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Boxing Career

Jem Mace was born in Beeston, Norfolk. Although nicknamed 'The Gypsy' he denied Romani ethnicity in his autobiography. A middleweight, he succeeded in out boxing heavier opponents thanks to his dancing style, clever defensive tactics and powerful, accurate punching. After an apprenticeship in the boxing booth of Nat Langham, he made his debut in 1857 and, in 1861, he won the title of Champion of England by defeating Sam Hurst at Medway Island, Kent. He successfully defended it in 1862 against Tom King, but was defeated by King later that year. King then retired. In 1866 Mace was once again recognised as a Champion following his crushing defeat of Joe Goss at Purfleet, Essex.

Bare-knuckle boxing was an outlaw sport and, as such, its exponents were always liable for arrest and prosecution. In 1867 Mace was arrested on the night before his scheduled title defense against Ned O'Baldwin. He was bound over in court not to fight again. In 1869 he relocated to the USA where prizefighting was still flourishing. He toured with the celebrated American boxer John C Heenan giving exhibitions of glove boxing. In 1870 he defeated Tom Allen at Kenner, Louisiana, near New Orleans] in a contest effectively for the Championship of the World. He defended his title twice against another American, Joe Coburn, in 1871. On both occasions Mace secured a draw.

Following an attempt on his life in Mississippi, he returned to England. In 1876, he was back in America, this time as a glove boxer and, in a historic early clash under Queensberry Rules, he defeated Bill Davis at Virginia City, Nevada. From 1877 to 1882 Mace lived in Australia where his long series of exhibitions paved the way for the worldwide acceptance of glove boxing. With the help of his protege, Larry Foley, he schooled a generation of Australian boxers, notably the Caribbean-born Peter Jackson.

In 1882 he toured New Zealand where he discovered future World Heavyweight Champion Bob Fitzsimmons. In 1883 he was back in the USA as manager of the New Zealander Herbert Slade, who, however, failed to benefit from his tuition.

In 1890, at the age of fifty-eight, he fought the Birmingham fighter Charlie Mitchell, a man half his age who had fought a draw against the World Champion John L. Sullivan only two years earlier. Mitchell was unable to knock Mace out.

In 1896, returning to New York to fight against Mike Donovan he was acclaimed by World Heavyweight Champion Jim Corbett as the man to whom we owe the changes that have elevated the sport. Mace continued as a purely exhibition boxer and his last recorded entry into the ring was in 1909 when he was 78 years of age.

Mace was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jem Mace is widely recognised as the' Father of Modern Boxing'.

 

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