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A History of Blacks in the Boxing Arena


By William Larsha, Sr.

The Mid-South Tribune

(Published in Black History Month, Feb. 1999)


Tom Molyneux (1784-1818), prizefighter was the first African American champion to fight in an international championship match—actually the first American to fight for a world championship title. In 1810, he fought England’s heavyweight champion, Tom Crib. He fought Crib again in 1811.


            Molyneux, however, was not the first African born American to fight Crib. Bill Richmond, born in 1765 on Staten Island, New York, was. Richmond, as a kid was taken to and raised in England. The fight was held outdoors. The day was Tuesday, December 18. the weather was reported to have been cold and blustery. It rained for several hours before the fight. Several thousand persons witnessed what was called a “bloodbath for both” that lasted 55 minutes through 44 rounds. Crib won. The London Times reported: “Both combatants were badly beaten, and they were almost so exhausted that even the victor could not have stood five minutes longer.”

            Tom Molyneux was born a slave in Virginia. He started boxing at an early age. Both his father and grandfather were famous boxers among plantation slaves. But his prize fighting (for money) career did not start until age 24. It was in New York City on Old Catherine Market Street during special holidays in the company of fraternity of Negro prizefighters that Molyneux became a super American boxer.

            In the early 1800s, there were laws against prize fighting in America. These laws mainly applied to whites and not necessarily to Negroes. With reference to the 1849 fight between white American boxers Tom Higher and Yankee Sullivan, historian Alice Morse Earle writes that Negroes had been prize fighting for well over a quarter of a century before white Americans. “But even Negroes could only prize-fight during customary holidays at special places.”

            It was at such festivals that Molyneux became a well respected fighter. He fought and defeated all comers in America. But 1809, he was known as the undisputed prize fighting champion in America. He was now ready to take on England where fighters were proclaimed to be the champions of the world of boxing.

            The second Crib-Molyneux fight took place on Thursday, September 28, 1811 in Thissleton Gap, north of London, England. Once again, it was the fight between the English champion and the American champion—Crib weighing 182 pounds. The purse was worth $10,000. Having the tone of “race superiority,” this may have been the first black versus white bout.”

            In round one Crib hit Molyneux on the throat and knocked him down. Molyneux came back in round two with sharp lefts to Crib’s head, bringing Crib’s right eye nearly closed. His mouth was gushing blood. But in round three, Crib sent hard lefts and rights to Molyneux. Molyneux punched away at Crib’s head. Both Crib’s eyes were now all but closed. He fell to the floor as the round ended.

            In the fourth round according to the London Times, Molyneux in the making was short lived. For the ninth, Crib with a wicked powerful blow broke Molyneux’s jaw. And in round eleven, Molyneux was unable to further fight. Crib again won.

            Moleyneux continued to fight for several more years. On August 4, 1818, in Dublin, Ireland, he died of tuberculosis. He was introduced into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1958, four years after Tom Crib.


* From The Mid-South Tribune/Black Information Highway archives.



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