In-depth blog about former slave and boxing legend Bill Richmond (1763-1829); subject of Luke G. Williams' biography, published by Amberley in August 2015.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

211th anniversary: Richmond's London debut

Bill Richmond only ever lost two fights, and one of them took place almost exactly 211 years ago on 23 January 1804.

It was Richmond's debut bare-knuckle contest in London and, remarkably, he was already past his 40th birthday. (He wasn't the greatest boxing veteran of all time for nothing, y'know!)

In the opposite corner that chilly winter's day at Wimbledon Common was another great pugilistic veteran - George Maddox - who had just disposed of one opponent (a dustman named Seabrook) and was keen for another victim. Richmond, who was at the fight in the company of his pugilism-obsessed employer Lord Camelford, duly challenged Maddox, but lived to regret it after losing a tight contest.

The full story of this bout will be told in my forthcoming book Richmond Unchained - interestingly enough, the truth behind the fight differs somewhat from what you might have read in the official record books, which invariably (and incorrectly) record this fight as a three-round victory for Maddox.

Maddox certainly won, but not in three rounds. What actually happened is far more interesting, while the reactions of the crowd that day also illuminate what it was like for an unknown black man to enter the prize ring in the early 19th century.

Unfortunately, you'll have to wait to read Richmond Unchained to find out more! In the meantime, suffice it to say that although Richmond lost that day, he went on to gain revenge against Maddox in an unforgettable contest five years later. (Oh yes, that fight also features heavily in Richmond Unchained!)

To compensate for all these shameless plugs there is some new and exclusive content on this page though - Trevor Von Eeden's early pencil sketch recreation of Bill challenging George at Wimbledon Common - by throwing his hat into the ring, of course! The final inked version of this illustration will - you guessed it! - appear in Richmond Unchained!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Richmond Unchained to publish August 2015

Bill Richmond: Illustration by Trevor Von Eeden

After the success of my previous books Masters of the Baize and Boxiana: Volume 1I’m pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of my third book. RICHMOND UNCHAINED: The biography of the world’s first black sporting superstar, which will be published by one of the UK’s leading publishers of historical books, Amberley Publishing, in August 2015.

The publication of the book will be accompanied by a series of Bill Richmond related events as well as exclusive extra content and features relating to the book which will be published here on

A synopsis of the project is included below:

The biography of the world’s first black sporting superstar
By Luke G. Williams

Today the name of the bare-knuckle boxer Bill Richmond is largely unknown to the wider public, but he is one of the most significant sportsmen in history and was one of the most celebrated celebrities of the Georgian era. The fact no biography has ever been devoted to Richmond is startling, for the story of his life and career is a compelling and thrilling tale, played out against the backdrop of a series of significant historical events.

As one of the first black men to survive and thrive in white-dominated English society, Richmond is long overdue recognition as one of the key figures in sporting as well as social history. Born into slavery in Staten Island, New York during colonial rule, Richmond escaped from a life of servitude by winning his freedom as a young boy and carved a new life for himself in England as a cabinet-maker and then a renowned and widely respected prize-fighter and trainer.

From his humble origins, Richmond, through force of will and personality, fought his way to the top table of British society, ultimately fulfilling an official role at the coronation celebrations of King George IV in 1821. Richmond’s amazing life encompassed encounters and relationships with some of the most prominent men of the age, including the progressive Earl Percy, the writer William Hazlitt, the dissolute Prince Regent and the wild and untameable Lord Camelford.

The story of Bill Richmond is not only an incredible tale of personal advancement and triumph, but also the story of a life which was shaped, informed and influenced by a series of turbulent historical events – including the American War of Independence, the fight for black emancipation and Britain’s long-running conflict with the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Luke G. Williams’ biography, the first full-length account of Richmond's life, utilises over a decade of research on both sides of the Atlantic, revealing details, sources and new facts about Richmond’s life that have never before been published. In separating myth from fact and legend from reality, for the first time, the full story of Bill Richmond’s life and times is brought gloriously to life.

