I wanted to start this new series by looking at boxing pre and post the introduction of Queensbury Rules, at this time boxing changed dramatically as it went from an underground event run by bookies and gangsters to a more respectable and legitimate sport run by bookies and gangsters, well in the early years at least. From the early 1700’s boxing was solely a bare knuckle event and at this time it captured the imagination of the general public as the men fought until one of them could no longer carry on and in the early days it was more like the UFC than the boxing we know today as you were allowed to grapple, throw, choke as well as throwing normal punches, also at this time there was no weight classes so any fighter could face any size of man.
Over time the bare knuckle boxing organisers started to add in different rules that moved the sport closer to the sport we know and love today. The first person to add rules was Jack Broughton from England in 1743, Broughtons rules were amended in 1838 into the London Prize ring rules and then changed again in 1885 into the Marquees of Queensbury Rules and this seen the introduction of boxing gloves.
In the late 1880’s after the introduction of the Queensbury rules Boxing events were held in the United Kingdom with fighters from all over the world but mostly British and Irish men, and these men normally started out fighting at boxing booths, which were a fairground attraction that date back to the start of the 1700’s and went on in Britain right up until the 1970’s. The general public would be asked if there was anyone who could fight and if no one volunteered there would be a ’plant’ hidden in the crowd and they would have a staged fight or ‘gee’ fight as it was called. Once a person was picked to fight the booth fighter, they were given a pair of gloves and if the challenger lasted three rounds they would win a small monetary prize then rest of the public would pay to come in and watch the fight.
The same could be said in America,boxing really took off before the turn of the century and from that the first world champion was crowned and he happened to be an American by the name of John L Sullivan and he was also the first fighter to earn over a million dollars, we also seen the first women’s fights in the late 1880’s and at the turn of the century the first African American world champion was seen as Baltimore’s Joe Gans defeated Eddie Connolly for the Lightweight Championship Title in 1902.
At this time we seen the shift from Britain to American in regards to dominating the sport and fighters from America were the main fighters to beat, there was one man who had superstar quality and stood head and shoulders above all other competition and that was Jack Johnson. He once fought 47 rounds to win a contest and he became the World Coloured Heavyweight Champion in 1903 which he held for six years until he vacated it so he could fight Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia on Boxing Day 1908 for the World Heavyweight Title. Johnson won the world title convincingly by knocking out Burns in two rounds, this was then the start of the lead up to his biggest fight to date and it was christened the fight of the century and it took two years for it to take place.
The Fight of the century happened on 4th July 1910 and it came in the shape of the Flamboyant Jack Johnson against the public named “Great White Hope” Jim Jefferies who the fans had called out for once Johnson won the title, so he brought himself out of retirement especially for this fight.
Due to the heavy racial discrimination in America at the time off the fight Johnson was deemed a threat to all white people so the film of the fight was not shown in most of the States in America.
22,000 fans turned up to see the scheduled forty five round fight on a warm day in Reno, Nevada, USA. Jim Jefferies refused to give Johnson a title shot when he was the World Heavyweight champion as at that time Whites dominated the sport and he probably felt Johnson was not worthy of a shot at his title.
Johnson was a self-educated man in and outside of the ring and he was self-taught in regards to his boxing skills but he appeared to have a natural build and talent which was perfect for heavyweight boxing and to this day some people still feel he was the greatest boxer of all time. Jefferies was more reserved than Johnson and lived / worked on his own farm before coming out of retirement for the fight. The fight was to go fifteen rounds before Jefferies was knocked down twice and his corner threw in the towel as their man was being totally outclassed by the better fighter in Johnson.
I have attached highlights from the fight that day, remember this was a time when there was no audio on film and it had to be added separately after the fight had finished.
Next time I will look at the period of 1910 to 1920: