Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On This Day: Tom Sayers: The Brighton Boy Remembered

By Peter Silkov

Tom Sayers was one of Britain’s greatest ever bare-knuckle pugilists. Sayers was skilful and fast, and possessed immense heart, durability, and strength.  Although barely more than a light-middleweight in his prime, and standing just 5’ feet 8” and a half inches in height, Sayers won a series of epic victories over men considerably larger than himself in his march to the Heavyweight championship of England.

Tom Sayers was born on May 25, 1826, in Brighton, Sussex.  His earliest serious fights took place in 1844, but for some time Sayers struggled to find opponents, as those his own size were reticent about meeting him in combat, so impressive was his reputation, even at the earliest stage of his career.

By 1851 however, an impressive victory over Dan Collins underlined Sayers as a fighter to watch, but he found it even harder to get fights with men of his own size.  In 1853, Sayers suffered the only defeat of his career when Nat Langham beat him on October 18, for the Middleweight championship of England.  Sayers lost after a battle lasting 61 rounds, spread over 2 hours and 2 minutes.  This defeat only served to spur Sayers forward, and like all great fighters, he became better for his defeat. On January 26, 1856, Sayers defeated the much larger Harry Poulson, in an epic encounter that lasted 109 rounds, over the course of 3 hours, and 8 minutes.  This victory showed, beyond doubt, that Sayers was a worthy opponent for the Heavyweight championship of England.

On June 16, 1857, Sayers beat William Perry, in 10 rounds, after 1 hour 20 minutes, to claim the Heavyweight championship of England.

Sayers would prove to be a truly great champion, defending his championship five times during his reign.  By far the most famous fight of his reign, was also his last; his historical encounter with John C Heenan on April 17, 1860.  Heenan was the American heavyweight champion, and so the match was a landmark event of international proportions, which is often regarded today as the first genuine World heavyweight title fight.  The match itself took place amid huge public interest, and turned out to be a brutal encounter, which lived up to all expectations.  The action carried on for 42 rounds, stretched out over 2 hours and 20 minutes, before the fight was abandoned after members of the crowd broke into the ring. The verdict was eventually given as a draw, which resulted in both sides being dissatisfied.  Arguments raged over who was enjoying the better of things when the fight was brought to its premature conclusion, and each country sided with their countryman as being the rightful winner.  Most unbiased eyewitness reports of the fight however, tell us that while both men were badly punished from their battle, it was Heenan who had fared far worse.  While Sayers had suffered bruises and bumps around the head and face, Heenan face had been rendered a grotesque and swollen mass of broken flesh, with both eyes closed, and his nose and mouth horribly misshapen.  Heenan had to convalesce in a darkened room for some time before he could leave his sickbed.

Tony Sayers never fought again, after receiving a special Silver Championship belt to commemorate his battle with Heenan, on May 20, 1860, Sayers retired from the ring, undefeated champion.

Tom Sayers died on November 8, 1865, of consumption.  He is buried in Highgate Cemetary.  He is remembered today as one of the strongest and pluckiest fighters Britian has ever produced that also enjoyed the status of a folk hero amongst his fans.

Sayers was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. 

*The painting in the graphic is not a creation of The Boxing Glove it is an vintage poster. Date unknown. 

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