Richmond Unchained will feature illustrated material from the Georgian period, as well as new and exclusive illustrations by acclaimed American artist Trevor Von Eeden.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Bill Richmond bookshelf: Pondering Boxiana's reliability

The iconic Boxiana, by Pierce Egan
Over the next few months I’ll be taking the time to review some of the books, articles and research facilities which I have found useful during the decade-long process of researching and writing Richmond Unchained. This series began with a look at Peter Fryer's Staying Power and continues today with my thoughts on Pierce Egan’s  Boxiana.
This is the biggie.
Pierce Egan’s Boxiana is the key text for any serious student of Georgian boxing and remains easily the best-known text connected with the bare-knuckle era. However, its iconic status within the pugilistic literary canon obscures an all too infrequently acknowledged shortcoming; namely that - as influential and brilliantly written as it is - in terms of a source for the facts, dates, circumstances and details of boxing matches of the period, some of what is written in Boxiana needs to be taken with a gigantic cellar of salt.
Before this webpage crashes under weight of outrage from Egan enthusiasts, allow me to develop my thesis ...
It’s my contention that Egan was, first and foremost, a popular writer who was also a magnificent literary stylist. His prose crackles with inventive and extravagant examples of figurative language and vivid descriptive flourishes. Furthermore, in terms of the historical evolution of the English language and of English literature, Egan is a vital and all too often overlooked figure whose widespread influence can be detected in the work of many more traditionally feted and ‘well regarded’ writers such as Charles Dickens.
Socio-cultural analysis of Egan’s idiosyncratic prose is an illuminating route to greater understanding not only of the sport of pugilism itself, but also of the culture which surrounded it. Anyone, for example, interested in emerging concepts of Englishness, patriotism and militarism during the Georgian era can find much of interest within Egan’s work.
(Before I continue, I should point out that those of you seeking to learn more about Egan's unique writing should leave this website right now and go and buy David Snowdon’s wonderful book Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan’s Boxiana World. When you’ve done that - and also read the book itself - you’ll be up to speed and can come back here and resume reading this article!)
OK, now that we’ve all read Writing the Prizefight, I can proceed to the second strand of my review, which will examine the limitations of Boxiana. Firstly, it’s worth remembering that the first edition of the book was not published until 1812/ 1813. As a consequence any events that Egan covers prior to this date must be treated with extreme caution, unless, of course, they can be further verified by the existence of other sources.

It is imperative to note that Egan himself was only born in 1772 and is said to have worked in the printing trade before making his name as a writer with the first volume of Boxiana. I therefore consider it highly unlikely that he would have attended the majority of the fights he writes about in the first volume of Boxiana, particularly those which took place in the 18th century, although, admittedly, there is no way of knowing exactly which fights he did and didn't attend.
All of which begs the question: from where did Egan get his information? Well, it’s likely that some of his work was based on anecdotes he heard from fight fans and boxers themselves (hardly the most reliable of sources!) or that he cribbed details from existing reports in other newspapers and journals. There are certainly several occasions when Egan appears to have ‘lifted’ prose, ideas or details from The Sporting Magazine, which began to be published in 1792, as well as various other sources. (Could Egan have been present at some fights and written some of these original reports himself and then later recycled them in Boxiana? This is also a possibility).
My point is: we don’t really know where Egan got his information from and this is why we cannot really take anything we read in Boxiana for granted. I'm sure that Egan wrote the most accurate accounts he could based on the information he possessed. Nevertheless, the haphazard nature of Boxiana's evolution and its lack of historical rigour means that we must be cautious about recycling facts from it without questioning their accuracy.
Let’s take a practical example in order to illustrate this point: namely the Cribb-Belcher fight of April 1807. Over the years I have frequently seen it cited as ‘fact’ that during this contest Cribb’s second Bill Warr effectively ‘stole’ the fight for his man by way of a cunning ‘manoeuvre’ which ensured that Cribb received a ‘long count' to recover from a heavy knockdown.

The great Jem Belcher
Egan describes this incident in his general profile of Cribb, as opposed to his round by round account of the fight, meaning it is unclear which round he claims it occurred in:
“Before the strength of Jem’s right hand had left him, the battle was saved to CRIBB by the following manoeuvre of Bill Warr – the odds were five to one on Belcher, and while Gulley, who seconded Jem, was offering the above odds to Warr, at the conclusion of a round, when CRIBB had received so severe a blow that he could not come to time, Warr, on accepting the bet, insisted that the money should be posted, and by this stratagem gained more than a minute, sufficient time for such a glutton as CRIBB perfectly to recover in.”

