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Champion of The World
May 10th, 1870
The Great Champion Prize Fight for $5000.
The men - The match - The preparations - On to the battlefield - The fight.
Some 12 miles from the great city of New Orleans, close to the edge of the mighty Mississippi river, stands a fitting memorial to Jem Mace, England's first world heavyweight champion and the last of the great bare-fist fighters, who was born in the village of Beeston, Norfolk, on April 8th, 1831. This life size bronze statue of Mace and Tom Allen is on the spot at LaSalle's Landing, in what is now the City of Kenner, where the first Heavyweight Championship prize fight ever held in the United States took place on May 10th, 1870.
Both contestants for the championship were Englishmen; not so unusual at a time when American boxing was dominated and largely run by English and Irish fighters who visited and settled in North America to prosper from the riches of this dynamic country. Jem Mace, the champion of England, despite being nearly forty years old, was still as remarkable for health and youthful appearance as he was for strength and boxing skills, in which he had few if any equals. His weight was 165 pounds; he stood about 5 feet 9 inches in his shoes, as erect as a guardsman and as graceful as a dancing-master.
Mace had mainly retired from the Ring and was now devoting himself to show business, not only giving exhibitions himself but at one time owning and running a travelling circus. It was with a view of giving exhibitions of living statuary - a popular form of entertainment at that time - that he came to America early in 1870. He had no intention of fighting but the American sportsmen had heard too much of the champion's prowess and, being both exacting and cunning, they were not to be put off without a fight and they soon inveigled the good-natured Jem into an involvement with Allen.
Life size bronze statue of Mace and Tom Allen is on the spot at LaSalle's Landing, in what is now the City of Kenner.
He had begun his career at the age of 18 when he joined Nat Langham's boxing troup which toured the English country fairs. Langham, a fine boxer himself, recognised Mace's abilities and schooled him in what was to be the finest 'scientific' boxing technique of his times. His victories achieved in the roped arena make one of the proudest records in Fistiana (the classic chronicle of the ring.) The conqueror of Bill Thorpe, Posh Price, Bob Travers and Bob Brettle. He went on the win the English Championship from Sam Hurst (The Staleybridge Infant) in 1861. He acknowledged only two defeats, the laurels of which he afterwards retrieved.
Tom Allen, the Champion of America, was in the comparative bloom of youthful manhood, having been born at Birmingham, England, in 1841. He looked as strong as a Bashan Bull, weighing 170 pounds and standing about five feet and nine and a half inches. His sturdy figure would have made a sculptor's model for Hercules.
Allen's career did not compare with his opponent's in length or importance, but it was an excellent one. Before he came to America he had won the English Middleweight Championship in 1865 with a victory over Posh Price, In America he had scored triumphs over Bingey Rose, George Isles, Charley Gallagher and Bill Davis, from whom he won the American Championship. Allen was justly regarded by the match-makers as the only promising man then in the American ring capable of contesting the honors of the spicy Mace and consequently, once on, the match did not lack the necessary backers.
There was the added attraction that with a Champion of England drawn against the Champion of America the fight automatically became a world Championship contest. The match was legally firmed with...
ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT
entered into between Thomas Allen and James Mace by which the said Thomas Allen and the said James Mace mutually agree to fight a fair stand-up fight according to the New Rules of the Prize Ring. And they each do mutually agree to be bound that the fight shall take place on the 10th day of May A.D. 1870, and within fifty (50) miles of New Orleans, State of Louisiana, the men to be in the ring between the hours of 7 o'clock A.M. and 12 o'clock noon; the man failing to be in the ring to forfeit all claim to the battle money up.
The fight shall be for the sum of $2500 a side and the championship of America. The sum of $500 a side is now placed in the hands of Frank Queen, who shall appoint the final stakeholder if he will not act himself. The second deposit of $1000 a side shall be made at the Clipper (newspaper) office on Tuesday, March 22nd, 1870, and the third and final deposit of $1000 a side shall be made on April 22nd, 1870.
In pursuance of the foregoing article, we hereunto place our names. Either party failing to make good the deposits at the time and place above mentioned to forfeit the moneys deposited.
