Saturday, 19 September 2009


PRIZEFIGHTING was like the MMA of olden days. It wasnt exactly boxing or wrestling and it didnt exactly have rules but GOD DAMN you would see some people SERIOUSLY MESSED UP.

Its early origins (in Britain) as a big crowd sort of events were as a (hazily legal) sideshow event at travelling fairs and the like, where local champions would be challenged by anyone in the crowd game to give it a go. There wasnt a lot of money in it and it was a pride thing. The rules would change place to place and how much you could get away depended a lot on who the referees allegiance was too and who the crowd was going for (they werent going to tell the local champion he is disqualified when his fans were liable to STORM THE RING for that.)

One of its early characters was a man called Bill Richmond. Bill was a black slave (born 1829) from New York. A place called Cuckold's town, oddly enough. I can only assume it was a place where the women were just slags. Anyway, Bill was the slave of some local bigwig. He met the Duke Of Northumberland who was staying at the masters gaffe, did his best to be plucky and lovable and ended up being taken with the Duke back to England for a better life.

At the time there was a status symbol thing around the aristos for having a black servant, of the American type. Anyway young Bill ends up in Yorkshire, working for the Duke and gets the chance to be schooled and becomes an apprentice cabinet maker. Which was an actual decent job back then, not a really lame skill like it sounds.

Now, the story goes Bill was attending a prizefight (which was like the "going to the pub" of the 19th century) and got cajoled and insulted by the current champ and decided to throw down. Now Bill wasnt a massive guy, but he found he had a natural knack for this Boxing lark. Despite facing a much bigger opponent, he had an Ali vs Liston moment and realised if you can dance around an opponent so clumsy he cant get a punch on you, you dont need to be. Feeling the thrill we all feel beating the living crap out of a guy Bills thoughts went along the line of "FUCK CABINETS, im going to be CHAMPION OF BOXING DUDES HEADS IN" and we can all empathise with that.

Seriously, fuck Cabinets.

"Floats like a butterfly, sting like a bee, his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see." - Richmond may have said this.

So Bill embarked on his boxing career to some massive success. Styled as the "Black Terror" (no, really) he outboxed people left and right, but you have to realise there wasnt any real money in prize fighting. You fought for a small purse, the only real cash was in getting a "sponsor" if you will, a patron, who would arrange your fights for you. So in the early days of smashing dudes up Bill was risking a lot for nothing, if he damaged his hands the delicate trade he was trained in would be impossible for him and he'd be pretty much doomed to starve. Which wasnt a pleasant thing. And still isnt, I guess. Dont starve. So he must have really loved smashing dudes up.

Bill had the full Rocky story, though, he got himself a patron. A drunken, slumming aristo took a liking to him and Bill enjoyed the high life of London. Mixing in high circles and fighting for decent money. One day Bill got his shot at the title. The British champion of the time was a rough as nails Bristolian man by the name of Tom Cribb. Cribb was like 50 feet tall and made of muscle. He trained by PUNCHING the BARK off of TREES. Seriously, he fucked up TREES. So, the fight was set up and it was on.

"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick." - Richmond could have said that, I guess

Now prizefighting is a bit different to boxing today. You had rounds still and the fight was settled either by knockouts or not being able to return to the centre "circle" to carry on. You could punch, wrestle and even kick. Obviously gloves and head guards were right out. And it got brutal. Especially when fighting TreeBane.

The fight between the black Richmond and Britain's pride was a massive deal at the time, it even got more column inches in the papers than a little naval battle that had just taken place called THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR.

But, sadly, much like Rocky in the end Rocky/Bill didnt quite have what it took. After a brutal affair, Cribb won out and Richmond retired not knowing the glory of being the best. But for a black immigrant, he was a much loved fighter who mixed in pretty high circles for a working class man and a man of his race in that time. I think thats a pretty weighty achievement, he was known as a dignified English gent and a man of good character.

But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now if you know what you're worth then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! - Richmond probably didnt say this

He went on to start his own "boxing academy" and train up the NEXT black prize fighting champion, who would come to face Cribb himself. With EXCITING RESULTS*.

(To be continued..)

*Results may not be that exciting.

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