Bill Warr: cheat or strategist?
When considering if Egan’s account of this incident is accurate, we should bear in mind the fact that the fight took place in 1807 and Egan’s account of it did not appear until more than five years later. Furthermore, like many of the bouts he describes, we can not necessarily be sure that Egan actually attended the fight in the first place. If Egan wasn’t present at Cribb-Belcher then it begs the question – again - as to where he got his account of this incident from. Was it recounted to him by Belcher himself, before his untimely death in 1811? Perhaps. In which case, is it not likely that the embittered former champion may have exaggerated his account somewhat in order to denigrate his rival Cribb’s reputation?
Or perhaps Egan based his account on an anecdote he had heard from someone else who was present at the fight? Again, this seems feasible, in which case, once again, it is also seems reasonable to conclude that the account could easily have become exaggerated or embroidered in the years between the fight itself and Egan’s account of it being published.
While researching my upcoming book Richmond Unchained I sought to discover the truth of whether or not Belcher had been ‘cheated’, partly because my book describes the Cribb v Belcher contest (albeit briefly) and partly out of curiosity. Having read Egan’s account I then obtained and read as many newspaper accounts of the contest as I could find which were published in the fight’s immediate aftermath. In all, I found 17 newspapers that featured articles about the fight, which were as follows:
The Times, Stamford Mercury, Kentish Gazette,  Morning Post, Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Exeter Flying Post, Morning Chronicle, Staffordshire Advertiser, Oxford Journal, Bury and Norwich Post, Norfolk Chronicle, Hampshire Chronicle, Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Derby Mercury, Hampshire Telegraph, Hereford Journal, and Ipswich Journal.
My theory was that if the ‘long count’ incident described by Egan had occurred as he recounted it, then surely one of these newspapers would include it within their narrative? After all, one would expect a detailed account of a major fight to make careful note of such a controversial incident.

However, close study of these 17 accounts revealed that not a single one made any reference whatsoever to Belcher being cheated, or shenanigans on the part of Cribb’s team. The same was true of William Oxberry’s book Pancratia, a history of boxing which marginally pre-dates Boxiana and also contains no reference to Belcher being cheated in its account of the fight. (Incidentally, Pancratia, like Boxiana, appears to draw heavily on the sources listed above, especially The Times).   
Case closed? Not quite.

Closer scrutiny of the 17 accounts revealed that the majority were very similar in their wording, and had, it seemed, originated from a very small group of original sources or writers, before being re-published in various recycled and re-written forms.
Interestingly, many of the accounts did make an interesting reference to the 18th round, which is possibly the section of the fight Egan is referring to when he mentions Warr's chicanery. For example, the account of the 18th round in The Times reads as follows:
“18. Crib [sic.] received some most desperate body blows, as well as one of equal violence in the neck, and, on being followed up, he fell: to an ordinary spectator, it could not be supposed that he would ever rise again.”
This account is almost identical to Egan's later account of the 18th round, and also very similar to Oxberry's, suggesting they may all originate from the same single source. This also strengthens my belief that Egan predominantly used existing newspaper accounts as his sources, particularly in the first volume of Boxiana, while at the same time adding anecdotal information into his reports that he had gleaned from a mixture of fighters and fellow pugilistic enthusiasts.
Taken as a whole, the series of sources we have concerning the Cribb-Belcher fight strongly suggest that Cribb was knocked down in the 18th round so heavily that many spectators thought the fight was over. If we accept this as fact, then Egan’s claim that Warr needed to wangle extra time for Cribb to recover seems plausible, nevertheless until at least one further source from 1807 emerges which further backs up Egan's claim, it remains an unproven and unsubstantiated rumour. However, despite its shaky provenance, numerous boxing books that describe the Cribb-Belcher fight do not make it clear that the cheating theory is just that: a theory, a rumour, an unsubstantiated anecdote. We cannot say with any certainty that Belcher was ‘cheated’ when this theory rests on just one account of the fight, and an account that was composed several years after the fight occurred to boot!
This is not to say that Egan’s account of what happened is necessarily wrong, merely that the presumption that Belcher was ‘cheated’ of victory appears to have entered the public historical discourse without corroboration from any sources, save for Egan. (If someone can find a source which contradicts me on this then please email me at
This somewhat long-winded example is a very roundabout way of making the point that when researching Richmond Unchained I quickly realised that the contents of Boxiana had to be treated cautiously.
Yes, Boxiana is a rich and fascinating source, as well as wonderfully written, but it must always be used in conjunction with as many other sources as possible.
To a historian, I’m sure this is a pretty obvious conclusion, but I think it’s fair to say that not all boxing writers out there are adept historians. A deficit of rigorous historical research and methodology is certainly evident in many of the books that have been written about the bareknuckle boxing era, chief among them Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer’s utterly unreliable and borderline ridiculous Black Dynamite series (which I will examine in a future post).
To conclude, a few general observations about Boxiana and its reliability as far as Bill Richmond is concerned (this is, after all, a Bill Richmond blog!).
Several of these observations are explored in more detail in my forthcoming book Richmond Unchained, which will be published in August:
  1. In terms of the first Cribb v Molineaux fight, for which Richmond trained Molineaux, Egan’s account leaves much room for interpretation, misinterpretation and debate (as do other sources). This is something I examine in detail in Richmond Unchained.
  2. Egan’s account of Richmond’s first fight, against George Maddox is flawed, and has been responsible for an incorrect conclusion (namely that the fight lasted only three rounds) entering into the public domain.
  3. Egan does not score well on American geography. His stated birthplace for Richmond of Cuckold’s Town in Sturton Island is wrong on many levels.
  4. Egan’s chronology of Richmond’s career in 1808 and 1809 is all over the place – which has again led to misperceptions becoming commonly accepted as fact.