New York, Jan. 17, 1870
Witnesses - Wm. Carrol, Fred'k Abrahams. John C. Heenan, Chas. M. Colom.
In New Orleans the championship attracted much local attention and visitors came from all over the country. There was an air of carnival in the city, press rumours and announcements appeared every day including the following advertisement in the pages of The New Orleans Times:
John C. Heenan, a friend of Mace and a former and most popular American champion, was in the city to help promote the fight and to officiate in the match itself.
Besides all the shenanigans, there was also a more sober section of local society that was less euphoric. A wag in the local press suggested that there had always been "such a healthful atmosphere of revolvers and bowie knives about this locality as tended strongly to mark it as a rather unpleasant point for the display of pugilistic science. The sharp click of the pistol lock or the flashing sheen of the naked steel are not in comfortable acccord with the delicate nerves of the devotees of the manly art.
"The sudden erruption into our city of a population of men in which the animal predominates over the intellectual has been the consequence. These new comers can all readily be distinguished from old habitues by their broad shoulders, round heads, huge moustaches and flashy watch-chains."
Four O'clock in the Morning.
The day of the championship was greeted with a heavy grey morning, chilly and damp, with dull grey clouds scattered here and there. Not withstanding the early hour, there was great activity in the vicinity of the Jackson Street Railroad depot and Calliope Street was crowded with vehicles. A large crowd gathered at the depot as early as 4 o'clock, and both the reception rooms and platforms of the depot were filled with representatives from nearly every profession and calling, among whom were many prominent merchants, lawyers, physicians, ex-officers of both enemies from the grade of general down and well known sporting men from all parts of the country. The Peep O'Day boys of the local press were seen rehearsing themselves in the special and colourful vernacular of the prize ring so that they might expertly advise their readers all about this great day when New Orleans became the fistic capital of the world.
Prominent merchants jostled eminent physicians, heavy capitalists pushed their way among flashily-dressed 'sports', the Chicago Base Ball Club were present and, here and there, distinguished attorneys debated the rules and customs of the P.R. with all the glibness of the most accomplished votary of the Fistiana. Theatrical managers, saloon keepers, men about town, cotton brokers, sporting men and roughs mingled in indiscriminate disorder, many apparently endeavoring to hide themselves in the grey twilight and dubiously pondering the propriety of this sudden fondness for the sports of the ring. Ideas of comfort were manifest by the various packages born by the excursionists; nearly all carried baskets or satchels, some parties struggled under packages of wine and provisions sufficient for a three weeks' siege. Others brought portable camp-stools while one individual sufficed with a huge duster, an umbrella and a bottle of whisky. Expecting the worst, a squad of about seventy Metropolitan policemen were placed in position at the rear end of the depot, but their services were only required when parties without tickets later were put off the train, causing a delay of some twenty minutes.
On to the Battlefield.
About 5 o'clock a move was made in the direction of the cars, which were standing outside the depot in the railroad yard and the eleven coaches of the special train were speedily surrounded by throngs of anxious travellers. Some clambered through the windows and many were the jests of those fortunate in securing seats at the expense of their less lucky friends, but in the course of a very few minutes all, or nearly all, found comfortable places.
The start was without incident and by 5.25 a.m. all were fairly under way. En-route the merits of the two contestants were eagerly discussed, a thousand rumours concerning each were at once put into circulation and the scene of the mill, which was still to be revealed to the crowds, was placed at every point on the road from Amite to Carrollton Crossing. The superlative comfort to each and all, however, lay in the feeling that the rowdyism and shootings, which so often were the features of excursions of this character, did not occur; every one was more or less acquainted, and a large section of the crowd consisted of people of the highest standing and respectability.
On reaching a point about five miles and a half distant from the city the train stopped and in an instant the cars were emptied, but all were ordered back on board as the spot was inside Metropolitan Police district, where there was a city bylaw prohibiting prize fights. They finally came to a halt at Sheppard's Cross Road, just past Kennerville and some twelve or thirteen miles from the city, where the train disgorged its excited throng. There was some time lost in selecting a favorable site for the ring, which was finally pitched back of Kenner's old sugarhouse, about a hundred yards from the Mississippi.
The scene must have been unlike anything the two contestants had experienced before and worlds away from the staging of championships in our times. It was best described in the words of a local reporter...
