‘Bare Fists’ takes a look at the forgotten world of bare-knuckle prize-fighting, from the heyday of pugilism in the 18th century, to its extinction at the end of the 19th, and its re-emergence this century in the form of illegal underground bouts.
James Figg, the notorious prize-fighter, swordsman and bear-baiter, was the first man to help establish fist-fighting as the preferred sport of the masses, who had previously been entertained by such delights as women versus dwarfs and animals fighting in a burning barrel.
From the age of Figg, until the late 19th century, prize-fighting was the dominant sport of the landed classes. All the chief combatants were backed by the rich aristocracy and a succession of kings from George I were keen followers of the sport and often to be found at ringside.
The author charts the progress of the so-called Championship of England and, interspersed with social observation and biographical detail, he paints a vivid picture of the society in which this sport thrived. The reader is introduced to a variety of fighters including Jack Broughton, Jack Slack, Daniel Mendoza, Jim Belcher, Tom Cribb and Tom Sayers. Their hard drinking and prodigous fight achievements almost beggar belief, but they usually took their toll. Most succumbed to an early grave.
The sport all but came to an end with the introduction of the Queensberry Rules in 1867, but that was not the end of the story. Fist-fighting continued underground as an illegal practice, and still does, although it is unrecognisable from its noble heritage.
In the final part of the book, laments the decline of bare-knuckle fighting from the late 19th century. The modern-day version is a sickening and brutal world – the sort inhabited by Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw – where kicking, stamping and illegal weapons are more prevalent than the fist.
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“...a marvellous little book. Mee has created a gem”
The Sunday Times
“...a splendid tale of brutality... a fascinating account”
'There is plenty of blood. It will be pouring from a fighter's ears and probably from his groin where he has been bitten by his opponent. He will have soaked his hands in vinegar but his fists will end ip shredded to ribbons… There are no official rounds; instead, the loser is the one who's injuries are so bad he can no longer stand up…'
The critically acclaimed 'Bare Fists' is an in-depth look at the astonishing world of bare-knuckle prize-fighting, which flourished in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It's a strange sub-culture, which has continued almost unnoticed in the shadow the high-profile, structured world of professional gloved boxing.
In its heyday the Prize Ring was a weird, unique and significant sporting activity which, as gloved boxing does now, produced some extraordinary characters whose contests where big enough to empty Parliament for a day and draw huge crowds to barren pieces of land in the middle of the countryside. On one occasion unsuspecting villagers were so alarmed by the arrival of 'The Fancy' for a championship fight they thought the French had invaded!
Jem Belcher, Henry Pearce, John Gully and Tom Cribb, the celebrated quartet of pugilists who dominated the great era between the turn of the 19th century and the Battle of Waterloo were among the most popular sportsmen England has ever produced. For example, when Belcher defended the championship in 1800 and estimated 20,000 guineas was laid in bets.
'Bare Fists' chronicles the championship of England, blending historical anecdote, biographical detail and social analysis, and the result is a powerful rediscovery of a strange, forgotten world.
The later part of the book deals with the degeneration of the sport as the Victorian moral code shifted popular thinking and forced boxing to adapt in order to survive as a major sport. It also looks at the emergence of the sport in the United States, and it popularisation under the legendary John L. Sullivan in the 1880s.
'Bare Fists' also examines the change in bare-knuckle fighting's image and the arrival of 'underground' fighters like the late Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw in the 1970s, the phenomenon of Ultimate Fighting, as well of the effect of Brad Pitt's film 'Fight Club' which lent it a fashionable tag as the century closed.
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Book Description HarperCollinsWillow, 2000. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0002189666