    Bill Richmond - Egan makes undoubted errors when detailing his career
To close, I think it’s worth emphasising that none of the above alters my admiration for Egan in any way. I remain a huge fan of his energy, his invention and his incredible facility with words.
Reading Egan is one of the great pleasures of life, particular for a boxing fan. However, he was primarily a dramatic and vivid writer, not a historian – and that’s something to always bear in mind when you leaf through Boxiana.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Is this Bill Richmond?

Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program 
One of the myriad joys of the internet is its ability to bring together people with common interests and enthusiasms.

Over the last ten years I've made numerous contacts online who have helped enhance my knowledge of Bill Richmond and have opened up new research avenues for me. Without exception the people I have corresponded with have been decent, helpful, passionate and intelligent.

One such person is Jerry Leibowitz, who runs a thoughtful and fascinating blog entitled I discovered America. Like me, Jerry has a huge interest in Bill Richmond and he has also formulated a fascinating theory, namely that the sculpture pictured above, credited by the Getty Museum and the Yale Center for British Art as being the work of Francis Harwood in 1758, is actually a much later sculpture of ... yes! Bill Richmond!

Jerry's thesis is very convincing and very interesting ... check out his fascinating posts on the subject below:
Bust of a Man
Bust of a Man ... Alternate version
Bust of a Man, the Sequel - Bill Richmond Strikes Back

Meanwhile, this post contains Jerry's work on the historical background / context to his later work:
Follow the Money

And while I'm recommending further reading for you Richmondophiles out there, you should also check out another recent post of Jerry's: the first chapter of a novel he's writing about Bill Richmond. Well worth reading and a real appetiser for the full length novel to follow!

You know what? I love finding fellow Bill Richmond fans ... If we all work together, we can help even more people learn about Bill's amazing life and achievements.

So, God bless you Bill, and God bless you Jerry Leibowitz for helping spreading Bill's good name and wonderful story with your work and research.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Bill Richmond bookshelf: Staying Power

Over the next few months I’ll be taking the time to review some of the books, articles and research facilities which I have found useful during the decade-long process of researching and writing Richmond Unchained. This series begins with my thoughts on Peter Fryer’s Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain.

Quite simply, any writer, historian or reader with an interest in ‘black history’ needs to own a copy of this book. Since its publication in 1984 Fryer’s near masterpiece has become the standard text on black British history, and it remains a model of concision, elegance and historical analysis.

Many would argue that ‘black history’ is still a neglected area of study, both within academic circles and also within the mainstream, however when this book first appeared the paucity of books on the subject was even more pronounced than it is today. Nevertheless, although many worthy books have appeared since examining the hitherto shamefully hidden and neglected histories of ‘minority’ groups in Britain, it remains disappointing that no ‘overview’ of black British history since Fryer’s work has come close to matching its comprehensive sweep.

