While fighting of various kinds was common on the American frontier, boxing was uncommon. The first two American boxers, both blacks, made their names in England. The first was Bill Richmond of Staten Island, who became a servant of Lord Percy, the general who commanded the British forces occupying New York during the Revolution. In a number of matches against British soldiers, Richmond was unbeaten and Percy took him to England in 1777.
Tom Molyneaux was a slave on a Virginia plantation who may have won his freedom because of his fighting skill. Richmond and Molyneaux were little noted in their native country, however. The first known bout in the U. S. in which Jack Broughton's rules were more or less followed was a match between Jacob Her and Tom Beasley in 1816. Her won and claimed the American championship.
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Boxing had been banned in most English cities and towns by the middle of the 19th century, so a number of English fighters came to America, seeking competition. The best of them was Yankee Sullivan, who opened a saloon in New York in 1841 and defeated most of the best American fighters over the next several years. When she won in 16 rounds, the news was wired to New York newspapers. It was the first sports story sent over the telegraph.
America's first genuine championship fight took place May 30, 1880, at Collier Station, West Virginia, near the Pennsylvania and Ohio borders. They fought for nearly an hour and a half before Ryan knocked out Goss in the 87th round. Ryan was challenged almost immediately by John L. Sullivan of Boston, but he managed to avoid Sullivan until February 7, 1882.
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Meanwhile, Jake Kirin was being pushed as a contender by Richard Kyle Fox, publisher of the National Police Gazette. Sullivan's supporters immediately raised the money to buy an even more impressive belt for their champion. Sullivan's first real title defense took place in Chantilly, France, on March 10, 1888. But the champion barely escaped with a draw, raising doubts about his ability and his physical condition.
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On July 7, an estimated 3,000 spectators boarded special trains for the secret location, which turned out to be Richburg, Mississippi. When he returned to America late in 1891, he offered to fight any challenger under the Marquis of Queensberry rules for a purse of $25,000 and side bets of $10,000. James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett accepted the offer.