"Typical of the entire river coast, the scene opened on broad, level fields, deeply furrowed from last year's plowing, and marked with deeply-cut draining ditches filled with early undergrowth - on one side a dense swamp choked with bushes, water-flags and, doubtless, countless serpents; on the other, perhaps a mile through the fields, the Mississippi lay hidden from view by the long line of green levee. At right angles with the track ran a narrow yellow road, ditched on either side. Gazing along it one could see far off in the distance the white washed cabins of negro laborers, the great brick sugarhouse with its massive chimneys and in the distance, almost hidden in a grove of clustering live oaks, the residence of the Kenner plantation.
"To the right, twenty or thirty dusky women, under the direction of an aged darkey, were hard at work with their hoes, and plantation carts driving hither and thither over enclosed plantation roads showed that cultivation was far from being interfered with. The main road was soon lined with the crowd of six or seven hundred and in the cool morning air, (it was then a few minutes after six o'clock) the march began. Passing the little village of cabins, and over a small bayou, the crowd reached a rising piece of closely shaven lawn surrounding the sugar house - the site for the battle.
"For a few minutes nearly all gave themselves up to rest and recreation. Lunches were devoured with a gusto which nothing better than the morning air and healthful exercise could bring, and many a bottle of Haut Sauterne and claret was enjoyed with compliments from parched and thirsty lips.This activity captured the attention of the plantation labourers and as their initial astonishment passed they saw opportunities of turning an honest penny or two developing. A realization of the greater comfort and convenience of seats suddenly broke among the assembled excursionists and manouverings for this desideratum were conducted with the greatest spirit and finesse. The locals ransacked their dwellings to supply the demand and the rare prize of a rocking chair was disposed of readily at a handsome figure. Luxuries such as this were scarce and the scale passed rapidly through cane bottoms, painted wooden hickories, backless wrecks and finally, by degrees, to stools, benches, packing cases, and even kegs and empty orange boxes.
The crowd to the centre was far from idle. A table for high dice speedily cropped out as if from nothing, and numbers of enthusiastic moralists found the fullest opportunity of trying their luck. Three card monte also took a firm hold, and one peripatetic game, conducted on a barrellhead, was borne from place to place on the woolly cranium of a dusky assistant. In the meantime the fortunate possessors of chairs clustered boldly around the ring, which was being pitched on the green lawn and soon it was completely circled by the seated throng. An outer ring was then pitched and the circle so increased as to make the centre visible to all."
The Ring was the same, as far as ropes and stakes were concerned, as that which had previously done duty in Allen's fights with McCoole, Davis and Gallagher, being brought all the way from St. Louis in order to facilitate operations. About an hour and a half was consumed in driving the stakes and completing the ring, once concluded, affairs progressed without any further trouble or delay. As if by general and preconcerted consent, Rufus Hunt, Esq., a well known sporting man in New Orleans was immediately agreed upon as referee and he called the crowd to silence. Like an ancient Herald, he informed the assembly that New Orleans had been selected as the scene of this contest because it was considered to be the only place where a fair fight could be had, and that he hoped the confidence of the champions would not prove to have been misplaced. He himself was determined that it should be a square stand-up fight. Heenan, the local favourite who was acting as umpire for Mace, also made a few remarks saying, "both combatants are Englishmen. Let them fight on their merits and the best man win." - a sentiment which was loudly applauded.
It was now near about half-past eight o'clock and the men were sent for. Allen was the first to respond and, shying his castor into the Ring, immediately followed it; Mace's cap came swinging over the ropes a few moments later and with it the smiling Jem leapt nimbly into the ring, Both were greeted with encouraging cheers. They were clad in ordinary top clothing, wearing their fighting gear beneath. Two chairs had been provided for their accommodation, something of an innovation upon the strict rules of the P.R. Then came the toss which, being won by Mace, forced Allen into the sunny corner. The men were soon stripped and booted for battle. Some objection was made to Allen's spikes, but a file removed that little difficulty. Just before the fight and after the preparations had all been completed, Mace stepped across to Allen and offered to bet $500 on the result, an offer which was declined with thanks. It was twenty-three minutes to 9 o'clock when time was called for the first round. The sun beat down warmly upon the men as they stepped to the scratch, went through the preliminary hand shaking and elevated their piston rods for the fray. At first sight it was evident that Mace had the advantage in condition, his flesh ruddy and hard, while that of his antagonist looked rather white and flabby for the severe work before him. Nevertheless, Tom looked confident and determined to carry off the coveted honors. A second glance at the good humored and grinning Mace might have foretold some of the difficulties he was about to encounter, but he too smiled and grinned, and grunted and smiled - and that was all. After the usual interchange of courtesies, the champions again smiled sweetly on each other; a casual observer might have thought that they were about to embrace with loving tenderness, instead of harboring and developing the dire intent of smashing each other into a jelly.