(As an aside, the edition I own of the book is the sixth impression from 1992 and I’d be interested to know if the book has been updated at all since then or, indeed, since Fryer’s death in 2006 – I suspect not, which is a shame as it certainly warrants regular updating, even though Fryer is sadly not alive to perform the task himself).

Fryer himself was a fascinating figure.  Born in Hull in 1927, he later became a Communist Party member and wrote for the Yorkshire Post and Daily Worker. However he was apparently expelled from the party after dissatisfaction was expressed with his accounts of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its suppression by the Soviets – events which Fryer, to his credit, condemned having observed them first-hand.

While working as a journalist, Fryer had also witnessed the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush in England in 1948, an ocean liner which brought with it many West Indian immigrants. This event ignited in him an interest in black British history, which he researched for many years before writing Staying Power.

Chief among Staying Power’s many virtues is its ability to puncture the many myths and untruths surrounding black history in Britain. Laudably, Fryer does this is a calm, measured way which avoids needless pontification or ideological grandstanding; witness for example, the masterful first sentence of the book - “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here” - which instantly undercuts the lazy assumptions often made by the ignorant or the bigoted. (Nigel Farage, for one, might do well to read Fryer's book!)

Despite Fryer’s Marxist / Communist leanings, the book never veers into didacticism and retains a simplicity of approach which is refreshing. It is at once academically rigorous and also accessible. Fryer’s own political sympathies are clear, and naturally influence his viewpoints but, to this reader at least, they are logically and reasonably outlined, without needless rhetorical flourishes that lesser writers might rely on to paper over gaps in their arguments or research. The book is all the more convincing as a result; for example, Fryer’s analysis of the link between slavery and the development of the British economy is extremely well explained.

During the first two or three months when I was researching Bill Richmond’s life (way back in 2003) I devoured Fryer’s book in about two days. I found it hugely valuable in enabling someone such as myself with a decent grasp of ‘black history’ - albeit one lacking in detail and refinement - to understand the social and cultural context of the times in which Bill Richmond lived, as well as the times which preceded and followed him. For example, references within Fryer’s book to Malachy Postlethwayt and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw opened up fruitful research avenues for me that have found their way, in one form or another, into the texture of Richmond Unchained, particularly the chapter where I take a brief detour myself into the history of black people’s presence in Britain.

Amid my otherwise fulsome praise, though, I do have one caveat.

I described the book earlier as a ‘near masterpiece’ and I use this phrase deliberately so, for the simple reason that I found Fryer’s work on Bill Richmond himself, and his protégé Tom Molineaux, somewhat sloppy and over-reliant on second-hand rather than primary sources. Several of the ‘facts’ Fryer recounts about Richmond are, to be blunt, not accurate, or at any rate cannot be proved correct beyond reasonable doubt based on existing sources or the sources which Fryer cites. To give one such example, Fryer states that Richmond’s parents were “Georgia-born slaves”, which has never actually been proven. He also accepts too readily (and over-relies on) Pierce Egan’s accounts of Richmond’s boxing career, with seemingly no consideration for the dramatic licence Egan may have employed, or the errors he may have made. Other factual errors also creep in; for example, Fryer states that Richmond fought Jack Carter in 1808 – which is incorrect. In common with many other writers, Fryer also claims that it was Richmond’s wife’s wealth that enabled him to come landlord of the Horse and Dolphin pub – a myth that I believe I pretty definitively debunk in Richmond Unchained. Fryer also makes a major error of omission by not mentioning Richmond’s role at George IV’s coronation celebrations, which it seems to me are a crucial symbol for the lofty status he managed to achieve – through boxing – within Georgian society.

Perhaps, given that his accounts of Richmond and Molineaux’s lives appear in an appendix, rather than the main body of his narrative, Fryer did not feel the need to research them as meticulously as the rest of the book. This is a rare miscalculation on his part, as is his decision to relegate these two crucial historical figures to an appendix in the first place, rather than the book’s main narrative, where they really belong.

