BARE FISTS: The History of Bare Knuckle Prize Fighting

Bob Mee, Author
Bob Mee, Author . Overlook $27.95 (241p) ISBN 978-1-58567-141-0
Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
Paperback - 236 pages - 978-1-58567-286-8
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-00-218966-8
Hardcover - 234 pages - 978-0-9520807-4-9
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Focusing on the gloveless champions that dominated the early history of the sport—from the early 18th-century English fighter James Figg through American John L. Sullivan in the late 19th—Mee (Lords of the Ring , etc.) provides well-researched, blocky accounts of these fighters, their transnational bouts and the way modern boxing developed through their hits and misses. Combing primary sources (from which he culls 50 b&w illustrations and portraits), Mee, who has covered boxing for more than 20 years for the British Daily Telegraph and Boxing News , situates these men in their times. But while the portraits of the champions are excellent, the off-periods, when there were no great champions, run together indistinguishably. Still, diehards will want to know about Jem Burn, who "lost to Neale after a brave struggle lasting six minutes short of an hour at Moulsey Hurst in December 1824"—and will want to distinguish him from Jem Ward, who "was probably the best of the fighters who followed Tom Spring." The end of the book sketches the period after professional boxing adopted Marquis of Queensberry rules, requiring its combatants to don gloves—and forcing bare-fist pugilism underground. Mee carries off the whole with enthusiasm and devotion, but he won't be able to lay a glove on the unconverted. (June)

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