Bets were freely offered around the ring of a hundred to seventy on Mace, but no reply was elicited. The men placed themselves in position, that of Mace appearing somewhat casual but, to the practiced eye, looked the very perfection of gladitorial strength and science. His guard, in the accepted sense, could hardly be called a guard at all as he clasped his hands, fondled his arms, stroked his thighs and skipped around generally in a boyish sort of manner. Cunning was his fence and he played it well. Allen looked like a scion of the house of Anak, heavy and firm, his broad shoulders and sinewy limbs giving indication of giant power. Yet the confident grin that rippled over the good humored frontispiece of Jem seemed to convince nearly all observers thatTom's goose was cooked even before being stuffed and spitted.
The game opened with two or three minutes of cautious sparring, neither being inclined to let out. Then Mace got in a stinger on Allen's left eye, which flushed at the insult. Jem nimbly jumped away from a wicked counter to the mid-rib, then danced back laughing and countered catching Allen with a rather heavy hit on his nose. Jem' s claim for first blood was not allowed. After further exchanges both clinched and fell, Allen under. Both men walked to their corner. Time: 5'30"
opened with the same cautious sparring, eyes fastened on eyes. After several feints and dodges, Mace planted a bulb under Allen's right orb, neatly escaping return. Seeming to realize the magnitude of the work before him, Allen played entirely for Jem's stomach, and rather too low down at that. Sharp and rapid sparring followed during which Mace again succeeded in visiting Allen's head lights, one of which showed symptoms of going out, but he caught a heavy return in the ribs from Tom. Both men again trod the ring for over a minute in the old wary and cunning style, both occasionally laughing at and joking with the other in undertones. Accidentally, Allen trod upon the foot of Mace, one of his shoe-spikes piercing the latter's foot and drawing blood, Allen found time to apologize in the handsomest manner, no easy thing in the P.R., and he was properly rewarded with a round of applause. Suddenly they got to work again, a sharp exchange of body blows, Mace went for Allen's nose with a call for claret - and it came, (first blood for Mace). Now the sparring was rapid, Mace catching a few heavy digs in the ribs and a rattle in the left jaw but, in return for the last, he shot his left into Allen's right lantern with such awful force that Tom groaned in agony and sank to the ground totally bewildered; for the first time he was carried to his corner, Mace walking back smiling. Time, eight minutes.
More cautious sparring and feinting, both men still inviting attack. Allen made an ugly attempt to catch Jem on the left ear, but the old master ducked, and Tom's pulverizer glanced harmlessly off Jem's neck. Attempting a sharp retort, Mace slipped and stretched his iron frame on mother earth.
Men promptly to time. A drippling streamlet of ruby tapped fromTom's left eye picturesquely meandering down his cheek. More elaborate sparring and feinting until Mace deftly shot out his left and planted another stinger on Allen's left eye which opened up another red sea on Tom's headland.
Allen now came to the scratch looking desperate; he seemed to realize that some serious work had to be done to stem the tide of battle setting in against him. After more cautious sparring, Allen, in ducking to a left to his neck, caused Mace to slip to grass - cries of "foul" - not allowed. In a moment both the champions were fronting each other in apparent brotherly style when Tom caught a heavy return to the head from Mace, who now rushed in for the embrace, got the underhold, and threw Allen heavily, falling on him in doing so.