I could go on in terms of the shortcomings of Fryer’s accounts of Richmond and Molineaux’s careers, but it would probably be churlish to do so; especially when, in the final analysis, Staying Power is a work of rare integrity and significance as well as lasting historical value.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Best ever veterans: No. 1 Bill Richmond

Given that this blog is devoted to Bill Richmond, it was crushingly obvious that this 'best ever veterans' series would culminate in the naming of, yes, Bill Richmond as my No. 1 all-time boxing veteran! (Mind you, I'm not totally biased; as you'll discover later this year, Richmond doesn't come top of my countdown of the best bare-knuckle boxers ever).

Anyway, without further ado, I'll explain why I've ranked Bill ahead of George Maddox (my no. 5 veteran), Archie Moore (no. 4), George Foreman (no. 3) and Bernard Hopkins (No. 2).

1. Bill Richmond:
Unlike my articles about Maddox, Moore, Foreman and Hopkins, I'm going to avoid writing a potted biography of Richmond by way of justifying his position at the top of my chart. Instead, I've summarised the main reasons why I believe Bill to be the greatest boxing veteran of all time under a quartet of headings. Feel free to tweet your reactions to this series of articles @boxianajournal or email me directly at

A: Low life expectancy:
In Georgian times, when Richmond was living in England, it has been estimated that the average life expectancy was somewhere between 40 and 47 years. Admittedly, this figure was hugely skewed by the large percentage of citizens who died in childhood, but it is still the case that a man who was in his 40s or 50s in Georgian England was more or less equivalent to someone in their 50s or 60s today. Taking this into account, it is truly remarkable that all of Richmond's major bare-knuckle bouts took place after he had already passed his 40th birthday. Can you imagine a modern-day boxer beginning his career aged 40-plus and going on to become one of the top pugilists around? Well, that's what Richmond did.

B: Incredible self-control:
The sort of expert and detailed medical and nutritional information available in the 21st century, which has helped boxers such as Bernard Hopkins to prolong their careers, simply didn't exist in the Georgian era. As writer William Hazlitt put it, the "whole art of training" in bare-knuckle days merely consisted of "two things" - "exercise and abstinence, abstinence and exercise, repeated alternately and without end". As this analysis suggests, Richmond didn't have the benefits of vitamin supplements, body fat reports, 'super foods' et al to aid his training and preparation; instead, he kept himself  in fighting condition through sheer bloody-minded dedication and the near elimination of alcohol from his diet. Although he enjoyed the odd glass of drink, especially noyau (a French brandy made from nut kernels), Richmond was uncommonly abstemious, a particularly impressive feat when you consider the fact he was a pub landlord for several years and that bare-knuckle pugilists were constantly surrounded by, and often immersed in, alcohol. Indeed, it seemed that pretty much every top pugilist during the Georgian era was a pub landlord at one time or another, while many - Jem Belcher, Henry Pearce and Tom Molineaux among them - died early and, most likely, alcohol-induced deaths. In contrast, when Richmond was past his 50th birthday Pierce Egan observed that while "other pugilists have long previously retired from the scenes of action, the spirits of RICHMOND seem in such trim, that, with all the ardency of youth, he is still 'eager for the fray.'" Egan also pointed out that Richmond preferred "exercise" rather than "too frequent repetition of the charms of the bottle". To display such self-control in an age of excess, marks Richmond out as an exceptional man.

C: Great victories in his 50s:
Something that distinguishes Richmond from the other fighters in my top 5, and which, in my view, seems him overhaul their achievements in the 'veteran stakes', is the fact that unlike Hopkins (whose last significant victory to date, against Beibut Shumenov, came aged 49) or Foreman (45 when he beat Moorer, 48 when he beat Lou Savarese in his last defence of the linear Heavyweight title), Richmond achieved two notable victories in his 50s. In May 1814 he defeated Davis (aka the navigator) in 13 rounds in what was the first contest organised by the earliest ever boxing governing body the 'Pugilistic Club', while in August 1815 he secured arguably the best win of his career, a 23-round triumph against highly-rated Tom Shelton, a pugilist around half his age. I am aware of no other boxer in the long history of boxing who achieved two victories against well-regarded contenders when in their 50s. No wonder that Egan was moved to write, after Richmond's triumph against Shelton, that he was an "extraordinary man" and that "the older he grows, the better pugilist he proves himself."

