Fate decreed that I should be one of the central figures in the spectacular fight which boxing made for its life in England. My defeat of Jem Smith removed him from the spotlight, and sealed the doom of the London prize ring rules. The brutality which entered into that fight was highly emphasized, and no sportsmen in England wanted to have anything further to do with bare knuckles. In my next fight, boxing, as it is known to-day, hung in the balance. Not only was I to fight for the honor and glory which goes with victory, but I was to be one of the champions of boxing against the forces which had lined up to suppress it. Even to-day you hear echoes of that memorable struggle. Men will arise and demand that a certain "battle of the century" or other pugilistic encounter be called off because it is a prize fight. Then follows a great controversy as to what is prizefighting, and what is boxing. Back in the days of which I am writing, many people could not, and did not, want to distinguish between the London prize ring roles, and those drafted by the Marquis of Queensberry, and now universally in force. Under the London rules we fought with bare knuckles, and the better boxer did I not always win. A good rough and tumble man with a small knowledge of boxing as well as wrestling, got along pretty well. You could either throw or knock a man down. The Marquis of Queensberry rules made it necessary for a boxer to encase his hands in gloves before he could hit at his adversary. These gloves lessened the effect of the punches, and men did not become so badly marked. Wrestling was entirely eliminated, and the man who was fastest on his feet and had the best control of his hands, usually was returned the winner.
The metropolitan police of London were anxious for a test case. Bare-knuckle fighting was tabooed in England, but the new element called boxing was getting by in many instances. Many small bouts were allowed to go through because the promoters did not have the necessary backing to fight the case in court. Just at this particular time the massive Californian, Joe McAuliffe, was looking for fresh fields to conquer, and his manager, Richard K. Fox, the famous American sportsman and publisher, brought him to England, and we were matched. Fox was tired of trying to match McAulliffe with Sullivan. He was convinced that "Joe" would be the next champion. As I also had a standing challenge with Sullivan and was to be the first man John would meet if he returned to the ring. Fox believed it would be good business to get together the two leading contenders. To make the bout look all the more attractive, Fox brought over the championship belt, which he had donated for the winner of the Sullivan-Kilrain bout. The belt, made of gold and set with diamonds, was valued at 6,000 dollars, but Sullivan would not put up the required bond, so Fox retained possession of it. Fox offered the belt to the winner of the fight between McAuliffe and myself. We agreed to fight for a purse of one thousand pounds with a side bet of one thousand pounds each. The date of the meeting was set for October 15, 1890. McAuliffe and I went off to our respective training camps. In the interval the metropolitan police became very active. They knew that we had plenty of money backing us, and hit upon the coming bout as an ideal test case. When I arrived at Liverpool Station, London, from Dovercourt, where I had trained, I was met by a sergeant and two constables. They had a warrant for my arrest. The charge was that I was "about to participate in a prize fight." I put up the vain argument that I was not going into any prize fight; I was merely going to do a little boxing. McAulliffe, who had reached London a fee hours before me, had been served with a warrant.
Our backers were notified of our fate and bail was requested. We were released on five thousand pounds bail each. Lord Lonsdale and George Piesse provided three thousand pounds for myself, and I put up the remainder. Lord Lonsdale, Piesse, and Fox furnished the bail for McAuliffe. It was impossible for the fight to be carried out on the date originally set, but Lord Lonsdale and Piesse were determined that it should be held. They realised that boxing was on trial and that should it fail now, it would be almost impossible to revive it in the future. I was notified that the fight would be held on October 17, two days after the original date, at the Ormonde Club. The police made no effort to stop the fight, but they had a big force in attendance, which observed all angles and details. They were out to build up a strong case against us. As far as the fight itself is concerned, there is little to tell. McAuliffe was the biggest man I had ever met. He was 6 feet 3 inches in his stocking feet and 219 pounds in weight. He had an advantage over me of about 45 pounds in weight and several inches in height and reach. But for all that he proved a very easy target.
At the first gong McAuliffe came at me like a windmill, flinging his fists in all directions. I blocked him and buried both my hands in his body. I broke two ribs on each side of his body and kept pounding the sore spots. I had tremendous power that night and can never remember hitting a man so hard. When the second round came up McAuliffe was in a bad way. I flashed my left to the pit of his stomach and crossed my right to his jaw. The two blows lifted McAulliffe clear of the canvas and he fell with an awful thud. He was "knocked cold." Acting under instructions from Lord Lonsdale, McAuliffe and I gave ourselves up the following morning at police headquarters. We were again given bail. Sir Charles Russell, one of the leading legal minds of Great Britain, was engaged to defend us. On the first hearing the case was stood over for a month. When it was called again a great mass of evidence was produced by the police. One of the police officers concluded with this startling bit of evidence: "When McAuliffe fell to the canvas he shook the building." This was a most extravagant statement in view of the fact that the Ormonde Club was situated in an old wine cellar with several railroads running overhead. While I recalled that McAuliffe had taken, a heavy fall, I had to laugh out in court when the statement was made. The jury disagreed, and we were set over for another three months.
The delay did not please me, as I was unable to appear at any of the music halls and reap the harvest that would have fallen into my lap. Lord Lonsdale advised me to remain idle so as to give no further grounds for agitation against boxing. My losses, however, were made good by the sportsmen behind me. When I the case was again called Sir Charles Russell brought forward the editor of "Sporting Life" and the sporting editors of the leading London dailies. Their evidence was that boxing under the Marquis of Queensberry rules should be permitted and that there had been no prize-fighting in the bout between McAulliffe and myself. The jury found us "Not guilty," and the case was dismissed. This meant the turning of the tide. Boxing swept on to popular favor and gained a great foothold, from which it has never receded. This firm foundation was laid by such great sportsmen as Lord Lonsdale. George Piesse, and many other noble patrons of sport of all kinds. I always feel proud of the part I was allowed to play in giving boxing its start in England. Since that time England has turned out many great boxers, who have visited other lands and won added fame and glory.
There is a little sidelight on my fight with McAuliffe which will bear telling. As the winner I was entitled to the six thousand dollar championship belt, but when I went to collect it I found that the Customs authorities wanted to charge me duty on it. In addition, Fox wanted a bond. These two items totalled far more than the belt was worth. So I told Fox to take it back to America with him. This belt meant nothing, and I can understand Sullivan's reason for refusing it. If the belt would have brought me a match with John L., I would have readily taken it.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 20, 1926.