$100 to $16 was now offered on Mace, without a response. Both men made a few passes, all neatly stopped, and rushed to the hug, Mace getting an arm hold on Allen's head. For a moment the struggle was desperate, when the latter, with a gigantic effort, threw Mace and fell on him heavily amid enthusiastic applause. Claims of a foul were not allowed. Both parties were helped to corner by their groomsmen.
Allen came up with both his observatories in a bad way; the right was closed for repairs and the left gradually shutting off daylight. Mace's face was clear and bright, although he glowered occasionally as though Tom had damaged his bellows. The same cautious sparring, close eying and quick dodging, opened this round as with its predecessors. Finally Mace saw his opening, landed heavily on Tom's breast-plate, took his return to the ribs without a flinch and sent another smack on Tom's fluid valve, which made him go for Jem with a wild rush. Mace dodged, clinched and both down.
Mace danced up as lively as a burlesquer. Tom, exhibiting a dangerous determination to interfere with Jem's cutler's shop, then got in two disconcerting pile drivers to the old'un's provision depot. But Mace was awake and responded with three heavy blows to the head. Both then clinched, and after a few seconds of harmless jibing and very clever wrestling, Tom succeeded in inducing Jem so see how green the grass grew - a light fall, at which Mace only smiled.
Mace came up fresh and apparently without a scratch; Allen on the other hand presented a very battered appearance. It was plainly evident that, although Mace's equal in pluck and possibly in endurance, he lacked the skills of the English champion. Mace, with everything going his own way, planted one or two light taps on Allen's face and walked around him - like a sculptor selecting places to chip.. After some of this play, Mace dashed out another of his ugly throat blows which Allen stopped, catching the champion under his right ear and sending him clear off his corn-plates (first knock down for Allen) amid uproarious applause.
ROUND TEN - AND LAST.
Both men apparently fresh and much more determined. Hard fighting was looked for, and hard fighting was had. Allen cleverly followed up Mace, parried Jem's gashing upper-cuts and gave such evidence of metal and pluck that his friends took heart and applauded him. Jem sent a ripping shot which Tom neatly threw aside, and countering got Mace with a heavy right hander a little over the belt. Both men then drew off and walked round the ring closely eyeing each other. Allen quipped, "Hard work Jem." which led to a further spell of hard fighting with Jem polishing Tom's spectacle frame, and deftly dodging the ponderous blows which now flew thick and fast from Tom's right and left arms. Both again played shy of each other and gradually backed towards their respective corners where, by mutual consent, a hasty drink and little sponging was administered to both by their seconds. The fighting in the round showed clearly that Mace's game was to shut off Allen's head-lights, and a plentiful stream of red ink issuing from a gaping cut nearly an inch long under Tom's left lantern and coursing rapidly down his face, neck, shoulder and breast, gave conclusive proof that Jem was in earnest in his dire intent.
After this little refreshment the men again toed the scratch - more wary sparring and some pretty hitting given and taken. Tom got in another on Jem's air-chamber, and Allen received a stinger in return on the right reflector. A very rapid and desperate exchange of blows took place, during which Mace smartly and sharply slipped in and, getting Allen's neck in his terrible grasp, he cross-buttocked and threw him with fearful violence, heels over head, on to the ground, falling on top of him. Allen lay for some minutes stretched out at full length on the ground in intense pain, after which he was carried off to his corner. Seeing that any further effort on his part was impossible, his second threw in the sponge saying that Allen's arm was dislocated. Mace, still fresh and smiling, advanced good naturedly to Allen's corner and, clapping him on the back, said: "Tom, you are a game man and I wish you well."
After the Fight.
Mace bore his honors lightly and, beyond a little discoloration of the forehead, showed no marks of punishment. He was of course overwhelmed with congratulations, all of which he gratefully acknowledged, and spoke in the highest terms of his discomfitted combatant. Allen speedily recovered from his fatigue and on the return train appeared to suffer only from his arm. His face was cut and much discolored, but to this he did not seem to attach too much importance. Mace's scientific boxing skills had completely outclassed his opponent's and the fight was to be remembered as one of the finest seen in America under the old prize ring rules. To the crowd, this had been a battle of giants, creditable to both victor and vanquished, but there was also no question but that in forty-four minutes the veteran had hit his antagonist to pieces.
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