D: Uncrowned champion?
Some might think that a mitigating factor against Richmond being ranked as the greatest boxing veteran of all time is the fact that he never won the world title (or the English Championship, which was in his era the most prized achievement in the sport, boxing having not yet become a truly global sporting phenomenon). Although it may be true that Richmond never received official recognition as champion, there is a case for arguing that he should have been recognised as such. Let's look at the evidence for such a claim. For starters, it's worth remembering that after his defeat against Tom Cribb in 1805, Richmond was never beaten again for the rest of his career - an eight-fight streak that extended from his next contest in 1808 until his aforementioned victory against Shelton in 1815. The recognised champion during this time was, of course, Cribb. However it's worth pointing out that after defeating Richmond's protege Tom Molineaux for the second time in 1811, Cribb never fought again, although he didn't officially cede the title until almost ten years later, in 1821. These days, such a spell of ridiculous inactivity would have seen Cribb stripped of his crown. If Cribb had been stripped then I would argue that Richmond was the most logical contender to be crowned champion, or at least to participate in a contest for the vacant crown. (There was a precedent for the passing of recognition from one fighter to another due to inactivity - in 1807, when Henry Pearce failed to face John Gully for a second time, recognition of the title of 'Champion' passed pretty much universally to Gully - despite the fact he had never won a major fight!)

Tom Cribb

Even more interestingly, there was a contest involving Richmond that you can argue - admittedly a little tenuously -  should have earned Richmond recognition as champion. By 1818, with Cribb still inactive, some within the Fancy believed that Lancastrian pugilist Jack Carter - who had beaten leading contender Tom Oliver in an epic contest - should be regarded as champion, partly because Cribb had failed to answer challenges from both Oliver and Carter. Carter's claim for the championship was pretty devastatingly rebuffed by none other than Richmond on the evening of 12 November 1818. After cross words were shared between Carter and several other pugilists in a pub in Chancery Lane, Richmond took on Carter in a street fight, destroying him after just three rounds when he laid him out cold with a stupendous right hand. Had this contest been fought 'officially' in a roped ring, then Richmond could, with some justification, have claimed he was the English Champion. By this point in his career, Bill was an incredible 55 years old and the victory against Carter extended his unbeaten run to ten years and nine fights. Incidentally, Carter went on to lose his next major fight the following year to Tom Spring after 71 rounds (68 rounds longer than it took Richmond to dispose of him - although, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Carter later claimed he was drunk when Richmond laid him out). Spring was later handed the title by Cribb when the 'champion' finally retired. However, considering Richmond went unbeaten from 1808 until 1818 (if you include the Carter contest), perhaps the title should have passed to him, or at the very least he should have been matched against Spring with the winner recognised as champion.

So while Richmond was never regarded as champion, he has a good case to be recognised as the premier pugilist in England between 1808 and 1818 - a period when he was aged between 45 and 55. What an achievement! And what a veteran!

Tom Spring

Bill Richmond on a postage stamp ... well, sort of ...

Well, sort of ... Royal Mail have a nifty little facility on their website which allows you to customise your own stamp designs. Well, sort of ... in actual fact you choose an existing stamp design and then your image goes as a sticker alongside it, rather than as the actual stamp itself. (I guess this is to prevent subversive images being placed on 'official' stamps bearing the Queen's silhouette ... Use your imagination!)

Anyway, I couldn't help but try it out and upload a Bill Richmond image - a cropped version of one of the magnificent illustrations drawn by Trevor Von Eeden for my upcoming book Richmond Unchained. The resulting design appears at the top of this page, and I must say it looks pretty wonderful. I chose the stamp entitled 'England's Glory' to go alongside the image of Bill - given that he spent the majority of his life and career in England and served as an usher at the coronation of King George IV I thought that was somehow appropriate. (Although we must also bear in mind the irony that Bill would never have been born a slave in the first place had the British not accelerated the slave trade from the latter half of the 17th century onwards).

Now all I have to do is persuade Royal Mail that Bill Richmond deserves an official stamp of his own. This year would be an appropriate time for him to be so honoured - it being 200 years since his remarkable victory against Tom Shelton in his last 'official' bare knuckle contest.

Did you know, by the way, that Richmond-Davis, Bill's penultimate bout, took place on 3 May 1814, the very same day it was announced that Arthur Wellesley, one of the heroes of the Peninsular War and later Waterloo, was to be given the title of 'Duke of Wellington'? Waterloo-based anniversary celebrations are set to dominate Britain this year - I hope that people also take a few moments to remember Bill Richmond too.

