I've read that before boxing was legalized, fights were staged on barges in the harbor. One fight I recall lasted 106 rounds, without gloves! There
was no round limit or 3 knockdown rule, fighters fought until was either knocked out or couldn't continue (TKO). Below is some intersting historical
facts about that period:
While fighting of various kinds was common on the American frontier, boxing was uncommon. The first two American boxers, both blacks, made their names
The first was Bill Richmond of Staten Island, who became a servant of Lord Percy, the general who commanded the British forces occupying New York
during the Revolution. In a number of matches against British soldiers, Richmond was unbeaten and Percy took him to England in 1777.
Known as the "Black Terror," Richmond knocked out his first English opponent in just 25 seconds. Not much is known of his career from then until 1805,
when the 41-year-old Richmond was knocked out by British champion Tom Cribb. Richmond continued fighting occasionally until he was 52 and he never
Tom Molineaux (or Molyneaux) was a slave on a Virginia plantation who may have won his freedom because of his fighting skill. He went to England in
1809 and won two bouts before losing to Cribb in 1810. In a savage rematch a year later, Molineaux suffered a broken jaw in the 10th round and was
knocked out in the 11th.
Richmond and Molineaux were little noted in their native country, however. The first known bout in the U. S. in which Jack Broughton's rules were more
or less followed was a match between Jacob Hyer and Tom Beasley in 1816. Hyer won and claimed the American championship.
Nothing came of that, and Hyer never fought again. But his son, Tom, beat "Country McCloskey" (George McChester) in a widely-publicized fight on
September 9, 1841, and was accepted as the American heavyweight champion.
Boxing had been banned in most English cities and towns by the middle of the 19th
century, so a number of English fighters came to America, seeking competition.
The best of them was Yankee Sullivan, who opened a saloon in New York in 1841 and defeated most of the best American fighters over the next several
Tom Hyer, billed as "the Great American Hope," came to the rescue. His $20,000 match against Sullivan in Rock Point, Maryland, on February 7, 1849,
drew widespread interest. When Hyer won in 16 rounds, the news was wired to New York newspapers. It was the first sports story sent over the
As boxing gained popularity, it also attracted opposition. A number of states banned prize fighting and others enforced existing bans that had been
ignored. For decades, major fights took place in semi-secrecy, often near state lines so that participants and spectators could escape across the
border if law officers showed up.
America's first genuine championship fight took place May 30, 1880, at Collier Station, West Virginia, near the Pennsylvania and Ohio borders. Joe
Goss, widely considered the English champion, faced challenger Paddy Ryan, a native of Ireland. They fought for nearly an hour and a half before Ryan
knocked out Goss in the 87th round.
Ryan was challenged almost almost immediately by John L. Sullivan of Boston, but he managed to avoid Sullivan until February 7, 1882. Their fight was
originally scheduled for New Orleans, but was moved at the last minute to Mississippi City, Mississippi, because Louisiana authorities threatened
Sullivan won on a 9th-round knockout that took less than 11 minutes. He spent the next five years making money off the championship without putting it
touring the country and fighting exhibitions, for the most part. His 6-round victory over Dominick McCaffrey in 1885 went almost unnoticed, but it
gave Sullivan his second title, as world heavyweight champion under the Marquis of Queensberry rules.
Meanwhile, Jake Kilrain was being pushed as a contender by Richard Kyle Fox, publisher of the National Police Gazette. Early in 1887, Fox declared
that Kilrain was the real champion and presented him with a diamond-studded championship belt.
Sullivan's supporters immediately raised the money to buy an even more impressive belt for their champion. Sullivan's first real title defense took
place in Chantilly, France, on March 10, 1888. The challenger was England's Charley Mitchell, who weighed only about 160 pounds to Sullivan's 210. But
the champion barely escaped with a draw, raising doubts about his ability and his physical condition.
In 1889, Sullivan finally accepted Kilrain's challenge. For the first time, newspapers carried extensive pre-fight coverage, reporting on the
fighters' training and speculating on where the bout would take place. The center of activity was New
Orleans, but the governor of Louisiana had forbidden the fight.
On July 7, an estimated 3,000 spectators boarded special trains for the secret location, which turned out to be Richburg, Mississippi. The fight began
at 10:30 the
following morning, and it looked as if Sullivan was going to lose, especially after he threw up during the 44th round.
But the champion got his second wind after that and Kilrain's manager finally threw in the towel after the 75th round. Sullivan's victory made him a
true national hero.
Again, he focused on making as much money as possible outside of the ring. He spent all of 1890 touring in a stage production, Honest Hearts and
Willing Hands, then went to Australia to fight a series of exhibitions.
When he returned to America late in 1891, he offered to fight any challenger under the Marquis of Queensberry rules for a purse of $25,000 and side
bets of $10,000. James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett accepted the offer.