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Bare Fists [Hardcover]

Bob Mee
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Oct 2000

‘Bare Fists’ takes a look at the forgotten world of bare-knuckle prize-fighting, from the heyday of pugilism in the 18th century, to its extinction at the end of the 19th, and its re-emergence this century in the form of illegal underground bouts.

James Figg, the notorious prize-fighter, swordsman and bear-baiter, was the first man to help establish fist-fighting as the preferred sport of the masses, who had previously been entertained by such delights as women versus dwarfs and animals fighting in a burning barrel.

From the age of Figg, until the late 19th century, prize-fighting was the dominant sport of the landed classes. All the chief combatants were backed by the rich aristocracy and a succession of kings from George I were keen followers of the sport and often to be found at ringside.

The author charts the progress of the so-called Championship of England and, interspersed with social observation and biographical detail, he paints a vivid picture of the society in which this sport thrived. The reader is introduced to a variety of fighters including Jack Broughton, Jack Slack, Daniel Mendoza, Jim Belcher, Tom Cribb and Tom Sayers. Their hard drinking and prodigous fight achievements almost beggar belief, but they usually took their toll. Most succumbed to an early grave.

The sport all but came to an end with the introduction of the Queensberry Rules in 1867, but that was not the end of the story. Fist-fighting continued underground as an illegal practice, and still does, although it is unrecognisable from its noble heritage.

In the final part of the book, laments the decline of bare-knuckle fighting from the late 19th century. The modern-day version is a sickening and brutal world – the sort inhabited by Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw – where kicking, stamping and illegal weapons are more prevalent than the fist.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Willow (2 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002189666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002189668
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 497,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


“…a marvellous little book. Mee has created a gem”
The Guardian

“…highly recommended”
The Sunday Times

“…a splendid tale of brutality… a fascinating account”
Boxing News

From the Back Cover

'There is plenty of blood. It will be pouring from a fighter's ears and probably from his groin where he has been bitten by his opponent. He will have soaked his hands in vinegar but his fists will end ip shredded to ribbons… There are no official rounds; instead, the loser is the one who's injuries are so bad he can no longer stand up…'

The critically acclaimed 'Bare Fists' is an in-depth look at the astonishing world of bare-knuckle prize-fighting, which flourished in the 18th and 19th Centuries. It's a strange sub-culture, which has continued almost unnoticed in the shadow the high-profile, structured world of professional gloved boxing.

In its heyday the Prize Ring was a weird, unique and significant sporting activity which, as gloved boxing does now, produced some extraordinary characters whose contests where big enough to empty Parliament for a day and draw huge crowds to barren pieces of land in the middle of the countryside. On one occasion unsuspecting villagers were so alarmed by the arrival of 'The Fancy' for a championship fight they thought the French had invaded!

Jem Belcher, Henry Pearce, John Gully and Tom Cribb, the celebrated quartet of pugilists who dominated the great era between the turn of the 19th century and the Battle of Waterloo were among the most popular sportsmen England has ever produced. For example, when Belcher defended the championship in 1800 and estimated 20,000 guineas was laid in bets.

'Bare Fists' chronicles the championship of England, blending historical anecdote, biographical detail and social analysis, and the result is a powerful rediscovery of a strange, forgotten world.

The later part of the book deals with the degeneration of the sport as the Victorian moral code shifted popular thinking and forced boxing to adapt in order to survive as a major sport. It also looks at the emergence of the sport in the United States, and it popularisation under the legendary John L. Sullivan in the 1880s.

'Bare Fists' also examines the change in bare-knuckle fighting's image and the arrival of 'underground' fighters like the late Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw in the 1970s, the phenomenon of Ultimate Fighting, as well of the effect of Brad Pitt's film 'Fight Club' which lent it a fashionable tag as the century closed.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, this book is a great read 10 Oct 2000
By A Customer
Bare Fists is a brilliant social history of prizefighting from the 1700s through to the end of the 19th century. Back then fist fighting was as popular as football is today; it was the sport of the landed gentry, huge bets were wagered and it wasn't unusual to see royalty at ringside. The author paints a vivid picture of the fighting achievements of these men, who used to have only weeks, sometimes days, between fights. But many of them died early due to the poundings they took and their hard-drinking ways. The sport died out in the 20th century,despite the fact that the likes of Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw, who fought in the 1970s, liked to make out they were continuing a proud tradition. The author rubbishes their claims to being bare-knuckle fighters. In truth they were thugs, a world away from the greats of the 18th century. This is a wonderful read for anyone who wants to know about the social history of sport, the origins of boxing, and the truth about The Guvnor, and other late 20th century imitations.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling read 25 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This book is a very good read and takes you through the thrilling history of bareknuckle boxing. However, Bob Mee is to harsh on modern day bare knuckle boxing. He claims it to be brutal and thuggish. Well, as someone who attended a match while abroad, I found it no more brutal than a normal boxing match. There have been no deaths in bare knuckle boxing matches. Neither are there any mismatches as you get in the big fight game. The fighters are usualy fairly matched. They are also less boring. In fact, I found them faster, very exciting, and because there are no rounds (usually) they are a lot quicker in coming to a finish-usually a knockout.I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Despite that, this is an interesting and well written book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars My past relative 13 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I chose this rating because it had information about JACK BROUGHTON who was a relative long long ago. Its an interesting book and gives a lot of interesting facts about bare knuckle fighting. The delivery was prompt and I would order again
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This really packs a punch 10 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This was great. I never realised what a big sport bare knuckle boxing was. The guys who fought all those years ago must be some of the hardest blokes in history. Amazing.
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Cover 1 April 2001
By A Customer
I haven't read the book yet, but I know the guy on the cover. He is Mark Schultz a Unites States Ollympic and World Champion in freestyle wrestling who went on to become an Ultimate Fighting Star. Ultimate fighting is the modern continuation of bare knucle brawling. Mark Schultz is a like a real life Maximus from the movie Gladiator. If interested, check out his website at markschultz.com. He is a heroic individual. He was my college coach in wrestling. It was like having Superman as a coach. Schultz was a 3 time NCCA champion when in college.
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