Napoleon being defeated at the Battle of
Waterloo a man was born who is regarded as one of the strongest and most fearsome bareknuckle fighters there was. He was described by bells life magazine which suited him perfectly.

“As quick as a cat and as deadly as a rattlesnake”

Born in Nottingham on the 11th of October 1811 Bendigo as he was to be known as was the youngest of 21 children, he was raised at a time of great social unrest, and conditions for many were dire. The luddites were a group of Artisans that demonstrated against the introduction of mechanical loom that put them out of work, this led to many having to go to the workhouses to just survive. Factories were burnt and destroyed in retribution and the factory owners had to resort to getting protection of the Army and many of the luddites and its supporters were executed or transported at a mass trial in 1812 at York.
Perhaps because of the poverty that existed in Nottingham and other industrial areas a man name William Booth ended up founding the Salvation Army. Bendigo was only fifteen when he and his mother had to go into the workhouse after his
father died and fortunately it wasn’t for long, he made a promise to his mother that things would change and that she would never have to return to the squalid conditions.

As well as having a reputation as a fighter Thompson was a natural athlete, he was a keen runner, gymnast, cricketer and he was able to throw half a brick across the river Trent with his left arm. As a fighter he  fought as a southpaw, leading with his left and when he started fighting for money at around 18 years old he baffled and confused his opponents. As he was
only 5ft 9 and less than 165 lbs he relied on his speed and agility as well as a fearsome punch to outwit a lot of men who he fought being much heavier and taller. His style of fighting earned him the nickname “OL BENDY” due to his
bobbing and weaving when fighting, his nickname also made him known as Bendigo.

His had his first fight at the age of 18 and after around a dozen fights he was up against a local fighter and champion of Bingham, it lasted 59 rounds and Bendigo won in front of thousands of his fans who recognised his abilities as a fighter and performer. He was also one of the first fighters to use mind games during his fights and the crowds loved it, he
would taunt and tease his opponents just like Ali used to do and he often performed summersaults while fighting akin to Prince Naseem.

During this time Bendigo’s fights were often fought in barns and woods in Nottingham  ( See above) photo) and well away from the police and built up areas and in spite of problems with lack of transport as many as 10,000 used to turn up and watch him fight. At the age of 24 Bendigo was an unbeaten fighter, the rich supporters and backers of many of the fights that took place called the Fancy loved his antics as he drew huge crowds although there was often trouble at the fights as his band of followers known as “The Nottingham Lambs” used to try and influence the outcome at many of Bendigo’s fights.

July 21st 1835 in Nottingham is remembered for Bendigos first fight with Ben Caunt who hailed from Hucknall, Giving away more than 40 lbs and 6 inches in height many believed Caunt would be just too strong and powerful for the much shorter man. At the start of the fight Caunts strength told as he manhandled Bendigo and used a cross buttock throw to fell his opponent and in turn fell across his stomach. Bendigo continued to taunt and ridicule Caunt up to  a point that he rushed over to Bendigo and hit him while he was seated in the corner. Caunt was disqualified in the 22nd round. Many felt that Bendigo himself should have been disqualified as he used the 30 second rule to his advantage as did many fighters and dislike between the pair grew over the years until they met again 3 years later.

Prior to their much awaited rematch Bendigo fought some hard and long battles in which he won each one. First came John Leachman, Charlie Langham of Newcastle and William Looney of Liverpool.

On the 3rd of April 1838 the rematch was set and with the bitterness that had built up over the years the tension between them grew and with it the prize money, this had gone up from £25 in 1835 to £300 just 3 years later. Underhand tactics dictated the fight and Bendigo trained long and hard while Caunt entered the fight unprepared. What happened during the fight would make any of Mike Tyson’s fights look tame in comparison especially when Caunt had Bendigo trapped against the rope with his hands around his neck. The ropes were cut by Bendigo’s fans when he turned blue and the fight was stopped as the crowds fought one another. The fight went ahead after things settled down and the fight continued upto the 75th round when Bendigo went down without a punch landing and the ref stopped the fight. Considering what had happened it was a brave decision and when the call was made the crowd went wild and attacked Caunt, luckily he managed to escape on a stolen horse and this perhaps saved his life from the mob.

Bendigos next fight was a much easier one when he outclassed James Burke in 30 minutes, after head butting Bendigo as he was not being able to handle the speed and power of the punches coming at him the ref disqualified Burke. The fight took place at No Mans Heath in Leicestershire in front of 15,000 spectators. On his return to Nottingham he was mobbed and being the show off and crowd pleaser he was he attempted a summersault and broke his knee cap and in doing so he couldn’t fight for nearly 2 years. Once he returned to the ring he continued his winning ways until once again a fight was set against his arch enemy Ben Caunt.

The third and final instalment of their fights took place on the 9th of September 1845 and just like their other 2 bouts it was filled with fouls and dirty tactics,  it wasn’t until the 96th round lasting 2hrs and 10 minutes that Bendigo won when Caunt went down without a punch being thrown. It could have been a great point to retire but he took up the challenge from Tom Paddock on June the 5th 1850. Bendigo was 39 now and was fighting a fitter and younger man, Once again controversy came into effect when Paddock kicked Bendigo after getting frustrated over his going down tactics, the ref called a foul and luckily in just over an hour Bendigo won his final fight.

Upon retirement from the prize-ring he briefly trained fighters but soon fell foul to the demon drink after not being a one to mix so well with the more gentlemanly characters at Oxford University where he taught. His fondness of the drink had got him into lots of scrapes and scurmishes which led to him being imprisoned many times, yet ironically his life would be turned around while serving one such sentence. His interest in god developed in prison and after his release he eventually toured the county giving his powerful sermons, even though being illiterate meant he was never able to read the bible.
His change in lifestyle also included him giving up the drink to which he had been so dependant on.

After a fall down the stairs of his small cottage in Beeston, to which he had escaped from the madness which has surrounded him he punctured a lung and he sadly passed away aged 69 on the 23rd of August 1880. He was buried in St Mary's Cemetery, off St Ann's Well Road, Nottingham on his monument of a lion reads.

"In life always brave, Fighting like a Lion; In Death like a Lamb, Tranquil in Zion".