“In a former article I dealt with the early history of the boxing glove and the men who used it; following that, I propose to say a few words about the various styles adopted by some of the principal performers of the pugilistic art, both past and present.
Position and attitude, in a pugilist are the most essential points necessary in boxing, both for offensive and defensive tactics.
Strength is undoubtedly what a boxer should possess, but without position and science he will certainly fail. In the days of old, when Figg, Broughton, Perrins, Slack, Cribb, and Jem Ward flourished, the positions of the pugilists were not only curious but grotesque. The majority of these early champions were not possessed of the science, art, and tactics now displayed by the champions of the present day. They trusted to their strength and great muscular power to carry them to victory.
A very good example of the awkward attitude assumed by some of the old-timers is furnished in the accompanying picture of Isaac Perrins.
Standing with the weight of his body thrown on his left leg, instead of his right, with his left arm doubled back at the elbow, instead of extended well to the front and with his right ready to strike instead of being in a position to guard a blow he presents perhaps the most ungainly and unscientific attitude of any of the old-time pugilists.
Opposed to a latter-day boxer, his gigantic strength, plainly evidenced by his immense shoulders, and muscular arms, would be of very little service, and in all probability one round would see him knocked out of time.
Coming to a slightly later period, a distinct advance in science is shown in the fighting position taken up by Champion Tom Cribb (see below).
To begin with, the weight of the body is transferred from the left to the right leg, the left arm is more to the front (though still too high), while the chief faults noticeable in the right arm are that it is twisted too far round, and is not carried far enough across the body.
After Cribb's time a great improvement was noticed in the attitude and style adopted by pugilists. While strength still remained a great factor in the winning of battles, a tremendous amount of attention was given to scientific sparring. Pugilists, especially champions, contended in the arena according to a regular system, known as Prize Ring tactics. Generalship was considered one of the pugilist's greatest resources, and a cool head and good judgment won many a battle in the 24-foot ring against bull-dog pluck and stamina.
Jem Mace was the most skilled tactician that ever stood in a ring. He demonstrated that when he met Bob Brittle the second time.
Tom Sayers was a wonder. He could give away weight, and by his quick perception and skilful way of avoiding dangerous blows, finally tire out his burly opponents and gain the day.
Amongst the latter-day professors one naturally thinks of John L. Sullivan. He was far from an ideal boxer, depending more on brute strength than on science. He lacked coolness and judgment, and missed many opportunities in all his battles.
For a big man, Peter Jackson was one of the very best boxers I ever saw. Clever as a picture, he could hit as hard as a kicking mule, and he was undoubtedly at his best when he defeated Frank P. Slavin.
James J. Corbett is another specimen of a highly-scienced big man. He has reduced stopping and getting away to a positive science, and was also one of the first to utilise his shoulder as a protection for his jaw (see to the right). In his great fight with Fitzsimmons it will be remembered that the latter never once succeeded in getting on the jaw, and up to the time that Corbett was knocked out by a blow on the mark he had all the best of it as regards points.
His style is graceful in the extreme, and he was certainly in his day one of the most finished glove performers that ever put up a hand.
Fitzsimmons is a fighter rather than a boxer, and so is Sharkey, while Jeffries and Ruhlin we may class as big, powerful fellows who have come to the front mainly through the persistent manner in which they have been boomed by their respective managers.
Turning to the English brigade, there is one man whom I shall always regard as the most scientific boxer that ever put up of a hand. His name is Bill Baxter (to the left), and although he is now nearly forty years of age, there are not half a dozen men of his weight in England to-day who could put a glove on his face in a three-round bout. His style is perfection itself, he never makes use of his left hand until he sees a certain opening, and so quick is the movement that very few of his thrusts are put on one side. As a judge of distance he is unrivalled, and by merely stepping back a few inches he often escapes a well-intended visitation from an opponent. His punishing powers, too, were far beyond this ordinary, as witness the terrible mess he made of Morgan Crowther some years ago. In fact, as an all-round boxer he stands out head and shoulders above any performer we have had in England during the last thirty years.
Any article on British boxing would be incomplete without some reference, however slight, to Pedlar Palmer. As a boxer Palmer is, or rather was, for his day has gone by, in a class by himself. He does not follow out any of the regular rules laid down ring. by the authorities, depending on his phenomenal quickness for his success. Some of his movements are so rapid that the eye can scarcely follow them, and his victories have invariably been on a question of points, except in the case of Plimmer, who was beaten by want of condition.
In his recent contest with Harry Harris, of Chicago, Palmer gave as pretty an exhibition of the noble art as one could wish to see for about five rounds, and it really appeared as if he was able to hit his opponent when and where he liked; but there was little or no power behind his blows, and directly Harris settled down to straight punching the little fellow was done for.”
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