The old prize ring days, the days of bare-knuckle fighting in a 24 ft. ring upon a patch of turf are very far away. Just on 26 years have passed since the death knell of fighting under London prize ring rules was rung in the principal boxing countries of the world. But an echo of those days comes in the news that Francis Patrick Slavin has enlisted in one of the Canadian contingents for service in Europe.
This news is given in a telegram, dated August 21, from Vancouver, to the Seattle Post-lntelligencer, which says: "Many prominent sportsmen are enlisting with the Western Scottish, a battalion which is being recruited at Victoria for service on the Continent. Among the latest to join the colours is Frank Slavin, the old-time prize fighter. Slavin has been making his home in Victoria since his return from the Yukon, and when the call was sent out for recruits for the new battalion the veteran immediately responded. Private Slavin is one of the best known of the old-time fighters. The writer ran across the grizzled old timer in Victoria last spring, and with the exception of a few additional grey hairs the veteran looks as fit as when he was at the height of his career. 'I have relatives over there doing their bit and some of them have fallen. That 's why I'm going over to try and do my bit also, and I think I' good for a few of those Germans, too,' observed Private Slavin the other day."
So, in his 54th year-- he was born on January 5, 1862, at Maitland, in New South Wales-- Frank Slavin goes forth to fight foes far more ruthless than those he met in the ring 30 years ago. To most members of the present generation of boxing enthusiasts he is little more than a name, great though he was as a fighter many years ago. But Slavin as a notable figure in the modern history of the ring. He is one of the great fighters who marked the transition from the old bare-knuckle style to the modern system of glove fighting. He was one of the principals in the last championship battle under London prize ring rules, and he was a principal in a glove fight which is one of the classics of the ring.
Frank Slavin was a blacksmith by trade, but he forsook that occupation in order to follow the more adventurous career of a gold digger. At the age of 23 he made his first notable appearance in the ring, and defeated Mattin Power in 13 rounds in Queensland, under prize ring rules. Then he knocked out Tom Burke, in four rounds, for the championship of Queensland and £400. After winning several other matches, he went to Sydney, where he dispoesd of Jim Fogarty, "The Jawbreaker," in three rounds. This firmly established his reputation in Australia. He added to it by beating Mick Dooley in 30 rounds drawing with Martin ("Buffalo") Costello, the famed American middle-weight, who was then in Australia, in 31 rounds, and then beating Costello in nine rounds. He beat Bill Farnan, the man with the terrible body punch in two rounds. Then crossing the Tasman, Slavin beat Harry Laing, champion of New Zealand, in six rounds at Wanganui.
With the famous Larry Foley as his mentor, Slavin had developed into a splendid fighter, either with bare knuckles or with gloves. He was of very fine physique standing 6 ft. 1 in. in height, excellently proportional, hard and strong, and weighing 13st 6 lb. when fine trained. He was fast on his feet, a cool and skilful boxer, and a determined fighter with a deadly right-hand punch. After further successes in Australia, he went to England, and quickly disposed of his first two opponents there. Then he was matched with Jem Smith, champion of England, for the championship and £500 a-side, with bare knuckles and under prize-ring rules.
At this time the London prize ring was waning to extinction. Its palmy days had passed long since. Police activity necessitated battles being held in secluded places and before only a few spectators. So long as fights could be held with little or no interference from the authorities, the ruffianly element which hangs on to the skirts of sport for the sake of making money by gambling could be kept at bay, except in a very few instances, because the toughs were ountumbered. But as police activity against the prize ring increased, so did the powers of the toughs increase, for they could outnumber the respectable spectators of battles in which they were interestd. Jim Smith was a Cockney, but a gang of Birmingham ruffians had backed him heavily against Slavin, and had made up their minds that Smith should win by foul means if not by fair. The Pelican Club-- the forerunner of the National Sporting Club-- intended to stage the Smith-Slavin fight, but the members heard of the measures that the Birmingham toughs intended to adopt, and the club then declined the contest. It was known that the police were taking stringent measures to prevent the fight being held in England, so the location of the battle was removed to a place near Bruges, in Belgium, on December 23, 1889. Slavin knew of the intention of the toughs, but he was a man of such high courage that he was not deterred. From the beginning of the fight the ruffians did their best to intimidate Slavin, and whenever he got near enough to the ropes they beat him with staves and bludgeons. This only made him fight Smith with greater determination, and the Londoner, who was a very powerful fellow, weighing close on 14 st., received a sound thrashing. At last, in the 14th round, the mob rushed the ring and atacked Slavin, and the referee declared the fight a draw. However, Slavin was afterwards awarded the stakes, and was generally acknowledged to be the champion of England.
That was the finish of the prize ring, and glove-fighting replaced it properly in both England and America. In the following year, in London, Slavin sensationally knocked out, in two rounds, the huge Californian "Mission Boy" Joe McAuliffe in a contest for a purse of £1000. His next contest of much note was that with the famous Jake Kilrain. This was fought in America, and was for £1000 aside. Slavin knocked out Kilrain-- who had fought 75 rounds with John L. Sullivan, with bare knuckles, two years before-- in nine sensational rounds. Sullivan refused to meet Slavin. Just on a year later-- on May 30, 1892-- Slavin fought his memorable contest with Peter Jackson, at the National Sporting Club, London.
This contest with the great Peter Jackson stands out as one of the most notable battles in all the long history of boxing. Jackson was then at the zenith of his career, and a superb athlete. In physique, Jackson and Slavin were splendidly matched, but the black was the quicker and the more scientific boxer. They fought for the championship of England and Australia and a purse of £2000. The whole story of the contest is too long to retell now, but his fierce rushes called forth all of Jackson's wonderful skill in defence. Slavin hit heavily and quickly, but the more scientific Jackson hit only when there was an opening, and his swift, beautifully-timed punches were the more effective. His lightning-like left smacked home on the white man time and again. The pace was very hot. Slavin tried desperately to land his famous right-hand punch. The eighth round was particularly sensational, for then, at last, Slavin got home a right to the jaw that made Jackson reel. Slavin forced the fighting then, and only his fine skill and big heart pulled Jackson through. Ceaselessly the black watched for his opening. At last the fierceness of Slavin 's attack moderated. Then in sprang the black, and before the gong sounded for the finish of the ninth round the tide of battle had turned again in favour of Jackson. When the pair came up for the tenth round, Slavin was tired, but game. After a few moments of sparring, Jackson tried for the stomach. Slavin stopped the blow, and stepped forward to counter, but quick as a flash, went Jackson's right to the jaw. Slavin rocked, and his guard fell. Jackson measured him and shot the right to the jaw again with terrific forces. Slavin sagged, but his indomitable spirit refused to allow him to go down. Ho tried to fight back, but could not. Holding him up, Jackson turned to the referee in an appeal to save his opponent from further punishment. "Fight on," was the order. Another blow, carefully measured, and Slavin was down and out, while the big audience applauded the great pluck of the loser and the chivalry and great skill of the winner.
After that fight, Slavin 's prowess declined, for the simple reason that he developed a taste for the "good things" of life. High living does not accord well with boxing. Jim Hall, the famous Australian middle-weight, knocked him out in seven rounds in 1893. A few years later, Slavin went to the Klondyke, and he won three fights there. Subsequently, he settled in Victoria, British Columbia, as a timber merchant, and he is reported to have been successful in business. Eight years ago, when he had been out of the ring for five years, he donned the gloves once more, but he was knocked out by Nick Burley in two rounds.
Grey River Argus (Greymouth, New Zealand), October 9, 1915.