The Duke of Wellington and Bill Richmond both celebrate significant 200th anniversaries this year

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Best ever veterans: No. 2 Bernard Hopkins

One of the most remarkable things about Bill Richmond's career was that he was still fighting in his 50s (and this during an age when life expectancy was far lower than it is today).

Richmond's amazing longevity got me thinking about who I would rank as the greatest veterans in fistic history (including bare-knuckle days, as well as the gloved era). 

With apologies to the likes of Bob Fitzsimmons, Jersey Joe Walcott and many other admirable vets who didn't quite make the cut, George Maddox was my no. 5 choice, Archie Moore came in at no. 4 and George Foreman was my no. 3. Today I present my no. 2 ... 

2. Bernard Hopkins:
Hopkins is Bill Richmond's spiritual heir.

As well as his formidable powers of determination and fitness, Hopkins' supreme  technique, particularly defensively, are an echo of Richmond's unparalleled mastery of 'boxing on the retreat' during the Georgian bare-knuckle era.

One of the secrets of Richmond's longevity was his impressive level of self-control and an avoidance of the type of hard-drinking lifestyle that prematurely curtailed the careers of many of his contemporaries. As Pierce Egan once stated, Richmond possessed "a temperate mode of living, preferring exercise to wasting his time, or injuring his constitution, by a too frequent repetition of the charms of the charms of the bottle."

Hopkins utilises a similar philosophy.

"When you look at the things I do," the Philadelphia native commented recently. "The lifestyle and the discipline, you would say I'm preserved ... well-kept."

An expert in nutrition (he swears by boiled beets and buffalo meat), Hopkins also indulges in frequent facials, manicures and pedicures to keep him as young as possible in both body, mind and spirit.

It's this tender loving care of his impressively sculpted frame, even when between bouts, that has enabled Hopkins to assemble a host of achievements which are the stuff of boxing legend.

The Hopkins story began in harsh and unforgiving environs. Involved in street crime from his early teenage years, Hopkins had been stabbed three times by the time he was 17 and was sent to prison after a string of criminal convictions, including for armed robbery.

Future prospects for the youngster looked bleak indeed. However, while inside he discovered the redemptive powers of boxing and of religion, converting to Islam. Released after nearly five years, the governor of Graterford State Penitentiary was convinced Hopkins would soon be back, quipping, "I'll see you again," as the 23-year-old departed. Hopkins' response? "I ain't ever coming back."

After his release, Hopkins entered the pro boxing ranks, losing his professional debut in 1988, but then putting together a 21-fight unbeaten streak which only snapped when he lost to the great Roy Jones in a scrap for the vacant IBF title in 1993.

Two years after this setback, Hopkins was IBF champ courtesy of a victory against Segundo Mercado, after climbing off the canvas twice in their first contest, which ended in a draw. Hopkins defended the IBF belt a remarkable 12 times before memorably unifying the WBC, WBA and IBF straps with victories against Keith Holmes and Felix Trinidad, who most judges thought would prove too strong and hard-hitting for Hopkins.

By this stage in his career, Hopkins was already 36, but there were still many more peaks for him to conquer. He defended the unified Middleweight title six times, including an unforgettable KO of Oscar De La Hoya, to add the WBO belt to his list of belts, and also set a new middleweight division record of 20 successful title defences.

As Hopkins entered his 40s a pair of losses to Jermain Taylor saw most people ready to write his career obituaries. However, a move to light-heavyweight revitalised the Executioner's career and, over the next few years, he annexed further world titles with  victories against Antonio Tarver, Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud and Beibut Shumenov, overhauling George Foreman's record as the oldest world boxing champ in the process.

Although the likes of Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson got the better of Hopkins, he always rebounded from such losses with impressive victories and his achievement in winning light-heavy titles at the ages of 42, 46, 48 and 49 is truly remarkable.

Only Sergey Kovalev, in Hopkins' most recent bout in November 2014, has succeeded in soundly pummelling him, and it remains conceivable that Hopkins could become the first ever boxer to win a world title in his 50s. He will reach his half century in a couple of weeks time (on 15 January 2015), and only a fool would write off the fistic phenomenon that is Bernard Hopkins just yet.